In my opening declaration to the court, I remarked that I’m a child of the Vietnam war, and my primary reason to go to college was to discover who was telling the truth about the war in Vietnam and the reasons for which we fought it. I’m only like 18 years old. It was in college, that I first heard Rev. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, and in a way, that was the saddest day of my life.
It also redirected my life.
The proof was simple enough. As King explained it, by 1954 the United States was paying for 80 percent of the French effort to recolonize Vietnam. Then and there, I learned that the U.S. has no more no noble reason to be there than the colonizers we sought to replace. Then did I begin a journey that has led me to my presence before the court today.
I was told by the prosecution that I have an extensive criminal record, and when I heard this, I was dumbstruck. I didn’t think I had any criminal record, but I did at some point come to understand that I had 20, 30 arrests, but in my mind they were all justified. Every one of my actions has been a reaction to an American war crime.
Moreover, in every instance, my arrests were for acts of nonviolent civil disobedience or civil resistance. Let me say, unambiguously, that in all of my extensive criminal history, I have never raised a hand in anger and violence against another. In court, I had mentioned that my concern that the “institutional memory of the court is perverse.”
The court knows where and when I was arrested, what the charges were and what I was sentenced to. But nothing of the context within which I was arrested: and context is everything. We may remember in our own trial, Mark Colville was confronted with the notion that what he had done was like running a red light – a straight forward violation of the law. But there are times when, in a particular context, anyone in their right mind would run a red light, as for instance the several times I rushed my ailing father to the hospital, saving his life.
So as regards war crimes, I’ve run a lot of red lights. To be clear, this criminal has never assaulted anyone, never stolen anything, has never threatened anyone. If convicted of disorderly conduct, it was not for being drunk and urinating in the street. It was for holding a banner in front of the White House and refusing to move… unfortunately the court would not know what the banner said.
Notably, he longest sentence I’ve ever been given, prior to my fifty days for the action at hand, was twelve days. So in short, all of my arrests were deliberate, nonviolent responses to the concerns of my conscience, which I hold to be a divine gift. It is not merely a divine gift to me. It is to everyone. It is what makes a human.
My first incarceration was in 1986 in Des Moines, Iowa. A number of Catholic Workers had joined a larger coalition petitioning then Gov.Branstad to reject a federal request for the state’s National Guard unit to go down to Honduras “to build roads.” In actual fact, they would be building invasion corridors into Nicaragua for the so called Contras, a terrorist militia adopted, funded, trained and advised by the Reagan administration, to overthrow the first democratically elected government in Nicaragua in more than 40 years. Prior to the Sandinista revolution Nicaragua was a US client state, under the despotic control of the Somoza family.
We should all be aware of the fact that the US has almost no history of supporting democracy abroad.
Prior to our action, six states, under public pressure, had refused federal requests to state National Guard units. We were hoping to make Iowa the seventh. We went to the Capitol to meet with the Governor, and he failed to show up. Some 25 of us decided to remain in the office until he appeared. When the building closed for the night the coalition members decided we would wait overnight. Subsequently, state police entered the office to escort us out. I went limp, and was incarcerated overnight.
Days after the action, congressional legislation was passed making it impossible to deny a federal request for a National Guard unit, unless the Governor declared a state of emergency, the so-called Montgomery Amendment.
So, my first arrest was in resistance to an act of American terrorism which came to be know as the Iran Contra scandal. The most active agent of the scandal was Lt. Col. Oliver North, a decorated Vietnam veteran moved into a secret office within the National Security Council. Behind the back of congress and in violation of the Boland Amendment of 1985, North solicits money from private donors and various nations and turns a blind eye to money garnered from shipments of crack cocaine, brought into the the United States via drug cartels with ties to the Contras.
Eventually the scandal was exposed. Over a dozen government officials were convicted of crimes. Oliver North was given a 3 year suspended sentence for being a kingpin in an act of American terrorism which kicked off a ten year war which took the lives of 30,000 people. All of those convicted were pardoned by the next administration. Having never raised a hand in violence, it seems odd to me that I’m destined to serve more prison time than Oliver North.
Another war, indeed a series of wars that I responded to, were related to Iraq. For 30 years now we have been bombing Iraq.
Despite the brutal, dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein, the people of Iraq managed to create a decent infrastructure. Before US intervention and occupation, Iraq had top of the line hospitals; child mortality rates were comparable to European nations; the populace was supplied with clean safe water; illiteracy was basically eradicated.
But in 1991 American bombs systematically obliterated that infrastructure. This was compounded by the most deadly regime of economic sanctions in history. Prior to the war Iraq 70% of the country’s food came from imports. The sanctions forbade UN member states from selling any foodstuffs to Iraq, with the exception of “humanitarian circumstances.” More the bombing destroyed nearly every water treatment plant in the country. Chlorine, an essential agent in water treatment facilities was deliberately sanctioned. This was done with the full knowledge that water borne diseases would result. Cholera and typhoid, previously almost non-existent, spiked dramatically in the next few years.
These were unconscionable policies! Deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure, and men women and children.
More than 200,000 Iraqis perished by the end of the first Gulf war. The Clinton administration then took the reins, and persistently, if sporadically, continued bombing. In 1996, the UN issued a report that 500,000 children below the age of 5 had died due to the harsh sanctions imposed. Then Sec. of State Magdalene Albright was questioned on this by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes: “We have heard that a half million children have died…I mean…that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Albright responded:”I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”
Albright never apologized for that statement.
So, this is my great dilemma: the conflict between my love of country and my conscience and, what seems to be, the increasing numbness of he nations conscience.
It still strikes me to hear the words “all men are created equal,” and the words “certain God-given and inalienable rights.” Rather obviously we have not lived up to these ideals. But somehow, it is still music in my ear. It is this very conflict that has led me to my actions and to this moment standing before you. I’ve read some of your stuff Judge Wood, and I know that you have some regard for the protection of dissent. Let us pray for the strength and resilience of one another’s conscience. And I hope you develop a relish for dissent.