We are a gathering of people from Erie and Crawford counties who are concerned that the US war on terrorism has become a permanent global war. We are committed to education and action to stop this "War on Terrorism." We want to stop the escalation and spread of such war and to work for true justice and peace.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Erie Six Trial (October 25, 2007)

The Erie Six and supporters on EMTA trolley en route to the Federal Courthouse.

On Oct. 25, 2007, at a contempt hearing in a courtroom of the Federal Building in Erie, PA, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter sentenced six war protestors to prison for five days. These local peace activists had been arrested and fined for acts of civil disobedience at the entrance to that same building on March 19, 2007 -- the 4th anniversary of U.S. troops invading Iraq. They refused to pay the $500 fines which were due on Sept. 27. Before being sentenced, each protestor read a statement from the witness box of the courtroom.


Oct. 25, 2007 -- Erie, PA

On March 19, 2007, I took part in a non-violent act of civil disobedience inside the Federal office building in Erie, PA. This action was if fact an anti-war protest designed to bring an end to the war in Iraq. I joined knowing full well that I could be arrested, fined, and/or imprisoned. I reasoned that criminal acts had been committed to start this illegal war; criminal acts that could in fact kill my own son who is a career Army Officer. These criminal acts were committed by the very people who were elected to serve all the people, not just the rich. I can think of no higher justification for an act of civil disobedience than trying to save the life of my own son, as well as others. I cannot in good conscience apologize for this action.

I was arrested and fined $500. That fine remains unpaid. I can not in good faith and in keeping with a clear conscious pay for speaking out against this war, legally or otherwise. This is far too important to remain silent. While I did not necessarily want to break the law, in this case I felt a moral obligation to do so. To not speak out against this war by any means necessary is to in fact condone it by default.

I know of many others who would speak out but are indeed afraid to do so out of fear of our own government, and of being called traitor and unpatriotic by our leaders if they do so.

I have now been charged with criminal Contempt of Court and face six months in prison. I deeply regret this charge and sincerely apologize to this Court. My contempt is not for this Court or anyone associated with it. You are doing what the law tells you that you must do; I am doing what my conscience tells me I must do. My contempt is for this war. My contempt is for those who would lead my country to war based on outright lies, fear mongering, intimidation, and even religious intolerance. My contempt is for those who sit silently and accept the killing of our own children for the sake of cheap gasoline and a strong economy.

As for going to prison, I am sure it will be hell. I am not a religious person. I cannot assure you that heaven exists. I can however assure you that hell exists -- it is real, it is there. As a combat veteran I have seen it with my own eyes. On Dec. 13, 1966, as I flew my very first combat mission as a door gunner on a United States Marine Corp helicopter in South Vietnam, I saw a young American Marine who had been blown in half by a mortar round. He was missing from the waist down. It left a lasting impression. In your wildest imagination you cannot begin to understand what a scene like that does to your mind. I have suffered 40 years of P.T.S.D. and survivor guilt: why did I come home when others did not?

About one year ago I found my reason. If I can save one just one American soldier from being chopped up in body or mind for the sake of big oil profits and George Bush’s legacy as a war time Commander in Chief, I will consider my time in prison to be time well spent and a small price for me to pay.


Oct. 25, 2007 -- Erie, PA

Why I, in conscience, cannot pay the fine, even at the risk of prison time.

I have carried a copy of Pax Christi’s vow of nonviolence since we promised it in 1985. It includes a promise to actively resist evil and work nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth. I joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a faith-based pacifist organization in 1976. I have served in national leadership in both Pax Christi and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Since 1985, I have been a monastic with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, a community with a corporate commitment to nonviolence and working for an end to war and militarism. Since 1983, I have done tax resistance, following my conscience in not paying taxes that support war and weapons. For over a year, I have been part of beginning a new Catholic Worker house in Erie called Mary the Apostle house.

This all leads me to this moment and this decision to follow my conscience in not paying the fine imposed last March for our protest of the war at the federal building for several reasons.

