Monday, June 30, 2008

Cleveland Assembly and Our Plans for the Inauguration

This past weekend was the "National" Anti-War Assembly in Cleveland. It was a frustrating gathering of anti-war activists from many places across the country, but an overwhelming number were naturally from Ohio, to try and draft a plan for a mass mobilization. Most of the time was spent on specific language of their structure, specific language to be used within the movement, and ideological debates. There was a date set for Dec. 9 for regional anti-war mobilization. This decision might have been the most concrete, but the timing is obviously terrible -- wedged right in between major holidays.

Here in D.C. the Washington Peace center and the new peace and social justice organizing coalition has gotten behind organizing for the inauguration. Whether it is Obama or McCain, military expenses will continue to receive the majority of our budget, and critical domestic needs will continue to suffer. However, realistically we know that the image of this mobilization will likely differ between these two possibilities, but our planning will go forward regardless. Below is the call to action we have drafted.

REAL CHANGE BEGINS WITH US!
END THE WAR – REBUILD OUR COMMUNITIES!
JOIN US IN DC ON INAUGURATION DAY!

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death...” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On January 20, 2009, we will finally get to celebrate the end of the Bush era. Indeed, with all the damage this President has helped inflict, we can be sure most of the world will join us in celebrating! Yet, when all is said and done, this damage will remain: an unjust war abroad prosecuted to a backdrop of continual fear-mongering, used to justify the loss of civil liberties and necessitating the neglect of domestic needs. It is clear, then, that we need to take this opportunity not just to rejoice at the fading of the past, but also to express our desire for a changed future.

Therefore, we hereby call for a mass, nonviolent demonstration to coincide with the inauguration of the next President of the United States. This Inauguration Day will closely follow Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, and it is in his spirit that we demand:

* Immediate withdrawal from Iraq and a commitment to take care of returning veterans.
* Restoration of the civil liberties that 9/11 has been used as an excuse to curtail.
* An end to torture and extraordinary rendition.
* Creation of green jobs and investment in clean energy.
* Quality healthcare, housing and education for all.

Throughout history, Americans have employed various means to articulate their demands, from citizen lobbying to direct action. And throughout history, these efforts have achieved the most when grounded in mass action: the mobilization of broad sections of the population into action around concrete demands. The movements for women’s suffrage, Civil Rights and an end to the Vietnam War all succeeded through mass action.

Washington Peace Center

Friday, June 20, 2008

Empire cracks down on anti-war resistance

Thursday 19 June 2008
by: Bill Quigley, t r u t h o u t | Perspective


"We can never forget that everything that Hitler did in Germany was 'legal,' and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did was 'illegal.' It was 'illegal' to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany , but I am sure that if I lived in Germany during that time I would have comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal ... we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive." Martin Luther King Jr.

There have been over 15,000 arrests for resistance to war since 2002. There were large numbers right after the runup to and invasion of Iraq . Recently, arrests have begun climbing again. Though arrests are a small part of antiwar organizing, their rise is an indicator of increasing resistance.

The information comes from the Nuclear Resister, a newsletter that has been reporting detailed arrest information on peace activists and other social justice campaigns since 1980. Felice and Jack Cohen-Joppa, publishers of the Nuclear Resister, document arrests by name and date, based on information collected from newspapers across the country and from defense lawyers and peace activists.

Since 2002, the Nuclear Resister has documented antiwar arrests for protesters each year:

2002 - 1,800 arrests
2003 - 6,072 arrests
2004 - 2,440 arrests
2005 - 975 arrests
2006 - 950 arrests
2007 - 2,272 arrests
2008 - 810 as of May 1

