Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Predator Drones on Trial" by Brian Terrell

Reprinted From:
A monthly publication of The Open Door Community (Hospitality & Resistance in the Catholic Worker Movement) 
910 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE   
Atlanta, GA 30306-4212   
January 2013, Vol. 32, No. 1

Editor’s note [Murphy Davis]: Our good friend Brian Terrell, Co-Coordinator of the Voices for Creative Nonviolence and founding member of the Strangers and Guests* Catholic Worker in Maloy, Iowa, is serving six months in federal prison for his nonviolent witness against the use of drone warfare. At Whiteman Air Force Base in central Missouri, Brian and 40 other activists held up signs, called for peace and attempted to deliver a letter to base headquarters detailing crimes committed with American drones. But instead of being allowed entry to the base (civilian entry is specifically protected by the U.S. Constitution), Brian and Ron Faust were arrested, convicted and sentenced for trespassing for entering a restricted area without permission. Ron was sentenced to five years of federal probation; Brian reported to the federal prison at Yankton, S.D., on November 30.

We are deeply grateful to both of them for their witness against this horrendous and immoral war-making technology that is creating a living hell for women, men and children in many parts of the world, and we are pleased to publish the statement Brian made at his sentencing in U.S. District Court in Jefferson City, Missouri, on October 11. Brian can receive mail at: 
Brian Terrell 06125-026, FPC Yankton, 
Federal Prison Camp, Yankton, SD 57078.

Mark Twain called free speech “the privilege of the grave,” a privilege never afforded the living save as an empty formality, not to be regarded seriously as an actual possession. “As an active privilege,” he said, “it ranks with the privilege of committing murder: we may exercise it if we are willing to take the consequences. Murder is forbidden both in form and in fact; free speech is granted in form but forbidden in fact…. Murder is sometimes punished, free speech always.”

Punishing free speech and letting murder off the hook is the order of the day in this courtroom.
How to speak of an appropriate sentence where no crime has been committed? No crime committed, at least, by the defendants? Last month’s trial in this courtroom concerning a protest of killer drones flown from Whiteman Air Force Base left no doubt that this is the case. Each of the government’s witnesses, all of them Air Force police personnel, testified that participants in this protest were nonviolent, respectful and peaceable in assembling at Whiteman Air Force Base, a government installation, to petition that government for redress of a grievance, demanding that the remote-control killing carried out daily from Whiteman cease. They testified that at no time, before or during our protest, did they perceive us as a threat.

Our expert witnesses testified that our behavior was consistent with the activities that the drafters of the First Amendment intended to be protected, not persecuted, by the government. The order and security of the base would not have been compromised had the security police allowed us to proceed to the headquarters to deliver our petition. No testimony to the contrary was offered this court.

Instead of planning to accommodate a constitutionally protected peaceable assembly, however, the Air Force chose intimidation and conspired to deprive us of the rights they are sworn to protect. We learned from government witnesses that the phalanx of goose-stepping riot police is a “confrontation management team,” deployed only in the case of pre-announced events. Whiteman security did not call out the team to defend the base but to intimidate citizens engaged in lawful

The court was mistaken a month ago when it said that our group was “allowed” by the Air Force to assemble on the highway right of way and that this space that was provided for us met the free-speech requirements of reasonable time and place. The place in question is not only outside the base’s jurisdiction, it is outside the sight and hearing of anyone on the base. The court’s decision is
part of a widening disintegration of civil liberties, where speech is tolerated only in designated and remote “free-speech zones” where it cannot be heard by the government, and criminalized in any place where that speech might actually have a chance to be understood. Intended or not, the court’s message is a chilling one — that a citizen’s constitutional right to assemble to petition the government extends only to places outside government facilities and where the government does not have to hear it.

The court’s easy dismissal of international law as not “trumping” domestic law has precedents, but it is all the more disturbing for this fact. Last fall, I was on trial for a drone protest in New York state, where, in contrast to this court, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark was permitted to testify on international law. Judge Gideon, after listening to Ramsey Clark speak of the Nuremburg Principles at length, leaned over the bench and asked him, “This is all interesting, but
what is the enforcement mechanism? Who is responsible for enforcing international law?”
“They are,” responded Mr. Clark, pointing to us defendants, “and so,” he said to Judge Gideon, “are you!” Every citizen is responsible under international law and every judge more so.

In our trial here last month, as at our protest in April, our intention has been to put the illegally operated predator drones on trial, and so we have focused on these machines that are sowing death and terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan by remote control from Whiteman Air Force Base. It was never our intention to address or protest the weapons system that is the larger mission of Whiteman, namely the B-2 Stealth bomber. However, Judge Whitworth, you noted that your commitment to maintain the security of the B-2 weighs heavily in your decisions.

