Sunday, September 30, 2007

Torture on Trial in Arizona Desert

[After writing this, I found a wonderful essay on this case by JG over at NION. Please go check it out!]

Blogger Cosmic Debris over at popular new blog Docudharma has written up an important news story concerning two priests, a Franciscan, Fr. Louis Vitale and a Jesuit, Fr. Stephen Kelly, who on October 17, 2007 "will be tried for having trespassed onto the property of Ft. Huachuca on November 19, 2006 as part of a protest against torture training there."

According to the Fort Huachuca website, the military base is...

... a product of the Indian Wars of the 1870s and 1880s. In February 1877, Colonel August B. Kautz, commander of the Department of Arizona, ordered that a camp be established in the Huachuca Mountains....

In 1886, General Nelson A. Miles designated Fort Huachuca as his advance headquarters and forward supply base for the Geronimo campaign.

During World War II, the base trained the 92nd Infantry Division for assignment in the European war.

A new era began in 1954 when control passed to the Chief Signal Officer, who found the area and climate ideal for testing electronic and communications equipment. The importance of the fort in the national defense picture grew steadily from that moment. In 1967, Fort Huachuca became the headquarters of the U.S. Army Strategic Communications Command....

In October 1990, the post changed hands with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command became the new host command; the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca now operates the post.

According to Cosmic Debris, the priests were attempting to deliver a letter to Major General Barbara Fast, who is currently the commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School (USAICS) at Ft. Huachuca. Vitale and Kelly were arrested for alleged trespassing, and for disobeying an officer's order. The priests, who have a history of civil disobedience actions, maintain they were not trespassing on base property at the time of their arrest. Vitale is being defended by Loyala University (New Orleans) law professor Bill Quigley, while Kelly is representing himself. C.D. continues:

While serving in Iraq, Fast was the head of intelligence for the U.S. command in Baghdad at the time that the worst abuses took place at Abu Ghraib.

Critics believed she should have been held partly accountable for the abuse. However, she was never charged or officially reprimanded. On 14 November 2006 human rights advocate and attorney Wolfgang Kaleck filed a high profile criminal complaint at the German Federal Attorney General (Generalbundesanwalt) against Donald Rumsfeld and several senior US officials including Barbara Fast for their involvement in alleged human rights violations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at the prisoner detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Kaleck filed the claim on behalf of eleven former prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.[2] However, legal scholars speculated shortly thereafter that the case has little chance of successfully making it through the German court system. [Link]

Government Tries to Limit Defense

According to a June 7, 2007 Sierra Vista Herald story on the case (linked in the Docudharma essay):

Kelly, Vitale and their supporters contend the trespassing and disobeying counts are basically insignificant misdemeanor charges, with them alluding at the time they were taken into custody they were not on post property but which fort officials claim is not true. The priests face a maximum of 10 months confinement if convicted of both charges. Both have served prison terms for other acts of civil disobedience....

Fort Huachuca and the Intelligence Center is the focal point of the priests’ defense because of their allegations of torture being taught on the post.

“We are here to put torture on trial,” Kelly said in the corridor outside the courtroom after the hearing.

Of course, the government is resisting any attempt by the defense to introduce evidence of military conduct:

U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Knauss filed a motion to preclude the two priests and their attorney from introducing evidence by raising “the morality or immorality of the government’s use of interrogation techniques....[emphasis added]

At the website Torture on Trial you can read much more about the case, with links to all legal filings.

On September 5, Magistrate Hector Estrada ruled on the pretrial motions. He denied the defense requests for a jury trial and dismissal of the charges against the two priests. He also denied the government's motion to use Fr. Vitale's prior arrests and convictions as prima facie evidence of trespass. [Valtin note: Estrada earlier turned down a military prosecutor's punitive request to jail the priests until their trial.]

In a significant order that effectively gags the defense, Estrada granted the government's motion in limine to preclude defenses.... [such as] the defenses of duress, justification, necessity, or self-defense; the morality or immorality of the government's use of interrogation techniques, training of soldiers in interrogation techniques; the legality of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan; any military actions to support interrogations in any foreign countries; the legality of the Military Commission Act of 2006; the defense of international law; or the wisdom of any political question or government policy. [Emphasis added]

As Fr. Vitale says over at the defense webite:

Our effort may just be the first steps in exploring what is happening at Ft. Huachuca, but the larger picture continues to emerge. I feel an ever greater commitment to do what we can to stop what is happening at Ft. Huachuca and wherever we encounter this force of domination and suffering."

We must demand the acquittal of Kelly and Vitale, and the Senate Armed Services Committee should commence post haste with their proposed hearings into the misuse of government and military resources for the use of torture and abusive interrogations by the Pentagon and the CIA.

Appendix added, from JG's NION article referenced at the top of this page, this is the letter Vitale and Kelly tried to deliver to Barbara Fast:

To: Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast --

We are here today as concerned U.S. people, veterans and clergy, to speak with enlisted personnel about the illegality and immorality of torture according to international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions.

We condemn torture as a dehumanization of both prisoners and interrogators, resulting in humiliation, disability and even death. In addition to the hundreds of detainees who have died, we are also concerned about U.S. military personnel. Alyssa Peterson committed suicide after participating in the torture of Iraqi prisoners. Lynndie England and others have been imprisoned for their illegal activities.

We are here today at Ft. Huachuca in solidarity with tens of thousands of people at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Ft. Benning, Georgia (formerly known as the School of the Americas) to say that the training of torturers must immediately stop. Nothing justifies the inhumane treatment of our fellow brothers and sisters. Torture by U.S. military personnel has reached alarming proportions and has horrified people around the world.

We are convinced that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is unconstitutional. We totally reject its conclusions. Torture is a useless and unreliable tool that leads to an accepted practice of terrorization and the rationalization of wrongdoing.

We are here today to repent and clearly state that because of our sense of moral and human decency we condemn torture. NOT IN OUR NAME.

Signed this 19th day of November, 2006 --

Louis Vitale,OFM
Steve Kelly, SJ

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