November 23, 2011

 Background of Hancock 38 Trial

photo from Syracuse Peace council

Tuesday, November 1 marked the first day of the trial of the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters, activists from upstate New York and well beyond who participated in a “die-in” at the main entrance of Hancock Air National Guard Base just outside Syracuse last April. The corpses symbolized the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan by hunter-killer reaper drones and protested the reaper here at Hancock and elsewhere. The defendants also attempted to deliver an indictment to the base commander focusing on the illegality of the drones; the indictment was taken by law enforcement and thrown to the ground, violating the Hancock 38's First Amendment right to petition the government in redress of grievances.

This was the first civil resistance action at Hancock since it became a major player in drone warfare over the last few years. Pilots stationed at the base fly the reaper over Afghanistan via satellite links and the base boasts of a national school for training drone maintenance technicians as well as drone pilots and sensor operators.

Prior to the trial, the defendants made multiple court appearances, as they argued motions to join their cases together for a single trial (accepted) and for their defense to include testimony about the illegality of drone warfare, as well as the necessity of breaking a law in order to prevent something worse from happening (both denied). Several days before the trial, a new charge was added. The final charges were “obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic” and “refusing to comply with a lawful order of the police to disperse” (both low-level charges). Thirty-two people ended up going to trial – ten represented by lawyers and twenty-two representing themselves.

photo from Syracuse Peace council

The defendants’ goal has been to put the drones on trial. The group argued that they were innocent of the “lawful order to disperse” charge because the order was actually not lawful. It contradicted the Nuremberg Principles, which forbid wars of aggression, attacks on civilians and extrajudicial assassinations - all actions associated with drone warfare. Citizens have a duty to act where they can to prevent violations, even if the violations are committed by their government.

The defendants argued that the “obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic" didn’t hold up either because there was no vehicular or pedestrian traffic to obstruct. In preparation for the legal rally preceding the action, base security and police had shut down the main entrance and parked many police cars in the driveway – so the die-in there would not have been able to inconvenience the public.

A trial highlight was the testimony of former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. At a press conference before court, Ramsey stated, “Drones inherently violate the laws of the United States and international law,” and quoted from Dante’s Inferno: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis, do not act.”

After the court spent more than two hours qualifying Ramsey as an expert witness in the principles of international law and defining what the precise scope of his testimony would be, Ramsey testified that the defendants’ actions were justified under international law as embodied in the Nuremberg Principles. Judge Gideon later asked Ramsey to address international law in relation to local action. Ramsey testified that the Nuremberg Principles are the ”supreme law of the land,” and that all courts at every level – federal, state and local – must act in the context of these principles.

The defense started late Friday and went from 9 am Saturday til about 9:30 pm (after which the closing arguments began). The defendants testified that the drones are illegal and that it was their duty under the
Nuremberg Principles and international law to act to prevent drones from the killing of innocents.

After closing arguments, Judge Gideon announced that he would give the verdict on Thursday, December 1 at 5 pm at the DeWitt Courthouse.

-thanks to Veterans For Peace (several members of VFP were among the defendants)

Join us for the verdict on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 5 pm at Town of DeWitt Courthouse (5400 Butternut Dr., East Syracuse, NY)

Join a vigil before the verdict from 3-4 pm at Hancock Air Base in Mattydale
Sponsored by Veterans for Peace and the Syracuse Peace Council.

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