· There is a tradition in nonviolence of risking other consequences instead of paying fines to further dramatize or highlight the suffering in order to change situations of injustice or violence. Risking jail time instead of paying fines was used consistently in the civil rights movement, for example. I feel strongly the call to point to the suffering that the ongoing illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq is inflicting.

· As I discerned this decision, our political leaders voted for an additional $150 billion dollars for this war and they passed legislation outlining a long-term US occupation of Iraq. The war will not end unless more of us act to demand that our leaders change course. In conscience, I cannot pay a fine that will go to the treasury that pays for this war.

· Over the last months as I have come to this decision, I have been gifted to live with Matt and Jess and their baby, Brigid at Mary the Apostle house. Living with Brigid, watching her grow, loving her, stretches my heart, breaks it open to include all children and to empathize with their parents. Living with Brigid last Holy Week and hearing a report of the death of an unnamed infant in a bombing raid in Iraq brought the reality of the suffering of this war to a deeper emotional level for me. What wouldn’t we all do to prevent the death of any infant? Living with Brigid, watching her grow and change every day, I ache for the members of the military, ordered to serve and separated from their children. I get just a tiny glimpse of how difficult it must be for them to be separated. And now 4,000 more from our area are to prepare to leave their families. Wouldn’t we all do everything we could to keep them home?

Do I obey the order and pay a fine that funds this war, or do I refuse and risk consequences that would further highlight the suffering of this war? In conscience, I cannot pay the fine.


Oct. 25, 2007 -- Erie, PA

I am a Vietnam era veteran of the U.S. Army and in good conscience cannot pay my fine.

Under the Nuremberg Principles I have an obligation not to follow the orders of leaders who have committed crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. Anyone with knowledge of illegal activity and an opportunity to do something about it is a potential criminal under International Law unless one takes affirmative measures to prevent commissions of the crimes.

The world council of Churches and virtually every major religion has come out against our preemptive aggressive, illegal and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Our invasion and continued occupation constitutes a violation of the basic obligation of the UN Charter.

We have also violated the Laws of war of the Geneva and Hague Conventions. These violations include the use of napalm, cluster bombs and depleted uranium. Thousands of innocents simply deemed “collateral damage” have been killed and maimed from bombing and indiscriminate military operations. Furthermore these violations include the use of torture on prisoners and covert transfer of prisoners to foreign countries for torture.

The high crimes of our country’s leadership which remain without indictment or prosecution demand that as a citizen of this country I must take drastic action to protest the serious crimes done in my name and with my tax dollars. Normal means of protest have not caused a lawful conclusion to one of the greatest crimes in American if not in human history. The Nuremberg Principles compel me to act accordingly.

I would like to close with a quote spoken during the Nuremberg trials. Nazi leader Hermann Goering, was interviewed by Gustave Gilbert during the Easter recess of the Nuremberg trials, 1946 April 18.

Goering: “Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.”

Gilbert: “There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

Goering: “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

I am here to prove Hermann Goering wrong, that people in America do have an influential voice in their government.

Nuremberg Principles.

In 1950, UN International Law Commission adopted the Nuremberg Principles. The basic premise of the principles is that no person, no matter what their office, stands above international law.

Principle I

Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment.

Principle II

The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.

Principle III

The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

Principle IV

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle V

Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.

Principle VI

The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under; international law:

a. Crimes against peace:

i. Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;

ii. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

b. War crimes:

Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, illtreatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill treatment of prisoners of war, of persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

c. Crimes against humanity:

Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Principle VII

Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principles VI is a crime under international law.


Oct. 25, 2007 -- Erie, PA

I am a Quaker from the small Erie Friends Worship Group. Quakers have always opposed war in any form, because of our strong belief that there is that of God in everyone, thus war on any human being is an assault on the presence of God within us all. Because of these deeply held beliefs, I cannot with clear conscience pay the fine which was imposed as a result of my civil disobedience on March 19, 2007.

