CRYSTAL LAKE – A law professor scheduled to discuss Guantanamo detainees at McHenry County College said he received several harassing phone calls but still wants to reschedule tonight’s canceled event.
Marc Falkoff, a Northern Illinois University professor who has worked on more than a dozen Guantanamo prisoner cases, said he understood MCC officials’ decision to postpone his hourlong presentation in light of last-minute security concerns.
Falkoff (pictured below) said callers questioned why he “hated America,” predicted he would burn in hell, and asked how he slept at night.
“No one said, ‘I’m going to kill you or your family,’” Falkoff said. “But one of them said something along the lines of, ‘maybe it’s going to take your own family members being in a tragic accident for you to understand,’ or something like that.”
An MCC student organization, the Student Peace Action Network, invited Falkoff to speak about detainees and a book of detainee poetry he edited called “Poems from Guantanamo: Where is the World to Save Us from Torture?” The students had been planning the event since the beginning of the semester and publicizing it for about a month.
Falkoff said he has worked for 16 Yemenese detainees accused of being enemy combatants, although none were captured on battlefields.
He said he planned to tell a McHenry County audience that he believed that some – but not all – of the detainees were innocent of wrongdoing. He also planned to say that reports indicated that Pakistani security forces picked up more than 80 percent of detainees wearing civilian garb at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Falkoff said he expected that some audience members would disagree with him, but he still thought it was important information to share.
“People don’t want to hear that,” Falkoff said. “They don’t want to think about what that means, but that’s a fact. That’s a verifiable fact. I have the reports and the analysis to show it. That needs to be discussed.”
Falkoff said he did not report the threatening phone calls to police but would have discussed them if the event proceeded today. Both Falkoff and Molly McQueen, action coordinator for the student group, said they wanted to reschedule the event.
Crystal Lake resident Joe Alger, who called college officials demanding they cancel Falkoff’s speech, said he opposed rescheduling it and had no sympathy for the phone calls Falkoff received.
“He took a stance; what does he expect?” said Alger, who said he did not call Falkoff or know anyone who did. “I certainly don’t condone death threats and things like that, but he certainly leaves himself open for debate.”
Alger also said he planned to attend Falkoff’s speech in opposition if it was rescheduled.
“I believe it’s propaganda,” Alger said. “He’s trying to present the softer side of terrorism; he’s trying to present the perception that these people are being brutally tortured.”
College administrators said they likely would discuss event security earlier if the event was rescheduled.
Tony Miksa, MCC’s vice president of academic and student affairs, said college personnel received several intense phone calls about the event Tuesday. Those calls made them question whether the planned security detail could handle a crowd larger than organizers originally anticipated. Miksa said he was unsure how many officers Crystal Lake police had originally planned to provide but said he and other faculty decided to postpone the event so that more staff could attend.
“We made a judgment call to make sure we were well prepared for the event,” Miksa said. “When you’re in a position of being responsible for other people’s safety, those are the judgment calls you have to make.”
Crystal Lake Deputy Police Chief Dennis Harris said organizers contacted his department last week about providing security for the event. But some more recent online postings indicated that some audience members might be inflamed by the fact that the event coincided with funeral visitation for Sgt. Jason A. McLeod, a 22-year-old from Crystal Lake who died last week in a mortar attack in Afghanistan.
Crystal Lake police also planned to provide a security detail for McLeod’s visitation in light of the large number of people expected to attend. Harris said the department was willing to cover both events, although it might have been a stretch.
“It would have been a challenge,” Harris said. “But when all the alternatives were discussed, we certainly supported [the event at MCC] being postponed. We thought that was a prudent move.”