"Arrests for resistance to war are far more widespread geographically than most people think," according to Cohen-Joppa of the Nuclear Resister. "Yes, there are many arrests in DC and traditional big cities of antiwar activity - like San Francisco, NYC and Chicago, but there have also been antiwar arrests in Albany, Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Bangor, Bath, Bend, Brentwood, Burlington, Campbell, Cedar Rapids, Chapel Hill, Charlottesville, Chicopee, Colorado Springs, Denver, Des Moines, East Hampton, Erie, Eugene, Eureka, Fairbanks, Fairport, Fort Bragg, Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids, Great Dismal Swamp, Hammond, Huntsville, Joliet, Juneau, Kennebunkport, La Crosse, Los Angeles, Madison, Manchester, Memphis, Newark, Northbrook, Olympia, Omaha, Pittsburgh, Portland, Portsmouth, Providence, Richmond, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Fe, Smithfield, Springfield, St. Louis, St. Paul, Staten Island, Superior, Syracuse, Tacoma, Toledo, Tucson, Tulsa, Vandenberg, Virginia Beach, Wausau, Wheaton and Wilmington, just to name a few."

"In fact," notes Cohen-Joppa, "in 2007, antiwar arrests were reported during 250 distinct events in 105 cities in 35 states and the District of Columbia . So far in 2008, arrests have been reported at 65 events in 43 different cities in 19 states and DC."

An example of the scope of resistance can be found in the Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence. They joined with other major peace groups like Codepink, Veterans for Peace and the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance in early 2007 to launch The Occupation Project, a campaign of resistance aimed at ending the Iraq War. Theirs was a campaign of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience to end funding for the US war in and occupation of Iraq . The Occupation Project resulted in over 320 arrests in spring of 2007 in the offices of 39 US Representatives and Senators in 25 states.

"I am energized by the dedication of so many conscientious activists across the country willing to take the risks of peace and speak truth to power," says Max Obuszewski of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance. "We have been unsuccessful so far in stopping this awful war and occupation of Iraq , but it is not for the lack of direct action. We are taking on the greatest empire in world history, but we will continue to act."

"There are large numbers of new people being arrested," notes Cohen-Joppa, "most typically saying, 'I have tried everything else from writing to voting, but I have to do more to stop this war.' The profile of people arrested includes high school teenagers to senior citizens, mostly people under 30 and over 50."

Antiwar arrests are significantly underreported by mainstream media. For example, around the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in March 2008, most news stories wrote that there were 150 to 200 arrests nationwide. Cohen-Joppa and the Nuclear Resister report there were over double that number, well over 400, many outside the cities where regular media traditionally look.

Though arrests typically drop off in election years, as people's hopes are raised that a new president or Congress will make a difference and stop the war, this year looks like arrests are likely to continue to rise. In part, that will depend on the attitude of authorities in Denver and Minneapolis , where the political conventions are being held. In 2004, New York City authorities overreacted so much to protesters at the Republican convention that they arrested historic numbers of protesters - including hundreds who had no intention to risk arrest. If Senator McCain is elected, antiwar resistance activities are expected to rise much higher.

Why do people risk arrest in their resistance to war? Perhaps Daniel Berrigan, on trial for resistance to the Vietnam War, said it best:

"The time is past when good people may be silent
when obedience
can segregate us from public risk
when the poor can die without defense.
How many indeed must die
before our voices are heard
how many must be tortured dislocated
starved maddened?
How long must the world(s resources
be raped in the service of legalized murder?
When at what point will you say no to this war?
We have chosen to say
with the gift of our liberty
if necessary our lives:
the violence stops here.
The death stops here.
The suppression of truth stops here.
This war stops here."

Though war resistance activities and arrests have not stopped the war in Iraq , those struggling for peace remain committed. "None of us know what will happen if we continue to work for peace and human rights," says a handmade poster of one involved in the resistance, "But we all know what will happen if we don't."

The Nuclear Resister is published five to six times a year. They can be contacted at nukeresister@igc.org.

Bill is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans . Quigley77@gmail.com.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

There are no leaders -- We are the leaders!

The National Anti-war Assembly in Cleveland just got a little more important. I sent this out to a lot of local organizers and others in the movement late last night:

This evening at our coalition organizing meeting it was revealed that UFPJ does not want to do anything for the inauguration, and will in fact will try and dissuade their member groups from doing anything on the inauguration. ANSWER may be similar; they have obtained permits, but have indicated that a lot depends on who wins the election.I was disappointed. However I was glad there was a lot of energy at our meeting and folks wanted to do something. There will be a big action(s) on January 20th!

