On November 24, 2003, Patrice Lumumba Ford, an American citizen born and
raised in Portland, Oregon, was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison on
charges of "seditious conspiracy." A year before, Ford had made a trip to
China, just as the U.S. prepared to attack Afghanistan. He had hoped to cross
the border into Afghanistan to aid and comfort fellow Muslims in nearby
refugee camps, but he was not allowed to cross. One month after he left the
country, he came home.
Unfortunately for Ford, the Ashcroft Justice Department the same Bush
appointees that trample on the constitution with illegal domestic spying
needed examples of domestic terrorism to exploit our fear of Islam and to draw
attention away from their bungling of the situation following 9/11. Ford and
the rest of the so-called Portland Terror Cell filled the bill. The trip to
China was painted as an act of sedition, and six individuals, frightened and
isolated, experienced the full weight of the government€™s power.
Federal prosecutors originally offered five-year sentences in a plea bargain,
but then word came from Washington that the Portland defendants must be made
examples of and the offer was withdrawn. In the end, all defendants, afraid
of the very real possibilities of Guantanamo or life in federal prison, agreed
to much longer sentences. Ford, the last to plead out, accepted an 18-year
The Portland arrests followed closely upon other Patriot Act arrests in
Detroit, Seattle, and Lackawanna, New York, conveniently coinciding with
administration€™s political needs, and preceding by six days the Senate
resolution permitting President Bush to go into Iraq.
Eventually we learned that, of the hundreds of terrorism charges made by the
Department of Justice across the nation, all were plea bargained: the only
jury conviction was obtained in Detroit, and that was later thrown out by a
federal judge. (David Cole, â€œTaking Liberties,â€� The Nation, 10/4/04.)
The time has come to look at this harsh sentence with the awareness we now
have of what was really going on: the â€œPortland Terror Cellâ€� was
Ashcroftâ€™s scapegoat, part of an elaborate justification for the suspension
of civil liberties and due process that now threatens us all.
Patrice Lumumba Ford has been incarcerated since his initial arrest on October
4, 2002. It is time for the Justice Department to reveal its motives and
methods: Ford is an innocent U.S. citizen caught in the fear mongering that
serves this governmentâ€™s ends. It is past time for an objective examination
of his case.