On January 11, the sixth anniversary of the opening of the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Witness Against Torture organized a demonstration at the Supreme Court. Close to 40 people were arrested on the courthouse steps, while more than 40 activists were arrested inside. Some of the activists had their cases dismissed, and another group accepted a deal to place the case in the inactive file as long as the defendant was not arrested for the next six months.
However, thirty-five people, 22 men and 13 women, appeared for trial on May 27 before Judge Wendell Gardner in Superior Court of the District of Columbia. All the arrestees were charged with "unlawful free speech," while those taken into custody inside also faced a charge of "causing a harangue.” Each count carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail, as well as fines and court costs.
The day began with a march of orange jumpsuits from the Supreme Court to Superior Court, where an early morning rally took place. Then a decision was made behind locked doors to allow the defendants to wear their orange jumpsuits during the trial. The demonstrators are representing themselves at trial, but Mark Goldstone and Ann Wilcox are acting as advisers.
During the roll call, each defendant stated her/his name and informed the court that s/he was representing a particular Guantanamo prisoner. All through today’s proceeding, the defendants would repeat the name of a Guantanamo detainee.
There was a bit of musical chairs as the judge accepted the government's motion to seat the defendants together, but have the inside group separated from the outside arrestees. A defense objection to allow open seating was denied. The government then dismissed the “causing a harangue” charge for all but two of the insiders.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Magdalena Acevedo gave an opening statement explaining that those arrested outside left a permitted area and intended to get arrested. The defense argument against Guantanamo is a red herring, she stressed, adding that this case was about disobeying police orders.
Matt Daloisio, speaking on behalf of Yasser al-Zahrani, who died in custody in 2006, gave an opening statement for those defendants who will engage in a creative defense. As outlined in his statement, Matt pointed out the detainees have been denied basic legal rights, so he and twelve others will not speak in court.
Corporal Tim Quigley was the first government witness. Once the demonstrators left the sidewalk and went up the steps of the Supreme Court, they were in violation of the law. The government was unable to show a video of the outside demonstration because of technical difficulties.
The prosecutor introduced a number of photographs and asked the witness to point out the respective defendant. For most of the outside defendants, there were two photographs—one allegedly showing criminal activity, and the other was taken post arrest. When Paul Magno was identified by the officer, the judge asked his name. Paul remained silent. The judge called a conference. Afterwards, the defendants did not have to identify themselves. The officer would now approach a defendant, and Ms. Acevedo provided the name. Quigley had difficulty identifying the alleged criminality of two or three defendants.
After lunch, the video was shown. On Jan. 11, the chief gave a warning, “If you do not leave, you will be arrested.” During cross examination, Ken Butigan, an outsider, tried to convince the witness to affirm that the warning was lacking. He failed, but he felt that the warning should have included the specific option that the protester could return to the permitted area.
The last government witness to testify as to what happened outside was Lt. Jeffrey Smith. He testified the warning was not necessary, but done as a courtesy.
Maria Allwine, an insider, was prepared to offer a motion for judgment of acquittal. However, the government objected that the case presented applied only to outside defendants. Maria argued that since Malachy Kilbride, an insider, was allowed to make objections, she should be able to argue the MJOA. After the judge started rambling, Mark indicated that Ken, an outsider, would argue the MJOA.
Butigan pointed out that the government failed to provide any evidence to convict David Barrows, Brad Taylor and Ashley Casale. He added that charges should be dismissed for all outsiders, as an improper warning was given.
Ms. Acevedo disagreed. The judge did dismiss the case against David, but felt there was enough evidence to continue with Brad’s and Ashley’s cases. He chastised the prosecutor for failure to have Cpl. Quigley identify defendants in the video. He informed her that she should have had Quigley identify defendants based on their appearance in the video.
When the judge noticed it was after 5 PM, he informed the assembled to return at 10:30 AM on Wednesday. The argument for a motion for a judgment of acquittal will continue. Then the prosecutor will present her case against those arrested inside the Supreme Court. It seems she will call nine police witnesses. The identification process will be more difficult, though, as there is no police video of what transpired inside. The trial will probably continue through Friday.
Max Obuszewski was arrested inside the Supreme Court, but his charges were dismissed.