Anti-Iraq War Civil Resistance
at the White House,
On November 16th, the first trial for the 373 people
arrested in front of the White House on September 26. The action culminated the
three day anti-war mobilization in
16th trail: Carlie Numi, Mary Jo McArthur, Susan Grubb, Melissa Elliott, Marcia Angerman, Carol Seeley, and Sylvia Metzler.
Carlie Numi and
Carol Seeley had charges dropped. Others were found guilty in a trial
detailed below by Max Obuszewski from the
scheduled for the trial on December 21 and the one set for January 18.
Justice Above the Law?
“From start to finish, it was a trial unlike
most that unfold in the courthouse, as one defendant after another pilloried
Bush from the well of the courtroom and from the witness stand.” -- Henri E. Cauvin, THE
As a representative of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, I am coordinating the legal efforts resulting from the arrest of more than 370 peace activists who tried to exercise a First Amendment right to petition the government on Sept. 26, 2005 at the White House. On Nov. 16, more than 100 defendants were scheduled for trial in federal court in Washington, 3rd and Constitution Ave.
Around sixty of these defendants had contacted me, and a majority had not yet paid the protest tax [$50 fine and $25 court costs] listed on the citation. Remarkably 42 defendants appeared for trial, traveling from Florida, California, Wisconsin, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia to face a charge of “demonstrating without a permit,” which carries a maximum fine of $500 and a possible six months in jail.
Acting as pro se defendants with assistance from attorney advisor, Mark Goldstone, Cindy Sheehan's attorney, Jon W. Norris, and volunteer lawyer, Ann Wilcox, the activists volunteered to take on nine roles to be performed during trial. It surprised me that the case went forward, as Mark said it was the largest number of defendants in the same trial he
has witnessed in more than twenty years of
service to the peace and justice activists prosecuted in
After the morning demonstration on Nov. 16, the defendants, lawyers and supporters were ushered to a vacant courtroom. Mark, Jon and Ann soon began disseminating legal advice to the curious, and the group proceeded
to engage in a mock trial.
Catherine Hartzenbusch, the
prosecutor, soon came in to offer a plea bargain: plead guilty and pay a fine
of $25 and court costs of $25. A marshal then began to take a roll call
of who was present, but the lawyers objected. He wanted to call the names by
arresting officer instead of in alphabetical order. This led Mark, Jon
and pro se defendant June Eisley, from
We were now informed, however, of the prosecutor’s plan to pursue separate trials by arresting officers, rather than a joint single trial. Moreover, the judge was intent on starting the trials without all of the defendants being given an arraignment.
An arraignment is a standard procedure in court. The defendant hears the charge, pleads to the charge and states to the court if counsel is present. When I heard of the government’s plans, I realized fairness was not to be a major concern in this court.
The government wanted to “steamroll” the defendants, as Mark put it, into copping pleas. But the solidarity of the defendants was emphasized by the fact that just one person accepted the plea bargain. I now knew the steamrolling would not work.
By , we entered Kay’s courtroom unwilling to accept separate trials or to be denied an arraignment. First, six defendants were informed that their cases were dismissed. For five arrestees, the arresting officer failed to appear. The other dismissal was for June, the legal liaison, who objected, "I don't want to be dismissed."
Then Kay called the first group of defendants into the well of the court, and each one sought an arraignment. The first four explained they had no representation, and thus were not prepared for trial. Kay had no alternative, but to grant a new trial date, Dec. 16. The fifth pled guilty.
The prosecutor informed the court the government would consider waiving the six months imprisonment, which would nullify a defendant’s right to a public defender. I suspect such a move, which did happen, was illegal.
So our entourage retired to the vacant courtroom to
strategize. The defendants agreed on a strategy to force the hand
of the government. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, from
The prosecutor indicated the government was prepared for trial. We would find out later, she fibbed, as her primary witness was not present. So actually she could not have pursued separate trials, as the missing witness would have had to testify in every case.
She informed the court that no defendant would receive discovery as no one requested it. Denying the defendants discovery is astonishing, as there would be a police report at least which should be accessible in preparing a defense.
The judge called up the first four defendants and ordered them to sit in the well of the court. It took a legal skirmish before Cindy Sheehan was allowed to sit at the defendant’s table.
The first matter, though, was to argue the prosecutor’s motions: “To Preclude an Affirmative Defense of Necessity, For Leave to Late File and the Notice of Intent to Introduce Certified Business Records.” The judge ruled that the motion in limine would be held over for further observation. Jon and many of the defendants had never seen the motions before arriving in court.
Jon brought up the case of Andrew Bloch who was
arrested March 19, 2003 in an antiwar protest after climbing over barriers to
Hartzenbusch, in her opening statement, told the
court the defendants had no permit.
her off by saying you were demonstrating
without a permit. A pro se defendant objected to this blatant prejudice,
In his opening statement, Jon pointed out his client
had suffered the ultimate penalty--her son was killed in
The first witness for the prosecution was called, a
who copped a plea would have had his case dismissed. The term arresting officer does not necessarily mean the person that placed a defendant into custody.
So the trial proceeded in this fashion. A group of defendants were called to sit in the well of the court, and their arresting officer testified against them. Objections were raised that isolating the defendants up front would make it easy for the police witness to point them out. The judge noted this objection, but permitted the practice to continue throughout the trial. One police officer admitted that there may be others in the courtroom who might be her arrestees. However, she
could not point any out.
Defendant pro se PJ Park, of
clothing, including a War Is Not the Answer tee shirt. Cindy was obviously identified by name.
