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WHO IS THE REAL THREAT TO COMMUNITIES? Acting in resistance to killer drones


By Joy First, Mt. Horeb, WI

As our government continues the illegal and immoral killer drone program, terrorizing communities around the world, members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR) continue our resistance.  As part of that resistance I was on trial with four other activists in US District Court in Alexandria,VA on October 22.  Joining me were Malachy Kilbride, Max Obuszewski, Phil Runkel, and Janice Sevre-Duszynska.  Cindy Sheehan was also arrested with us, but was unable to attend the trial because of an illness.

We began our resistance against the CIA drone program when we filed a criminal complaint against the CIA with the US Attorney’s office in Alexandria, VA on May 23, 2013.  As citizen activists we are responsible for reporting crimes that we know are being committed.  So we went to the US Attorney’s office and we were able to meet with Assistant US Attorney Eugene Rossi.  He talked with us for about 40 minutes and accepted our complaint.  We then followed up with phone calls and emails to his office in our attempt to hold the CIA accountable for their crimes.  However, we did not receive any response. 

We decided to continue our resistance with a letter to CIA Director John Brennan.  In the letter we told him why we oppose the drones and we asked for a meeting to discuss our concerns.  When we didn’t get a response from him, we went to the CIA on June 29, 2013.  Our crime was to walk onto the CIA property with a copy of the unanswered letter in our hands and ask for a meeting with CIA officials.

We were arrested and charged with trespassing.  After some preliminary matters, including a motion filed for extended discovery (which was denied) our trial was scheduled for October 22.  We made plans to defend ourselves, pro se, and at about 10:00am on October 22 we walked into Judge Ivan Davis’ courtroom in the US District Court in Alexandria, VA as he was finishing up with another case.

As our case was called, we walked to the front of the courtroom, and the five of us crowded around the defense table.  I got ready to take notes on the proceedings, and as the trial began and the judge immediately began to chastise Max, the first words I wrote were “He’s scary”.  Right from the start he was very antagonistic and argumentative towards Max.  Max tried to argue again for extended discovery and the judge did not want to hear anything about it.

The prosecutor, US Attorney on special assignment from the CIA, Stacy Chaffin, gave a short opening statement and framed the case for the judge stating this was a simple case of trespass and that though we would try to bring the issue of drone warfare into the trial, this was only about us trespassing on CIA property on June 29.  It was not about drones, she emphasized.

Ms. Chaffin had one witness, Police Officer Davilla.  He said that we had a letter that we wanted to deliver, and it was accepted by an official with the CIA.  He said there was a mock air strike and the defendants fell across the police line and were allowed to lie there, but when they got up and moved forward he read us a warning and when we didn’t leave we were arrested. 

Max cross-examined Davilla and Ms. Chaffin objected to almost every question he asked with Judge Davis sustaining the objections.  Max asked if the letter that Davilla mentioned could be entered as evidence and the judge refused this request.  When questioned by Max, Davilla claimed he didn’t know that the mock air strike was supposed to be a simulated drone strike.  Malachy followed up, asking Davilla to read the police report.  In the police report, written by Davilla, it was noted that it was a mock drone strike.  The government was working hard to try to keep the word “drone” out of the proceedings.

Throughout the questioning of the government witness Judge Davis repeated over and over that what Max and Malachy were saying was not relevant.  He shut them down at every turn and seemed very angry. 

I took the stand as the first defense witness, and gave background information.  I said that I live in Mt. Horeb, WI.  I am a wife of 41 years, a mother of five, and a grandmother of six, with a seventh on the way.  I have my PhD in Women’s Studies.  Spending time with my grandchildren and doing the work I am involved in for peace and social justice are the things I spend most of my time on.  The two are very interconnected.  My grandchildren inspire me to do this work.  I said that I think about what kind of world my grandchildren will live in when they grow up and that makes me continue with this work.  I felt very overwhelmed by emotion as I talked about being a grandmother, and stated that as a grandmother I don’t just think of my own grandchildren, but I think of all the children of the world.  I want to spread my arms wide around all the children of the world and keep them safe.  I think about the children who are dying from drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and other places around the world.  I am a member of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR) and we have been acting in resistance to the illegal actions of our government since 2003.  We have done actions at the White House, the Pentagon, Congress, and the Department of Justice.  We write letters to both elected officials and government personnel about our concerns before each visit.  It has become clear that those in our government feel they are no longer accountable to the citizens of this country because we have never once gotten any kind of reply to any of our letters.  When we don’t get a response we follow up with a visit in person and have often been arrested simply for seeking a meeting with a government official.

