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COMMENTARY:

Judge Declines to Jail 'Ghosts of the Iraq War'

by Max Obuszewski
Thursday, 18 December 2008
Why are the architects of this illegal war not in any court of law? Why is it that only antiwar activists are being prosecuted?
The National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance [NCNR] organized a theatrical event on March 12. Ten antiwar activists calling themselves the Ghosts of the Iraq War, Maria Allwine, Ellen Barfield, Tim Chadwick, Joy First, Judith Kelly, Art Landis, Linda LeTendre, Max Obuszewski, Manijeh Saba and Eve Tetaz, went to the gallery of the U.S. Senate in a bold attempt to call for an end to the funding of the war.

Most of the Ghosts were on probation in Washington, D.C., so an arrest would have violated that city's terms and possibly cause the activists to have to serve their suspended jail sentences. But the situation in Iraq was too dire, and our government too arrogant to care. So we had to take action, and we wore "We Will Not Be Silent" tee shirts and gauze over our heads. We were arrested and charged under federal law with unlawful conduct, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. Five of us were released after ten hours in police custody, but the others were incarcerated until 7 PM on March 13.

A five-day jury trial began on October 20 with Judge Robert Morin presiding in Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Nine defendants were pro se, with Ann Wilcox acting as an attorney advisor. Tetaz was represented by Jack Baringer. The jury acquitted five of the Ghosts.

The rest of us made a post-verdict motion for dismissal, arguing we were denied access, prior to trial, to all relevant discovery. The defense did not receive, until the prosecution rested its case, two pages from the U.S. Capitol Police Intelligence Report for March 12, 2008, which included a private email of mine. The judge scheduled an evidentiary hearing, and on November 7, Eric Orsini, a civilian employee of the Capitol Police, testified he found my email on the web site Protest.net. Based on research done after the hearing, it is unlikely the email ever appeared on Protest.net, which is a calendar. My email, a proposal to speak out in one of the Capitol galleries, definitely was not a calendar item.

So I renewed my motion for dismissal on December 15, arguing it is doubtful Orsini found the email on Protest.net. More likely he got the email from a police agency, as I am one of the victims of the Maryland State Police spying scandal.

Nevertheless, Judge Morin was not in a mood to allow the defense to re-visit how my purloined email was obtained, as he found Orsini to be a credible witness. He also rejected Baringer’s motion on behalf of Tetaz. Since she is a resident of Washington, D.C. and does not have representation in Congress, Baringer argued she should not be subject to the laws of the District of Columbia.

Andrew Warren, the prosecutor, suggested the five activists should receive fines ranging from $100 to $250, suspended jail sentences and six months of unsupervised probation. This was a relatively lenient recommendation.

Each defendant made a sentencing statement. Tetaz talked about her years of teaching in D.C. schools, which included studying the writings of Henry David Thoreau. She reminded the court of Thoreau’s perspective that when injustice abounds, the proper place for a citizen is in jail. She would pay no fines, do no community service and not comply with probation. She asked the court to join her in praying to turn swords into plowshares.

Saba, raised in Iran, took very seriously her citizenship oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. The administration’s violations of that sacred document, she said, brought her to the gallery of the U.S. Senate. She detailed many of her efforts over the years to call for an end to the war in Iraq. For example, she was involved in bringing to the White House one million signatures from people opposed to the war, but the authorities would not accept them. She vowed not be "a Good German."

I called for time served for all, informed the court I would appeal the conviction and indicated I had a Nuremberg Obligation to continue challenging a government engaged in widespread illegal activities. I then posed some questions. Why are the architects of this illegal war not in any court of law? Why is it that only antiwar activists are being prosecuted?

Barfield, a veteran, expressed a concern for three of her family members who were stationed in Iraq or soon will be. Her sister, for example, just returned from seven months in Ramadi. The defendant then indicated she would not pay any fines or accept probation. She said there was no need to arrest those who spoke out on March 12. As one of the veterans who protested at the National Archives—first in September on a ledge and then in November on a scaffold—she pointed out that no one was arrested despite their provocative message to prosecute Bush and Cheney. In fact, while the vets gathered on the Archives ledge, a Metropolitan Police captain pointed out that there is a document inside the Archives which guarantees the protesters their First Amendment right.

Chadwick also indicated that he could not pay any fines or cooperate with probation. He informed the court he violated probation when arrested on March 12. As a tax resister, he refuses to support U.S. warmongering. On his wall at his home in Pennsylvania, he has a woodcarving by Tom Lewis, one of the Catonsville Nine, which features a quote by Dan Berrigan—“Know where you stand and stand there.” He talked about his travels to countries where the people suffer from U.S. foreign policies. He was moved to resistance against the war in 2005. At his first arrest, he protested outside the White House, but the executive branch ignored his message. Then he was arrested trying to meet with his Congressional representative, and later arrested while attempting to go into the office of Sen. Rick Santorum. So he now made an appeal to Morin, a member of the judiciary.

Each defendant was sentenced to one day in jail, which was suspended, and ordered to pay $50 to the Victims of Violent Crimes Fund.

In his own way, Judge Morin responded affirmatively to Chadwick’s appeal. Each defendant was sentenced to one day in jail, which was suspended, and ordered to pay $50 to the Victims of Violent Crimes Fund. In D.C. (it is mandatory for a judge to order a payment to the fund).

Just after the sentencing, Morin made an observation that our decision to call for a jury trial had ramifications for a defendant who was in jail. His case was not called until the conclusion of our trial. We agreed to discuss this conundrum with others who might be contemplating acts of civil resistance.

Outside the courtroom, though, we pointed out that it is the police who decide to arrest nonviolent activists. And it’s the prosecutor who takes the case to trial.

Later, on December 15, Barfield appeared before Judge Marisa Demeo and did not contest the charge that she violated her probation from another conviction. Demeo, though, acknowledged that the activist dutifully showed up in her courtroom whenever ordered, so that was enough of a sentence.

The legal saga of the Ghosts of the Iraq War is not yet completed, as four of us appealed the conviction. As that matter wends its way through the system, all ten activists are sure to take action again. There is a strong suspicion that U.S. troops will occupy Iraq for years to come. And there will probably be an upsurge in military activities in Afghanistan. It’s evident that members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance will continue to speak truth to power.


Max Obuszewski is a member of the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore and the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance. Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski@verizon.net.



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This story was published on December 18, 2008.