Fourteen anti-war activists may have made history today in a Las Vegas courtroom when they turned a misdemeanor trespassing trial into a possible referendum on America’s new-found taste for remote-controlled warfare.
The so-called Creech 14, a group of peace activists from across the country, went on trial this morning for allegedly trespassing onto Creech Air Force Base in April 2009.
From the start of today’s trial, prosecutors did their best to keep the focus on whether the activists were guilty of allegations they illegally entered the base and refused to leave as a way to protest the base’s role as the little-known headquarters for U.S. military operations involving unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, over Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
But a funny thing happened on the way to prosecutors’ hope for a quick decision.
Appearing as witnesses for the Creech 14 today were some of the biggest names in the modern anti-war movement: Ramsey Clark, former U.S. attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson; Ann Wright, a retired U.S. Army colonel and one of three former U.S. State Department officials who resigned on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq; and Bill Quigley, legal director for the New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
By the time those three witnesses finished their testimony as to why they believed the activists had protested at the base, they’d managed to convince Las Vegas Township Justice Court Judge William Jansen to delay his verdict for four months — and had managed clearly to frustrate prosecutors.
For the better part of the day, Clark, Wright and Quigley testified under direct questioning from witnesses and a surly cross-examination from the Clark County district attorney’s office.
Each witness spoke eloquently, and at length, about the need for nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of criminal actions by the U.S. government — which is how most in today’s anti-war movement and many international observers have characterized America’s drone war.
“[People] are allowed to trespass if it’s for the greater good — and there are certainly exceptions [to the law] when there is an emerging, urgent need,” said Quigley, while on the stand.
By all accounts, the Creech 14 trial is the first time in history an American judge has allowed a trial to touch on possible motivations of anti-drone protesters.
No one knows how Jansen will ultimately rule, but most took it as a good sign when, at the end of the day’s proceedings, applause flooded the courtroom and Jansen sent the Creech 14 — all of them part of a robust Catholic anti-war movement — on their way by echoing the words of Jesus Christ with his call of “Go in peace!”