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NYCLU And ACLU-NJ Defend Peace Activist Accused Of Violating Iraq Travel Ban

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of a Methodist minister initially accused of going to Iraq as a “human shield” prior to the beginning of the war in 2003. Rev. Frederick Boyle is fighting an effort by the federal Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) to impose a fine on him without giving him a fair opportunity to contest the charges.

“The regulations violate our most basic freedoms of travel and of religious and political expression,” said Rev. Boyle, a lifelong pacifist and outspoken critic of U.S. military action in Iraq. Boyle said he believes the government has singled him out for prosecution owing to media coverage of his views about the war.

Rev. Boyle was assessed a fine of $6,700 for allegedly traveling to Iraq in early 2003, at which time he was pastor at a United Methodist Church in Randolph, New Jersey. He is challenging OFAC’s authority to issue the fine and challenging the legality of the process by which the agency determines such penalties. The Iraq Sanctions Act regulations do not permit a person to find out the basis for the government’s accusations, to confront witnesses, or to have a hearing with a neutral decision-maker.

Further, the suit argues that the government required the minister to answer the accusations against him without giving him immunity from a possible additional criminal charge based upon the same alleged activity. Under the criminal laws, violations of these regulations are punishable by up to 12 years in prison and by $1 million in fines.

“This process doesn’t follow even the most rudimentary principles of fundamental fairness,” said Jonathan Hafetz of Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, who, along with Lawrence Lustberg, are cooperating attorneys representing Boyle. “The administrative process offered Rev. Boyle has less procedural protection than if he had been issued a parking ticket.”

In view of the inadequacy of OFAC’s procedures and Boyle’s potential exposure to over a decade in prison, he sought a stay of the enforcement action from OFAC until the expiration of the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution. Alternatively, he sought a grant of immunity from prosecution or agreement to waive prosecution. OFAC denied those requests, but did reduce the penalty from $10,000 to $6,700 last March. OFAC did not make a finding that Rev. Boyle acted as a “human shield,” an allegation Rev. Boyle has denied.

“The government is using the Iraqi Sanctions Regulations to single out and stifle the free speech of those who have publicly opposed US military involvement in Iraq,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “This action is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and unlawful.”

The lawsuit asks that the fine be dismissed or that the case be returned to OFAC to hold a meaningful hearing at which Rev. Boyle can contest the charges.

The ACLU of Wisconsin today filed a similar case, representing Ryan Clancy, a Milwaukee-area businessman. Mr. Clancy also argues that OFAC’s rules violate his rights to due process and freedom of travel and speech.

“The government does not claim that Ryan Clancy provided any financial benefit to the Iraqi government or even to any individual Iraqis,” said Christopher Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “This fine clearly isn’t about controlling ‘foreign assets.’ It’s about squelching the ability of people to travel and learn for themselves what is going on in disputed countries like Iraq and then punishing those who have the courage to question the government’s version of events upon their return.”

Rev. Boyle’s case was filed yesterday in the Southern District of New York, where he now resides. The case is captioned Frederick Boyle v. Robert W. Werner, et al.

Click here to read the legal papers in Rev. Boyle’s case or here to see a copy stamped by the court.

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