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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Justice misdirected in U.S. Capital


Constitution Incommoded: Peace activists convicted; War criminals remain at large.

 (This post and the two following relate to a nonviolent protest at the White House and its outcome.)

Sober, conscientious, orderly citizens at the White House on the afternoon of March 19 nonviolently and peaceably assemble to protest the violation of international humanitarian law and the U. S. Constitution. Police arrested 113 people, including World War II veteran Jay Wenk.


If you want peace, work for justice.
                                           —Pope Paul VI

by Kim Carlyle
 
But if you work for justice, where do you find it? Not in the District of Columbia Superior Court—at least not the kind of justice that will bring peace.
On March 19, 2011, the eighth anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq, hundreds of justice-seekers converged on the front gate of the White House fence. Many of these activists have been working for years to put a stop to our country’s immoral foreign military adventures. They had exhausted the conventional means of persuasion—letters, phone calls, petitions, visits to elected officials; now they came in person to exercise their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and petition the chief executive of their government for redress of grievances and to act in accordance with the Nuremberg Principles—namely, to make the moral choice to refuse to be complicit in the ongoing war crimes committed by the United States.
More than a hundred persons were arrested that day for unlawful assembly-disorderly conduct (specifically, obstructing or incommoding the sidewalk) and failing to obey the order to leave the area. Eighteen of those arrested chose to contest the charges in court. The trial was held in late October with most of the defendants representing themselves (pro se), a tactic that provides more latitude in defense arguments. All faced up to 90 days in jail and up to $1500 in fines.
The nonviolent action in March had been organized and led by Veterans For Peace. The veterans present had, upon their induction to the military, taken an oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Since this oath has no expiration date, veterans remain obliged to honor this commitment.
That the Constitution has been violated is fact. Article VI states: “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby…” Such treaties include the UN Charter which limits war-making to two conditions: UN Security Council approval and self-defense against an attack. The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq satisfied neither condition.
Additionally, in conducting its illegal wars of aggression, the U.S. has violated international humanitarian law—rules established to limit the effects of armed conflict on people and property and to protect particularly vulnerable persons—by targeting civilians, destroying civilian infrastructure, torturing prisoners, and  extrajudicial killings.
Defendant Richard Duffee submitted a pre-trial motion to admit factual evidence that the U.S. persistently commits crimes against peace. Such evidence was intended to show that the defendants’ belief that they should attempt to prevent war crimes is a reasonable belief; that they acted on the privilege the Nuremberg treaty gives all citizens of nations engaged in war crimes, to act in “a measured but effective way” to prevent the continuing commissions of those crimes; and that they acted to prevent the “greater harm” of the government’s commission of war crimes (see post below of Nuremberg Principles).
Judge Russell Canan denied the motion.
Instead, the trial centered on whether or not the sidewalk was incommoded. According to the police testimony, a person trying to cross the sidewalk in front of the White House might have needed to spend several seconds walking around the peaceably assembled demonstrators—not unlike the detour that pedestrians routinely take to avoid being in the line of sight as a tourist takes a photograph in this “picture postcard area.”
Despite the fact the prosecution provided no specific instance of a real pedestrian being obstructed or incommoded, but relied on the testimony of the police (who were on the periphery of the peaceable assembly, not within it); and despite the defendants’ direct testimony that there was plenty of room for passage through the demonstrators—they even provided a three-dimensional model to demonstrate that the police perspective gave a false impression,  Judge Canan found the defendants guilty on both charges.
Curiously, in cross-examination, the police commander at the scene, Lt. LaChance, said he did not know of any instance where someone was arrested in front of the White House who was not protesting some government policy. This suggests that if you demonstrate in support of government policy, anything goes (see photos below).
So here is “justice” in the U.S. capital: For seven months, the government expended much energy and expense to attempt to prove that a hypothetical person—not a real person; not a named person, but a hypothetical person—might possibly have been inconvenienced (incommoded) as he walked in front of the White House on a Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the government has made no effort to even bring charges against the criminals in the government who lied and led our country into illegal and immoral wars that have:
  • ·         killed thousands of real—not hypothetical—Americans;
  • ·         injured, physically and psychologically, hundreds of thousands of real—not hypothetical—Americans;
  • ·         caused suffering for the families and friends of the dead and injured—more real people!;
  • ·         killed hundreds of thousands of real—not hypothetical—children, women, and men in the countries we’ve illegally bombed, invaded, and occupied;
  • ·         displaced millions more real—not hypothetical—people from their homes; caused untold suffering to millions of innocent civilians—real, not hypothetical people!;
  • ·         and wasted trillions of real—not hypothetical—dollars in the process.
There is the letter of the law. There is the spirit of the law. And there is justice. The court followed the letter of a minor law in finding eighteen conscientious people guilty of a minor crime. Perhaps the day will come when the letter of the law and the spirit of the law and the elusive justice we seek will all come together to hold accountable the perpetrators of the much larger crimes—the grievances that people sought to redress on March 19 at the White House. Then we’ll take a step towards peace.
Until then, how do we keep seeking justice, if not through the judicial system? Is it surprising that some are choosing to take to the streets? Let’s remember to be nonviolent out there!
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Thousands of raucous demonstrators amass at the White House on the evening of May 1 (the day of Osama bin Laden‘s summary execution) and on into the early morning of May 2 to celebrate the violation of numerous international laws as well as President Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333 in 1981: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” Although demonstrators climbed trees and lampposts, and some were even drinking, no one was arrested.

