[Ppnews] Torture on trial in federal court in Tucson

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 5 15:07:24 EST 2008


February 5, 2008

Federal Courtroom Becomes Healing Balm

Hated Nation


The dialogue in a federal courtroom evolved into a healing balm, 
revealing a nation, the United States, that the world has grown weary 
of, and a growing number of aging Americans willing to serve time in 
prison to expose the cancer within.

Torture was again on trial in federal court in Tucson on Feb 4. But 
in dialogue that surprised those that packed the courtroom, the 
healing remedy of grace and understanding were combined with wisdom 
and the spiritual foundation for a better world.

Two of the protesters of US torture arrived in court suffering from 
cold and sleep deprivation. Betsy Lamb and Franciscan Fr. Jerry 
Zawada, in prison awaiting trial, had spent the night in cold, bare 
holding cells. Those holding cells are where all inmates from 
Florence prisons wait all night before a court appearance.

Dressed in thin prison clothes in a cell without a bed, there is only 
a cold, stone floor to lie on.

Mary Burton Riseley, in a wheelchair and sick with the flu, appeared 
with fellow defendants Lamb and Fr. Zawada. Fr. Zawada, Lamb and 
Riseley went to Fort Huachuca on November 18, 2007 to hand out flyers 
with a message they had written to enlisted personnel and officers, 
and speak to them about interrogation training and the use of 
torture. After moving past temporary barricades at the Fort's main 
gate, they were stopped from going any further. They knelt down and 
were arrested.

The drama that unfolded in federal court was of epic proportions and 
rare for any courtroom.

It was the sort of dialogue that the world benefits from, including a 
serious look at US torture, the war in Iraq and the courage of those 
willing to suffer and make a difference.

There were also humorous moments. Those began when US Army 
prosecutors played a video of the peaceful protestors walking toward 
Fort Huachuca the day they were arrested.

On the video, an Army soldier says, "I fuckin' knew it! Here comes 
that goddam priest! Shit!"

Although the Army prosecutor, Capt. Evan Seamone, told the court that 
the soldier had been counseled over his language, it wasn't long 
before Magistrate Jacqueline Marshall was suggesting that the Army 
prosecution was doing entirely too much to aid the case of the defendants.

Earlier, attorneys for the defendants had entered into stipulations. 
No witnesses took the stand. Each defendant was charged with trespass 
on a military installation and failure to comply with an officer. The 
charge of conspiracy was dropped in the stipulations.

During the hearing, Capt. Seamone told the court that waterboarding 
and other forms of torture were not being taught at Fort Huachuca.

However, the defendants pointed out that the torture manual that 
resulted in masses of people being tortured, raped, mutilated and 
murdered in Central and South America was produced at Fort 
Huachuca.Further, the manual and the training at the School of the 
Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., continued to provide torture training 
to military leaders and soldiers throughout the world. (SOA is now 
called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.)

Attorney Bill Quigley pointed out that protesters of US torture have 
gone to prison for longer periods than some of the US military 
personnel who have actually committed the torture, even torture 
resulting in homicides in Iraq.

For Riseley, the aging ill defendant seated in a wheelchair, it was 
her first time to face the court charged with crime. She referred to 
the book, "Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey Through 
Iraq." Author Tony Lagouranis describes how the US carried out 
torture in Iraq. Riseley said when Lagouranis considered cutting off 
the fingers of a detainee, he woke up."

Torture is not a dead issue," Riseley told the court." She spoke of 
how the world was growing to hate the United States, as the US 
morally excludes others.

Quoting a passage from John, she said, "Perfect love removes all 
fears." With so many catastrophes facing the world, including climate 
change and war, humanity has no choice but to reach out with love in 
order to prevent becoming extinct like the dinosaurs, she said.

Riseley, who grew up in a military family, said it is her 
responsibility as a US citizen not to allow torture to continue.

"There exists a culture of torture that is passed down," she said. "I 
hope the pressure mounts."

