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Issue Date:  February 8, 2008

Blind SOA activist chooses jail time


U.S. Magistrate Mallon Faircloth asked 78-year-old Edwin Lewiston if he wanted a sentence of 90 days under house arrest or 90 days in prison.

“Do I have a choice?” asked Lewiston, who has been legally blind since birth.

“Yes,” Faircloth replied.

“I’ll take prison,” said Lewiston, a retired professor of American history at Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J.

Four times Lewiston has joined protests at the U.S. Army’s Fort Benning near Columbus, Ga. Fort Benning hosts a training school for Latin American soldiers, formerly called the School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Graduates of the school have been implicated in human rights abuses in their home countries.

A largely Catholic group, SOA Watch, has been trying to close the school for nearly 20 years. The group holds massive annual rallies that include acts of civil disobedience at the fort on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Four times Lewiston trespassed at Fort Benning, but unlike his fellow activists, he never got jail time. In previous years, the U.S. attorney, without explanation, declined to pursue charges against Lewiston. He said that he felt he was being discriminated against because of his blindness.

The fourth time was the charm, apparently. Lewiston and 10 others were sentenced Jan. 28 for “crossing the line” at the Army base Nov. 18. Lewiston received one of the longest sentences.

“He [Faircloth] did what I needed done,” Lewiston told NCR in a telephone interview after court.

Lewiston said the civil disobedience at Fort Benning was “a way of making more people know about [the training school] ... and the more people that learn about it the better” because it would take a mass movement to close the school.

Also sentenced to prison were:

  • Joan Anderson, 65, Casper, Wyo. -- 30 days and a $500 fine.
  • Ozone Bhaguan, 33, Duluth, Minn. -- 90 days.
  • Le Anne Clausen, 29, Chicago -- 30 days.
  • Art Landis, 74, Perkasie, Pa. -- 30 days.
  • Chris Lieberman, 54, Albuquerque, N.M. -- 60 days.
  • Tiel Rainelli, 25, Canton, Ohio -- 90 days and a $500 fine.
  • Gus Roddy, 45, Chicago -- 30 days and a $500 fine.
  • Stephen Schweitzer, 45, Binghamton, N.Y. -- 60 days and a $500 fine.
  • Michelle Yipé, 45, Argonia, Kan. -- 30 days and a $500 fine.

Faircloth allowed 10 of the defendants to self-report to jails and prison at a later date. Pax Christi USA board member Diane Lopez Hughes, 58, a Catholic nurse of Springfield, Ill., opted to go straight into jail to serve her 45-day sentence. She was fined $500.

Patrick O’Neill writes from Raleigh, N.C.

National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2008

Issue Date:  February 8, 2008

Blackwater protesters sentenced

CURRITUCK COUNTY, N.C. -- After admonishing them for not respecting the law or his authority, a North Carolina Superior Court judge had mercy on seven men and women who protested outside the headquarters of private security contractor Blackwater Worldwide. He opted not to sentence them to prison or to impose fines or court costs.

The seven, collectively parents to 19 children, were convicted by a jury Jan. 23 for trespass stemming from an Oct. 20 demonstration at the Blackwater headquarters in Moyock, N.C.

Six of the activists were convicted of resisting arrest after refusing to walk to police cars. Blackwater has been under intense scrutiny since Sept. 16 when one of its security details fired on civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, killing 17 civilians, an attack witnesses claim was unprovoked.

The Oct. 20 demonstration drew many Catholic supporters from Virginia and North Carolina. At its center was a reenactment of the Nisour Square shootings. After driving to Blackwater’s gate, the activists, who were splattered with red paint, slumped out of the car and lay on the ground pretending to be dead. A seventh person, Mary Grace, was convicted of trespass only after she knelt in prayer near the others.

Addressing the seven defendants, Judge Russell Duke noted that they claimed to be Christians, but the apostle Paul “admonishes us to obey the law, even the arbitrary law of Rome.” He also quoted from the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter: “The rule of law is all that we have standing between us and the tyranny of mere will and the cruelty of unbridled feelings.”

In his sentencing statement, Steve Baggarly, the primary organizer of the Oct. 20 protest, asked Duke: “What are we to do when the laws of the land are murderous? Laws everywhere that protect militarism in all its guises are a scourge upon the earth and its people. ... We all participate in such atrocities through our votes, our dutiful payment of taxes and our silence. We must repent, disarm, and redistribute the planet’s wealth.”

Convicted with Grace and Baggarly were Mark Colville, Beth Brockman, Peter DeMott, Laura Marks and Bill Streit.

-- Patrick O’Neill

Issue Date:  February 8, 2008

Antiwar Jesuit given probation

ALBUQUERQUE -- Jesuit Fr. John Dear was sentenced Jan. 24 to six months of probation, 40 hours of community service and $510 in fines and fees for actions during an antiwar protest at the Santa Fe office of U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., in September 2006.

Dear said in a statement sent to NCR that he would not pay the fine, do the community service or cooperate with the probation. Dear was told that he could not leave the state without permission and that he will be subject to regular drug testing.

Dear received the harshest sentence of his five codefendants. U.S. Magistrate Don Svet called Dear a “renegade priest” and “a coward,” according to an Associated Press report. “I’m not interested in making a martyr out of you,” he said.

Dear used his time in court Jan. 24 to continue his protest against the Iraq war. “This war is unjust, morally sinful and just downright impractical,” he said.

Dear writes a weekly column on He devotes his Jan. 22 and Jan. 29 columns to his trial.

Dear told NCR that he expects a warrant for his arrest to be issued soon and he expects to do jail time.

-- Dennis Coday

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