Monday, October 31, 2011

Guilty of “Failure to Obey”

WASHINGTON, DC--Eighteen co-defendants representing Veterans for Peace and other long-time peace activists were sentenced October 28, 2011, in DC Superior Court for arrests at the White House on Saturday, March 19, 2011.  They were found guilty of Failure to Obey and Blocking and Incommoding and have to pay $50 plus $100 to the Victims of Violent Crimes fund.

Watermelon Slim of Vietnam Veterans Against the War is taken into 
custody March 19 at the White House.  Photo by Ellen Davidson
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, 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 four day trial Richard Duffee, who worked under Benjamin Ferencz (the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor), submitted a motion on the relevance of international law and that expert witnesses be allowed to testify to the facts about U.S. war crimes. 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 cost of war. 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 all 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. She was held for about ten hours before being released. The case will be appealed.

Related Commentary
Never Been More Proud to Be in a Courtroom

Story submitted by Art Laffin

Art Laffin <>
Dorothy Day CW House
503 Rock Creek Church Road, NW
Washington, D.C. 20010
Phone: 202.882.9649 or 202.829.7625

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