A lot of folks are afraid of doing something too close to MLK Day. The fact is we SHOULD be doing something because it is MLK Day. We need to honor King's legacy, not just a part of it -- but ALL of it. And that includes challenging militarism, and concretely working toward the beloved community he envisioned.

Personally, it will make no difference to me if the new president is Obama or McCain. Both have pledged to increase the size of the military, and both have pledged fealty to AIPAC. We will have a great action that day, drawing attention to the social needs at home, which are being neglected, while both Democrats and Republicans continue to fund war and occupation to the tune of HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS of dollars!

In peace and resistance,
Pete

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Supreme Court got it right; McCain is flat wrong


A couple days ago the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the writ of habeas corpus, a basic legal right at the foundation of our judicial system, for those held at the Guantanamo concentration camp. Habeas corpus has been around since the 17th century; it is the right for an individual to challenge their detention. In Guantanamo, men and teenage boys have been held there for years, some for now more than six years. Some were turned over to the U.S. military by bounty hunters in Afghanistan.

McCain believes this system should continue, Obama does not. This is a stark contrast between the two; one of the starkest yet during this campaign. To not respect one of the key legal rights which our Constitution was founded on is a serious flaw. Below is an article on McCain's recent blustering on this very topic. I wonder if he believes the North Vietnamese government had the right to hold him indefinitely and mistreat him.

McCain blasts ruling on Guantanamo
He calls decision 'one of the worst' in US history
By Sasha Issenberg and Farah Stockman, Globe Staff | June 14, 2008
PEMBERTON, N.J. - Senator John McCain, transforming a recent Supreme Court decision into a campaign issue yesterday, blasted the court's ruling, which established that foreign terrorism suspects held in detention at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay have the constitutional right to challenge their detention in civilian courts.

"The United States Supreme Court yesterday rendered a decision which I think is one of the worst decisions in the history of this country," McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said at a town hall meeting in this southern New Jersey town adjacent to McGuire Air Force Base.

His opponent, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, had welcomed the decision, which the court reached on a 5-4 vote Thursday. In response, Obama used the ruling to tie McCain to President Bush, who created the detention center for captured "enemy combatants" and the military-based justice system to handle their cases.

Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said in a statement that the ruling validating detainees' rights "ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice, while also protecting our core values." He said the deeply divided court, which has ruled on this issue before, saw through "the Bush administration's attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo - yet another failed policy supported by John McCain."

Obama has long advocated ending the justice system specially created for Guantanamo Bay. He said the detainees should be brought to trial in US courts or in military courts-martial, a proposal the Supreme Court ruling does not affect.

The high court's decision, however, voided some of McCain's proposals for Guantanamo.

Like Obama, McCain said Guantanamo should be closed, but he wants to bring the specially created military justice system to US soil to try the inmates. He insisted that the inmates should not have access to civilian courts, regardless of where they are detained.

"We made it very clear these are enemy combatants," McCain said yesterday, defending his position. "They have not, and never have, been given the rights of citizens of this country."

Two of McCain's allies, Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, joined him at a news conference after the town hall meeting.

Graham, a close adviser to McCain on military and justice issues, said Thursday the Constitution might need to be amended to override the Supreme Court ruling. McCain did not rule out that option yesterday but said there are other avenues available, including drafting a new law to limit detainees' access to federal courts.

The three senators rejected Obama's attempts to link their positions on Guantanamo to Bush. They said their support for a 2006 law setting up the special military system on Guantanamo was an attempt to "find the right balance" between Bush's security-first policy and the rule of law.

McCain's harsh critique was far more forceful than his reaction on Thursday, suggesting he saw a political advantage in identifying with the conservative justices who were in the minority on the matter. Using the language of domestic politics, he and his two Senate colleagues condemned the high court's "unaccountable judges" - a frequent bugaboo of conservative voters - and their role in a national security matter.

