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Reporting Back from a DC Trial

Posted by Ryan Hall

During the Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions, World Beyond War held a three day conference in Washington, DC where they followed it up by holding an action at the Pentagon Sept. 26th.  Recently a trial was held in response to their action and below is some of the response sent in to us by Felton Davis.

It’s nice to be home after several days in our nation’s capital, where nine of us went to trial following a demonstration at the Pentagon on September 26th. The bus back from Washington came up the Baltimore/Washington Parkway (Route 295) on its way to NYC, and the trees on either side of the highway were amazingly bright, brilliant yellows and reds so strong that it looked like the trees were on fire. The sun set over the Delaware exactly as the bus crossed the bridge, and by the time we approached the Lincoln Tunnel the four-day old crescent moon was hanging high over the turnpike.

A person could forget what a dismal scene we had been through, first in US District Court in Alexandria, and then at a vigil outside the White House, which is already surrounded by barricades and fencing for the election on Tuesday and inauguration in January. Nothing but heavily armed police, vehicles, cranes and construction trucks, Lafayette Park half closed, and Pennsylvania Avenue completely closed. Attached are some photos. You can see the White House in the background from the front of the church where we served a meal to the homeless outside the park, and for the vigil we lined up off to the side. Reaction from tourists was very positive, especially to the signs dealing with the Dakota Access pipeline protests.

Below are a few excerpts from our trial. Magistrate Ivan Davis maintained that all of our moral concerns were irrelevant to the question at issue, which is that the Pentagon police refused to accept our petition, and ordered us to disperse, an order which we — openly and respectfully — chose not to obey.

Think about it: senseless slaughter in country after country across the Middle East; people assassinated by remote control in drone strikes; whole nations targeted for systematic destabilization; billions and billions spent on high-tech weaponry and surveillance which could pay for health, education, housing and environmental protection; and on top of that the seemingly relentless march toward nuclear conflict with Russia, a global catastrophe which would wreak more havoc than all the foreboding aspects of climate crisis put together. . .

Magistrate Davis interrupted any defendant who took the stand and dared to mention any of these things, and then proceeded without hesitation to find us all Guilty, and fine us $350 plus court costs. No jail time; no order to stay away from the Pentagon or face a contempt charge; and no discussion of what would happen to those who choose not to pay. Goodbye – end of case.

On the same day as our trial, November 3rd, a US airstrike on the province of Kunduz in Afghanistan killed thirty civilians, and Secretary Carter “said he was saddened by the casualties.” (

In such dire circumstances, we are all obligated to speak out and resist to the best of our ability. Failure to do so leads to a crippling apathy, followed by moral and spiritual death.

Felton Davis
c/o Maryhouse

Testimony of Manijeh Saba

Question: When you arrived at the Pentagon, at the bus stop, where did you go immediately?

Saba: We walked through a walkway, a sidewalk, and we walked to an area and we turned right where we were told to stop. And the rest of us — — were stand there, and then, on the left of me, there was another type of fence. And on the other side, it was the entrance or the exit of. . .

Question: And your purpose for being there was what?

Saba: My purpose for being there was the same reason that I have been coming to the Pentagon and to Congress and the White House, for redress of like grievances. Against war, and against injustice. And I have, as a naturalized citizen, I had to take an oath. I am from Iran, and when I came to the United States 39 years ago, and in 1996 when I got citizenship I had to take an oath. And the oath requires me to obey, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic. And I have done that, I have stood up constantly, during the past 40 years. Our constitutional right is being violated, and the rights of citizens have been violated. And that’s why I was here, and also the fact that we are in at least seven wars, that we know of, and all these years we have been in many wars, and incursions, and we’re are always wondering, especially recently, “Where’s that taking us?”

And this is not only injustice to us, as citizens of this country, it is injustice to the rest of the world. When we a two-year-old child being washed onto the banks, coming from Libya, or from Syria, on to the banks of Greece. It’s because of years of war in the Middle East. That’s an injustice to the whole world, and our military is responsible for all of this, and the major cause of polluting, and getting us to the disaster that we are living. And still we don’t realize that you have to stop this. That it’s all the same thing, that’s why I was here.

Question: On that morning, you were, as you said, attempting to deliver a petition. Is that correct?

Saba: Yes. We had a petition, with over 23,400 signatures on that petition. And all of them were offered, and we were actually holding them, in front of the officer who was standing in front of us. Not Officer Dozier who had come later. And there was no letter. And the question I had asked the officer earlier, that there was no letter that had to be security-checked, that we were there for, and we asked that we can talk, we were there to deliver this to Secretary Ashton Carter, and if he was not available, and the response was that he was not available, so we can’t do that. So we asked: is there anybody we can talk to, and we can give this material, and deliver it?

They said no. We asked can you take it and give it to them? And they said no. How are we to address our grievances to officials in our country, if we go there and nobody responds to us, and the police have the authority to tell us “No, you can’t do that.” How do we do this? Something is rotten, to me. . . something is totally rotten.

Question: So, Ms. Saba, based on your testimony, isn’t it true that the Pentagon police, number one, refused to accept the petition, and number two, refused to contact anyone inside who could possible meet with us. Isn’t that correct?

Saba: That is exactly what happened, and they refused numerous requests, polite requests that please, we want to give that to somebody.

Question: Did you block any entrance that day?

Saba: No. That was not anybody’s intention. We are all people who are very respective of everybody. For everybody’s right, everybody on this planet, and this country. We wouldn’t block anyone.

Question: Ms. Saba, based on your testimony here today, your life experience has shown you that you know the difference between a government order that is legitimate and proper, and one that is not. Isn’t that correct?