After five hours, we were informed the prosecution’s last witness was not present. At , the case was carried over to Nov. 17 at sharp to be completed by . This was unfair as the prosecutor was given six hours over two days to present her case, but the defense with 31 defendants was given two hours.
The next morning, the
Both Norris and Anna White, a pro se defendant from D.C., offered motions for acquittal. Specific examples were noted of the witnesses failing to identify defendants. Since the judge rejected these motions, it was inevitable he would convict.
Nevertheless, Rabbi Waskow
called the first witness for the defense, Manijeh
The next witness Joy First came from
Gael Murphy, a member of Code Pink from the District of Columbia, testified that more than 30,000 petitions were taken to the guard shack at the White House on Sept. 26, but were refused. In a statement to the judge, she explained that she is disenfranchised because of her residence in the District. She could not petition her legislators to vote against
The judge kept encouraging the defense to hurry as time was running out. He never did this during the prosecution case. An objection to this time bias was only noted.
The last witness for the defense was Cindy, all the
Just before the closing statements were made,
Stephanie Allen from
Johnny Barber, from Deerfield Beach, FL, gave an exceptionally moving closing statement, noting that dissidents are always excluded from any of the president’s forums. Norris again reminded the court that Cindy paid the greatest price and argued points of law, including the Andrew Bloch decision by the appeals court.
After some minutes in his chambers, Kay ruled. He gave the Webster’s Dictionary definition for civil disobedience and then ruled all guilty and fined them $50 with a $25 assessment for court costs. In the court of law, defendants have the right to speak before sentencing.
However, in this court, Rose Marie Berger from D.C. made a collective sentencing statement after Kay announced the sentence. She asked for time served and quoted William Penn, “Justice above the law.” Kay indicated the sentence imposed stands.
As the judge left the bench, the defendants and
supporters erupted into a hearty version of "We Shall Overcome."
This was followed by Rabbi Waskow singing his
progressive version of “
The defendants spent two days sparring with the court on major issues of life and death, war and the Bill of Rights and the need to speak truth to power. From my perspective it was an invigorating example of community-building and an empowering method of continuing the resistance inside the courthouse. All involved deserve accolades. As a biased
observer, I found the defendants not guilty as
they acted on their
There are two more opportunities to take the resistance into the courtroom. From the correspondence, I know many others who were arrested on Sept. 26 are looking forward to having their day in court.
Report back from the
Following the September 24th Mass March on the
Washington, DC in which more than 100,000 people demanded an end to the war and
the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the Sept. 24 - 26 Anti-War
Mobilization to End the War in
After walking from a nearby church to the White House
Ellipse, nearly a thousand people did a "peace circling" of the White
House, lead by bells tolling. Then, those facing arrest crossed
Camerota, Thomas Mullian,
Alan Dawley, Thomas Ehrhardt,
Karen Wisniewski, John Landreau, and Carol Seeley.
Others from the
"Dissent without disobedience is consent." - Henry David Thoreau
WASHINGTON -- The number of people arrested at an anti-war rally outside the White House has grown from dozens to hundreds -- and includes Cindy Sheehan.
Sheehan, 48, who has led a public battle against the war
since her son was killed in
She and the others sat down along the pedestrian walkway in front of the White House and began to sing and chant "Stop the war now!" Police warned them three times that they would be arrested if they didn't move along, but that didn't deter them.
A spokesman for the U.S. Park Police estimates about 370 people were taken into custody over a four and a half hour period. The demonstrators who were arrested cooperated with police.
All but one person was charged with a misdemeanor of demonstrating without a permit. One person was charged with crossing a police line.
Sheehan's 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in an ambush
The demonstration was part of a broader anti-war effort on Capitol Hill organized by United for Peace and Justice, an umbrella group. Representatives from anti-war groups were meeting Monday with members of Congress to urge them to work to end the war and bring home the troops.
Sheehan and the others were taken to a processing center to be fingerprinted and photographed. Police said they would be given a ticket and released.
By JENNIFER C. KERR, Associated Press Writer Mon Sep 26,
Sheehan, carrying a photo of her son in his Army uniform, rallied with other protesters in a park across the street from the White House and then marched to the gate of the executive mansion to request a meeting with.
The protesters later sat down on the pedestrian walkway in front of the White House — knowing they would be arrested — and began singing and chanting "Stop the war now!"
Police warned them three times that they were breaking the law by failing to move along, then began making arrests. One man climbed over the White House fence and was quickly subdued by agents.
Sheehan, 48, was the first taken into custody. She smiled as she was carried to the curb, then stood up and walked to a police vehicle as protesters chanted, "The whole world is watching."
"It's an honor to be arrested with this group of people," said
Gary Handschumacher, 58, of
Sgt. Scott Fear, spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, said about 370 protesters were arrested over four and a half hours. All but one were charged with demonstrating without a permit, a misdemeanor. One person faced a charge of crossing a police line.
Sheehan's 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed last year in an ambush in
Monday's demonstration was part of a broader anti-war effort on Capitol Hill organized by United for Peace and Justice, an umbrella group. Representatives from anti-war groups met Monday with members of Congress to urge them to work to end the war and to bring the troops home.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush is "very much
aware" of the protesters and "recognizes that there are differences
of opinion" on
"It's the right of the American people to peacefully express their
views. And that's what you're seeing here in
The protest Monday followed a massive demonstration Saturday that drew a crowd of 100,000 or more, the largest such gathering in the capital since the war began in March 2003.
On Sunday, a rally supporting the war drew about 500 people. Speakers
included veterans of World War II and the war in
See video of arrest. (Watch out for stupid commercial which precedes the video.)