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Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 137: March 2006

Also in this editorial:

Making and breaking in Northern Ireland

“Blair make or break offer to Ulster” (sic) went the heading in the Belfast Telegraph of 16th February. If you looked hard enough in the newspapers of 1974-76 you could probably find an almost identical headline with the exception of “Wilson” substituted for “Blair”. Northern Ireland has had so many ‘makes or breaks’ over more than 35 years that it is hard to believe anything is going to make it, or anything is the ‘last offer’. And proposals for a ‘shadow assembly’, pending full restoration, have not gone down well with Sinn Féin or the SDLP.

If you looked at the DUP’s devolution proposals you would see proposals for an assembly but without the power-sharing executive that the Good Friday Agreement set up. There are a couple of possibilities the DUP outlines – low level powers for an assembly and a possible shadow executive or British ministers appearing before assembly committees. The DUP says it is unwilling to share power with Sinn Féin while the ‘shadow of the gunman’ is still around and there is republican involvement in criminality. Ian Paisley said the DUP’s proposals are a simple take it or leave it affair (and expressed thus); this seems a bit reminiscent of a child holding a ball refusing to let others play with it because everyone else wants to play a different game. Certainly the DUP is the political party with the largest support in Northern Ireland but that does not entitle it to block progress for everyone else. Obviously the DUP is trying to show it’s the party with the veto and avoid anything that might taint it with the Good Friday Agreement. How long the DUP will play the veto game is anyone’s guess.

The other parties, certainly on the nationalist side, are unwilling to settle for an assembly with little or no powers, and the fact is that when the Good Friday system was up and running it was popular among all parties for bringing local control (despite misgivings and DUP manoeuvring, and other issues came to the fore which shut it down, including the tardiness of the IRA in disarming). As we have stated before, the Good Friday Agreement system was certainly not perfect and if reinstated would need to be moved beyond in due course; the lack of opposition and the rigid checks and balances involved are inadequate in the long run. However we are not in the long run, we’re not even in the short run, and the DUP stand is not going to help lift off. The DUP has its principles but cooperation across the board (except on terms unacceptable to nationalists) does not seem to be one of them. Tony Blair is going to have to come up with plenty more make or break offers.

Battle stations for the Irish army
The involvement of the Irish army in EU rapid response battlegroups, announced by the government in early February, marks a new departure ‘from’ or ‘for’ Irish neutrality, depending on your point of view. This relates to a variety of areas including other proposals within the EU, to the Irish government’s agreement in principle to be involved in 2004, and to a lesser extent to the UN.

There are dangers in this development. Firstly, there is the danger that the ‘triple lock’ of UN, Dáil and government approval being needed before an operation is undertaken by Irish forces will be undermined if things develop in a certain way either within this proposal or other EU developments.. Willie O’Dea, as Minister for Defence, has committed himself strongly to the continuation of that triple lock, and explains the new involvement as support for the UN and a move to prevent atrocities such as Rwanda and Srebrenica. But once into the system things may change and who knows what operations the EU will try to engage in some time in the future, and if our ecosystem does teeter or collapse then resource wars may be the in thing some decades from now. Any weakening of that triple lock could make the Irish army simply a part of an EU army which acts in the interest of the EU and not of conflict resolution or justice.

Secondly, military ‘peacekeeping’, while it may possibly keep warring factions apart, is not a solution to the issues behind the violence. “Irish soldiers will help to enforce peace” went a headline in the ‘Irish Times’ (10/2/06) in a very particular understanding of ‘peace’; perhaps they can keep sides apart but ‘enforcing peace’ is a somewhat difficult concept to grasp, better translated as ‘combat’ (after initial involvement, the battlegroups could hand over to longer term UN military ‘peacekeeping’ missions).

This move also has to be seen in the context of current Irish government policies on the international stage, such as giving the USA free and unregulated use of Shannon airport through which 330,000 US troops passed last year (not to mention any possible detainees en route to torture). There is no neutrality there in giving the USA the only possible facility it could want in Ireland. The Irish government has also treated ordinary citizens in a cavalier fashion in joining the NATO-led ‘Partnership for Peace’ despite Fianna Fail’s pledge not to do so without a referendum. It is in these contexts that such new developments should be considered.

