Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Judge Convicts Civil Resisters Who “Put Drones On Trial”

PeaceWorks, Kansas City;
Trifecta Resista; and Mid-MO Peace Coalition
4509 Walnut, Kansas City, MO 64111; 816-561-1181

For immediate release Sept. 11, 2012

Contacts:
Brian Terrell, 773-853-1886;
Ron Faust, 816-582-6893;
Tamara Severns, 816-753-7642

In the first federal trial related to drone warfare, Judge Magistrate Matt Whitworth of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri, ruled yesterday that two civil resisters were guilty of trespass at Whiteman Air Force Base, near Knob Noster, Mo.

On April 15, defendants Ronald Faust of Gladstone, Mo., and Brian Terrell of Maloy, Iowa, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, sought to present to the Whiteman AFB commander an indictment of all involved in drone warfare, from President Obama to the Whiteman officers who, by remote control, direct predator drones in Afghanistan attacks. The defendants said yesterday they were not guilty of trespass but had simply tried to bring a grievance to a government authority about the drone strikes that kill an estimated 49 untargeted persons for every one target. More than 50 supporters of Faust and Terrell packed the courtroom.

During the trial, constitutional law expert Bill Quigley, professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, said the defendants were exercising their rights April 15 under the First Amendment to the Constitution. “My grandfather went to jail in Birmingham to oppose Bull Connor,” said Quigley, noting that when the Supreme Court overturned laws against sit-ins at restaurants and protests outside courtrooms, “there were 3,000 people in jail.” Quigley reminded the court that 100 years ago, the nation had no child labor laws, no vote for women, no civil rights legislation. The First Amendment protects “vigorous dissent,” said Quigley. “The idea of trespass is not more important than the First Amendment. Our Constitution trumps the statutes” for trespass.

Witness Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, told the court she came to Whiteman AFB April 15 to support the defendants’ presentation of the “Indictment for Violation of Human Rights”, their statement against drone warfare. Kelly said she and Terrell had visited families of drone victims, and she described how goat-herders at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, had introduced them to a child whose arm was amputated by a drone. Kelly said she felt responsible “to go as close as I could to the people” suffering from drone bombings, and explained that she and Terrell were raising their voices here on behalf of the voiceless abroad.

The defense had proposed that former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and (retired) Col. Ann Wright should testify about the illegality of drone warfare and citizens’ responsibilities under international treaties. The prosecution opposed those topics, and the judge excluded them.

Wright, who resigned her diplomatic post in 2003 to protest the Iraq War, was permitted by Whitworth to testify only on base security issues. She suggested the commander might have assigned guards to Terrell, Faust, and Kenney on April 15 and let them hand their indictment to the commander. Instead, the base arrested the three and had 40-50 military police in riot gear march against about 40 supporters. After the trial yesterday, Wright said the defendants’ and supporters’ work “gives hope to people in other parts of the world that there are Americans who are fighting drones, and we aren’t going to get stopped!”

VIEW THE YOUTUBE VIDEO OF ANN WRIGHT'S REMARKS at the Trifecta Resista Drone Trial Press Conference.

Whitworth’s rejection of Clark marked the first time Clark was not allowed to testify in court as an expert witness. Clark said after the trial, “We are part of a long struggle—I’ve been at it for 84 years. We have to plan harder, work harder. The world is in far more danger than when I was born, probably progressively so. Right now we’re madly designing more efficient ways to take human life. We have to awaken people, with love out front. We need to act boldly, take the opportunity to do our best, and pray for the rest.”

VIEW THE YOUTUBE VIDEO OF RAMSEY CLARK'S REMARKS at the Trifecta Resista Drone Trial Press Conference.

About half the supporters traveled from Jefferson City to Whiteman AFB, gathering under the stars, singing for peace, and holding signs such as “Ground the Drones!” There Clark said the drone operators are allowed “to be judge, jury, and executioner, contrary to all sense of justice.”

After issuing his guilty verdict, Whitworth told Faust and Terrell to meet with probation officers soon for a presentence investigation. “I wonder if I might waive a presentence investigation,” Terrell asked the judge. Terrell recalled that on June 6, Whitworth gave Terrell and Faust’s resistance companion, Mark Kenney of Omaha, a four-month federal prison sentence, out of the maximum of six months, in part because of Kenney’s prior convictions for resistance. Noting that the prosecuting attorney had his arrest record, Terrell said, “It beats out Mark’s 10 to 1. I don’t believe there’ll be anything in a presentence report that would change the situation. If the government suggests even the maximum penalty, I wouldn’t argue against that.” He asked to be sentenced at once, but the judge denied the request. Sentencing is expected in a few weeks.

Terrell e-mailed supporters today, “Our efforts have been and continue to effectively spread questions, doubts, and even outrage over remote-control murder at long distance by drones from Whiteman and other bases. Their willingness to kill from long distance must be exceeded by our commitment to love from a distance.” Faust e-mailed today, “I think about everybody realized that we won the trial. Change is slow, but we got the message out.” Media reports included coverage in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Kansas City Star, news.yahoo.com, AirForceTimes.com, palmbeachpost.com (Fla.), Fox 4 TV in KC, KCTV 5, and other news venues. Henry Stoever of Overland Park, Kan., served as Terrell’s legal advisor. After the trial, Stoever listed several reasons the defendants should not have been convicted, including:

1. the military witnesses failed to specifically identify Terrell and Faust, referring to them broadly as the two at the defense table when three men sat there, along with Ruth O’Neill of Columbia, Mo., Faust’s lawyer;

2. the judge refused to allow the defendants to present a complete defense in which their experts would have had an opportunity to explain drone killings as murders without notice or warning, without due process, outside of a legal process; and

3. by focusing solely on trespass and the limited “law” in that area, the judge excluded the greater evil that is ongoing and missed the injustice of the entire matter.

Terrell noted today that he and Faust were unable to raise an international law defense. Whitworth rejected Clark’s testimony on the U.N. Charter and the responsibility of citizens to resist the crimes of their government under the Nuremberg Principles. Terrell recalled Whitworth’s comment during a pretrial conference call that international law does not “trump” domestic law. This, says Terrell, is in contradiction to the Constitution, Article VI, that incorporates treaties into the “supreme law of the land.” Terrell added that the judge also limited Kelly’s testimony about what she and Terrell had witnessed in Afghanistan.

RELATED PRESS COVERAGE

Anti-Drone Protesters Found Guilty of Trespassing

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