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Commentary :: Human Rights : International : Politics
The Anti-War Movement March: From Istanbul to Binghamton, From DSM to SP4
10 Jul 2005
The first and only federal trial arising out of an act of civil resistance against the Iraq War begins this September 19 in Binghamton, NY.

Four Christian parents, facing charges of conspiracy, defy Judge's gag order issued in May and begin planning a Citizens' Tribunal on Iraq to articulate the legal defense of civil resistance against this immoral, illegal war and occupation.
SP4group.jpg
For those of us in the anti-war movement, there is much to be excited about. A powerful grassroots alliance, originally chided for its barkings over some silly memo, scored a major victory by forcing Capitol Hill to accommodate—even if it was in a basement—a congressional hearing into the sordid, impeachable implications of the DSM. Also, a two-year, multinational citizens’ project, the World Tribunal on Iraq, just concluded in Istanbul last week, further evidence that the second superpower of the world has matured, no longer content with just street protests and vigils. And calls for a timely withdrawal from Iraq, summarized neatly in the Homeward Bound legislation, no longer come from only the blue corners of Congress. For the anti-war movement, the summer air crackles with hopeful possibility.

So what next? Well, calls have already been made to keep up the pressure locally and to coordinate now for the massive Washington convergence slated for late September. But I’d like to amend the route with a crucial detour: the St. Patrick’s Four trial in Binghamton, New York, scheduled to begin September 19.

The first federal trial to arise out of an act of civil resistance to the Iraq War traces back to March 17, 2003, two days before Bush’s illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq. That day, Danny Burns, Peter DeMott, and sisters Clare and Teresa Grady walked into their local military recruiting center and carefully poured a small amount of their own blood around the vestibule. They read a statement, as well as letters from Iraqi peace activists, then knelt to pray and awaited the authorities.

Originally tried in April 2004 in Tompkins County and charged with criminal mischief, the St. Patrick’s Four chose to represent themselves. They articulated a defense that centered around international law and the legal defense of necessity. Peter DeMott, a Vietnam veteran, spoke of the horrors of war, of men and women who, when asked to kill for dubious reasons, return forever changed. Danny Burns explained our constitutional obligation to international treaties as the “supreme law of the land” (Article 6), and why this planned invasion was in direct violation of the UN Charter. Clare Grady spoke of her moral obligations as a Christian peacemaker. Teresa Grady reminded the court of how modern warfare harms women and children disproportionately, and so as a mother, saw no legal or moral justification to wage merciless war on Iraqi children who obviously posed no threat to our national security.

Months after the trial, Judge David Peebles admitted that the four had represented themselves "probably better than some of the attorneys that practice in this court, frankly." No wonder nine of twelve jurors voted to acquit.

Many thought the mistrial signaled the end of the saga. However, in February of this year, a federal grand jury decided to haul the four Christian parents back to court to stand trial for conspiracy charges. If convicted, each defendant could be locked up for six years and slapped with a $250,000 fine.

Consider the plot-line here: Four war resisters whose defense largely rests on our nation’s constitutional obligation to recognize the legal authority of international treaties are now faced with prosecution by the staff of an attorney general who described the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” and “obsolete.”

Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, and legal counselor for the activists, explained this as a simple case of intimidation. “The federal government is clearly trying to make an example of these people and to intimidate future nonviolent protestors by charging these folks with conspiracy.”

And wait, it gets worse. Last Month, Thomas J. McAvoy, senior U.S. district judge for northern New York, issued a ruling that stated the four are not allowed to articulate the same defense which proved so persuasive in the country trial. “This court offers no opinion on the war in Iraq as it is entirely irrelevant to this matter. Assuming an illegal war, it does not provide a justification for violating the criminal laws of the United States.”

"In clear violation of the Nuremburg principles and the Constitution, [McAvoy] has ruled that domestic law supercedes international law,” replied Teresa Grady. But more than a dubious interpretation of constitutional law, McAvoy’s ruling was a tacit admission that he would not tolerate any mention of either the war or international law. Basically, he gagged the four defendants.

Or so he thought. Apparently, as the world tribunal concludes in Istanbul, plans for a Citizens’ Tribunal on Iraq emerge in Binghamton. Just as the anti-war movement’s dogged, loud, grassroots outrage of the DSM triumphed over the media outlets’ criminal silence, the St. Patrick’s Four hope the tribunal of voices and songs of conscience will similarly prevail over McAvoy’s gag order.

So the march to Washington, you see, must gather early and snowball down from Binghamton.

“The time has come when people of conscience, loving people, people who care about justice have to find every way we can to powerfully, nonviolently let the truth be known about what has happened and is happening in Iraq,” explained Danny Burns. “A citizens’ tribunal is one way of doing that.”

With opening remarks and an interfaith service scheduled for Sunday September 18, the Citizens’ Tribunal on Iraq aims to articulate in the public court what McAvoy refuses to hear in his kangaroo court. The four are inviting those experts, activists and citizens of conscience whose individual testimonies will constitute a comprehensive moral and legal defense. Howard Zinn and Liz McAllister, Ramsey Clark and Jon Bonifaz, Auxillary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton and Sister Rosalie Bertell, Iraqi Veterans Jimmy Massey and Pablo Paredes, CIA analyst Ray McGovern and UN Weapons inspector Scott Ritter—each will add powerful components to properly situate the defendants’ particular act of resistance in a legal, historical and moral context. The week-long tribunal, with nightly panels or talks, will conclude again what the DSM reveals: that this was an illegal war based on bogus charges, and the crime to be considered is not the action taken by four principled Americans but the fact that our Commander-in-Chief ordered our servicemembers, bound by honor and an oath, to kill and die for a lie.

What should be on trial, Clare Grady explained, is “the crime of preemptive war, the crime of killing 100,000 innocent civilians, the crime of torture, the crime of pillaging Iraq's resources by corporate pirates, the crime of contaminating the air, soil and water with depleted uranium for generations to come.”

And if the anti-war movement remains dogged and hopeful, that trial will come soon enough. So amend the route to Washington, friends, and tape the new directions to the dash. The Citizens’ Tribunal on Iraq begins September 18 in Binghamton, NY, and the SP4 would like to see present a hundred thousand jurors of conscience.

Tarik Abdelazim is a free-lance writer and the Community Progressive Advocate in Binghamton, NY. Visit www.stpatricksfour.org to sign the Committee in Support of SP4 and to stay informed of the Citizen’s Tribunal.
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