Witness Against Torture Trial: Broken Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Lives

When I talk about my work in nonviolent civil
working for peace and social justice, I always tell people that we are
acquitted by a judge at a bench trial.
No matter what the facts are, judges will always find us guilty.

When I talk about my work in nonviolent civil
working for peace and social justice, I always tell people that we are
acquitted by a judge at a bench trial.
No matter what the facts are, judges will always find us guilty. I
tell people that only a jury of our peers
will acquit us and we don't often have a jury trial. I
have had two jury trials in 29 arrests and
have been acquitted in both of those trials.
However, I will not be able to say that anymore as 24 activists
acquitted during a bench trial with Judge Russell Canan in DC Superior
Court on
June 14, 2010. You can definitely expect
the unexpected when you go to court.

I have been participating with Witness Against
Torture (WAT)
for the
last several years to close Guantanamo and end
torture by the U.S.
government in Guantanamo,
Bagram, and other black hole sites around the world. We
went to trial on June 14 after being
arrested in an action organized by WAT on January 21, 2010, the day by
President Obama had promised that he would close Guantanamo.

In this action 28 activists lined up outside on the
steps of
our United States Capitol wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods.
They were holding large banners reading "Broken
Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Lives".
These 28 individuals, practicing their First
Amendment rights, were
arrested for standing in a public space reading the names of the men who
being detained in Guantanamo.

Inside the rotunda I joined 13 other activists in
and memorializing three men who died in Guantanamo
in 2006. After they died in 2006, we
were initially told by the military that they committed suicide. However,
evidence came out this past January
that they were tortured to death by the military at Guantanamo.
Because of this, we decided that part of the group would go
inside the
rotunda and hold a prayer service for these three men who were murdered.
We brought with us a banner that we laid on
the floor in the center of the rotunda where president's lie in state.
The banner read, "We mourn Salah Ahmed
Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani." Carmen
spoke about the crime to tour groups
and staff who were in the rotunda and others gave a short biographical
description of the lives of these men who were murdered. We
sang, "Courage Muslim brothers. You do not walk alone.
We will walk with you, and sing your spirit
home." These men were killed by our
government. We were committed to honoring and memorializing these men,
in a
prayerful and respectful manner. For our action inside the rotunda, 14
of us
were arrested.

Though Obama promised that Guantanamo would be
closed by January 21,
2010, it is still open today. There are
about 200 men still being detained in Guantanamo. Many of
them have been cleared for release
and they are still being held. Many of
them have not been charged with any crime in eight years of detention
and they
are still being held. Some of them are
on hunger strikes and they are being force-fed in a manner which amounts
torture. But it is not only Guantanamo. The
situation has become much worse in Bagram
where torture by our government continues, and in other black hole sites
the world.

And so we continue to find ways to get this story
out. We continue to try to hold our government
accountable and call on them to end these illegal actions. We
do these actions in the spirit of, and
following the principles of nonviolence that have been handed down by
Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and others.
We do not do these actions to get arrested. We are
exercising our First Amendment rights
and following our obligations under Nuremberg. If we do
not speak out as our government
continues to be involved in criminal activities, then we are complicit.

So as we celebrate our acquittal, our spirits are
as we remember those still suffering at the hands of our government
around the
world, and we recognize that this is a small victory. As
Attorney Bill Quigley, legal adviser to
the defendants and the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional
Rights, said
after the trial, "With his decision, the judge validated the effort of
demonstrators to condemn the ongoing crime of indefinite detention at
Guantanamo." And we know that we must and that we will
continue our struggle for justice.

Since our arrest in January, a number of activists
paid a
fine rather than go to trial. At the end
we had 24 activists who went to trial on June 14 to defend our First Amendment
rights and to shine a light on the continuing torture by our government.
As usual, we would go pro se, meaning we
would be defending ourselves. We do this
so that we can speak for ourselves about what we were doing and why.
We had three attorney advisors working with
us. Ann Wilcox has been working with us
for a number of years and we deeply appreciate all the hours she has put
in. We were very happy to welcome Mark
Goldstone back. He has been away for
about a year and it was good to be working with him again. We
felt very fortunate to have Bill Quigley
join our team. Bill is a nationally
known attorney. He has represented some
of the men being illegally detained in Guantanamo
and his expertise in this area was invaluable.

