D.C. Judge Convicts 34 Anti-Torture Activists, and Several of Them Expect to Be Jailed
Based on comments made by Judge Wendell Gardner during the three-day trial in Superior Court of the District of Columbia , it was inevitable that 34 anti-torture activists would be found guilty of the “unlawful assemblage” statute. At 4 PM on May 29, Gardner made it official. He accepted the government’s argument that if one was arrested, s/he was guilty. Only a handful of defendants were actually identified as having engaged in an illegal assemblage at the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11. But if one appeared in a police photograph, s/he was guilty. It did not matter if the officer could not identify the person in court or only saw her/him on an elevator. The wearing of orange jumpsuits or Shut Down Guantanamo tee shirts signified guilt. But even those who wore neither were convicted.
In a typical criminal case, the prosecutor must present evidence to convict the defendant who was arrested and charged with breaking and entering. But when peace activists appear in Superior Court, the fact that they were arrested is enough to bring a conviction.
Several defendants, including Claire Schaefer-Duffy, took the stand to testify to what happened inside the Supreme Court. The basic argument was that they were there to appeal to the Supreme Court justices to rule against the Bush administration in the cases of Boumediene v. U.S. and Al Odah v. Bush. They pointed out that after all other remedies had been exhausted, direct action and appeal were the only options.
Ashley Casale stated there was a right to petition the government. Historian Michael Foley, whose case was dismissed, expressed astonishment that there was a police riot inside the Supreme Court no more than 20 feet from the courtroom where the justices decide First Amendment issues. Defendant Art Laffin asked to have Tom Wilner, a lawyer for Guantanamo detainees, testify. But Gardner would not permit him to take the stand. Laffin reminded the judge that the Rev. Bill Pickard testified that a talk by Wilner caused him to go to the Supreme Court. No argument by Laffin swayed the judge. Wilner, a partner at the Washington law firm Shearman and Sterling, represented twelve Kuwaiti citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay in the case decided in their favor by the Supreme Court on June 28, 2004.
Maria Allwine renewed her motion for judgment of acquittal, but there was no surprise when it was denied. Magdalena Acevedo presented her closing statement and replayed portions of the video from the outside arrests. She reminded the court that there was testimony that some defendants, never named, awaited a signal to begin the protest. A signal means there will be an assemblage.
Emmet Jarrett in his closing statement said he took an oath in 1959 while in the military to uphold the Constitution. That is why he was at the Supreme Court. He pointed out that the defendants were there to deliver a letter to all justices and reiterated the lack of evidence in the government’s case. He closed by appealing to all to join the group in ending torture and restoring habeas corpus.
Art Laffin, in his closing, pointed out that his detainee died in custody. But there was no investigation. He respectfully disagreed with the Assistant U.S. Attorney that this case was about the prisoners at Guantanamo . When the government violates god’s law, international law and the Constitution, citizens must act. He reminded the court that William Penn said put justice above the law. The Nuremberg Principles state that individuals have a duty to prevent crimes against humanity and that if people don't act to prevent such crimes, they are actually complicit. He then read a poem from one of the detainees.
After Laffin finished, Claire stood and stated on behalf of Abbas Hasid Rumi Al Naely, I stand by Art's closing statement. And then, one after the other, each pro se defendant also stood, stated her/his name, the name of the prisoner and agreed to stand with Art.
Paul Magno called for a moment of silence on behalf of the detainees. The prosecutor objected, but the courtroom remained quiet for about one minute.
Gardner then made many of the same points from earlier in the trial. He said all were guilty, though, he did not name all of the defendants. After a break, he then added more names, probably having been coached by a clerk. Magno stood and turned his back. The judge told him to sit down. When he refused, a marshal placed him under arrest. While being taken from the court, he said he was ashamed of the judge. In response he was held in summary contempt. Eventually, the judge brought him back in court and lectured him that a child could have seen his behavior. Then he released him.
Sentencing will begin at 9:30 AM on May 30 in Courtroom 218. Gardner indicated those fifteen defendants without prior arrests will get ten days in jail suspended, 60 days of unsupervised probation and an order to pay $50 to the Victims of Violent Crimes Fund. This would seem to suggest that the ten defendants with prior arrests will be sent to jail. It seems the court has no records for nine of the defendants. It can be surmised, they will be treated as first-time arrestees.
Afterwards, the group gathered in a park across from the courthouse to strategize about sentencing. It is likely the group will request that all defendants be given the same sentence—time served which was about 30 hours.
Max obuszewski was arrested with the defendnats, but his charges were dismissed.