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PUTTING THE PENTAGON ON TRIAL
By Max Obuszewski
We have assumed the name of peacemaker, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total, but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial..... We cry peace and cry peace and there is not peace. There is no peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war, at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace, prison and death in its wake." Daniel Berrigan, No Bars to Manhood, 1970
On June 16 at 9 AM, a group of peace activists are scheduled to appear for trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, charged with “disobeying a lawful order on the Pentagon Reservation.” When United For Peace and Justice called for local demonstrations on March 20 to commemorate the invasion of Iraq, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance [NCNR] decided to organize a march to the Pentagon.
Some of the March 20th participants wrote to Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld to seek a meeting to expedite the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Since he never responded, we decided to attempt to deliver a commemorative coffin to his office.
As we marched from LBJ Grove, we soon discovered the Pentagon police were uninterested in protecting our Constitutional right “to petition our Government for a redress of grievances.” Instead they erected a five-foot tall barrier, marked Do Not Cross, in a parking lot to prevent us from getting anywhere near the Pentagon.
After some quick decision-making, the group felt a barrier should not impede us in the exercise of our First Amendment rights. So Paul Zulkowitz, a member of the Green Party from New York, went over the wall first and was handed the coffin. Another fifty people went over or under the barrier. An enormous security detail soon had us all in handcuffs.
The arrested were from Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Nicaragua, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Virginia, and Wisconsin. For example, Johnny Barber, a Florida resident flew from Louisiana, after participating in the Katrina march, and arrived just in time to be arrested. Those charged are scheduled to appear in court on one of four dates--June 16, July 7 or 21 or August 4.
On June 16, we intend to represent ourselves and take on various legal roles. Most importantly, we will attempt to put the Pentagon on trial. We are in essence charged with interfering with agency functions and face a maximum six months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. If only we were able to interfere with the war.
Steve Lane, scheduled for a later court date, wrote to me: “How can an institution engaged in an illegal war, claim it can issue a legal order?” Yes, we intend to argue that we did not violate a lawful order. It was the police who shredded the Constitution, and violated our right to express our grievances about this awful war in Iraq. The Pentagon Police Incident Report makes our case: “… there was a pre-erected barricade in place which was in place to allow the demonstrators to exercise there [sic] 1st amendment [sic] rights to free speech.” Activists around the country have had the same experience--police set up a “free-speech zone” where no decision-maker would see or hear us. So in between critiquing the war and occupation, we will argue the police order was illegal.
Security had no right to presume we were to engage in unlawful activities, and, like the Bush administration, take us out with a pre-emptive strike. We were people of nonviolence, involved in Constitutionally-protected speech. Our intent was to seek a meeting with one of the architects of the war, hardly criminal activity.
On Dec. 30, 2004, the District of Columbia Appeals Court overturned the conviction of Andrew Bloch, who was arrested Mar.19, 2003, when he crossed a police line in order to get to the White House sidewalk to protest the war. The court concluded that the area of the arrest was public space, and the government failed to justify the resulting restriction of the First Amendment.
Our case is very similar, and we will make the same First Amendment argument. Will the federal magistrate judge in Alexandria accept our argument and acquit the defendants? Or will he side with the Pentagon and judge our behavior to be a threat to public safety?
Supporters are encouraged to be outside the courthouse in Alexandria at 8 AM to protest the war. Depending upon the outcome of the trial, the defendants are considering going to the Pentagon afterwards for another protest.
NCNR has been involved in promoting various resistance actions since 2003. It is considering issuing a call for resistance actions against Congress before the election. Activists would be urged to come to Washington to demand that Congress cuts off all further funding--$320 billion and still counting—for the quagmire in Iraq. Consider getting involved.
Max Obuszewski, a member of the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, has risked arrest for justice and peace more than 70 times.