As the drug war bleeds into the terror war, it appears that one of the targets is US citizens' ability to even hear what the designated foe has to say. A chilling wind from Washington swept through sunny San Diego this week as University of California at San Diego administrators moved to censor a student group web site for having the temerity to link to the web site of a foreign political-military organization out of favor with the US government. UC San Diego administrators told the Che Café Collective that it could not link to a web site supporting the left-wing guerrillas of the Colombian FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (http://www.farc-ep.org) because such a link violated federal law, Cnet News reported Thursday.
The Che Café Collective is a student-run co-op that focuses on organic gardening, vegan food, all-age music shows and "radical (progressive, leftist) politics." The FARC is a 40-year-old guerrilla army that has been a party to the decades-long civil war in Colombia, profits (like all actors in the Colombian civil war) from the drug trade, and has called for the legalization of the coca trade. While the FARC is a frankly Marxist organization, some commentators have suggested that it has devolved into a merely money-making entity. The FARC is opposed by the right-wing paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces (AUC, operators of the notorious "death squads") and the Colombian government of Alfredo Uribe, which in turn is backed by the US government.
In a September 16 letter to the collective, UC San Diego University Centers Director Gary Ratliff wrote, "this letter will serve to inform you that the Che Café is in violation of UCSD policies and Federal law by maintaining the burn.ucsd.edu web site and using UCSD computer network resources to provide access to a terrorist organization. Presently, the burn.ucsd.edu web site includes links supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), an organization listed by the US Department of State as a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Providing material support or resources to a designated FTO is a violation of federal law.... Federal law also specifies that providing material support to terrorists not only includes money and training but also includes communications equipment, personnel and facilities. In this case, communications equipment is the use of the UCSD computer network resources, personnel are the Che Café members who maintain the server with burn web site, and facilities include the Che facility where the server is housed.
"I am hereby instructing you to immediately remove the FARC from listing on the burn.ucsd.edu web site or any other web site that uses the "ucsd.edu" domain name or any computer or other communications equipment or other resources or facilities used by the Che Café that are owned, leased or operated by UCSD. You are further hereby instructed to immediately disconnect the link on burn.ucsd.edu to the FARC web site."
But if Ratliff sounded certain of his reading of the USA Patriot Act in last week's letter, he told Cnet News on Wednesday only that the link might violate the law. "The concern of the institution is that this could be interpreted as a violation of the law," Ratcliff said. "What we're trying to be is proactive here. If the FBI decided to pay attention to this matter, the repercussions would go way beyond their group, because we're providing network services."
Despite the university's attempted preemptive strike against free speech, the link was still up as of Thursday afternoon. While the Che Café Collective has not responded publicly, it has challenged Ratliff's and the university's right to quickly shut down the link. In a September 20 letter to Ratliff and school administrators, the collective cited chapter and verse of university regulations, concluding, "Once again, you do not have the authority to unilaterally impose sanctions. A court must find us guilty of violating federal law and the University Judicial Board must find us guilty of violating UCSD Policies and Procedures in order for you to take action based on your allegations."
The collective's link to the FARC also drew support from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (http://www.thefire.org), a group usually devoted to attacking what it views as the excesses of "political correctness" on campus. FIRE director of legal advocacy Greg Lukianoff told Cnet News that the university's effort to censor the link was a massive overreaction. "I think their interpretation of materially supporting terrorism is dreadfully overbroad and a massive threat to freedom of speech," said Lukianoff. "All you'd have to do is declare someone a terrorist organization to prevent someone from knowing who the enemy is or what they stand for," Lukianoff said. "That's not how democracy works."
FIRE has offered to represent the Che Collective in any legal action against the university, Lukianoff added.