Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Antiwar defendants get unexpected hearing"

Sep. 27, 2010

Nathonal Catholic Reporter


"Antiwar defendants get unexpected hearing"


By Joshua J. McElwee <joshua.mac@gmail.com>




Fourteen antiwar activists claimed a victory of sorts Sept. 14 when a

county judge in Las Vegas helped them turn a misdemeanor trespassing

case into a wider hearing on the legality of the use of unmanned

military drones by the U.S. military abroad.


Surprising both the activists and prosecutors, Clark County, Nev.,

Judge William Jansen said he needed “at least three months” to look

into witness testimony and study applicable international law

regarding the activists’ allegedly illegal April 2009 prayer vigil on

Creech Air Force Base.


The activists, who are known together as the “Creech 14,” walked on to

the base outside Las Vegas on Holy Thursday, April 9, 2009. Once

there, they offered Air Force personnel bread and water and started a

prayer vigil for the end of the military’s use of unmanned aerial

vehicles. After about an hour at prayer they were arrested and taken

into custody.


According to a Sept. 14 news release, the activists’ key strategy for

the trial was to call several notable figures as expert witnesses

regarding international law: former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey

Clark, Center for Constitutional Rights legal director Bill Quigley,

and retired U.S. Army Col. Amy Wright.


After relatively brief questioning from prosecutors, the witnesses

were questioned at length by Jesuit Fr. Steve Kelly, a defendant who

acted as his own counsel. At first Jansen said the witnesses would

only be able to answer questions pertaining to the charge of trespass,

but allowed them to go on as he became interested in the issues of

international law involved with the activists’ action.


Jansen ultimately delayed the verdict for the activists by four months

and scheduled a written decision for Jan. 27, 2011.


Speaking to NCR Sept. 18, Brian Terrell, one of the activists, said he

was completely surprised by Jansen’s decision to delay judgment and

had “expected everything we tried to be shot down.”


Terrell, who is a community member at the Strangers & Guests Catholic

Worker farm in Maloy, Iowa, said a crucial moment in the trial came

when, during questioning from the prosecution, Clark compared the

activists’ action calling attention to the use of unmanned drones to

saving a child from a burning house with a “No Trespassing” sign



In his closing statement, Terrell used Clark’s analogy to explain the

activists’ actions.


“I submit that the house is on fire and babies are burning in

Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan because of the activities at Creech,”

Terrell said in his statement. “We 14 are ones who have seen the smoke

from the fire and heard the cries of the children [inside]. We cannot

be deterred by a ‘No Trespassing’ sign from going to the burning



Other members of the Creech 14 include Jesuit Fr. John Dear,

Franciscan Frs. Louie Vitale and Jerry Zawada, Holy Child of Jesus Sr.

Megan Rice, and Voices for Creative Nonviolence coordinator Kathy



While a memorandum filed in court by the activists argues that the

continued use of unmanned drones by the U.S. military constitutes

“extrajudicial killing” and is thus illegal according to international

law, the federal government has continued to defend its use of the

unmanned aerial vehicles.


In a March 25 speech to the American Society of International Law,

Harold Koh, a legal advisor to the U.S. State Department, said the use

of drones by the U.S. military adheres to the criteria in

international law for war-making.


“Great care is taken...to ensure that only legitimate objectives are

targeted and that collateral damage is kept to a minimum,” Koh said.

“There is no prohibition under the laws of war on the use of

technologically advanced weapons systems in armed conflict -- such as

pilotless aircraft or so-called smart bombs -- so long as they are

employed in conformity with applicable laws of war.”


Joshua J. McElwee is an NCR staff writer.






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