3 November 2011
DeWitt, N.Y. -- Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark testified this evening for about 4 1/2 hours in the trial of 38 protesters arrested in April at the New York Air National Guard base at Hancock Field.
After considerable legal wrangling, DeWitt Justice David Gideon overruled a previous decision that would have kept Clark off the stand. Gideon decided that Clark’s knowledge of international law would be relevant in the case. His testimony ended just after 11 p.m.
The defendants were arrested after they came to the base to protest the MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the 174th Fighter Wing of the guard has been remotely flying over Afghanistan, from Syracuse, since late 2009. Most lay down in the main entrance roads to the base, off East Molloy Road. Two were in wheelchairs.
“Drones inherently violate the laws of the United States and international law,” Clark said in an interview before taking the stand. “They are associated with the concept of assassination and murder.”
Clark, 83, has had a varied legal career that stretches from the drafting of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and opposition to the Vietnam War to the defense of Saddam Hussein in Iraq nearly four decades later.
He served as attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson from 1966 to the end of the president’s term in January 1969. He lives now in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan.
Clark said it violated international law to send the drones into other countries.
“We’re firing them into sovereign nations,” he said. “We wouldn’t appreciate that if Canada or Mexico did that (to the United States).”
In terms of the crimes the accused are charged with, Clark said the defendants are being denied their constitutional rights of the free speech and the freedom to assemble. And their crimes, he said, pale in comparison to what the defendants are trying to stop.
Clark cited the words of the 13th century poet Dante. “The hottest place in hell is reserved for people who in time of moral crisis do nothing,” he said.
It’s a non-jury trial, so Gideon alone will decide if the defendants are guilty of the disorderly conduct charges accusing them of blocking vehicular and pedestrian traffic and refusing to obey a police order to disperse from in front of the base during their April 22 protest.
Gideon said he would wait to see how the trial progresses before determining whether to issue a verdict from the bench at the end of the trial or to reserve decision and issue a written verdict.
on the anti-drone protest: