Double Jeopardy

September 2005


This country has a proud history of dissent by honest Americans of high moral belief. We also have a history of shame caused by the criminal acts committed by our government to suppress dissent. Today one of those chapters of shame is playing itself out in a Federal Court in New York.

Two years ago, March 17, 2003, four peace activists in Ithaca, New York, poured their own blood on the walls, posters, windows, and a US flag at a military recruiting center. They then knelt in prayer and waited to be arrested.

They were arrested. They were also tried in a New York court in Ithaca, New York. A jury of their peers deliberated for twenty hours and voted 9-3 to acquit them. They were released, but not exonerated because the judge ruled a mistrial. The jury would not obey his instructions to convict the defendants. Later, the District Attorney announced he would not re-prosecute them, stating that he thought another jury trial would yield the same outcome.

A Federal Prosecutor did file charges against the four defendants -- not for making a mess in the Federal office. They are now charged with federal conspiracy "by force, intimidation, and threat" to impede an officer of the United States - a felony charge that carries punishment of up to six years in prison and a $250,000 fine. They are also charged with criminal damage to property and two counts of trespass, charges punishable by up to an additional 2 years in prison.

Their trial is in progress as I write this. From their opening statement:

"We were compelled to act by the Nuremberg Principles of international law, which state that citizens have individual rights and duties to prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity, which supersede our obligations to obey domestic law. And we were inspired by our nation's rich history of nonviolent action for justice:

Our action was legal under the law of necessity because any harm we caused -- a mess in the vestibule of the center -- was minuscule compared to the heinous crimes of mass murder, grand theft and torture we were trying to prevent."

These are brave men and women who believe in something: peace. As strongly as they believe in this cause, their response to an uncaring and unresponsive government determined to go to war, was harmful to no one. They made a statement. They did something that was symbolic of their belief in the sacredness and sanctity of all human lives.

For this act of civil disobedience they stand accused and in jeopardy -- again in jeopardy, though a jury of their peers held them innocent of any crime worthy of punishment. They disrespected our government because they believe that a government determined to kill innocent people by the thousands deserves no respect.

In a just society they might be held responsible by a court to pay reasonable expenses to clean up the mess they made and to replace any property they damaged. A just and moral government that did not agree with their views would still champion their right to hold dissenting views and to make public statements about them. An honest and upright government, though it disagreed with their principles and their actions, would still recognize the injustice of putting honest, upright citizens of conscience in maximum security prison with murders, drug addicts and thugs -- even though they tried to embarrass their government.

If you wish to find out more about this case, point your search engine at "The St. Patrick's Four" and read the results.

There are two proofs and guarantees of bad government:

  1. When the government rewards citizens that agree with its policies and
  2. When the government punishes citizens for peaceful dissent.

The former is a kind of moral corruption akin to bribery, and the latter is anti-democratic and willfully unjust. No lover of liberty will support or defend any government that engages in either of these ills. We stand in jeopardy from both these ills today.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.