Friends Committee on National Legislation issued a policy statement in November 2006, stating: “Iraq is coming apart at the seams. As the whole world reacts in horror, we at the FCNL see in high relief what former Sen. Fulbright called ‘the arrogance of power.’ The irresponsible intervention in Iraq places a heavy moral burden on everyone in the United States, and a binding legal obligation on the U.S. government to try to make Iraq whole again. But the fiasco of unilateral U.S. actions in Iraq should not be compounded by unilateral decisions of what to do now, and when to leave.”

The statement continues: “We may not be able to stop the violence in Iraq, but Congress has an obligation to demand a change in course. Diplomacy, political processes, and international cooperation might help end the violence and establish a process that could lead to a stabilized Iraq where reconstruction and reconciliation would be possible in a unified nation free from the threat of outside intervention.”

FCNL has identified four elements that could contribute to a real success in Iraq: 1. Set a date for U.S. withdrawal; 2. Negotiate an Iraq National Compact; 3. Convene regional process for stability in Iraq; and 4.Underwrite reconstruction with U.S. dollars. This is very much in keeping with the findings of the Iraq Study Group report of 2006.

The key words here are: Congress has an obligation to demand a change in course, which obligation Congress has failed to fulfill.

A majority of American citizens from all walks of life is expressing opposition to the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq. Recently, 12 U.S. Army captains wrote: “Five years on, the Iraq war is as undermanned and under-resourced as it was from the start. And five years on, Iraq is in shambles.” All of these officers served in Iraq -- many on multiple tours. And their recommendation: “Our best option is to leave Iraq immediately.”

First Lt. Ehren Watada became the Army’s first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq on grounds that the war is illegal, saying that his participation would make him party to war crimes. First, the war violates the Constitution and the War Powers Act, which limits the President in his role as commander-in-chief from using the armed forces in any way he sees fit. Second, the war is illegal under international law. The UN charter, the Geneva Convention, and the Nuremberg Principles all bar wars of aggression. Article 5 of the US Constitution makes such treaties part of American law as well.

Watada also recognized that the conduct of the occupation of Iraq is illegal. According to the Army Field Manual 27-10, which governs the laws of land warfare, the occupying power has certain responsibilities, which have not been met. “Wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people… is a contradiction to the Army’s own law of land warfare.”

“The one God-given freedom and right that we really have is freedom of choice,” Watada says. “I just want to tell everybody, especially people who doubt the war, that you do have that one freedom. And that’s something that they can never take away. Yes, they will imprison you. They’ll throw the book at you. They’ll try to make an example out of you. But you do have that choice.”

Facing court-martial and prison time, Watada said: “When you are looking your children in the eye in the future, or when you are at the end of your life, you want to look back on your life and know that, at a very important moment, when I had the opportunity to make the right decision, I did so, even knowing there were negative consequences.”

The challenge this great American provides to all of us: “We all have a duty as American citizens for civil disobedience, and to do anything we can within the law to stop an illegal war.”

One of our greatest generals, and also a great president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, knew about war. He said, “When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war…. War settles nothing.” He also had wise counsel about a permanent commitment to fighting abroad, saying that it would “cost America dearly.”

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed…. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and hopes of its children…. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

I believe that Congress has the Constitutional power and duty to end the bloodshed in Iraq, and all of our appeals to members of Congress have come to nothing. Therefore, it becomes a moral and spiritual necessity to forcefully resist government policy. This I believe with all of my being. I am bitterly disappointed in the refusal of our members of Congress to end the senseless killing and begin the healing process for the people of Iraq, and the US military institutions and individuals.