Saba: Correct. I have experienced two dictatorships in my life time. One was a dictatorship and the other one a theocracy. And that’s why I am so passionate and so committed to this issue. I’m 69, in two months I will be 70. And I will continue to read this. I’m blessed to be a defender of this constitution and I carry this all the time. That we have this, and respect this, and we live by it.

Closing Argument of Eve Tetaz

Your Honor, my name is Eve Tetaz. I am an 85-year-old retired teacher. I believe that we are a country of law. And as such, I feel morally responsible to uphold the law, and speak out when I see law violated. On September 26th, I heard the order to leave, and refused. And now I am charged with disobeying a lawful order.

Your Honor, I do not believe that the order was lawful. I was at the Pentagon solely for the purpose with my friends to present a petition to Secretary Carter or one of his representatives. I did not block any passage, I did not prevent the ingress or egress of any of the employees or people who wanted to enter the building. I was not demonstrating. I was only presenting my grievances to the Pentagon for what I believe are the immoral and irresponsible and illegal actions of my country. And that I would be held responsible if I did not stand up against the outrage of destroying innocent property and lives of my brother and sisters who happened to be of a different faith, a different language, but yet we are all beloved children.

I had to speak out against this, and the only way that I could was simply to present the letter to the Secretary, to state our reasons for pleading that we stop the destruction of lives and innocent people, [including] our own people, our own men and women who come back damaged forever because of what they have participated in. And so, I wanted again to add my voice to the prayer that we learn finally to turn our swords into plowshares, and study war no more. Thank you.

Closing Argument of Phil Runkel

I’m pro se defendant Phil Runkel, your Honor, I’ll try and keep this brief. As an archivist at Marquette University, I’m responsible for the papers of Dorothy Day, whose cause for sainthood is currently in progress. Dorothy devoted her life to performing the works of mercy and opposing the works of war, and I believe that we should do likewise, as best we can.

On the morning of September 26th we came to the Pentagon to seek a meeting with someone in a position of authority, preferably Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Under the charter of the International Military Tribunal signed in 1945 by the US government, adopted by the International Law Commission of the United Nations in 1950, and binding on all citizens under customary international law, each of us has a duty to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.

We acted out of the conviction that the Pentagon is engaging in such crimes, leading to the deaths of countless civilians, and that we were obligated to convey our concerns to Secretary Carter. This was a reasonable step toward upholding international law, and our right under the 1st Amendment, to freely assemble, and to petition for the redress of grievances. It did not threaten public safety or resources, as the charge against us implies.

I would respectfully ask your Honor to consider which poses the real threat to peace and right order: the actions of groups such as ours, or those of the United States government; and then to find us Not Guilty, as charged. Thank you.

Closing Argument of Art Laffin

(Note: The sections that are in brackets were part of the original closing statement but not used in the actual closing statement. Also some of the bracketed sections were referred to in Art’s personal testimony when he took the stand).

Good Morning Judge Davis, Prosecutor Embroski and all present here in court today.

[On September 26 at around 9:30 AM, I went with my co-defendants to the Pentagon to deliver a letter previously sent to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, as well as to present a petition to stop the use of killer drones. Because we had not received a reply from our letter to Secretary Carter, we went in person to the Pentagon to see if we could talk to him or one of his assistants. While several from our group approached Pentagon police stationed outside the metro entrance and requested to meet with the Secretary or his representative, I and others stood by peacefully, mostly in silence, for almost ten minutes, awaiting a response].

During our presence at the Pentagon Metro Entrance checkpoint we did not block anyone, nor were we disruptive in any way. We were simply there to offer a petition and a letter. Officer Dozier testified that he saw none of the defendants sitting down, nor could he identify any of us blocking employees. He also stated that he could not identify any employee who was prevented from going to work that morning.

[As I waited to see if we could meet with a Pentagon representative, I prayed for all the victims of violence, racism, torture, war and poverty, as well as the holy cloud of witnesses–past and present. I also prayed for our sacred earth and climate which is “groaning in travail,” in large measure due to the U.S. military being the world’s single biggest consumer of fossil fuels].

While I was at the Pentagon, I was also very mindful of the compelling words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who declared: “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometime hostile world declaring eternal hostility to racism, poverty and militarism.”

My/our intention in going to the Pentagon was not to violate the law or commit a crime. Rather, my intention in going to the Pentagon was to uphold the Divine law of love and those International law’s that prohibit crimes against humanity from occurring. Why should we be arrested for nonviolently appealing to government leaders to engage in lawful conduct, to uphold the sacredness of all life, and to save our planet? Why should we be arrested for trying to convey to Secretary Carter that our government can’t kill, can’t engage in nuclear war preparations, can’t use killer drones, can’t destroy the environment, and can’t cut programs to help the poor and instead obtain weapons programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive project in the history of the United States military, which is expected to cost $1.5 trillion for over 2,400 aircraft over the next 50 years. Just think if just this one weapons program could be cut.

[God calls us to love and not to kill, to practice mercy, to love our enemies, to establish justice for the oppressed, to beat all the swords of our time into plowshares and to abolish war]. The late Dan Berrigan, renowned priest, peacemaker and poet, who was no stranger to the Pentagon or U.S. courts and jails, declared: “Know where you stand and stand there.” We did just that on September 26, standing at the center of warmaking on our planet, making yet another plea for the abolition of war and all weapons of war. We act in solidarity with nonviolent peacemakers worldwide, from those in war zones of the Middle East calling for peace, to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in N. Dakota resisting the Dakota Access pipeline. During this time of perpetual war, and in this election season and beyond, the God of Peace beckons us to do all we can to make the Word flesh and to create the Beloved Community and a nonviolent world. Judge Davis and Mr. Embroski, I invite you to please join us in this effort. Judge Davis, in light of all the evidence we have presented, I ask that we be found not guilty of violating a lawful order. Thank you.

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