We spend a couple of months preparing for trial
conference calls and email. Members of
the group volunteer for different roles in the trial and we individually
on those pieces. I volunteered to give
the closing statement. It is a lot of
work to get ready for trial. The final
planning session and trial rehearsal was a meeting at St. Stephen's
church on
Sunday, the day before the trial started.
I flew out to DC early Sunday to be there for the planning

It was difficult leaving home because I wasn't sure
when I
was going to be returning to Madison. There were quite a
few people who thought we
might get some jail time for this action.
I think that being separated from my husband, Steve, is the most
part of this work I am involved in. I
travel to DC several times a year. But I
know how much Steve loves me and I know how committed he is to
supporting my
work. And I know that whenever I come
home he will be waiting for me with loving and open arms. His
love sustains me. I also think about the many men still
being illegally
detained in Guantanamo. They have been there for over
eight years and
not only have they not seen their loved ones in that time, but
through letters and phone calls has been extremely limited, and in some

The planning meeting at St. Stephen's on Sunday
and evening was long and intense, but it went very well. I
was tired after getting up at 4:00 am to
catch my plane. We talked about some general
trial strategies, and then went through a trial rehearsal step-by-step.
I was able to read my closing statement to
the group. When the meeting was over, I
think most people were feeling prepared and committed to continuing our
to end torture in the courtroom the next day.

On Monday morning, we met at the Navy Memorial
metro stop
and formed a procession to the courthouse.
We were all dressed in black. We
carried three black coffins in memory of
Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, and Yasser Talal
Al-Zahrani, the men who were murdered by our government in Guantanamo.
Three members of our group were dressed in orange jumpsuits with
hoods and carried a sign with the name of each of the three men. Outside
the courthouse, we held a press
conference with Bill Quigley, Kathy Kelly, and Carmen Trotta speaking to

The trial was scheduled to start at 9:30 am.
Once we were seated in the courtroom, there
were some preliminary matters to deal with before the trial started.
Most notably, Bill Quigley argued a motion we
had entered for an acquittal, but if we were not acquitted he argued
that we
would be allowed to use international law and the necessity defense.

I hadn't been feeling too anxious up till then, but
when we
sat down in the courtroom and the judge began dealing with some of the
preliminary matters, I could feel the anxiety rising in my stomach and
up to my chest. A couple of defendants
had not shown up by the 9:30 start time and we had to deal with that.
Judge Canan had to ask the defendants a
series of questions to make sure we understood that by going pro se we
giving up our right to an attorney.

Judge Canan then asked the prosecutors if they had
their theory of the case and if they understood what it meant to be
charging us
with breach of the peace, a part of the unlawful assembly statute.
The two young women, who turned out to be
very inexperienced and naive, said they were ready to proceed to trial.
They said that they were not required to
prove that we DID cause a breach of the peace, but that we COULD HAVE
caused a
breach of the peace. They said that we
were loud and boisterous, a key element they pulled from the statute,
and that
we were blocking others from moving freely.

Mark Goldstone stood up and told Judge Canan that
believed that under the unlawful assembly charge, the government is
required to
prove that we DID cause a breach of the peace.

My anxiety melted away when Bill began his
arguments on the
motion for acquittal and if not acquittal, that we be allowed to use the
international law and the necessity defense during the trial. I
was looking forward to hearing Bill as he
is a national figure and very well known as the Legal Director for the
for Constitutional Rights. His arguments
were so eloquent and moving. He laid the
whole thing out brilliantly and really spoke to the essence of what we
doing and why. When he was done, it
seemed like we could just go home because he had said it all.

In his conclusion, Bill said that if we act as if
there is
the possibility for change, change will come.
He said that we were acting for that possibility for change on
21st. Finally, he said that
it is a sad fact that in our culture today, we have the tendency to
adjust to
injustice. The outrageous and criminal
actions that are perpetrated by our government continue. We,
as citizens, become more complacent every
day in the face of this malfeasance. We
must show our outrage and demand change so that we are not dragged down
the depths of despair.

