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AN OPEN LETTER TO JUDGE STEPHEN L. CROCKER


Note: Thirteen activists from around the country were arrested by Department of Defense Police on August 10, 2008, as they attempted to enter the gates of Fort McCoy, a military installation in Wisconsin’s Monroe County where soldiers, reservists and National Guard members are trained and deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were participants in WITNESS AGAINST WAR, a 450 mile walk from Chicago to last summer’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul “to challenge and nonviolently resist our country’s continuing war in and occupation of Iraq” (http://vcnv.org/witness-against-war). On January 12, twelve of the activists were tried and convicted in US District Court in Madison for the crime of trespass. (http://vcnv.org/fort-mccoy-peace-activists-fined-in-federal-court)

February 12, 2009
Stephen L. Crocker
U.S. Magistrate Judge, United States District Court
Post Office Box 591
Madison, WI, 53701

Dear Judge Crocker,

I am one of the twelve activists that you found guilty of trespassing at Ft. McCoy in your court on January 12. I have been in court as a pro se defendant many times over the last thirty and more years and rarely have I met with a judge who would treat defendants such as ourselves with as much consideration as you have shown us in these proceedings. Beginning with saving us a lot of travel by allowing our far-flung group to make our preliminary “appearance” a telephonic one and continuing through the trial, even when some testimony was personally challenging, it was clear that you were being as fair to us as the parameters that you perceive allowed you to be.

This letter is to commend your courtesy but also to continue to challenge those parameters as several of us did with you in court and to continue the conversation that began there last month. I am taking this time to write to you mostly because I sensed that above the exemplary good manners and proper courtroom decorum you have a genuine curiosity about why we did what we did. I venture to say also that I sensed in you a need to explain and to justify yourself to us-an extraordinary turn of events where the judge was more vehement in the defense of his innocence than the defendants on the dock he had just found guilty! I hope that I am right in my belief that this is the rare occasion where conversation outside the courtroom between judge and judged might be worthwhile.

The Assistant United States Attorney in her recommendation for sentencing was adamant in insisting that when we entered Ft. McCoy against the orders of the police we KNEW that we were breaking the law. First, I want to stress with you that is categorically not true. We are not being cute or playing fast and loose with words. When John Bachman, an experienced trial lawyer and defendant in this case told you that in his view he did not break the law, he meant it. We are reasonable, educated people who have studied the issues and we know in no uncertain terms that in entering Ft. McCoy as we did no law was broken. We were acting as citizens under the protection of the first amendment to the US Constitution and under obligations under the Geneva Conventions and Nuremburg principles to obstruct war crimes. If the representative of the government in court that day had evidence to the contrary it was not offered. The fact that we knew that by so acting we would most likely be arrested and planned for that eventuality is not evidence of guilt, as was suggested, but only that we have had experience of having our rights so violated. Your attempt to explain to us the error of our ways completely failed and you were all too quick to dismiss Gene Stoltzfus’ request for a sentence that might convince us that we had committed a crime.

Your claim that our motives were irrelevant to the case is specious and hollow. If your court does not recognize any difference between trespassing to prevent a war crime and trespassing to poach deer, as the analogy you offered, then it would follow that neither would your court make a distinction between breaking a door down to steal the silverware and breaking a door down to save a child from a burning building. That position is, of course, patently absurd and indefensible, appellate decisions notwithstanding. Another possible analogy, one that is not as inapt as it might first appear, unfortunately, might be whether a court in Munich, say, in 1940, would be able to see a distinction between trespassing on the grounds of Dachau to poach deer and trespassing there in order to prevail upon the soldiers there to desist, to attempt to stop a crime against humanity. “Justice is blind,” you reminded us. But when a court is blind to such simple and obvious distinctions one wonders if that court serves any purpose whatever.

You told us that while you were allowing us as “ideologically motivated defendants” each our five minutes to explain our motives, such indulgence on your part was gratuitous and not our right. Previous decisions, you told us, rendered such testimony “irrelevant.” Relevance did arise through the trial as the most vital issue but it rose not concerning the relevance of our motives (this was never really in question) but rather the relevance of a court whose view is so limited as not to understand the difference between a crime and a rescue. A deciding moment in the trial was when Renee Espeland asked you plainly if anything she might say might make a difference to you. With your assurance that no, anything she might say would be irrelevant to the court and so would be discounted, she waved you off and addressed her comments to the Ft. McCoy police in the back of the courtroom. She wisely used the five minutes granted her to talk to people who would listen, people to whom her words might make a difference. Who, at that moment was “irrelevant,” Judge Crocker? It was not Renee, nor her testimony. When I tell you that at that moment my heart went out to you as the person in that room with the least purpose, the least relevance, it is not to dismiss or to damn you. Rather I want to express my sympathy for you, to impress upon you your worth as more than an unthinking cog in a machine, the alibi to which you take refuge from responsibility. Yes, you can be relevant!

Jeffrey Leys offered you a chance that you could have and should have accepted. Finding us not guilty was certainly within your reach. The machine drags on, murders multiply. You will have more opportunities in the near future to decide whether you and your court will continue to offer legal cover for crimes of historic proportion, as it did on January 12, or if it will, with your knowledge of the law, your wisdom and experience and the light in your heart, consider whether crimes have been committed and by whom.

Peace,

Brian Terrell

P.S. Ceylon Mooney, Joshua Brollier, Alice Gerard, Renee Espeland and Joy First, who were also among the January 12 convicts, have asked to be considered cosigners of this letter.

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