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MCC calls off Gitmo lecture, promises to reschedule
By Lenore T. Adkins | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/3/2009 12:17 AM

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McHenry County College has pulled the plug a Thursday night lecture at which Marc Falkoff, a lawyer representing 17 detainees at Guantanamo Bay accused of terrorism, was due to speak about his experiences.

The school called the talk off Tuesday, after realizing the event would draw a large crowd, including protesters.

Officials at the Crystal Lake school believed they were not ready for the crowds and want more time to prepare, said Interim MCC President Kathleen Plinske.

"We're not canceling, we are just postponing it for a later date," Plinske said. "We will make sure we have done the necessary preparations."

Those preparations involve a larger police presence, something Plinske indicated would not have been possible Thursday.

Deputy Crystal Lake Police Chief Dennis Harris acknowledged Wednesday it would have been difficult, but not impossible, to staff the lecture. Police Thursday night will also be present at the wake for U.S. Army Sgt. Jason McCloud of Crystal Lake, who was killed in action in Afghanistan.

"The story that I've heard from some folks that we were not going to be able to provide officers at the (lecture), is blatantly untrue," Harris said.

Others have complained about the timing of the lecture coinciding with the wake.

School officials insist the delay has nothing to do with the wake, and would not detail the nature of the feedback they'd received since the lecture was announced, other than to say it was both for and against it.

Crystal Lake resident Joe Alger was among those who contacted the school. Alger said he left a pair of voice mails for Plinske telling her it would be a "travesty" if the lecture went on "when a couple of miles away we're having a wake for a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan on his second tour."

"They're going to present the softer, gentler side of terrorists who have obviously proven that they deserve to be incarcerated," he said.

Falkoff, editor of "Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak," wasn't shy about discussing some of the feedback he's received on his voice mail and from various blogs since the news went out about his planned lecture.

People have called Falkoff un-American, told him he's going to hell and threatened to shut down the event by showing up en masse - comments he said made him fear for his family and himself.

Falkoff, a law professor at Northern Illinois University who has given talks about his work all over the country and in London, said he has never been met with this much venom.

"This is the first time an event has ever been canceled," he said. "This is mob rule, it's remarkable. A university is a sanctuary for free speech and robust debate, and I would hope the college would come out and say how intolerable it is what happened."

The school's 11-month-old Student Peace Action Network arranged the lecture months ago, and its organizers plan on ensuring it goes on next semester without a hitch, said Molly McQueen, the group's founder and action coordinator.

She says she had nothing to do with the decision to push the event back.

"I don't want to let people shut down our events, so that's important to get our message out and not let people intimidate us," McQueen said.