Peace Activists go to Trial for Civil Resistance Act
Eight Utah Peace Activists had their day in court for resisting the Iraq Invasion.
"I did what I had to do for the love of God and country, moved by faith and conscience to voice dissent in the only way left. I could not do otherwise without sinning against God and abandoning my duty as a citizen." - defendant Patricia Samul
"I had to obey this country's laws, but I saw that this country was not obeying international law that it had agreed to go along with." - defendant Caleb Proulx
"I felt a sense of desperation to get my views known and let the public know that I believe they were being deceived. I definitely see this as a good forum for my views as an activist and as a way to get my message out to the public." - defendant Mary Grimes.
"There comes a point where you just have to keep saying it, because if you don't keep saying it, as George Bush would say, the forces of evil win." - defendant Pete Litster
These are the words of reason of four defendants in their Federal Court of the United States Government trial on July 21, 2003 in Salt Lake City, Utah. These defendants,along with four other peace activists, engaged in the non-violent civil resistance act of blocking the doors to the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 24, 2003, four days after the onset of the Iraq Invasion. The protestors held hands and sang songs , including the French national anthem, for about 45 minutes before being arrested. Their motive: To get their voices heard in a way that hadn't been previously listened to through conventional legal means regarding their position on the United States controversial Invasion of Iraq.
In a crowded courtroom, consisting mostly of supporters for the protestors, the trial began with four defendants pleading no contest to the one misdemeanor count of blocking the three public entrances to the federal building. The defendants, Patricia Samul, Fabienne Morch, Leah Vinton, and John Nordquist. were sentenced by U.S. Magistrate David Nuffer to each pay a $50 fine.
"I have no guilt over speaking out against what I believed to be unnecessary, unjust, illegal and immoral," stated Samul to the court.
Four other defendants, including Patrick Diehl, Caleb Proulx, and Mary Grimes, remained in the three-hour trial in Nuffer's courtEach also received a$50 fine. Before sentencing, Nuffer permitted the defendants to offer statements in behalf of their cause.
Diehl of Escalante, Utah, stated, "I had 'hope' in stopping the war. I wanted to pursuade the officials along with the people around the world, to not go to war and to try to save the honor of this country."
Peter Litster, the fourth defendant in the second set of four,was charged with aiding and abetting the protest in addition to the disturbance charge. Nuffer found him guilty of disturbance but acquitted him of the second charge, due to "reasonable doubt having been created as to the charge of aiding and abetting."
At one point in the trial, the defense moved for acquittal of all of the second set of four defendants, on the grounds that there was non-compliance with regulations of the reading of the warning to disperse as laid out in the Department of Homeland Security Manual. Additionally, the defense claimed, the regulations of conduct for the public in a federal building that are supposed to be posted in a conspicuous place were not posted as regulated and there was insufficient evidence that the statute for posting was violated. The prosecution rebutted all of those claims and Nuffer denied the motion to for acquittal. The trial continued.
In what progressed as an intense period of questioning of witnesses, prosecutors insisted that Litster became involved in a verbal altercation with a government employee who was standing on a second-floor balcony. A defense witness refuted this claim through her account as a legal observer, stating that it was another man, a veteran against the war, and not Litster, who engaged in a confrontational discussion with the government employee who had been "goading and making provocative statements to the protestors." The witness further stated that Litster was not yelling and had simply made a calm, reasoned statement to the onlookers about what the protestors were doing. "He was absolutely not engaged in any confrontation with anyone in that lobby." Prosecutors and prosecutor's witnesses, however, continued to maintain that Litster was "yelling", thereby creating a disturbance.
The government employee who defense say initiated the altercation was not charged with a crime. Litster's attorney, David Finlayson, argued that his client had been singled out for selective prosecution but Nuffer rejected the claim, noting the prosecution's statement that the federal employee had been sent home for two days unpaid leave, "....a much greater punishment than the protestors are likely to receive," stated Bill Nixon, prosecuting attorney.
During the court's 1/2 hour recess, all the defendants indicated in an interview that Litster was not yelling and was not engaged in any confrontational discussions, confirming the statement by the defense witness. In addition, a prosecutor's witness insisted that he had been approached by a "legal advisor" named "Jennifer Williams". Defendants and witnesses stated outside of the courtroom that no one knows a "Jennifer Williams" and that there was no such thing as a "legal advisor". The legal team consisted of "legal observers", a distinction that was not made in court. "A legal advisor actually gives advice. A legal observer, on the other hand, observes the interactions between the demonstrators and the police. These faulty facts (inaccurate terminology and incorrect names of participants in the action) damage the credibility of the witness in my opinion," stated Susan Vogel, who had served as one of the legal observers inside the federal building during the civil resistance action and is a retired attorney.
In their closing arguments, the prosecution argued that this issue "is not about the war" and continued to reiterate that the protestors were yelling and creating a disturbance by blocking access to the federal building. The prosecution further stated that the defendants wanted the privelege of illegally protesting but "refused to accept the responsibility for their actions."
The defense pointed out that there was a discrepancy in consequences with regards to "content neutral" nature of the case on the part of the prosecution (i.e., the protestors were arrested while the government employee was not.). The defendants had not, it was further stressed, refused to accept responsibility for their acts and it was unfair of the prosecution to state so in the court.