But another important question needs to be asked. Why is a comparable amount of money not being put by the Irish government into developing early nonviolent interventions in conflict, training large numbers of people as monitors and mediators (by this we mean local people in areas of possible conflict and not necessarily Irish people – though that would be no harm either), and looking at conflict from a non-military point of view? And in an unjust, unequal world which may have mounting problems of ecological refugees and migration forced by poverty, why are the causes of conflict not being dealt with in a holistic way? Putting your eggs in the military basket is not what is most needed in the world at the moment but it is, unfortunately, the only thing some people see as an intervention method.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:

Educating The Next Generation

A few days ago I went for a walk with my nearly 5-year old daughter Kathleen around Lough Achork in the hills of County Fermanagh. It was a mild sunny afternoon, and as well as enjoying some exercise, I thought it would be good for us to share the experience of early spring together, looking at the first leaves on bush and tree, with an eye for awakening flowers, and the chance of seeing a bird or mammal. I took my camera and Kathleen, learning how to write the letters of the alphabet, took a pen and notebook, which she duly used, saying that she was taking notes about the trees and grass. The walk around the Lough, at the bottom of a bowl formed by high hills, takes about twenty minutes at a leisurely pace. Most of those who come to visit are fishermen. Knowing from past experience that most of them don’t respect the place they come to enjoy I took a shopping bag with us to pick up the litter I expected to find. By the time we completed the circumference of the Lough our bag was brimming with empty beer cans, soft drink bottles, chocolate wrappers, cigarette packets, crisp packets and plastic bags. In spite of this caring for nature chore we enjoyed the walk - our engagement with nonhuman nature, taking the time to stand still and listen, and of course play.

At dusk I went for a run along a forest path I had not ran on for awhile and to my dismay found extensive fly tipping that included bales of hay, a mattresses, a hover, stacks of newspapers and toys, including two or three dolls. I reflected on the message the father of the girl who owned the discarded toys gave her when she came to know that they, along with the rest of the household ‘waste’, had been dumped in the forest. It could not have been one other than that a persons’ interests are tightly drawn, and do not include respect for the environment - the commons we all share. The contrasting experiences of the day illustrate how, by our everyday behaviour we educate the next generation, and in this affect the biosphere we are a part of long after we are dead.

On my run I reflected that if people are so uncaring as to spread their litter around the countryside, when with little effort they could dispose of it properly, what chance is there that the radical personal changes needed to tackle serious environmental problems such as global warming, water scarcity, and the rapid loss of biodiversity would ever be taken. It was a disheartening thought on which to end the day.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Resistance to the war machine continues in the USA – often at great personal cost - but it is usually inadequately reported, if at all. Here Clare Hanrahan reports on School of the Americas trials –

The Line Has Crossed Us All

“Aiding and Abetting” Conviction Brings a Six-Month Prison Sentence at School of the Americas Trials

by Clare Hanrahan
Columbus, Georgia

Thirty four peaceful protesters arrested during the November 20, 2005, vigil at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, faced trial before Federal Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth on January 30th and 31st in Columbus, Georgia. All defendants were found guilty and face prison or probation. This year, prosecutors charged one activist with “Aiding and Abetting.” According to the U.S. Criminal Code, “Whoever aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures the commission of an offense, is punishable as a principal.”

“It seems possible that others in our movement could receive similar charges,” SOA Watch Events and Outreach Coordinator Eric LeCompte commented after the convictions. “Now the government knows they can use this charge against us and the judge will give the maximum prison sentence. We sensed for some time that the government has attempted to piece together a Conspiracy case against SOA Watch, but the Aiding and Abetting charge doesn't seem to carry the burden of proof that a Conspiracy charge would carry.”

According to the law, “Mere encouragement or assistance is sufficient participation in the criminal act” for a defendant to be prosecuted for aiding and abetting.

Each November, human rights activists from throughout the United States assemble at the gates of Fort Benning to call for closure of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, known officially as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Demands include closing the Institute, an investigation into the human rights abuses traced to graduates, and a change in U.S. foreign policy in Central and South America.

In past years, many thousands have crossed onto the Fort Benning Military Reservation to demonstrate civil resistance to the notorious counter-insurgency school harbored inside. Nineteen thousand gathered for the November 18-20, 2005, vigil—the largest in the 16-year campaign of the School of the Americas Watch organization.

According to a report by the SOA Watch Legal Collective, forty-one people were arrested in connection with the vigil. Thirty seven faced Federal charges. Of those thirty seven, thirty four were charged with crossing onto the base, two were charged with damaging the fence, and one person was charged with assisting others in line crossing. Three were arrested at the Sunday evening solidarity vigil at the Muscogee county jail.

One person, Ed Lewinson, 73, a retired professor, crossed onto the base for a third time, according to the Legal Collective. “Again this year, Mr. Lewinson was not charged, probably because the government fears the bad publicity associated with prosecuting a person who is blind.”

