SP4 Trials

Federal Prosecutor Miroslav Lovric: “Did you or did you not damage federal property by pouring your blood on the American flag in the Lansing Recruitment Center?”

Clare Grady: “The blood was already on the flag.  I just made it so it was visible”

St Patrick’s 4 Co-defendant Clare Grady in her defense.  She faces federal charges conspiracy against the US government for her actions of non-violent civil disobedience in an army recruitment center on March 17, 2003.

The jury is expected to reach a verdict this Monday in the St Patrick’s 4 trial, the first federal case of civilian conspiracy against the US government since the Vietnam War.  But is the defendants’ crime really conspiracy?  And what will a conviction mean for the future legal interpretation of nonviolent disobedience in the United States?

On St Patrick’s Day, 2003, 48 hours before Operation Shock and Awe was initiated, Daniel Burns, Peter De Mott, Theresa Grady and Clare Grady (daughters of John Grady of the Camden 28) entered the Lansing, NY recruitment Center, poured eight ounces of their own blood on pictures of Iraqi children and US soldiers as well as the American flag, and knelt and prayed in the vestibule until they were arrested.  Although the four Catholic Workers were acquitted in their first trial in Tompkins County for criminal mischief, they are now charged with “Conspiracy against the US government by threat, intimidation, and stealth by impeding an officer of the United States” and face up to 6 years in prison and $215,000 in fines. 

The week-long trial has been a constant negotiation of what the defendants could explain as to what was in their hearts and minds as they entered the military recruiting center. Senior U.S. District Judge Hon. Thomas J. McAvoy issued a gag order against  mentioning the Sixth Amendment of the US constitution as binding the US government to international law, Geneva Conventions, and the Nuremberg Principles.  The judge overwhelmingly sustained the objections of Miroslav Lovric, the federal prosecutor, when the parents attempted to speak of the illegality of the Iraq war, international law and its relevance to their actions, facts or statistics about the Iraq war, descriptions of the damages or deaths caused by war, and descriptions of the humanity and detestation the defendants had seen when they traveled to Iraq during the sanctions and after the invasion. “I swore to speak the truth, the whole truth, but your honor– you are disallowing me from speaking that truth and explaining what was in my heart and mind when I entered that recruitment center by denying the existence of international law!” exclaimed co-defendant David Burns as he was placed in contempt of court.  “Where are my rights to a fair trial?”

McAvoy has also decided to interpret the conspiracy statute in a disjunctive rather than conjunctive manner, allowing the prosecution to  prove only one of the three elements of “threat, stealth, and intimidation” to make its case. The peaceful and faithful demeanor of the defendants, who run the famous “loaves and fishes” soup kitchen in Ithaca and have lobbied congress for over 10 years against the use of depleted uranium  and economic sanctions against Iraq make the prosecution’s accusations of “force, stealth, and intimidation” all the more surreal.  Their explanations as to the immorality of warfare, and the nature of “Hammering swords into ploughshares” and how damage to war machines is nonviolent has proven inspiring to the considerable audience in the courtroom, but the effect that such limited testimony will have on the jury is unclear.

“The US government has charged the defendants with crimes based on a rarely used statute,” said Bill Wrigley of Loyola University, acting legal advisor to the defendants. “The government has taken what would have been considered a State level misdemeanor offense that would result in 6 months local jail time and literally crafted federal law to fit, that, if convicted, will now result in 6 years incarceration in Federal prison. The effect this will have on the public’s right to dissent, a cornerstone of our democracy, is absolutely chilling.”

Three out of four defendants are now found in contempt of court: Burns and De Mott for refusing to name the medical professional who drew their blood, and Theresa Grady for mentioning that there had been a previous trial. When asked for the names, Burns replied, “I will not take my thirty pieces of silver…  …I know the names, but I also know the name of Alberto Gonzales, who signed his name to a document declaring the Geneva conventions moot.  I cannot subject my friends to prosecution under that man.”   He was found in contempt of court and temporarily removed from the stand.

Among the expert witnesses were former marine recruiter Jimmy Massey, and a leader of the Ploughshares movement, Jesuit Reverend Edward Murphy, along with family friends Reverend Tim Todder, Kathy Borden, and Linda Finlay. Other expert witnesses, including international lawyers and famous historians have been stricken from testifying by Judge McAvoy.  Also disconcerting, FBI agents have been present in the courtroom, silently monitoring the case. 

“The closer we get to the truth of violence and war,” said Peter De Mott, one of the codefendants, “the more the government tries to suppress the truth. It’s up to all of us to nonviolently push the envelope and apply pressure on our government to halt its insane march towards destruction.”

When Theresa Grady was questioned by the prosecution as to the “effectiveness” of her “forceful action of damage to government property,” she replied, “…I think I’m just a drop of water in a great swell of nonviolent civil disobedience… It was not conspiracy, but an open, peaceful, and strong warning to recruits, recruiters, and the larger community about the imminent shock and awe… …My course of action created little more than a mess that can be washed away with ammonia and water.  The blood on the hands of the US government can never be washed away.”

The prosecution closed the final argument in the case by alleging that the Ploughshares and Catholic Worker movements were “cults” that were “…antimilitary, anti-government establishment, and a threat to the order of society.”   He also alleged that the defendants “sympathize with the 9-11 terrorists” and that they were “arrogant, self-righteous, and disrespectful of property and the rule of law.” 

Meanwhile, hundreds of SP4 supporters and about twenty detractors have gathered daily outside of the Federal building, singing songs, carrying signs, and sharing meals.  One incident where an unidentified protester splashed a large quantity of what is believed to be blood on the pillars of the Binghamton Federal Court House at around 4pm Thursday evening was quickly dissolved by the overwhelming police presence.  The unknown protester’s action was denounced by the SP4 supporters as an unnecessary, uncommunicated, and unilateral  action that they feel will harm the defendants’ case.

On a more uplifting note, the SP4 support network launched a week-long and highly successful “Citizen’s Tribunal on the War in Iraq” covering the issues disallowed in the courtroom, primarily discussion of the morality of refusing and resisting the government and military-industrial complex, torture, and imperialist, illegal war.  Speakers have included Jimmy Massey, Medea Benjamin, Kathy Kelly, MP Michael Meacher, John Bonifaz, Conscientious Objector Michael Blake, and many others.   The citizen’s tribunals are well attended by people as far away as Dublin, Iraq, Chicago, and the Northeastern Unites States.  The nightly meetings are replete with songs, jokes, and shared food.

It is terrifying that four parents who had the courage to stand up against the US government and make the non-violent sacrifice of their own blood to demonstrate the immorality of the Iraq war could now be convicted as ‘conspirators.’  While a conviction in this case could set a dangerous precedent for all future civil disobedience cases, the spirit of community and mutual support for nonviolent civil disobedience generated by this trial is an incalculable boon to this otherwise conservative and economically depressed upstate New York community.  While the jury deliberates, the people have already ruled:  The real conspiracy is conducted each day by the State and the corporate interests and unsustainable consumer lifestyle it serves.  The St Patrick’s four, whether they walk to prison or to freedom on Monday, walk courageously, and do not walk alone.

Learn more about the St Patrick’s Four at www.stpatricksfour.org

Reporting provided by www.experimentalmedia.org

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