Published Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011 | 11:41 a.m.
Updated Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011 | 3:10 p.m.
Creech Air Force Base
A Las Vegas judge on Thursday handed down a decision that got a mixed reaction from protesters of drone warfare who were arrested for trespassing nearly two years ago at Creech Air Force Base in Southern Nevada.
Judge William Jansen, in a 20-page decision, ruled that the "Creech 14" who protested April 9, 2009, at the base, were guilty of the crime of trespassing.
But the judge also decided that the defendants, who stood trial for the misdemeanor offense last September in his courtroom, would be given credit for the time they served in jail and would be free to go.
"Go in peace," were Jansen's final words to the defendants after an hour-long court proceeding this morning in Las Vegas Justice Court.
The judge also urged them to use diplomacy, rather than trespassing, in their attempts to get U.S. drone warfare policy changed.
There was some scattered applause in the crowded courtroom upon hearing the defendants wouldn't get jail time — but the defendants weren't pleased about the judge's guilty verdict.
The protesters had argued there was "necessity" that compelled them to act. As someone might trespass onto private property to save a child from a burning building, they said they were trying to stop drone warfare from killing civilians thousands of miles away in Afghanistan.
However, in his conclusion, Jansen said that "Defendants' motivation for why they committed the offense is irrelevant and does not constitute a defense to the charge. Moreover, defendants are unable to show that their conduct was compelled by true 'necessity' as that doctrine has been defined by various courts."
Those found guilty of the misdemeanor charge are the Rev. John Dear, a Jesuit priest; Dennis DuVall; Renee Espeland; Judy Homanich; Kathy Kelly; the Rev. Steve Kelly, a Jesuit priest; Mariah Klusmire; Brad Lyttle; Libby Pappalardo; Sister Megan Rice, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus; Brian Terrell; Eve Tetaz; and the Revs. Louie Vitali and Jerry Zawada, both Franciscan priests.
Vitali, a friar who at one time worked in a Las Vegas Catholic parish, was not at the hearing because he is currently serving a six-month sentence in the federal prison in Lompoc, Calif., for protesting at the Ft. Benning, Ga., 'School of the Americas," which peace activists say has taught foreign military leaders interrogation techniques they use in torturing political prisoners in their home countries.
Thursday's hearing drew about 40 supporters for the defendants from around the country, who filled the courtroom.
Jansen gave each of the defendants a copy of his decision and asked them if they could also give copies to former Johnson Administration Attorney General Ramsey Clark, retired Air Force Col. Ann Wright, and Bill Quigley, a Loyal University professor. Those three had provided testimony for the defendants at the September trial. Jansen said after reviewing the transcript of that trial, he and law clerk spent four months analyzing the case in federal and state law regarding the use of the defense of "necessity."
Before Jansen sentenced them, he allowed them to make statements. Each of those who spoke said they disagreed that what they were doing wasn't out of necessity.
Sister Megan Rice told the judge that the protesters entered Creech on April 9, 2009, intending to speak to and advise the commanding officer.
"I had to speak then and I do now," Rice said. "The evil of killing and destroying people in lands 8,000 miles away, of using bombs targeted by Air Force technicians who control computer-programmed joysticks was and is emblazoned upon my awareness. I see this form of warfare as an evolution toward human execution fostered in the psyche of a nation by immoral, addictive, excessive and illegal practice of developing more and more nuclear weapons."
Rice said Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu has said "to remain neutral in situations of injustice is to be complicit in that injustice."
Rice said she had written letters and sought meetings with the base commander to warn him about the need to disobey orders that conflict with U.S. and international laws. She said she had to enter the base in order to obey "higher orders."
"I have listened to the victims of drone warfare," she said. Lebanon victims told her they had been treated like insects.
"My non-violent resistance was an is an absolute necessity," she said.
Brian Terrel, a defendant from Maloy, Iowa, said he "respectfully disagreed" with the judge there was no imminent harm occurring at Creech Air Force Base. Terrel said that after the September trial he had spent three weeks in December in Afghanistan and saw the victims of the drone attacks, including a 9-year-old child who lost an arm in an air attack,
He also said he had read an article about post-traumatic distress being suffered by soldiers carrying out drone attacks on computer screens at Creech.
"One thing that really is haunting me is that one operator said 'I am 7,000 miles away from the killing. I am 18 inches away from the killing.' One, being the distance between Creech Air Force Base and Afghanistan and the other the distance between his nose and the computer screen and the video he was seeing of human beings being dismembered," Terrel said.
He said the drones "are giving an illusion of distance. The 7,000 miles between Creech Air Force Base and Kandahar (the second largest city of Afghanistan) is an illusion. We are very, very close. The harm is imminent. The harm is real. "
Terrel said the analogy that was first mentioned by Ramsey Clark in September about disregarding a no-trespassing sign to enter into a burning building to save a child "is so close to the reality, it is the reality. "
Dennis DuVall criticized the judge's decision that the trespassing didn't fall under the argument of necessity, calling it "outrageous."
DuVall also said drones don't prevent or eliminate terrorism, but instead incite more hatred, revenge and retaliation against American military.
Every time there's a drone strike and innocent people are killed, more IEDs are built to try to harm U.S. soldiers, he said.
DuVall said a year after the protesters were arrested for trespassing at Creech, he was in New York City at a nuclear disarmament march on Times Square where a car bomb was almost detonated.
"The builder of the car bomb, this young man, Faisal Shahzad, in the New York Post the next day says why he did it: revenge for drone attacks in Pakistan," DuVall said, pointing out that those attacks originated at Creech, where the defendants trespassed. "If that isn't necessity, then what the hell is?"