Words from the March 19 defendants


Even though the universal convictions with absolutely no personal evidence were disappointing, that was to be expected. The small fines probably express the extent of sympathy any U.S. judge feels able to express for civil resisters.
—Ellen Barfield, Baltimore, MD; post-trial comment

In the first half of the last century our government made a number of serious efforts to expand international law and extend the reach of international legal institutions. In 1945 we took the unprecedented step of setting up war crimes tribunals for German and Japanese officials, and we pledged ourselves to be subject to the same rules. We set up the UN. But in the late 1960’s we lost our forward momentum and for the last 30 years we have been reneging on our commitments.
—Richard Duffee, Stanford, CT; from his sentencing statement

In particular I mentioned that I continue to pay a high personal price for having failed to comply with, failed to enforce, International Humanitarian Law. Let me be clear about the long-term, delayed, cost of failing to comply with IHL.
Night after night at 4am you heard the scream in your ear.  There was the image. You and your squad hit the dirt because there was suspected enemy activity.  Through a break in the brush you see something moving.  Over your sights you see it looks like a woman, and it looks like she is carrying a baby. You ask, “Should you open up and fire on her?” Your orders are that this is a free fire zone and all people are considered the enemy.  You double-check yourself; can she be a threat?  She could be a weapon courier, she could be growing the rice for the Viet Cong, and she could be a scout for an ambush.
As you jolt awake you know you followed the wrong law, you asked the wrong questions.  Instead of asking, “Is she in a free fire zone?” you should have asked your command, “Is it legal to force a population to leave their homes and ancestral village under threat of death?”  Instead of asking, “Could she be growing food for the Viet Cong?” you should have asked. “How is it legal for you, a U.S. soldier, to be lying in wait in her field?”  If I had asked the right questions, if I had followed the right law, only our imagination can say how many innocent lives would have been saved? That was an opportunity to support IHL—I failed the test.  These opportunities come and we are tested.
—Elliott Adams, Sharon Springs, NY; from his sentencing statement

We emphasize that our intent on March 19 was not to commit a crime, but to prevent a crime; to keep the law, not break the law. Judge Canan, although you have ruled that International law is not a valid defense in this case, we ask you to please reconsider your position and reverse your ruling in light of all the evidence we have presented.
What more evidence is needed to show the applicability of international law in this case than the testimony and closing statement we just heard from Mr. Adams (regarding atrocities he was ordered to carry out in Vietnam—-actions he now knows were in violation of International humanitarian law)…. We acted on March 19 because there were no other political or legal alternatives available to us as the executive and legislative branches of government continue to wage war.
We acted to prevent an imminent harm from occurring. People are dying now as a direct result of U.S. drone attacks and other U.S. military actions, just as they were dying at the time of our March 19 action. These people aren’t merely statistics—they have names and families. We seldom hear in the media who the innocent dead really are! For example, you heard Joan Nicholson testify that on March 1, 2011, U.S. military forces in a helicopter gunship, killed nine boys in Afghanistan as they collected firewood. But do we know their names? Do we know anything about them or their families? Do we, as society, even care? The youngest of the boys killed was named Shahidullah, son of Rahman—-he was 7 years old, 7 years old! As the father of a young son, I went to the White House on March 19 to be a voice for Shahidullah…
Judge Canan, who will speak for the victims? What recourse do we, as citizens have, when people, even young children, are being killed indiscriminately, but to engage in nonviolent acts to seek redress such as we did. What recourse do we have when an estimated 2 million Iraqis have died over the last 20 years as direct result of U.S. bombings, U.S.-UN lead sanctions, and U.S. invasion?
—Art Laffin, Washington, DC; from his sentencing statement

