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US anti-drones protesters acquitted!

At the end of October, five Christian peace activists were acquitted of ‘disorderly conduct’ at a trial in Dewitt, New York state, USA.

Defendant Linda LeTendre wrote afterwards of her shock: ‘I sat at the defense table with my mouth hanging open while the courtroom erupted in cheers and applause. I remember thinking, “I must look a fool with my chin hanging lower than my navel.” ’

“We will not be complicit with our government’s war crimes”

It was the first acquittal of anti-drones campaigners since the upstate coalition to ground the drones and end the wars (Upstate Drone Action) began protesting at the nearby Hancock Field air national guard base in 2009. Personnel at Hancock Field control armed MQ9 Reaper drones flying over Afghanistan.

The Ash Wednesday Five – Bill Frankel-Streit, Ellen Grady, Linda LeTendre, Bill Pickard and Carmen Trotta – were arrested at the entrance to the base on 13 February this year, holding placards, and with ash crosses on their foreheads.

Upstate Drone Action summarised the activists’ testimonies: ‘Linda LeTendre testified that, as a Social Worker assisting Developmentally Disabled Children and their families, she has watched the Social Safety Net collapse under the weight of the Military Industrial Complex. She said that she had stood in the driveway outside the Main Gate of the Base to uphold the Constitution of the United States and not to cause alarm or inconvenience.

‘Bill Streit said that as a Catholic Worker he had a commitment to stand with the poor, to protect the poor and to look at reality through the eyes of the poor. He said that if someone drove down the road, opened fire, and killed local people we would be horrified. When we respond to killing as normal, we need to repent, to change course. We are all one, he said.

‘Carmen Trotta of the Catholic Worker House in New York City told the story of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, leading series of protests in the 50s by refusing to go into the Subway for Air Raid Drills. She said the drills were an act of psychological warfare against the American People. Dorothy Day, who devoted her life to living and working with the poor, is in the process of canonisation by the Catholic church as a saint. She said the government’s lies about the ongoing wars need to stop, and the action was a symbolic blockade to tell people the killing must stop.

Getting in the way

‘Father Bill Pickard said that he was at the Base to stop a crime from happening. The Hancock People should be here before you, he said. There is a mandate for citizens of the US to stand up to government abuses, he said. Father Bill also mentioned that he is familiar with the inside of a jail after years of working with the poor in prisons, though he never plans to be arrested.

‘Finally, Ellen Grady testified. She brought posters with blown-up photos of two teenage boys. First she showed a photo of Abdullai, a member of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Abdullai, she said, is alive, and we hope that he will stay alive. The APV, she said, send us this message: “We want to live without war”. Then she showed a photo of Abdulrahman Al Awlaki. This boy is dead, she said. He died for no reason, along with six other young people, when a drone struck the cafe where they were eating, with hellfire missiles. She said that the five were at the base to call attention to war crimes; that they were not reckless, but determined. “We will not be complicit with our government’s war crimes. [To that end] we were there to get in the way as much as possible.”

In his closing remarks, Bill Frankel-Streit told the judge: ‘You need us. You need to hear the other side. It is said that the arc of history bends towards justice, so we appeal to you to join the arc of justice.’

The judge ruled that in standing on the entrance road, the five were not on public property, were not annoying, alarming or inconveniencing the general public, and did not have mens rea, the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing.

‘Finally, Ellen Grady testified. She brought posters with blown-up photos of two teenage boys. First she showed a photo of Abdullai, a member of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Abdullai, she said, is alive, and we hope that he will stay alive. The APV, she said, send us this message: “We want to live without war”. Then she showed a photo of Abdulrahman Al Awlaki. This boy is dead, she said. He died for no reason, along with six other young people, when a drone struck the cafe where they were eating, with hellfire missiles. She said that the five were at the base to call attention to war crimes; that they were not reckless, but determined. “We will not be complicit with our government’s war crimes. [To that end] we were there to get in the way as much as possible.”

The next trial is on 18 December: www.upstatedroneaction.org

Topics: Drones