Guilty Verdict No Surprise in Beale Anti-Drone Case

Defendants Jan and David Hartsough, Shirley Osgood, and Sharon Delgado with Cindy Sheehan before trial.

Defendants Jan and David Hartsough, Shirley Osgood, and Sharon Delgado with Cindy Sheehan before trial.  Defendant Janie Kesselman is not pictured.

It was no surprise that at our trial on August 12 my fellow defendants and I were found guilty of trespassing onto federal property at Beale.  The judge had ruled against our request for a jury trial, and against both the necessity defense and consideration of the Nuremberg Principles during the trial.  In the necessity defense, our lawyers would have argued that we stood our ground at Beale with our “Stop Drone Attacks” banner in an attempt to prevent a greater harm, namely drone attacks.  In appealing to Nuremberg Principles, they would have based their argument on the Nuremberg Code, enacted after World War II to try Nazi war criminals.  Principle VII states “Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity…is a crime under international law.”

Still, our pro bono lawyers made a valiant effort to have us acquitted, based on confusion about the property line.  They argued 1) that the boundary for demonstrators has shifted over a period of several months; 2)  that the “white line” we crossed was arbitrary, not an actual base boundary; 3) that we had not been warned before crossing it; 4) that many other people had also been standing on base property, and that some of them had crossed the white line without being “detained” (evidently we were not arrested, but detained);  5) that the “keep out” sign was posted at the gate to the base, which was behind us, the gate was closed, and we didn’t try to go past the warning sign or the gate.  The lawyers made the point that all these conditions together could set a dangerous precedent, allowing military installations to create arbitrary boundaries of exclusion outside of actual base boundaries.

All of these points were true.  As tedious as these arguments were and as strange as it was to hear testimony from a Beale employee and the Air Force Sergeant about property lines, halfway through the morning I started thinking that the judge might find us “not guilty.”  By then I was confused myself about the point of the white line, since it was not the actual Beale Air Force Base property line.

Of course, all this was ultimately beside the point, since the purpose of our actions was to highlight the harm caused by drones.  Any publicity that this trial receives should highlight the victims of US drone attacks and awaken people to the possibility of taking action for peace.

The afternoon testimony was much more interesting and inspiring.   Although the judge did not allow our lawyers to use the necessity defense or appeal to the Nuremberg Principles, we were able to bring up these points as we testified about our motivation on the day we crossed the line at Beale.  We each took the stand and told our story, including why we felt it necessary to take action to prevent harm (deaths of children and other civilians, harm to communities, spiritual teachings related to peace, danger of a drone arms race, etc.) and how we took action in order to avoid complicity with our government’s illegal and immoral drone wars.

The judge was patient and respectful, but since she had not ruled in our favor on any point, we were not surprised when she declared us “guilty.”  We return to court for sentencing on September 9.  How do I feel?  Calm, strong, and supported.  Ready for whatever comes.  Ready to experience the consequences of a very successful and highly publicized nonviolent direct action.  Not projecting into the future.  I’ve learned to practice the presence of God in the moment, trusting that the Spirit will be with me wherever I may be.

Our case may be the first anti-drone trial in California (so far as we know), but others have taken place around the country.  Meanwhile, five more people have been detained at Beale for crossing onto Base property to protest drones.  They will have several court appearances in September and October, before their trial on October 28.  I hope that they feel as supported as I and my fellow defendants feel.

I feel supported by our pro-bono lawyers, by a friend who is helping coordinate our defense, by peoples’ prayers, by friends and friends of friends, by networks of people I am connected with and their networks, spreading out to complete strangers who hear about this trial and are heartened by public actions for peace (as I know from my own experience).  I feel supported by and in solidarity with all who yearn for peace, justice, and the healing of creation.

See the Sacramento Bee article here.

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