The statute for trespassing states that unauthorized people are not allowed on the property, but under cross-examination I stated that I believed I was authorized to be there under the First Amendment and that I was obligated to be there under the principles that came out of Nuremberg.  I talked about what happened at the CIA on June 29 and was able to say that we were there because of our concerns that thousands of innocent people, including children, are dying as a result of our government’s illegal activities. 

After seeing the judges response to Max and Malachy, I was very surprised that he let me say all that I said. 

Janice took the stand next.  She talked about being a teacher and about how it is important to show children how to resolve conflict through mediation.  She testified that many of the children she taught in ESL classes were from war-torn countries and that she doesn’t want to see this kind of suffering anymore.  She stated that it is more than the US Constitution that gives her the right to do what she did on June 29, but that she has that right as a human being.

I gave the closing statement (see below) and then without any deliberation at all, the judge found us guilty.  I looked him right in the eye during the last sentence of my closing, “We ask that you please find us not guilty as charged and join us in working for peace and true justice in the world.” but he refused to open his heart to what we were saying.      

His arguments for the conviction were that there was police tape with the words “Do not cross” and this should have put us on notice.  He said that the defendants could argue that because they were allowed to be there, according police testimony and the police report, that meant they were authorized.  However when Officer Davilla read the warning that we should leave or we would be arrested, we should have know we would be arrested at that point and we should have left.  He argued that although the defendants said that we did not intend to break the law, this was not a crime of intent and so our intention was irrelevant.  He also said that Nuremberg does not apply because there were no international laws broken.  This was an astonishing statement to hear the judge make. 

Also unbelievable were statements made by Judge Davis that the Bill of Rights were irrelevant, Nuremberg was irrelevant, and drone strikes were irrelevant.  He said this is a court of law, not morality.

The prosecutor asked for unsupervised probation, reasoning that we were obviously nonviolent.  This was a surprise because she had told Max and Malachy at a pre-trial hearing that she would ask for supervised probation. 

All the defendants, except for me, gave moving sentencing statements.  I said what I needed to in the closing and didn’t need to say more, but I am glad the others were able to speak out so clearly about our need to be there and to be doing what we did.

The judge gave us one year unsupervised probation and said that we should not violate the law in that year or return to the CIA for protesting in an unauthorized fashion.  We would also be fined $300 plus court costs.

Malachy asked for clarification on the sentence because he vigils outside the gates of the CIA monthly.  The judge said that would be acceptable as long as he does not go onto CIA property. 

What happened next was something I have never seen before.  Judge Davis said that now that the whole thing was over he had a question he wanted to ask us just to satisfy his curiosity.  He said that all we tried to do all morning was to talk about drones, but what if there was a plane with a pilot who killed someone, would we be there?  Of course we would be there, we responded.  But what was the meaning of this question?  Was he putting us down and making fun of us?  Of course he knew how we would answer to that question.

On our way out of the courthouse we were required to check in at the probation office.  Though we have been on unsupervised probation, we have never had to do check in with the probation office before.  We were given a stack of forms to fill out and were surprised when we realized they wanted us to sign releases for access to medical, psychiatric, financial, educational, and jobs records.  Though we all know the government is spying on us and getting this information, we were not going to willingly submit and give our permission for this kind of serious intrusion of privacy.  After raising our concerns to the receptionist, we were able to talk to a supervisor who said we did not have to fill out the forms, but if they needed the information they would come after us.

The trial was two weeks ago.  It takes a lot out of you emotionally and physically, but in one week I will return to DC to ttend the CodePink drone summit.  NCNR is organizing an action of nonviolent civil resistance on Capitol Hill for Nov. 18 and then I will be traveling from DC to the SOA Watch in Georgia.  I will be so looking forward to returning home on Nov. 24 to spend the holidays with my family, even as I remember those who are not able to spend time with their loved ones because of the US drone attacks.