Graham said the court effectively stripped legal decisions on enemy combatants from "military personnel tribunals trained in the matters of warfare." Now, he added, cases will be handled "by the most liberal judges the detainees can find in the most liberal jurisdictions with no standards" and at a high risk to national security.

McCain then read approvingly from the dissenting opinion written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts - whom McCain cites as a model for his appointees should he become president - and scolded Obama for siding with the court's liberal bloc.

"Senator Obama applauds this decision, and he supports it," McCain said. "I argue against it and will do what I can to at least narrow down some of the wide-open aspects of this Supreme Court decision."

That pledge alarmed some human rights activists, who fear McCain could try to re-create the Guantanamo-style system of justice on US soil. If that happens, they warn, noncitizens - including green card holders - could be held indefinitely if deemed threats to national security.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006, which McCain backed, effectively eliminated enemy combatants' rights even if they were held on US soil. The Supreme Court ruling nullified it, but McCain's vow to keep fighting for it has disturbed some human rights activists and legal specialists.

"It is contrary to our basic values," said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, a nonpartisan group of military scholars.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Convicted Criminal Considers the Cause, and the Court


By Malachy Kilbride,
Washington Peace Center

Last week, as prisoners continued to languish in the infamous and illegally-run US concentration camp of Guantanamo, I was fortunate to join 34 fellow criminals in Washington DC at the District of Columbia Superior Court as our case, for an act of peaceful civil resistance, was heard by a judge and prosecuted by one of America’s officers of the court. Our court experience was far more than our unfortunate brothers in Guantanamo have received after 6 years in their open-ended confinement. Approximately 270 Guantanamo prisoners are held in captivity without charges, Habeas Corpus rights denied, access to civil courts denied, living in conditions of abuse, torture, and with little hope for life or liberty. Some have committed suicide because of their desperate situation.

On January 11, 2008 hundreds of people solemnly processed from The National Mall to The United States Supreme Court marking the 6th year of the prison camp to redress our grievances against the US Government and its use of abusive treatment, torture, and the ending of Habeas Corpus rights for the Guantanamo prisoners. Out of the hundreds who were a part of this assembly, outside and inside the US Supreme Court, I was one of 80 people who ended up being arrested for our nonviolent witness, kneeling and praying, calling for the closing of the Guantanamo detention camp. Those of us who were arrested for our peaceful justice-advocacy for the prisoners were charged with “unlawful free speech” and a second charge, for those inside, of “causing a harangue”. The “harangue” charge was eventually dropped.

After our arrest we were held for over 30 hours in a chain of custody from the US Supreme Court Police to the DC Metropolitan Police, and finally in holding cells below the courtroom by the US Marshals. We chose not to have any identification such as drivers’ licenses and instead told the police that we were there in the name of a specific Guantanamo prisoner. The Guantanamo prisoner I represented is Sahr Fawaz Ahmad. Many of us had been held on January 11 in handcuffs for over 8 hours and some not given any food or water until the next day. The day after our arrest, while still in custody, the US Marshals refused to give us water. Our lawyer had to get the arraignment judge to order the marshals to give us water. On January 12 we were all arraigned late in the day and early evening. We were then free to go until we would be in court to defend ourselves against the charges. Again, this is more than those in Guantanamo have received even after 6 long years of imprisonment without charge or conviction.

On May 27, 2008 we gathered for our trial in the DC Superior Court. As we went to trial our numbers had decreased from 80 initially arrested to 34 prepared for trial. Several of the 80 had made agreements with the government not to get arrested for 6 months and having their records cleared if they maintained this agreement. Others had their charges dropped for no apparent reason just before our trial. Our judge was Wendell P. Gardner Jr. and our US Government prosecutor was Magdelena Acevado. We would defend ourselves Pro Se meaning we would represent ourselves with the assistance of attorney-advisers Mark Goldstone and Anne Wilcox.

By going Pro Se we have the chance to introduce our message about the Guantanamo prisoners and what motivated us to take such a dramatic action at The US Supreme Court.

