from Witness Against Torture
Three members of Witness Against Torture were found guilty in a jury trial at D.C. Superior Court on January 5, 2012. The jury brought back guilty verdicts in the cases of defendants Brian Hynes of the Bronx, NY, Mike Levinson of New Rochelle, NY, and Carmen Trotta of New York City, NY. By the end of the day on Thursday, the jury remained “truly deadlocked” on the case of defendant Judith Kelly of Arlington, Virginia, a long-time Pax Christi USA member.
The judge asked the jury to continue their deliberations tomorrow. The judge is likely to sentence the three defendants found guilty on Friday, January 6, and the jury is likely to return a verdict in the case of Judith Kelly.
The charges of unlawful conduct stemmed from protests against a Defense Appropriations Bill—a precursor to the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA)—that took place in the citizens gallery at the House of Representatives on June 23, 2011. The protests were in response to provisions in the bill that make it essentially impossible to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and that legalize indefinite detention.
The four defendants were among fourteen originally arrested and charged. Josie Setzler, Pax Christi local group leader from Fremont, Ohio was acquitted mid-trial. Judge Gerald Fisher and government counsel limited the speech of defendants in front of the jury, effectively barring defendants—who represented themselves—from referring to the crimes of torture at Guantanamo, or to indefinite detention. Defendants were also unable to appeal to international law as justification for their actions.
Still, the defense argued their case as a matter of protected free speech and that their actions were consistent with the First Amendment right to petition their government for redress of what Carmen Trotta told the jury were “numerous and grave” grievances that persist to this day.
The case hinged on the government proving that the defendants caused a disturbance to the House of Representatives as they conducted a floor vote.
Brian Hynes was the only defendant to take the stand. “You had the intent to be heard” said the prosecutor repeatedly and heatedly before Hynes responded calmly, “We had the intent to deliver a dignified, audible message as earnest, concerned citizens trying to show the wrongfulness of our government”
The trial is part of Witness Against Torture’s ten-day “Hungering for Justice” campaign that began January 3. The fast involves more than fifty people in DC and another 50 or so throughout the United States, and includes daily vigils throughout the city to call attention to the terrible injustice that is Guantanamo, Bagram, and secret prisons. The campaign will culminate in a “Ten Years Too Many” mass mobilization at noon on Wednesday, January 11 at Lafayette Park, across from the White House. The protest is organized by a coalition of groups that includes Amnesty International and National Religious Campaign Against Torture.