The prosecution, scrambling to cover their statement regarding the defendants acceptance of consequences, stated that there was no intent to demean the defendants with that statement.
Before sentencing the second group of four defendants, Nuffer stated that the trial contained "very focused and intelligent presentations throughout the trial." He stressed that it is the consitutional right to have a trail and that the protestors should not feel remorse for pleading not guilty.
Reporter's note about the defendants' decision on how to proceed with their respective cases:
The two sets of defendants represented two different philosophies of civil resistance with regards to pleading no contest and pleading not guilty and continuing on with a trial. Each did what they felt was the right thing to do. Both philosophies have merit and both sets of defendants made very strong statements in the varied ways they approached their cases.
Articles in the local media include:
Salt Lake Tribune:
There were also similar articles on the KSL and (Channel 5) and KUTV (Channel 2) websites, the content of which was directly from the Associated Press, as in the Salt Lake Tribune article.
Below is the text of the statement that Patricia Samul made to the court. This reporter is of the opinion that this statement appeared to set the tone for the rest of the morning as the trial progressed.
Statement of Patricia Samul, Defendant
Federal Case No. G 523582
July 21, 2003
I accept the decision of the court and take responsibility for an act of peaceful civil disobedience. Yet I feel no guilt. I did what I had to do for the love of God and country, moved by faith and conscience to voice dissent in the only way left. I could not do otherwise without sinning against God and abandoning my duty as a citizen.
When our government attacked Iraq on March 21, it launched a war of aggression in our names, having won popular support by manipulating grief over 9/11, fear of terrorism and fear of weapons of mass destruction. Government propaganda had led most Americans to believe that Iraq was connected to the atrocities of 9/11, that its weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent danger to our country, that brining down the regime of Saddam Hussein would protect us against terrorism and liberate the Iraqi people. We were told we had a right to defend ourselves, a duty to protect the innocent and a mission to fight evil in the world. On these grounds, our government involved us in a war at once unnecessary, unjust, illegal and immoral.
Unnecessary: Diplomatic solutions had not been exhausted. Yet, in the rush to war, traditional allies were dismissed, weapons inspectors were deprived of time to complete their work, genuine discourse was truncated, the counsel of religious leaders around the world and the cries for peace voiced by millions of people were ignored.
Unjust: As a Catholic, I'm familiar with my church's theory of just war, which dates back to St. Augustine and St. Thomas of Aquinas. It condemns wars of aggression. Even self-defense, a just cause, may be ruled out if certain conditions are not met. Euphemism notwithstanding, the Administration's doctrine of preemptive war means war of aggression and applies to Iraq. As current events make increasingly clear, the United States was not under imminent threat from Iraq, ruling out the justification of self-defense.
Illegal: Under the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war. Although Congress ceded this power to the President, I believe it had no right do do so. Congress, after all, represents the power of the people, which it had no right to give away; nor did it have the right to upset a constitutionally mandated balance of power among the three branches of government. While technically legal, the action of Congress violated the spirit of our Constitution, the foundation of our law. Furthermore, the United States, a member of the United Nations, violates the UN charter by waging a "preventive" war without regard for the objections of other nations.
Immoral: Because I believe the war in Iraq is unnecessary, unjust and illegal, I consider it immoral by definition. Furthermore, it is immoral because American men and women have been and are sacrificing their lives needlessly; because, with the best of precautions, innocent civilians are still maimed and killed in disproportionate numbers; because modern weapons pollute air, land and water for generations to come; because unexploded landmines and ordinance are a curse to helpless civilians; because the Iraqi people suffer occupation, not liberation; because peace and democracy cannot be imposed by violence; and, above all, because Jesus commanded us to love, not to kill, one another.
God can weave all things together for the good, but even if good comes from war in Iraq, the end does not justify the means; those responsible will one day answer to God.
Given the destructive power of modern weapons, I believe any war is immoral.
Consider the following:
"War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity." - Pope John Paul II
"War in our time has become an anachronism...A war which became general, as any limited action might, would only result in the virtual destruction of mankind." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
"In our atomic era it is irrational any longer to think of war as an apt means to vindicate violated rights." - Pope John XXIII, "Pacem in Terris"
"Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind." - John F. Kennedy
"The chain reaction of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars--must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Decades ago, the late Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, foresaw our present dilemma with prophetic clarity. He warned:
"We face moral responsibility for global suicide. Much more than that, we are going to find ourselves gradually moving into a situation in which we are practically compelled by the 'logic of circumstances' deliberately to choose the course that leads to destruction.
"...The free choice of global suicide, made in desperation by the world's leaders and ratified by the consent and cooperation of their citizens would be a moral evil second only to the Crucifixion. The fact that such a choice might be made with the highest motives and the most urgent purpose would do nothing whatever to mitigate it.
"Every individual Christian has a grave responsibility to protest clearly and forcibly against trends that lead inevitably to crimes which the Church deplores and condemns. Ambiguity, hesitation and compromise are no longer permissible. WE must find some new and constructive way of settling international disputes."
And so I did what I could to protest a preemptive, virtually unilateral war against Iraq, realizing it would establish a model conducive to war after war after war--another step down the slope leading, possibly, to the abyss of global suicide.
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