--Historic: Judge will study drone protest case issues for four months--
Fourteen anti-war activists perhaps made history in a Las Vegas courtroom yesterday. Their trial for misdemeanor trespassing has morphed into what could become a referendum on America's enthusiasm for remote-controlled warfare, centering on the use of drones.
The accused, known as the "Creech 14," last year protested drone attacks at Nevada's Creech Air Force Base. That base is one of several operational centers for the American military's aerial drone program in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Military crews at Creech remotely control drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) which have been responsible for killing civilians in assassination attacks.
The activists were charged with criminal trespassing because they entered the base with a letter describing their opposition to the drone program. In what is termed a "blow" to prosecutors, Judge William Jansen agreed to delay a verdict for four months, scheduling a written decision for January 27, 2011.
Prosecutors had hoped for a quick decision, but Judge Jansen allowed the defendants to call three expert witnesses. Three of the biggest names in the modern anti-war movement testified: former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, retired Col. and former Embassy Official Ann Wright, and Bill Quigley, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The judge limited the defense to questions strictly pertaining to the charge of trespass. However, defendants were able to extract several key points from the witnesses:
- Intentional killing is a war crime, as embodied in U.S. constitutional law.
- Drone strikes by U.S. and coalition forces kill a disproportionate number of civilians.
- People have the right, even the duty, to stop war crimes.
- According to the Nuremberg principles, individuals are required to disobey domestic orders that cause crimes against humanity.
Defendant Brian Terrell, in delivering the group's closing statement, spoke of the civilian deaths that U.S. drones cause in Afghanistan by imaging a baby trapped in a house on fire: "We fourteen are ones who see the smoke and will not allow a ‘no trespass' sign to stop us from reaching burning children."
"This case has a lot more consequences than a trespass case... I want to make sure my decision is the correct decision," Jansen was reported as saying in the Las Vegas Sun.
At the end of the day's proceedings, applause filled the courtroom. Jansen dismissed the Creech 14, who are members of the Catholic anti-war movement, with the words "Go in peace!"
The Creech 14 include Fr. John Dear, SJ; Dennis DuVall; Renee Espeland; Judy Homanich; Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence; Fr. Nevada Desert Experience., SJ; Mariah Klusmire; Brad Lyttle; Libby Pappalardo; Sr. Megan Rice, SHCJ; Brian Terrell; Eve Tetaz; Fr. Louie Vitale, OFM; and Fr. Jerry Zawada, OFM. The group action was under the auspices of the
VIDEO (Top of post): A 3D animation of a UAV strike in the tribal region of Afghanistan. Posted 9/8/2008.
September 2010 has been the most intense period for strikes inside Pakistan since they began in 2004. Over 50 people were killed in at least ten strikes so far this month.