Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 East 25th Street, Baltimore, MD 21218 Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski at verizon.net




Contact: Max Obuszewski [410] 366-1637 or mobuszewski at verizon.net

                        Helen Gerhardt [412] 518-7387


WHO: On March 20, 2011, thirty three activists, including Daniel Ellsberg who released the Pentagon Papers, were arrested outside the entrance to the Quantico Marine Base in Triangle, Virginia.  The arrests took place on Route 1 after a rally condemning the torture of Pfc. Bradley Manning, an alleged whistleblower, then imprisoned in the Quantico brig.  He was kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day at that time for a period of eight months and suffered other indignities.  There was no conceivable justification for such degrading treatment, which brought back memories of the abuses committed in Abu-Ghraib. Most of the arrestees were charged with unlawful assembly and malicious obstruction of traffic.

After the arrests, John Zwerling, a prominent Alexandria, Virginia attorney agreed to take on the cases pro bono.  Since the arrests, some defendants pled guilty and paid fines, one refused and spent a day in jail, and others had their charges dismissed.  The dismissal of the charges came about in an agreement that the defendants would give up their rights to a jury trial, and four of them would go forward in a bench trial before Prince William County [Virginia] Circuit Judge Mary Grace O’Brien.  Zwerling and Cary Citronberg would represent Jean Athey and Col. Ann Wright, and Iraq War veteran Helen Gerhardt, from Pittsburgh, and Baltimore peace and justice activist Max Obuszewski would represent themselves.  Three of the defendants were facing a charge of malicious obstruction of traffic, and Wright was still charged with unlawful assembly.

WHAT:  In pre-trial proceedings, Obuszewski’s Motion to Compel Additional Discovery was dismissed.  In similar cases, the pro se defendant has obtained information indicating the police had prior knowledge of protest plans and intercepted his private emails.  For whatever reason, Judge O’Brien would not consider Obuszewski’s request for Indigent Defense Services.  Since he was considering an appeal if convicted, he wanted to be qualified to obtain pro bono legal assistance. 

Then opening statements were made by Citronberg on behalf of Athey, Zwerling on behalf of Wright, and by the pro se defendants.  The prosecutor was reserved during these statements but objected to Obuszewski’s contention he had a Nuremberg obligation to speak out against Pfc. Bradley Manning’s inhumane treatment.

The prosecutor presented four police witnesses, who were then cross-examined.  Each witness had a very faulty memory, and was unable to remember with much accuracy what the defendants allegedly did on March 20.  A sergeant for the Prince William County Police Department did testify that Wright sat down on Route 1 after she was denied an opportunity to place flowers at the Iwo Jima Memorial outside the entrance to the Marine base.

A detective, for example, claimed Obuszewski was sitting down and was arrested at 4:05 PM.  This testimony was incorrect.  Both Zwerling and Citronberg made the point there was a permit until 4:30 PM, that one lane of Route 1 was part of the permitted area, that it was impossible for anyone to hear, amidst the chaotic scene, any dispersal order and that the police witnesses were unable to testify as to what Athey actually did and where she was arrested.  After the government rested its case, Judge O’Brien dismissed the charge against Wright of “remaining at place of riot or unlawful assembly after warning to disperse,” finding insufficient evidence.

Obuszewski would be the only defense witness.  On the witness stand he testified he sent a letter to Commandant Colonel Daniel J. Choike on March 16 seeking a meeting to discuss the treatment of Manning.  Since he received no response, he tried to speak with the military personnel on March 20, but instead was arrested.  On the witness stand, he argued he was compelled by the Nuremberg Principles to directly petition the commandant, because Manning was being subjected to severe mistreatment in violation of his constitutional rights and international standards of human rights.


The Commonwealth Attorney, arguing on behalf of the state, claimed that the defendants should be found guilty because they were engaging in civil disobedience.  Drawing parallels to the civil rights movement, he argued that the defendants should plead guilty and accept punishment. Speaking in his own defense, Obuszewski clarified that the demonstrators at Quantico were engaging in “civil resistance” and not “civil disobedience.”  He noted that civil disobedience typically refers to deliberately breaking a law that one considers to be unjust, and that they found nothing inherently unjust about the normal application of traffic laws.  Civil resistance, on the other hand, entails the use of direct action to challenge unjust abuses of power.


In announcing her findings of guilt, O’Brien concurred that the case “does bring in larger questions” about the motivations of the demonstrators. Although she agreed that these larger issues are relevant, she felt that they “would not be appropriate for me to consider.” She disregarded the fact there was no evidence confirming the guilt of Athey, that Gerhardt had no intent to maliciously obstruct, that citizens had a Nuremberg Obligation to challenge government abuse or as Obuszewski observed, “I could not obstruct traffic as the police closed the road.”


WHEN:  Monday, November 7, 2011 at 2 PM


WHERE: Prince William Circuit Court, 31st Judicial Circuit of Virginia, 9311 Lee Ave., Manassas, VA 20110


WHY:  Speaking before the trial, retired U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright explained why she felt obliged to speak out: “I felt the pre-trial conditions of solitary confinement and nudity that PFC Bradley Manning was subjected to in the Quantico brig for many months were outrageous and that public action by veterans and citizens to show their concern for the rights of this soldier was necessary.”

During the defense closing statements and in statements before sentencing, the police witnesses came back into the courtroom.  Jean Athey, coordinator of Peace Action Montgomery (MD), said that her husband was retired military and that she was a grandmother of seven.  She had great respect for a young soldier who is accused of exposing the truth. She was greatly moved after seeing the video COLLATERAL DAMAGE, which shows the U.S. Military in Iraq killing civilians.  She urged the judge to see the video.  If Manning did indeed release this video to Wikileaks, Athey sees him as a hero.

Veteran Helen Gerhardt told the court she was deployed for over a year in Iraq with a National Guard Transportation Unit that delivered water to Abu Ghraib. Because of her experiences in Iraq, she was astonished by the inhumane treatment of Manning and had to act to protest.  She took an oath to support and defend the Constitution by peaceably assembling to demand that our government and military obey the law and honor all our human and civil rights.

Obuszewski pointed out that the unlawful assembly charge was dismissed because Manning’s supporters did not engage in violence.  The malicious obstruction charge was added on and should have been dismissed as well.  He also pointed out that Pfc. Bradley Manning was moved to the military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, and now is in general population.  This is an indication of the wrong that was perpetrated in the Quantico Brig.  Of course, the police arrested those who were part of the pressure that forced the government to move Manning, but not one perpetrator of the inhumane treatment has been charged.

Judge O’Brien was quite fair during the trial and explained carefully the procedures for the benefit of the pro se defendants. However, she was unable to find the courage to acquit the defendants.  She lives in one of the most highly-militarized sections of the country.  Her way of compensating was to fine the defendants fifteen dollars and order them to pay court costs.  It was astonishing to discover the courts costs in Manassas, Virginia were $177, including a pornography fee.

The water is already over the dam, but it can be speculated that twelve jurors may have had difficulty in convicting the Manning supporters of malicious obstruction of traffic on road where there was no traffic.  Regardless, the defendants and their supporters agreed to continue efforts on behalf of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, who may be deported to Sweden and eventually the USA.


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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