Defendants, their families and supporters, as well as numerous formerly imprisoned SOA resisters, arrived in Columbus several days prior to the January trials to provide mutual support and to consult with a team of pro bono attorneys and legal advisors, including Loyola University Law Professor Bill Quigley, who arrived from Haiti the night before the trials after working with the Institute of Justice and Democracy to win the release of Haitian political prisoner Father Gerard Jean-Juste, arrested for “incendiary sermons,” and “public clamor,” by the Haitian coup government.

On the first day of the SOA trials, defendants and supporters walked silently from the hotel to the U.S. Federal Courthouse in a several blocks long show of solidarity. Supporters, in turn, filled the 80 or so seats available on the long oak benches of the narrow courtroom for two days of trials held in the same building where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had appeared during the civil rights years to appeal for the right to march through Georgia.

We learned the sad news of the death of Mrs. Coretta Scott King from the massive, flat-screen television in the Howard Johnson hotel before the second day of trials as we sat among tables of soldiers from nearby Fort Benning to share the coffee and grits, cereal and juice from the hotel breakfast bar.

The U.S. Courthouse in Columbus, Georgia, a 1930's era, three-story building just blocks from the Chattahoochee River, again became both a forum for truth tellers and an instrument for repression of political dissent as one defendant after the other was found guilty and offered the opportunity to address the court prior to sentencing.

“If the voices of this courtroom were heard throughout this country,” Franciscan Friar Jerome Zawada, 68, of Cedar Lake, Indiana, told the judge, “the SOA/WHINSEC would be shut down tomorrow.” Zawada, who completed a six months sentence for a 2002 conviction, was sentenced to another six months prison time, with credit for the 63 days he had already served in the Muscogee County Jail.

This year’s group of defendants, between 19 and 81 years of age, include a film maker and a janitor, two Franciscan Friars, several members of Witness for Peace and Christian Peacemaker Team delegations, a Quaker, a nurse, and a nun, a Georgetown University student who was suspended by university officials for his act of civil dissent, several Catholic Workers who share their lives in service among the poor, a single mother of a teenage daughter, a newspaper reporter who stepped away from a twenty-five year career to participate in the civil resistance protest, a member of Veterans for Peace, a war tax resister, and a mother of 14 who refused bail following her November arrest and was brought before the judge directly from the Muscogee County Jail after 72 difficult days of incarceration.

All but one of the defendants had engaged in civil resistance by crossing over or under a perimeter fence into the immediate custody of military authorities. Each had planned and prepared for the nonviolent crossing, and were charged with violation of 18 US Code 1382, a misdemeanor trespass offense.

They joined 231 others who have been prosecuted and convicted for similar acts of peaceful dissent at the military installation. Since 1990, these human rights activists have spent over 81 years of prison time in 199 prison sentences served by 181 different individuals. Forty-seven different individuals have served 50 years of probation and three have been sentenced to home confinement, according to statistics provided by the SOA Watch organization.

The defendants were prosecuted by a team led by a military JAG officer, dressed in civilian clothes. She was acting as a civilian attorney, according to the Judge, who addressed her as Captain. Columbus, Georgia, police officers also testified during the trials and were responsible for arresting several individuals on the city-side of the fence and turning them over to military authorities, further blurring the distinctions between civilian and military authority.

Kenneth Crowley, 64, of Washington, DC, the Delegations Coordinator for Witness for Peace, faced prosecution on the charge of “Aiding and Abetting.” This is the first time this charge has been leveled against a participant in the SOA Watch-sponsored gathering. Crowley, who served a six month prison sentence for crossing the line in 2002, testified that he responded to a request from 66 year old defendant Gail Phares, to lift the fence that had fallen on her back as she attempted to crawl under it onto Fort Benning property. Prosecutors presented a surveillance video tape of the action taken by Columbus police that allegedly showed three others following Phares under the fence as Crowley held it up.

“I couldn’t have just let it drop on their backs,” Crowley told the Judge.

Unlike the other defendants, who received a verbal warning prior to crossing, Crowley had not been warned that holding the fence could result in his arrest, and he had not come to Fort Benning with an intention to participate in civil disobedience.

“Ignorance of law is not a legal defense,” the prosecutor argued, and “not expecting to be arrested is no legal defense. … if the government proves he knowingly assisted others in violation of the law, the defendant is equally culpable.”

Arguing for the defense, Bill Quigley said, “If he is guilty of anything, he is guilty of being a gentleman and trying to keep a fence from hurting someone.”