The judge was very interested in what Bill had to
say and
asked a lot of questions of Bill throughout his presentation. The
judge seemed to lack a real understanding
of the issues and was willing and anxious to learn from the expert
before him.

Art gave a stirring follow-up to Bill's arguments.
He said that any treaty is the supreme law of
the land according to the constitution.
What is at stake is people's lives.
People have died. He reminded the
judge that we were acting on behalf of these prisoners who have not had
day in court after being held for over eight years. We
have the legal as well as the moral right
to present evidence on international law.

Others also spoke to this motion, but after
listening to
everyone, and after taking a short break to consider the arguments,
Judge Canan
denied the motion. It was a blow to hear
his decision, but not unexpected.

The trial began and after the opening statement by
prosecution, the government attorney's called several police officers as
witnesses to provide evidence for their case.
The officers recounted what happened on January 21, but it was
clear by
the end of their testimony that they could not prove we were loud and
boisterous, a key element needed for us to be found guilty. Malachy
and Claire were the pro se defendants
who did most of the cross examination of the prosecution witnesses and
they did
an excellent job. A couple of the
officers specifically stated that we were not loud and boisterous.

When the prosecution rested their case, Beth and
Paki made a
motion for judgment of acquittal They
said that the government did not prove their case and so we should be
at this point. We've never been granted
a motion for judgment of acquittal at this point in the trial. We
have always had to present our case, and I
didn't expect anything different this time.

But this time Judge Canan began to quiz the
prosecutors. He said that he had asked
them what their theory was at the beginning of the trial and what it
meant to
charge us with breach of the peace. He
said that now it is an issue because the prosecution did not prove that
we had
breached the peace. The judge said that
according to case law, in a breach of the peace individuals use words
could incite violence.

Judge Canan reminded the prosecutors that in the
charging statement we were charged with unlawful assembly, but the
only used part of the unlawful assembly statute in the charging
statement. This was the section on breach of the peace
and being loud and boisterous.

After the judge and the prosecutors argued back and
several times the government said they wanted to use the whole statute
at this
point. This was absolutely ludicrous
that they would ask for a change in the charging statement AFTER they
rested their case.

After giving the prosecution several chances to try
to state
how they could save their case, Judge Canan said that he would give them
more chance. After one more attempt by
the prosecutor, the judge said that we were not properly charged and he
grant the motion for judgment of acquittal.

We were stunned. This
kind of victory was unprecedented for us.
There was speculation that the judge wanted to acquit us after
Quigley's passionate argument before the trial began. We
thought maybe the judge was just looking
for a good excuse to acquit us. And of
course we will never really know what was going on in the judge's mind,
but we were
all very happy to win for a change.

I thought I would be in DC for at least a week, but
trial was over in one day. I stayed an
extra day to make a visit to Rep. Tammy Baldwin's office and talk to a
aide about several matters, including upcoming supplemental funding for
the war,
and asking what she could do in the wake of the Israeli armies attack on
Gaza freedom flotilla.

I flew home on Wednesday morning, and today I am
sitting in
my garden writing this report, rather than sitting in jail. As
happy as I am to have my freedom, I think
about the men who are still in Guantanamo
and have been illegally detained without being charged with any crime,
and without
having their day in court for over eight years.
What will our next step be in continuing the struggle for their

My grandchildren are the light of my life. I
would do anything for them. But as the years pass, and as
I continue this
work in nonviolent civil resistance, I realize more and more strongly
that as a
grandmother I must reach my arms wide to embrace all the children of the
world. And so as I think of my own
grandchildren and what kind of a world this will be when they grow up, I
think of the children whose fathers, brothers, grandfathers, and uncles
are in Guantanamo. What is it like for these children who
not seen the men who love them for eight long years? I
think of the children of Iraq whose
lives have been devastated by the illegal and immoral war of aggression
that we
have been waging on their country. I
think of the children of Afghanistan
and Pakistan
who don't even feel safe in their own beds at night as they lie there
for the drones that could destroy their lives.
I think of all these children and know that I must do everything I
to try to make the world a better place for them. I will
not be deterred - and so our struggle

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