Conviction and ConvictionOctober 30th, 2011

“The trial for the Veterans-for-Peace-led civil resistance in front of the White House on March 19, the 8th anniversary of our illegal invasion of Iraq, concluded this past Friday,” writes Richard Duffee of Stamford, Connecticut, one of the defendants in the case.

“One hundred thirteen were arrested,” he continues. “Nineteen of us declined to pay $100 (or later $35) to close the matter without record. One pled guilty; 13 of us represented ourselves pro se while 5 were represented by attorneys Ann Wilcox, Deborah Anderson, and Mark Goldstone for paltry fees–and in Deborah’s case, gratis. Ann Wilcox and Elliott Adams, President of Veterans for Peace, did the primary organizing of the group, which was a huge task over 7 months involving hundreds of emails, scores of phone calls, and research and writing on detailed and obscure legal issues.

“William Blum, David Swanson, and Ray McGovern agreed to testify as expert witnesses on how the US government plans for, creates, rationalizes, and enters wars, but the judge ruled their testimony ‘would not have probative value.’ Two pro se defendants gave opening arguments, four gave testimony, two cross-examined witnesses, one argued a motion, two gave closing arguments, and each of the 18 gave statements before sentencing.

“It is hard for me to express how valuable this experience was for me. The testimony was riveting. Several times the majority of people in the court room were in tears. Judge Canan ruled against us repeatedly, but we understood that the repressive legislation he had to enforce was at fault. We knew he was honest and respectful, that he listened and understood what we said and meant. Every one of the defendants was earnest, considerate, and compassionate.  VFP’s press release follows:

‘The D.C. Superior Court ruled today that potential pedestrian convenience was more important than the US Constitution or than stopping wars. The 18 defendants (including 8 members of Veterans For Peace) were found guilty by Judge Canan of “failure to obey” and “blocking/incommoding” after being arrested at the White House on March 19, 2011.

‘The defendants argued for their 1st Amendment right to petition their government for redress of grievances. They called on the US Government to obey the law, to obey international law, and to stop the crimes against peace, the war crimes, and the crimes against humanity. The government argued that protecting Constitutional rights and ending war crimes were less important than assuring that a potential pedestrian would not be delayed by a few seconds passing in front of the White House.

‘During the 4day trial Richard Duffee, who had worked under Benjamin Ferencz (the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor), submitted a motion for international law experts to be allowed in the court. The US Constitution makes the Geneva conventions and other elements of international law the supreme law of the land and enforceable in every court. But the Judge denied the motion. Duffee later said, “For the last thirty years, the United States has been reneging on the basic commitment it made after WWII to develop international legal institutions, because we want to be the judge in our own case.”

‘The defendants maintained a focus on the US Constitution, that international law is enforceable in every court, and that the costs of war far exceed any benefit. The court heard personal stories from several vets. Chuck Heyn, a Vietnam veteran, said “When I left Vietnam I pledged to the guys I served with who did not come back that I would speak out against my country when ever my country decided to commit our troops to war based on lies”

‘It was a pro se defense (the defendants acted as their own lawyers) ably assisted by attorney-advisors Ann Wilcox, Deborah Anderson, and Mark Goldstone.

‘Judge Russell F. Canan, Jr., Associate Judge of the DC Superior Court, found the defendants guilty on both charges, fining them $50 plus $100 court fees. Defendant Bev Rice chose to go to jail rather than pay a fine for an unjust law. The case will be appealed.’”

Duffee continues: “I’ve done this sort of thing 3 times before, but was found not guilty or given an adjournment contemplating dismissal each of those times, and the hearings were relatively short and lacked written motions. This is the first time I’ve done civil resistance since going to law school, the first time I’ve acquired a criminal record for it, and the first time I’ve jeopardized my ability to practice law.

“What I’m trying to convey is how utterly worthwhile the whole thing feels to me. I’m so glad I did this I don’t care even if the ultimate result is that I lose the privilege of practicing law. Only a few times in my life have I ever felt that I was exactly where I belonged, that I trusted an entire group completely, and that I’d do it all over again gladly any number of times.

“Elliott Adams led the group. He testified to having shot a woman in a free-fire zone in Vietnam because instead of asking whether the US military had the right to order people to leave their homes on pain of death, he asked whether she might have been raising crops for the Vietcong. The whole courtroom was crying. So infrequently do I have any impulse to follow that I cannot remember ever feeling before, “That is a person I’d follow anywhere.” Art Laffin is a full-time volunteer for the Catholic Worker. He testified that he decided to go with the group because he’d read of the death of a seven-year-old Iraqi boy, whom he named, and who reminded him of his own eight-year-old son. Again we were in tears. Through four days of trial I had the honor of sitting between these two men. I felt, “This is the meaning of my life, to be here with these people, sharing some of their fate.”

“To have that opportunity I had to be willing to risk getting a criminal record. I’ve concluded that US elite has now made US law so repressive that it is impossible to lead a moral life while conforming to every whim of the law–that is, of the elite. I am so glad I took the risk and stuck with it. I recommend civil resistance with Veterans for Peace to anyone. You can trust those vets with your life.

“For the first time in my life I have some appreciation of the virtues of authentic military leadership. Some military leaders really do care for their troops. It’s a palpable feeling. You KNOW it. When an honest soldier decides to oppose an immoral government and defend peace, the result is something that before now I could not understand. For instance, in 1948 Jose Figueres led a military coup that overthrew the government of Costa Rica. He took power and abolished the military. He must have been a man like Elliott Adams.

“Veterans for Peace are the true leaders of this country. I hope the country will realize this in time to prevent the death of civilization and the planet.”