BURLINGTON, Vermont - Police arrested 10 anti-war demonstrators Tuesday participating in a sit-in at Sen. Patrick Leahy's Burlington office to demand he stop supporting an Iraq troop withdrawal bill they said would extend the Iraq war, not end it."This is an immoral war and an illegal war," said Marmete Hayes, 83, of Burlington as she stood in handcuffs at the entrance to the Courthouse Plaza complex where Leahy's office is located. "It demands strong action on the part of dissenters."
Three, including Hayes, could face criminal prosecution because they were also arrested at a March 27 sit-in at the Burlington offices of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., or a March 21 sit-in at the Burlington offices of Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
"They were warned," said Chittenden County State's Attorney Thomas Donovan, who has chosen not to prosecute the protesters. "At some point, there has to be a response." Donovan said he would decide today whether to prosecute any of the three.
The late afternoon arrests followed three hours of spirited conversation between about 20 demonstrators and Chuck Ross, Leahy's state director. The Senate is in recess this week. Ross said Leahy was on vacation and not at his Burlington office.
"This is not a withdrawal plan," said James Leas of South Burlington, referring to a Senate-passed bill that sets a March 31, 2008, target for ending combat operations in Iraq. "It's a plan to continue the war. Senator Leahy should withdraw his name supporting this legislation."
Leas and others said the bill was flawed because it contains language that allows troops serving in training and security operations to remain in Iraq indefinitely. They also derided a bill with tougher language introduced Monday by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., as similarly flawed.
Ross reminded the protesters that Leahy, a Democrat, has opposed the war from the start, as have Sanders and Welch.
"The senator is frustrated that we are there and has said so from the get-go," Ross said. "He has heard Vermonters speak out on this since before the war began."
Several of the demonstrators, including one who identified herself as an eighth-grade teacher of Leahy, said they respected him and praised his investigation into the role of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
"Thank You For Going After Gonzales," read one of several signs held by protesters as they talked with Ross. "Now Stop Supporting The Fake Withdrawal." Another sign read "Good Job With Gonzales."
The arrests came as the office closed and after the demonstrators briefly debated whether arrests would take attention away from their message that the Senate legislation, as well a similar measure passed by the House, won't lead to an immediate end to the war.
The 10 who decided not to be arrested left the office but stood outside and pressed their protest signs against the windows of the office building as the other 10 were given no trespass citations and then released.
Besides Hayes, the people arrested were Kate Duesterberg, 52, of Thetford; Jay Vos, 58, of Burlington; Owen Mulligan, 33, of Burlington; Shawn Starfighter, 27, of Burlington; S'ra DeSantis, 31, of Burlington; Nicholas Parrish, 27, of Burlington; Will Allen, 70, of Thetford; Rene Kaczka-Valliere, 27, of Burlington; and Patrick Stanton, 36 of Burlington.
Hayes and Vos were also arrested at the March 28 protest at Sanders' office; Allen was arrested at the Sanders protest and the March 21 protest at Welch's office.
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