Hats off to the folks at Gibson Guitar Corporation for standing up to what they aptly describe as bullying by the federal government. It seems, according to the headline of the American guitar maker’s news release today, the feds believe wood is illegal if U.S. workers produce it, so they raided Gibson factories in Nashville and Memphis.
Rather than wax poetic about Eric Holder’s Justice Department for hours on end, I’ll let the words of the Gibson folks — from their news release — tell the tale:
The Justice department bullies Gibson without filing charges
The Federal Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India. (If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal.) This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.
On August 24, 2011, around 8:45 a.m. CDT, agents for the federal government executed four search warrants on Gibson’s facilities in Nashville and Memphis and seized several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. Gibson had to cease its manufacturing operations and send workers home for the day, while armed agents executed the search warrants. Gibson has fully cooperated with the execution of the search warrants.
• Raid shut down Gibson factories and cost company money
This is the second time that federal agents have raided Gibson facilities and disrupted production – this time causing lost productivity and sales.
• Wood seized was Forest Stewardship Council Controlled
The wood the Government seized on August 24 is from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier and is FSC Controlled, meaning that the wood complies with the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council, which is an industry-recognized and independent, not-for-profit organization established to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC Controlled Wood standards require, among other things, that the wood not be illegally harvested and not be harvested in violation of traditional and civil rights. See www.fsc.org for more information. Gibson has a long history of supporting sustainable and responsible sources of wood and has worked diligently with entities such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace to secure FSC certified supplies. The wood seized on August 24 satisfied FSC standards.
• Nearly two years later, no charges have been filed
In 2009, more than a dozen agents with automatic weapons invaded the Gibson factory in Nashville. The Government seized guitars and a substantial amount of ebony fingerboard blanks from Madagascar. To date, 1 year and 9 months later, criminal charges have NOT been filed, yet the Government still holds Gibson’s property. Gibson has obtained sworn statements and documents from the Madagascar government and these materials, which have been filed in federal court, show that the wood seized in 2009 was legally exported under Madagascar law and that no law has been violated. Gibson is attempting to have its property returned in a civil proceeding that is pending in federal court.
The Justice Department has asked the judge to stop the court case indefinitely.
• Information sought in raid was already made available
Since 2009, Gibson has fully cooperated with the Government’s investigation of wood and has provided substantial documentation regarding Gibson’s wood-buying activities over the years. Yet, the Federal Government raided Gibson’s facilities on August 24, 2011, without warning or communication of any kind. Had the Government simply communicated with Gibson, Gibson would have cooperated without having to stop its production and send workers home.
• Not about illegal logging, not about conservation, not about the environment
The U.S. Lacey Act does not directly address conservation issues but is about obeying all laws of the countries from which wood products are procured. This law reads that you are guilty if you did not observe a law even though you had no knowledge of that law in a foreign country. The U.S. Lacey Act is only applicable when a foreign law has been violated.
• Gibson is innocent and will fight to protect its rights
Gibson has complied with foreign laws and believes it is innocent of ANY wrong doing. We will fight aggressively to prove our innocence.
Pay close attention to the last bullet point and the phrase “foreign laws” as some believe the Gibson raid could set precedent for enforcing such laws.
Mad yet? This makes me want to buy a Gibson guitar laden with some exotic hardwoods — and I don’t even play the guitar.
Here’s a link to a local news video report about the raid.
UPDATE 8/25/11 at 6:19 p.m. Central: After watching the video, I was stunned to learn that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Customs and Border Protection agents were conducting the raid.
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