Last month, Patrick Fitzgerald announced his resignation as U.S. Attorney in Chicago, Illinois, a presidentially appointed post he has held since September 1, 2001. Known for his prosecutions of former Illinois Govenor Rod Blogojevich and former Chief of Staff to the Vice Presdient "Scooter" Libby, Fitzgerald also worked on several high profile terrorism cases. In 2011, he declared the most important advancement in fighting terrorism the communication between intelligence and law enforcement as a result of the PATRIOT Act. On May 23, 2012, the day of his announcement, he gave no reason for his departure.
While Fitzgerald's appointment by George W. Bush and the maintenance of his position under President Obama suggest his appeal to both parties, his tenure did not go without criticism. He faced objections from the start of the Blagojevich prosecutions and throughout: a Washington Post editorial said he was bordering on persecution and a Wall Street Journal editorial called for his resignation. Others made claims that he overreached during the CIA leak case involving Libby.
In 2010, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) called for Fitzgerald to withdraw the investigation of peace activists for terror charges, which the Chicago U.S. Attorney's office recently confirmed is ongoing. Maureen Murphy, one of the 23 activists across the country subpoenaed in the investigation, has said,"We are being targeted for the work we do to end U.S. funding of the Israeli occupation, ending the war in Afghanistan and ending the war in Iraq. What is at stake for all of us is our right to dissent and organize to change harmful U.S. policy."
On September 24, 2010, "the FBI simultaneously raided seven homes of peace activists in Minneapolis and Chicago and the Minnesota Anti-War Committee's office. They mobilized more than 70 agents and seized thousands of pages of documents, cell phones, computers and personal objects. Many of the targeted activists in Chicago are Palestinian or have been active in the Palestine solidarity movement." CSFR's campaign in support of the activists continues to build.
Some suggest that the investigation of the activists serves as means to test the US Supreme Court decision Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. The 2010 ruling is recognized as putting a "tremendous strain on freedom of speech." David Cole, who argued the case, explains that the court held that "the government could criminalize such advocacy of peaceful nonviolent activity without transgressing the First Amendment, because, it reasoned, any aid to a foreign terrorist organization might ultimately support illegal ends." Former President Jimmy Carter and the ACLU have spoken out against the ruling, which allows for such a broad definition of "material support" for terrorism that any type of "advice" given to a designated terrorist group, even if that advice is to stop acts of terrorism and use non-violence, would qualify.
Given Fitzgerald's controversial history as a prosecutor and his recent aggressive investigation into whether the peace activists provided "material support" for terrorism, the question arises: is Fitzgerald resigning due to the political heat he's received for these free-speech-terrorism prosecutions? As there is no allegation of an actual crime, Fitzgerald's case against the peace activists arguably amounts to thought crimes or perhaps associational crimes. Has his overzealousness caught up with him? Or, could his resignation be interpreted as a rejection of the high water mark of the war on terror?