Oct. 25, 2007 -- Erie, PA

Your Honor, I respect the authority of this court. My inability to pay the fine was not a willful act of contempt. It was impossible for me to pay this particular fine and remain an honest person. I am constrained; I am bound by my conscience to serve God - first and foremost (2 Corinthians 5:9-15) When we first appeared before you, I was prepared to serve prison time or do community service for my nonviolent peace witness. I was not prepared to be forced to pay my government for that privilege. I was found guilty of creating an unnecessary disturbance but my conscience remains clear because my actions were a necessary expression of free speech - praying, singing, kneeling and inviting others to join in a Declaration of Peace. My debt to society is paid through active citizenship. So how can I pay an exorbitant fine for a 1st Amendment right? As an evangelical Christian and a citizen of the United States, I believe that when I am a witness to injustice, if do not make a serious attempt to confront or prevent it then I share in the guilt of that crime of injustice. The blood of the innocent is on my hands and the consequences of my inaction are on my head. There are worse things, both in heaven and on earth, than going to prison for that which I believe.

As an ordained American Baptist minister, I signed a code of ethics and publicly vowed before God to “serve Christ and the Church with God‘s help” and to “deepen my obedience to the Two Great Commandments; to love the Lord our God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.” I also happen to be a Republican and the mother of ten children. One is an Iraq War veteran and one is an active-duty Marine. I support our troops. I support our Constitution and the rule of law. But I cannot support a war that is both immoral and illegal. If I am to remain faithful as a Christian leader and a responsible citizen, I cannot remain indifferent or complacent to the suffering and insecurity caused by my government’s decision to invade Iraq. My conscience will not allow it. No matter how the architects of this war spin their propaganda, their real agenda and its devastating results have become increasingly clear. The continuing escalation of this war is neither pro-life nor pro-democracy. It has robbed our nation of its integrity and its resources, and left the overwhelming expenses to be paid for by those who never authorized it in the first place for generations to come.

Baptists began as advocates for the protection of human rights. In the early 1600s, long before our U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Baptists were imprisoned for their insistence on the rights of all people to religious freedom and freedom of conscience, often referred to as Soul Freedom. The congregation that I serve continues to supports this divine right. Crossroads shares in a rich legacy with those who had the courage to act on their convictions. In 1853, First Baptist Church, Erie was among the more than 20 Baptist congregations in Northwestern Pennsylvania that engaged in a public act of conscientious objection to the Fugitive Slave Law. They determined that this law was in violation of a higher law and they refused to obey it. They voted, published and circulated their intent to violate a Federal Law. As a Baptist minister I am called to do more than remember our history. I serve a living God, as does Rev. Charles P. McGathy, recently retired U.S. Navy Chaplain. He was in support of the invasion of Iraq, but the events that would unfold, particularly Abu Ghraib and the war’s effect on the military led this Southern Baptist minister to consider then question the morality of our presence in Iraq and the “ethical failure of our nation to act according to our own principles.”

The horrific events of September 11 exposed a new generation to radical acts of hatred and violence and made our nation a victim of fear and insecurity. But how does a war against Iraq make us less vulnerable? We now know that this administration took advantage of our distress, confusion and patriotism to gather support for its political and economic agendas. In the name of the American people, our government chose “shock and awe” over justice and mercy. I support my sons, and their sacrifice, but I cannot give approval to the bellicose policies of a Commander in Chief that has taken shameless advantage of their service and the nation they are so willing to serve. To pay this fine would give consent to the wrongs being done in our name and support a corrupted system.

As a Christian I believe that repentance is essential to redemption. As a pastor, I have a prophetic responsibility to teach and to lead in the Kingdom Way of righteousness according to the Word and Spirit of God. As a citizen, I am a recipient of all that is good about our nation, but - if I do not resist what is wrong, then I share in the judgment and cost of its crimes. Consequently, I have had to face very difficult realties. Our nation has gotten itself into this mess - a quagmire of our own making; we are reaping what we have sown. We cannot continue to justify the path we have chosen or the destructive consequences. How can we repent or make restitution if we are unwilling to admit that we were wrong? Other nations of the world recognized the slippery path we were traveling and tried to warn us, but we turned a deaf ear and hardened our hearts. Why? Were we after that “pound of flesh” - someone to pay for the losses of September 11? What is to be gained or satisfied by further acts of aggression in Iraq or Iran? And what is to be achieved by levying a fine against the sincerely held convictions of a faith that led me to make a sincere attempt to try and stop the violence?

