Sunny Rays Penetrate the Sullen Clouds
Some Good News on the Activist Front
Lori Berenson Released… At Last
After 15 years of harsh imprisonment, Latin American solidarity activist Lori Berenson was finally released on May 27. The 40 year-old mother of a one-year old son (Salvador) born in prison must remain on probation in Peru until 2015. Lori is serving a 20-year sentence reduced from a life sentence imposed by an anonymous military tribunal. She had been convicted of treason against Peru.
A former MIT student born in New York, Lori has been the object of a long, intense international campaign, led by her college professor parents, to win her freedom.
Berenson hopes that she and Salvador will be allowed to return to the US.
Close Guantanamo Activists Acquitted
This past January 21st Witness Against Torture activists protesting Mr. Obama’s broken promise to close Guantanamo within a year of his inauguration were arrested. We were demonstrating – some of us in orange jumpsuits and black hoods – on the steps and in the Rotunda of the Capitol building in Washington.
We were asserting our First Amendment right to assemble peaceably to petition the government for redress of grievance. Nevertheless we were charged with disorderly conduct, having been falsely accused of “blocking an egress” and being “boisterous.”
Several of the defendants, not in a position to risk being jailed, had previously pled guilty and were fined. The 24 of us who had pled not guilty had a June 14 bench trial in the DC Superior Court. With the support of three pro bono attorneys, we served as our own attorneys.
After three Capitol police finished their contradictory testimony, the prosecution rested its case. Declaring that, “In my opinion the defendants were not properly charged in this case,” Judge Russell Canan then dismissed the charges. While we were disappointed not to have had our “day in court,” we were heartened by Canan’s ruling. See witnesstorture.org.
Jailed SOA Watch Activist Suddenly Released
Believe it or not, this really did happen: Last November former Plowshares activist Michael Walli, 61, of Washington, DC “crossed the line” at Ft. Benning, Georgia at the annual mass protest against the US Army’s School of the Americas. Michael and three others (including Syracuse’s Nancy Gwin, now doing time at Danbury Federal Prison) were arrested for trespass.
At their arraignment in federal court in Columbus, GA, Michael told Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth he would neither post bail nor return for trial. True to his word, Michael didn’t return for the trial some weeks later in which his three co-defendants were each sentenced to six months. Mallon issued a warrant for his arrest.
In early March federal marshals captured Michael in DC. Michael was then detained until his June 14 trial in Columbus. Faircloth sentenced him to six months (minus time served). On June 18, with no explanation, Michael was suddenly released. But his three co-defendants – who did show up for their trials – continue to serve their sentences. Go figure.
US Army Experience Center Sent Packing
A coalition of 30 peace groups succeeded in shutting down the notorious Army Experience Center opened in August 2008 in a Philadelphia suburban shopping mall. For just a short time longer, the $13 million, 14,500 square foot Center will offer dozens of video games with various interactive, military-style shooting games. Among other high-tech goodies, the Center has sophisticated, life-size Apache helicopter and Humvee simulators that allow teens to simulate the killing of Arabs and Afghans.
According to www.shutdowntheaec.net, “Several large demonstrations, non-violent civil resistance, and regular vigils” contributed to the Center’s upcoming closure on July 31 – several months before its lease is up. Those of us working to educate the public about the Reaper drone at Hancock Airbase surely could learn from this successful grassroots campaign.
– Ed Kinane