Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Eleven activists sent to jail for demonstrating at U.S. Supreme Court

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Eleven peace activists received jail sentences May 30 after being convicted of misdemeanor charges in connection with a Jan. 11 nonviolent demonstration at the U.S. Supreme Court calling for the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The 11 were among 34 people convicted of unlawfully gathering on the Supreme Court grounds by District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Wendell Gardner Jr. May 29 after a three-day trial. Their sentences ranged from one to 15 days, the length dependent upon the number of previous convictions stemming from other similar actions.

Six of those who were sent to jail are members of the Catholic Worker Movement. They are: Kirk Brown and Ed Bloomer of Des Moines, Iowa; Brian Terrell of Maloy, Iowa; Carmen Trotta of New York City; Arthur Laffin of Washington; and Bill Frankel-Streit of Louisa, Va.

Others receiving jail terms were Susan Crane of Baltimore, a resident of Jonah House who has engaged in faith-based nonviolent witnessing for three decades; Christine Gaunt of Grinnell, Iowa; Ed Kinane of Syracuse, N.Y; Malachy Kilbride of Washington; and Eve Tetaz, also of Washington, who is retired and whom friends described as a "full-time peace activist."

All were taken immediately from Gardner's courtroom to begin serving their terms after saying they would refuse to comply with the conditions of probation the judge set, which included staying away from the Supreme Court for a year.

Another person, Paul Magno of Washington, was cited for contempt of court after shouting at Gardner as he sentenced Tetaz. As he was being led by U.S. marshals, Magno appeared to go limp and was carried away.

The remaining members of the group, including Father William Pickard, a priest from the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., received suspended jail terms of seven to 30 days, one year of probation and the order to stay away from the Supreme Court for a year. All were required to pay $50 in court fees.

Many in the group wore orange jumpsuits in solidarity with Guantanamo detainees, who must wear such jumpsuits in prison.

The case against one defendant was dismissed on the trial's opening day after arresting officers failed to identify him. Charges against 46 others were dropped in the weeks prior to the trial.

The defendants were among 81 people arrested either inside the court's Upper Great Hall or on the raised plaza in front of the court building as they knelt, prayed and held banners calling upon justices to allow the 274 Guantanamo detainees their habeas corpus rights.

The demonstration was organized by Witness Against Torture, a mostly Catholic group of activists seeking to end what they call U.S.-sponsored torture and illegal detentions around the world. Most of those arrested are Catholic Workers. Their ages range from 19 to the early 70s.

As the trial unfolded, each person introduced himself or herself and then recited the name of a detainee they represented, offering a few words about the individual. They said they were citing the names of detainees because it may be the only time those being held get any mention in a U.S. court.

Trotta was led away after a particularly impassioned plea to the judge. He had asked Gardner to set aside the convictions he had handed down a day earlier and "join with us" in decrying the harsh conditions at Gauntanamo.

"Without justice, law simply becomes a mechanism of tyranny," Trotta said. "The very foundations of our republic are at issue."

Trotta told Gardner that he could change his mind and begin to change the course of government policies that allow people to be held indefinitely without charges.

Despite his plea, Trotta was sentenced to 10 days in jail. "What I personally might do as opposed to what the law says I must do are different," Gardner said. "I'm just doing my job."

Many of those convicted offered statements voicing their disapproval of the situation at Guantanamo and said the U.S. government's machinery prevents detainees from their constitutional right to a fair trial. Most pledged to continue acting on behalf of the detainees.

As with Trotta's statement, none of the other statements moved Gardner, who immediately imposed a sentence. At times he warned courtroom spectators -- who clapped quietly and offered words of encouragement to those led away to jail -- that any disruptions would not be tolerated.

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