Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Wheatland 4" Charged with trespassing for action last April at Beale AFB

 4 activists arrested last April in a demonstration at Beale AFB were found guilty of trespassing after a day-long trial in a Sacramento Federal Court on Monday, February 3. 

 In last April’s protest, over a dozen activists blocked the main traffic artery into the base for over an hour. 
 When highway patrol arrived to break up the blockade, five of the protesters proceeded to enter base property to deliver a letter to the base commander, Col. Phil Stewart.  The letter charged Col. Stewart, President Barack Obama and all military personnel involved in drone warfare, with crimes against humanity and violations of international and national laws. While each activist was being arrested, she or he handed a copy of the letter to the serviceperson arresting them, requesting that it be delivered to the commander.  Before being released, the arrestees were given a "Ban & Bar" letter, signed by Col. Phil Stewart. This letter formally ordered them not to enter or re-enter Beale AFB, and warned of a penalty "fine" of an undisclosed amount and/or maximum imprisonment of 6 months should the order be violated.

Robin Ryan being arrested at Beale AFB last April

On Monday, after a lively pre-trial anti-drone rally with local media coverage, the courtroom filled with anti-drone activist supporters.  The defendants:  Martha Hubert, Robin Ryan, Bill Doub and Toby Blomé all felt strongly that they were not interested in arguing over whether or not they trespassed. In their eyes, they were there to put illegal U.S. drone warfare on trial.  They wanted to focus on their intent, which was not to trespass, but to hold their government and military officials accountable for crimes against humanity.  They publicly resisted this illegal activity through nonviolent direct action. They wanted to educate Beale AFB personnel about drone warfare and its negative effects on the perpetrators as well as the victims.  

Judge Claire had already denied them their constitutional right to a jury trial, and had denied them the right to use the "Defense of Necessity" argument or to discuss the Nuremberg Principles.  In the defendants eyes, justice had already failed.  The first half of the trial included witnesses from the base giving minute and monotonous details of the legal boundaries of the base property, what signs were posted to sufficiently (or insufficiently) warn visitors, etc.  The wonderful pro bono defense attorneys proceeded to find ways to get the charges dismissed based on loopholes, discrepancies, or mismanagement of the arrest. The military video of the arrest included footage of a highway patrol officer actually pushing some of the defendants onto the base property.  Called to witness, defendants Robin and Bill did an excellent job speaking for all of the defendants, testifying and emphasizing for the court record our intent to stop wrongdoing, bring accountability and save lives.  

Toward the end of the trial, Mark Reichel, Toby's attorney, inadvertently noticed a quote on the back side of a scribbled note handed to him earlier by Toby.  Atty. Reichel leaned over to Toby and whispered with enthusiasm, something to the effect:   "This is good.  This is really really good.  Do you mind if I read it to the judge?"  Ultimately, Judge Claire gave the defense attorney permission to read the excerpt from the NY Times letter to the editor, written by Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Desmond Tutu.  It speaks for all of us seeking an end to drone killings:
"Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the
 rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President
 Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny
 than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to
 tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the 19th century,
are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it.” -Archbishop Desmond Tutu
 Ultimately, Judge Claire found all four defendants guilty of trespassing and sentenced them to ten hours of community service. She denied the prosecution's request for a "deterrent" fine of $300.  However, the judge did alert the defendants to expect a harsher sentence next time due to the "Ban & Bar" letter that was served them by the military at the time of their arrest. 

In Sacramento, though Judge Claire convicted the Beale AFB protesters of trespassing, she did allow the defendants to give post-sentencing statements. Each defendant spoke to different aspects of what motivates them to protest at Beale AFB. Bill spoke about his opposition to drone warfare and his hopes for a peaceful world for his grandchildren.  Robin told personal stories of wedding parties attacked, and PTSD suffered by our military.  Toby spoke of her personal experience, trying to right these wrongs, many futile visits to congressional offices, and never getting through to our “representatives”. Conventional approaches are ineffective, making it necessary to use "unconventional" tactics. Martha addressed the failings of the justice system.  For this case to be about trespassing is a farce.  Delivering a letter to the base commander at Beale AFB that day was exactly where these activists should have been as concerned citizens. 
The Wheatland 4: "We were NOT TRESPASSING" and
The trial received coverage by a variety of local and national media sources:

See the video below from NextNewsNetwork

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