We filed for an appeal and we also filed a motion to stay the execution of the sentence pending the appeal.  I am feeling deeply conflicted about the year of probation with the order to not get arrested during that time or face the serious consequences of Judge Davis’ courtroom.  In the mail today I received a counter motion, for the stay of execution, filed by the prosecutor.  She wrote that she is willing to stay the payment of the fine, but not to stay the year of unsupervised probation.  In her motion she states, “the probation is necessary to protect the community…”.  How arrogant and ironic and ridiculous!  Ask Nabila who poses a threat to her community.

It is wrong whether a bomb is dropped from a plane with a pilot or from a drone.  It is wrong if it is soldiers on the ground fighting to expand the empire through the pain, suffering, and death of innocent children, women, and men around the world.  As long as these crimes continue, I will join my compatriots in standing in resistance and calling for an end to the illegal actions of our government.  We will work together for a world where communities are a place of peace and justice and where children can play happy and free.   

 

Closing Statement

CIA Arrest   June 29, 2013     Trial  October 22, 2013

Joy First

Good morning/ afternoon Your Honor.  My name is Joy First, defendant pro se and I will be giving the closing statement for our group.

We are standing before you today, Your Honor, being charged with Trespassing - Entering or remaining on an Agency Installation without proper authorization. 

But the government did not \prove our guilt on that charge beyond a reasonable doubt.   We have shown that we did not go to the CIA on June 29, 2013 to break the law; rather we went there to uphold the law.

It should not be presumed that we were there to engage in unlawful activities.  We are people of nonviolence, involved in Constitutionally-protected speech.  Our intent was to seek a meeting with Mr. Brennan and to influence him, wake him up, affect his conscience, and shame him perhaps, but we never engaged in any criminal activity.

You heard testimony that the police knew we were coming and had erected a police line at the main entrance gate of the Central Intelligence Agency on Dolley Madison Boulevard.

You heard testimony that we were given mixed messages from the police regarding this line.  First being told we would be arrested if we crossed the line of police tape, but then according to the police report as we crossed the police line, “CIA Police Personnel backed up and allowed them to lie on the ground.”  Then, as we moved further onto the property we were arrested.  To us, it was not clear what the boundaries were, and what we could and could not do.  We were on CIA property during the rally, and we were on CIA property when we did the die-in.  We did not know if or when we would be arrested.

You heard testimony that we did, in fact, go to the CIA on June 29 and ask for a meeting with Mr. Brennan or one of his representatives to discuss our concerns.

You heard testimony that it was only when that meeting was refused that we were moved by our conscience to walk peacefully onto CIA property expressing our very deep concerns about the CIA involvement in illegal drone strikes.

We were charged with trespassing – being on the CIA base without “proper authorization.”  But you heard witnesses state that they believed that not only were we authorized under the US Constitution, but we were obligated to be there under the principles of Nuremberg.  

You heard testimony that though the police told us we had to leave, we believed it was our right and our duty to refuse that order. 

You heard from both government and defense witnesses that we acted in a nonviolent and a peaceful and cooperative manner throughout the whole process.

Sadly, a large portion of the citizenry are unable or unwilling to challenge the government when it engages in activities which are unlawful.  However, these five defendants have a long and worthy history of engaging in the legislative process.  We defendants are citizen activists, who have engaged in dialogue with many elected officials mostly over peace and justice matters.  We recognized a long time ago that War Is Not the Answer.  It is wrong on many levels—wasting tax dollars which could go to social programs, creating enemies when random acts of violence attack generally poor people in the Middle East and make our government representatives to be hypocrites when challenging another country’s human rights violations. 

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution confirms that we were authorized to engage with government representatives: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” However, we were instead arrested.

According to the Nuremberg Principles, if we remain silent while our government is engaged in illegal activities, then we are complicit, we are equally guilty of being in violation of international law and of going against our most dearly held values.  It is our responsibility as citizens, as taxpayers, as voters to speak out.  Robert Jackson, the United States judge at the Nuremberg trials said, “The very essence of the Nuremberg Charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state.”

Your honor, the bottom line is that thousands of innocent people are dying and it is up to all of us to do everything we can to stop the pain and suffering and death being inflicted on these people by our government.

We ask that you please find us not guilty as charged and join us in working for peace and true justice in the world. 

Thank you for your time and attention to this case.

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