“This is the first time in my 45 years judicial career where chivalry has been used as a defense,” Judge Faircloth quipped prior to issuing a guilty verdict. “There is always a place for politeness and chivalry in this world; nonetheless, I don’t buy the chivalry defense. I consider this a grievous offense.” He sentenced Crowley to six months imprisonment with a $1,000 fine.

Gail Phares of Raleigh, North Carolina, speaking in a press conference before the trial said, "In my 40 years of experience in Latin America, I've witnessed a number of patterns repeated over and over which trace death, torture and suffering back to troops trained in counter-insurgency warfare by the U.S. military, many of whom were trained at the School of the Americas."

Taking the stand at her trial, Phares, a founding member of Witness for Peace, testified, “I’m so tired of seeing this pattern. …We are training an Army allied with paramilitary death squads to focus on the civilian population. In Colombia, three million people have been displaced. This is the worst humanitarian crisis in this hemisphere. Thousands are being massacred and tortured and assassinated. …Is it a crime to call attention to a crime, to call attention to genocide?

Turning to face Judge Faircloth Phares said, “On December 2, 1980, one of my closest friends, Sister Maura Clark, was raped and murdered by graduates of the SOA.” In tears, she continued, “Maura Clark was my friend. … When will we U.S. citizens and people of faith rise up and demand that our government stop this pattern?”

During the course of the trial, Judge Faircloth reminded those assembled that “the right to demonstrate before the front gate has been upheld by this court.” He attempted to excuse his judgments and harsh sentencing by declaring, “It’s not in my hands. I have to deal with the practical application of 18 USC 1382.”

Robert Call, 72, a former priest and an “off-off Broadway actor,” from Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, told the Judge, “It is right, quite civilly, to disobey a ‘No Trespassing’ sign and commit a Federal misdemeanor in order to send a message of disapproval. When I crawled under the Fort Benning fence, my demeanor was somewhat amiss. I admit it. But it was right to do it.”

Prior to receiving a sentence of three months, Call told the Judge, “I went to Guatemala as a Witness for Peace and I met a group of Mayan women who had watched uniformed soldiers shoot their husbands dead. I went to Mexico and met people driven out of Guatemala and still afraid to go back. When Rios Montt, an alumnus of the School of the Americas, was President of Guatemala, he saw to the destruction of over six hundred Indian villages, killing hundreds of thousands and driving two hundred thousand to refuge in Mexico.”

Writer David A. Sylvester, 54, of Oakland, California, characterizes the SOA as “one of the most horrific examples of how this society lives out a lie, violating its members’ personal and social integrity.”

Sylvester took a voluntary lay off from his work as a newspaper reporter to participate in the November action at the gates. “It freed me from restraints of alleged neutrality,” he said. “We’re in moral crises in this country. There comes a time when one must join the fight.”

Before being sentenced to three months prison and a $500 fine, Sylvester told the judge, “When I first heard about Abu Ghraib and saw the photos, at that moment the line crossed me. I had already been violated by the time I got to Fort Benning.”

On January 23, 2006, a week before the SOA trials, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr, was spared a prison sentence by a six-member military panel at Fort Carson, Colorado, for torturing to death Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush by covering his head with a sleeping bag, binding him with electric cord, and sitting on his chest until he died.

Brevard, North Carolina, resident Linda Mashburn, a nurse and human rights activist, told the judge in her sentencing statement, “Prison for three or six months is not such a terrible ordeal to face if my action will publicize the fact that the U.S. has been running the largest training school for terrorism in the world for the last 50 plus years.” Mashburn was sentenced to three months imprisonment.

“By crossing the line to call for the closure of the SOA/WHINSEC,” according to the SOA Watch Legal Collective, the defendants “were complying with the highest laws, international laws and laws of conscience. In their actions they were demanding that our country abide by the Convention Against Torture, which was ratified by the U.S. in 1994. It states that ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture,’ and that orders from superiors ‘may not be invoked as a justification of torture.’"

Clare Hanrahan served six months at Alderson Federal Prison Camp as an SOA prisoner. She is a free-lance writer and author of Jailed for Justice: A Woman’s Guide to Federal Prison Camp. She can be reached through her website:

Jim McGovern (D-MA) reintroduced legislation in the 109th Congress to suspend operations at the School of the Americas/ WHINSEC. HR 1217, "The Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2005," has 124 bi-partisan co-sponsors. For more information on the SOA/WHINSEC and to support the prisoners, contact:

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