Protesting Priests Escape Jail Before Torture Trial
Despite calls by federal prosecutors to jail two priests protesting against torture training at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, a federal judge has allowed them to remain free until their trial, which is set for June 4, 2007. Fr. Louis Vitale, a 74 year old Franciscan priest, and Fr. Steve Kelly, a 58 year old Jesuit priest, were arraigned in federal court in Tucson on federal and state charges of trespass and refusal to follow police orders at an anti-torture protest at Ft. Huachuca.
The federal prosecutor asked the judge to put the two priests in jail before their trial saying they had a substantial history of arrests and were likely to be involved in similar protests and commit other protest crimes unless jailed. After the prosecutor admitted that the actions charged were nonviolent, the court released the priests on their own recognizance.
The priests were arrested on November 19, 2006 at Ft. Huachuca, in Sierra Vista Arizona after the knelt to pray on the road approaching the gate to the fort. They were part of a crowd of 120 people peacefully protesting against military intelligence training at Ft. Huachuca that fosters torture. The protestors objected to the teaching of torture interrogation tactics at Ft. Huachuca by U.S. military intelligence - tactics used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Documents detailing Department of Defense spying on protestors outside the Fort in 2004 have been made public. The DOD described the protest as a "credible threat" to national security.
The Army Field Manual on interrogation (Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual) was written at Fort Huachuca. A number of the officers and soldiers responsible for human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison have worked at or were trained at the Headquarters for Army Intelligence Training at Ft. Huachuca.
The two priests tried to speak to enlisted soldiers and deliver a letter to Major General Barbara Fast, commissioner of the post, denouncing torture and the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
General Fast is the highest ranking intelligence officer tied to the torture at Abu Ghraib. Two other soldiers with ties to Fort Huachuca are among the 28 implicated in the beating deaths of two prisoners in Afghanistan in 2002.
Counter-protestors waved flags and accused those protesting against torture of being supporters of Islamic terrorists.
Fr. Vitale is a member of Pace e Bene, whose mission is "to develop the spirituality and practice of active nonviolence as a way of living and being and as a process for cultural transformation." Fr. Vitale is also a co-founder of the Nevada Desert Experience, a faith-based organization that has opposed nuclear weapons testing for a quarter of a century. He recently served six months in jail following his arrest at the Ft. Benning vigil in November, 2005, and was ejected from congressional hearings in September after speaking out against the Military Commissions Act.
Fr. Steve Kelly is a member of the Redwood City Catholic Worker community and has served time in federal prison for the nonviolent direct disarmament of nuclear weapon delivery systems. In December, 2005, Kelly served as chaplain for Witness to Torture, a delegation of over two dozen U.S. anti-torture activists who defied the U.S. embargo of Cuba with a peaceful march through that nation to the gates of the Guantanamo Bay naval base and prison camp.
The text of the letter the priests tried to deliver to the base commander reads:
To: Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast -
We are here today as concerned U.S. people, veterans and clergy, to speak with enlisted personnel about the illegality and immorality of torture according to international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions.
We condemn torture as a dehumanization of both prisoners and interrogators, resulting in humiliation, disability and even death. In addition to the hundreds of detainees who have died, we are also concerned about U.S. military personnel. Alyssa Peterson committed suicide after participating in the torture of Iraqi prisoners. Lynndie England and others have been imprisoned for their illegal activities.
We are here today at Ft. Huachuca in solidarity with tens of thousands of people at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Ft. Benning, Georgia (formerly known as the School of the Americas) to say that the training of torturers must immediately stop. Nothing justifies the inhumane treatment of our fellow brothers and sisters. Torture by U.S. military personnel has reached alarming proportions and has horrified people around the world.
We are convinced that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is unconstitutional. We totally reject its conclusions. Torture is a useless and unreliable tool that leads to an accepted practice of terrorization and the rationalization of wrongdoing.
We are here today to repent and clearly state that because of our sense of moral and human decency we condemn torture. NOT IN OUR NAME. 19th day of November, 2006 - Louis Vitale,OFM / Steve Kelly, SJ
Bill Quigley is a law professor and human rights lawyer at Loyola University New Orleans and represents one of the protesting priests. You can find out more about the protest and the jailed priests on the website for Jonah House http://www.jonahhouse.org/ For other information about the protest and the priests, contact Jack or Felice Cohen-Joppa 520-323-8697. You can reach Bill at Quigley@loyno.edu