Martyrdom?

Arizona Daily Star reports on the sentencing of two Catholic priests who trespassed on the grounds of Ft. Huachuca, headquarters of the Army’s Military Intelligence branch.

A federal judge in Tucson sentenced the priests — the Rev. Louis J. Vitale, 74, and the Rev. Steve Kelly, 58 — [to five months in prison] Wednesday after they pleaded no contest to the trespassing charges. …

The pair wanted to deliver a letter to the post’s top commander at the time, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, stating that the fort trains personnel in torture methods, something the Army denies.

U.S. Magistrate Héctor C. Estrada said he was reluctantly sending the priests to prison. He said he would have preferred that they do community-service work and remain under court supervision while living in their communities.

But Vitale and Kelly had previously said they would not comply with any kind of court supervision because it would mean giving up their social-justice work.

One of the conditions of probation would be to no longer associate with groups that have been known to push the envelope of the law in their non-violent protests, such as the School of The Americas Watch, which seeks to close a U.S. military training facility in Georgia, and Nevada Desert Experience, which protests nuclear-weapons testing.

Both Vitale and Kelly have been locked up previously for acts of civil disobedience.

“That you are not willing to abide to being supervised disturbs me because it seems you could do more good out there than you could incarcerated,” Estrada said. “I think there’s a question of ego. . . . I get the impression it’s somehow or other you are going to be martyrs for your cause.”

Prosecutors say the priests were repeatedly warned they were trespassing before they were arrested.

Vitale, a Franciscan priest, and Kelly, a Jesuit priest, say they are compelled by God to work against any use of nuclear arms, and also to work against any form of torture.

In a statement to the court, Vitale confirmed he would not be able to comply with probation if it would mean disaffiliating himself from such protests.

“It’s like telling me I can’t associate with Paul or the other apostles,” he said.

Via Gerald.

The webpage of the priests with the details on the various court actions. I wondered why they would plead “no contest” without a trial. What’s the point of doing “civil disobedience” if you are not going to take advantage of the court process to explain your actions? The judge refused to grant them a jury trial (I thought that was a Constitutional right?). The judge also forbade them from discussing their motives.

… Estrada granted the government’s motion in limine to preclude defenses. The gag order forbids the defendants from introducing evidence at trial, either documentary or testimonial, about: 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.

Personally, I think they would have done better to go to trial, and then to appeal based on this refusal to consider motive and the refusal of the judge to grant them a jury trial.

On the other hand, I hardly think their actions count as “civil disobedience.” They weren’t breaking an unjust law–they were trespassing. Trespassing isn’t civil disobedience. So I’m also inclined to agree with the judge’s statement, “I think there’s a question of ego. . . . I get the impression it’s somehow or other you are going to be martyrs for your cause.”

2 thoughts on “Martyrdom?

  1. The Supes have ruled since the 1960’s that the right to jury trial is limited to “serious” crimes, which in practical terms means six months in jail or more. Or, all felonies and many misdemeanors but no infractions. This case did not hit the threshold.

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