Riseley said the movement to halt US torture may be small in numbers 
and the individual actions may seem of little consequence to some, 
but that is how all of the great social movements for change began, 
from the women's movement to the Civil Rights Movement. Every time 
someone sat down on a bus it brought about change, she said of the 
Civil Rights Movement.

Lamb began her address to the court by saying she was cold and 
shaking. "I slept on the cold floor of a holding cell," she told the court.

Speaking out against the torture in Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo, Lamb 
said, "I believe it is the government that should face charges."

During the eight weeks Lamb was in prison, she received more than 250 
letters from around the world, thanking her for taking a stand 
against US torture.

Earlier, when Fr. Zawada, 71, first entered the courtroom, he did so 
as a handcuffed happy spirit, fragile, humble and smiling to his 
friends who packed the courtroom. His kindness and love soon filled 
the courtroom.First Fr. Zawada described how he spent the previous 
night in a holding cell, standing up all night in a jail cell of 31 
men. He had not slept in 48 hours and was very sleepy. The guards had 
not allowed him to bring the notes he had written for his sentencing plea.

Fr. Zawada, however, said he was lucky because his fellow defendants 
were so articulate.

To his attorney Bill Quigley from New Orleans, he said, "Bill has 
reflected what I have wanted, something of the heart of God."

Fr. Zawada described his services as a priest in the Philippines and 
with Chicago's poor. He explained how he came to understand what 
depths he must go to, in order to halt the buildup of nuclear weapons 
and the pervasive mode of war by the United States."I never planned 
to get arrested," he said.

Fr. Zawada was in Baghdad when the bombs fell. He saw people die and 
knew how the U.S. killed innocent people in Iraq. There were no 
weapons of mass destruction.

"I hate prison," Fr. Zawada said, explaining how the noise and 
waiting for hours to go to the toilet were difficult as one grows 
older. But he could not promise that he would not be arrested again.

"I'm willing to spend a lot of time in prison if I have to," said Fr. 
Zawada, a resident of Las Vegas. "I can't promise you that I won't 
risk being arrested again."It is time for us to give our country a 
good name. We don't need things, but we need a soul."

Praising the work in the Tucson area, of those who search for dying 
migrants, Fr. Zawada shared his joy with the court."Tucson is the 
first place where the Sanctuary Movement began. I think that's beautiful."

Fr. Zawada said he gained his inspiration to risk prison in peaceful 
protest of torture from longtime friends Fr. Louis Vitale and Fr. 
Steve Kelly. The two priests are now in prison, serving five month 
sentences for kneeling in prayer in protest of US torture at Fort 
Huachuca. Fr. Kelly remains in "the hole," or solitary confinement in 
a state of resistance in a California prison.

After the three defendants, Lamb, Riseley and Fr. Zawada, explained 
their reasons for taking action, and spoke from their souls, each was 
given 500 hours of community service, or payment of a $5,000 fine, 
and two years supervised probation.Lamb and Fr. Zawada were released 
after serving eight weeks in prison.

In the courtroom was Carlos Mauricio, torture survivor from El 
Salvador. Mauricio, a teacher, had been blindfolded, kidnapped and 
severely beaten in 1983. He narrowly escaped execution by the Death 
Squad in El Salvador. The International Red Cross arrived at the 
National Police Headquarters where he was being tortured at the time 
that he was taken to the death dungeon.

After the court sentencing in Tucson, Mauricio said this should never 
exist. He said that no one in the United States should be in court or 
prison for protesting torture. When Mauricio came to the United 
States, he thought he was leaving behind a country that engaged in torture.

"I am again in a country where any person can be tortured."But, he 
added, "I do celebrate today. I felt the feeling of solidarity. It is 
the most beautiful thing a person can share with another person, this 
feeling of solidarity."

When Retired Army Col. Ann Wright, another voice against torture, 
left the federal court building, a rainbow filled the sky above Tucson.

"It is a rainbow of justice," Col. Wright said.

Brenda Norrell is human rights editor for U.N. OBSERVER & 
International Report. She also runs the 
<http://www.bsnorrell.blogspot.com/>Censored website. She can be 
reached at: <mailto:brendanorrell at gmail.com>brendanorrell at gmail.com

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