The trial lasted three days ending late on Thursday May 29. During our trial almost half of my fellow co-defendants wore orange jumpsuits and remained silent and would not take an active role in their defense. They did this to be in solidarity with the prisoners of Guantanamo and to illustrate the lack of justice the prisoners have experienced while being held in the US occupied portion of Cuba. The rest of us took on the various roles such as giving opening statements, cross examination of government witnesses, examination of defense witnesses, motion for judgment of acquittal, and closing statements in our defense. We all identified ourselves in court with our own names in addition to naming the Guantanamo prisoner we represented. In naming a Guantanamo prisoner we were in some small symbolic way getting these illegally held captives into the court record, again this is much more than what they have received so far.

During the trial several of my codefendants made deeply moving and passionate statements concerning the rights of the prisoners, about the abuse and torture we know is inflicted upon them, the importance of Habeas Corpus, human rights, and international law. They spoke eloquently about why we were called by conscience and the need to follow a higher law that is above statutes that govern behavior in and around a federal building. We all acted peacefully at the US Supreme Court on January 11, 2008 and firmly believe that we were there to uphold the law.

During the trial the government failed to provide any evidence of our individual guilt. We were identified in court with post-arrest photos by police witnesses. A video depicting some of what happened outside The US Supreme Court was presented without a single police officer identifying any one of us as an individual who committed a crime. Not one person who was inside on that day was ever identified by a police witness as committing any crime. One officer testified that the first time he saw me was on an elevator handcuffed being escorted by another officer after my arrest. Nevertheless we were all found guilty by the judge. We were found guilty by the use of post-arrest photos and guilt by association and not as individuals who each committed a crime. This is significant but not the most important thing for us.

We did what we did and went to trial because of the prisoners of Guantanamo. We were there for them. We were there to speak out for those who cannot. We were there to uphold international law, our constitution, our Bill of Rights, The Geneva Conventions, for justice and humanity. Our government refuses to allow the Guantanamo prisoners into our civil courts to be fairly tried. Instead our government has set up military tribunals where hearsay evidence is permitted, information obtained from those tortured is admitted as evidence, and the military judge picks the defense, prosecution, and jury. This is not justice. We took the names of the prisoners into court with us written on our hearts and minds and we spoke their names. We were subsequently sentenced by Judge Gardner on May 30.

We now all face one year of probation and a one year order to stay away from the US Supreme Court building, grounds, and the surrounding sidewalk. Some of us have fines of $50 and a few have, including myself, a $100 fine. Some refused to accept probation knowing they may be called by conscience, to witness for justice and peace, to risk arrest again. These people, five of them, received immediate jail time of 10 days and an additional one to 15 days. Another defendant, a retired school teacher in her 70’s, received 5 days, and I was one of three who received 1 day in jail in addition 29 days in jail if we get arrested within the year. Again, this is nothing compared to what our brothers in Guantanamo face every day.

Our judge gave us these punishments because he said he wants us to learn a lesson. But, in reality the government is clamping down on peaceful dissent by jailing us and threatening us with more jail if we continue our nonviolent resistance to injustice. This is the lesson the government wants nonviolent dissenters to learn. The lesson the government needs to learn, however, is that this won’t work with us. We will be back for our brothers in Guantanamo and the estimated 27,000 other prisoners in secret black sites around the world where torture is practiced.

As long as the Guantanamo concentration camp is open and in operation none of us is truly free. As long as the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzalez, and Yoo remain at large ordering, advocating, and approving of torture none of us is safe. As long as the bipartisan US Congress fails to restore Habeas Corpus and close Guantanamo we have lost our republic and tyranny will rule us. We all must work to close this place and bring justice to those held captive. If this means risking arrest for nonviolent symbolic actions of peaceful civil resistance and then enduring a time of incarceration then this must be done for the sake of the higher laws of justice and the leadings of our individual consciences. I urge all people of goodwill to join us in this struggle for justice.

For more information on the campaign to close Guantanamo, our trial, and the work to end torture go to: www.witnesstorture.org

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.