There was an older black woman sitting in the courtroom amongst our supporters during today’s sentencing process. She was waiting for her son to be sentenced—he had been brought into the courtroom in orange jail garb with chains connected to his feet and hands before our case was called. During our sentencing statements I saw her paying close attention and at times crying; so after we were finished, right before the judge began to pass judgment on her son, I went up to her and wished her good luck. She looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I am so proud of you people.”
It is not only the people in Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Libya-Yemen-Somalia who are being destroyed at the hands of U.S. militarism. The poor in our own country are left without jobs and then have to turn to selling drugs or their own bodies on the streets in order to make a buck so they can survive. They are then locked into the jails of the Prison-Industrial-Complex. The judge is just one more cog in this evil machine.
For several days this week we interrupted the judge’s mundane job of sending legions of poor people from the nation’s capital to these cells of desperation. For a short time we challenged him, his clerk, the U.S. Marshall, the court stenographer, the two Park Police who testified against us, and the two government prosecutors to think outside their normal boxes. But the most important heart we reached during this trial was the black mother who feels alone in our heartless society as she sees her beloved child suffer inside this demented and broken system.
—Bruce Gagnon, Bath, ME; from his blog

One of the basic physical laws first articulated by Isaac Newton in 1687 is that an object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by an opposing force. The same is true about democracy, as many of those in the courtroom today have been witness to that change which has only occurred through opposing forces such as Rosa Parks, Dr. King, and many others who have acted in contradiction to current law.
I stood with my brothers and sisters on march 19th to be such an opposing force, a non-violent force, to the illegal, immoral, violent, unjust wars that continue in our names, which are a continuation of wars past.  I stand before the court today with the individual belief that although the court may believe it acted justly, that it’s ruling is allowing for the continuation of the illegal, immoral, violent, and unjust wars for Empire that continue in our name and serves only to preserve the union and keep It’s violent trajectory unchanged.
Therefore, I ask that the court take this into consideration in its sentencing, and any future rulings, to help correct the trajectory of this society by giving the defendants a sentence of time-served, as well as finding all future defendants, who acted in the same vein, only guilty of love, peace, and respect.
—Richard Marini, Staten Island, NY; from his sentencing statement

Everything said by the defendants during this trial was compelling, but not as powerful as how it was said. These were not dry legalities being related; these people were talking about lives devoted to Peace and openness, the time and expense and courage required to stand up to the government and its supporters, their dedication to a future without war. Clarity, articulateness, and profound emotion were communicated along with detail, to the point that many observers in the room were clearly moved. This quality was what the process in court was all about, and should be about, for every defendant, in every court.
—Jay Wenk, Woodstock, NY; from an article he wrote about the trial

When I left Vietnam I pledged to the guys I served with who did not come back that I would speak out against my country whenever my country decided to commit our troops to war based on lies.
—Chuck Heyn, Damascus, PA; from his sentencing statement

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The War Crimes Times provides compelling, ongoing information on war and the war crimes that invariably accompany war, the many costs of war, the effects of our war culture on our national character and international reputation, and the need to hold accountable those who initiate and conduct illegal wars. Additionally and importantly, we also report on the efforts of the many people who sacrifice their time, money, and comfort to work for peace.


When national leaders initiate hostilities they create the conditions—the extreme use of force coupled with limited accountability—for the war crimes which invariably follow. War crimes are therefore an inherent part of war. The suffering caused and the enmity aroused by war crimes must be regarded as costs of war. Since these and other costs far exceed any benefits of war, we seek to end war as a tool of international policy.


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