For a judge to admit to being swayed by a consideration other than the law, not to mention when that consideration is the security of weapons of mass destruction, raises obvious questions about that judge’s impartiality. For my part, Judge Whitworth, I am grateful to you for calling our attention to the larger picture. It is not, of course, the technology of robotics that we protest, but the murderous and criminal uses the government puts it to. Drones are the weapon of choice in the
current administration’s wars of aggression, but it was the B-2s from Whiteman that first violated Afghan airspace 11 years ago this week and began killing the people of Afghanistan. The crimes against humanity that began in October 2001 with B-2 air strikes on a defenseless civilian population continue today with drones operated from that very same base.

The B-2 bomber, blasphemously nicknamed the “Spirit Bomber,” is also ready at a moment’s notice to commit the ultimate and unthinkable war crime of delivering a nuclear payload to any place on earth. A Cold War boondoggle, the B-2’s Stealth capability shields it from radar the Soviets never got around to developing before their own tragic empire finally imploded. It is a prime illustration of President Eisenhower’s admonition, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

On the official website for Whiteman Air Force Base, I found the base’s mission statement. It is as brief as it is vicious: “Skilled and proud Airmen providing full spectrum, expeditionary, B-2 global strike and combat support capabilities to geographic commanders and the Commander,
USSTRATCOM, while supporting Team Whiteman. We kick down doors and kill targets …Weapons on Target, On Time!”

I have visited Afghanistan and know that 11 years of NATO troops kicking down doors has not brought peace there. Often soldiers don’t seem to know whose door they’ve kicked in or whether the “target” they kill is who they were hunting for. B-2 bombers from a great height, or even drones with state-of-the-art video feeds, do no better. We know that even children are sometimes named as targets to be killed by drones. Children regularly are among their “collateral damage.” The targets themselves are often victims of assassination rather than legitimate casualties of war. Eleven years of kicking down doors has only made the world a more frightening place and has earned our nation more enemies and less security. Whiteman’s mission is not counterterrorism; it is

Judge Whitworth, you told me at the close of our trial that you do not take sentencing someone to prison lightly. This case offers certain challenges. As my presentence report attests, “There are no identifiable victims of the offense.” Beyond your own surmises, there was no suggestion at trial that our conduct threatened any person, property or institution. The question for you is, how to pass a sentence commensurate with harm done when the substance of the “crime” itself is only a good deed without harmful consequences to any?

I expect nothing other than a prison sentence today. I accept this without regret and will, if allowed, surrender myself to a designated prison some weeks from now, but I cannot say that I see justice in this. I admit that my conduct was as the government described it at trial. That conduct, however, does not constitute a crime but was a response to one. It is conduct this court should be protecting.

Our expert witness Professor Bill Quigley spoke from the stand here last month about the difference between law and justice and the ongoing struggle to bring these into one. Since first entering this courthouse in June, I have been ruminating over the words circling the Great Seal of the United States in the floor of the rotunda of this courthouse: “Let Justice Flow Like a River.” How did these words from the Bible make it into this modern, tax-supported government building? I wonder if these words of Scripture might have made their way here to the secular domain from the prophet Amos through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who quoted them in his classic “Letter From the Birmingham Jail.” In any case, these lofty words ring hollow in this place. Justice has not flowed through these proceedings, and even law itself has proved but a disappointing trickle.

Another Bible quote suggests itself for the trampling under the feet of the litigants, defendants, judges and attorneys who enter this building oblivious to the unpunished murder in places far away but perpetrated from a place not so far from here. It is from the prophet Isaiah: “My Beloved looked for justice and found it denied, for righteousness but heard cries of distress.”

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*Strangers and Guests
Catholic Worker Farm
108 Hillcrest Drive
Maloy, Iowa 50836
641-785-2321, Brian’s cell: 773-853-1886
Brian Terrell,
Betsy Keenan,

Twenty Five Years of Life on the Land at Strangers and Guests in Maloy

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Hospitality is published by the Open Door Community,
Inc., an Atlanta Protestant Catholic Worker community:
Christians called to resist war and violence and nurture
community in ministry with and advocacy for the
homeless poor and prisoners, particularly those on
death row. Subscriptions are free. A newspaper request
form is included in each issue. Manuscripts and letters
are welcomed. Inclusive language editing is standard.
A $10 donation to the Open Door Community would help
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Open Door Community
910 Ponce de Leon Avenue NE
Atlanta, GA 30306-4212
404.874.9652; 404.874.7964 fax

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