I believe that we can prevent further bloodshed. But such an outcome depends on the actions of each and every citizen to do what is morally right and just. Nonviolent resistance and redemptive sacrifice has the power to soften the human heart and make peace. Jesus Christ and those who live this truth have demonstrated its power to achieve what no show of force can accomplish. Our sacred texts and celebrated heroes give witness to that universal Law which supersedes all human law - the Law of Love. In times of moral drought, love’s redemptive reign can satisfy the just and transform the unjust. The defense of the early Apostles, frequently imprisoned for their faith convictions, was obedience to God. Their opposition to an unjust, unloving status quo was transformative.

My faith is encouraged by Christ’s words in his Sermon on the Mount - “Peacemakers are blessed!” - along with the poor, the powerless, the pure and the persecuted. And so are the merciful. The court papers stating the charges present this case as “United States of American v. Us. It nearly took by breath away. When Christian Trabold prosecuted our case, he claimed that necessity was not a defense since what we did could make no difference. I did not come to the Federal building to personally obstruct anyone’s access to the US Courthouse, but I was there speak for those whose voices are not being heard and it appears to me that we achieved our intent. My conscience would not allow me to do otherwise. My response to these charges is an appeal to the collective conscience of my accusers, the United States of America and its President. Examine your own conscience to see if it is clear. I pray that our nation will discover and embrace what is “mightiest in the mightiest,” that divine attribute that rises above all temporal powers. May God grant each of us the strength and courage to help our nation do what is right.


Oct. 25, 2007 -- Erie, PA

Not in My Name

Since December 12, 2000, the Federal Government of the country that I love and served has become something that I can no longer support. Since that date, the actions of the Federal Government have shamed us all.

While it is the Administration that promulgated these morally abhorrent acts, the Congress has been its enabling servant, and the Supreme Court began it all. There is now a disconnect between our government and its people. Elected officials calibrate their actions to their own economic and political advantage. Too seldom are there statesmanlike decisions that serve the general good.

As a citizen in this democracy I feel a responsibility for its actions. I have consistently acted to influence the political process in every way that I can. My civil disobedience was part of that commitment. If I am to be punished for my failure to pay a fine, I will feel cleansed by it. I cannot pay a fine to a government that is operating immorally.

I am truly sorry for the following things my government has done. These things are not done in my name:

  • Pre-emptive war against Iraq -- 1,000,000+ Iraqis killed; 3,800+ U.S. Military killed; 28,000+ U.S. Military wounded
  • Abu Ghraib
  • Haditha
  • Guantanamo
  • Extraordinary rendition
  • Systematic slaughter of civilians
  • Secret torture memos
  • Private contractors on no-bid contracts
  • Loss of Habeas Corpus
  • Billions paid for uncompleted contracts
  • Uncontrolled mercenaries
  • Obscene war profits
  • Illegal domestic spying
  • Refusing to talk with perceived enemies
  • Falsified intelligence
  • Permitting the looting of Iraq’s culture
  • Stalling on Global Warming
  • Use of the Justice Department for political purposes
  • Contriving a war against Iran

On December 12, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court imposed its political will on the rest of us in the 2000 election. That seminal decision has led to everything that has happened since.

On January 20, 2001, while George W. Bush was being inaugurated, my wife and I, along with too few others marched outside of this Federal Building in protest. I carried a sign that said “Compromised Court.”

My decision to not pay the fine evolved over the last six months. Initially, I would have paid the fine even if the government had not pressed for it -- as a matter of honor. Then, I began to realize that paying the fine would be an immoral act. Finally, I came to know that I cannot, in good conscience, pay the fine, whatever the consequences.

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