We speak with anti-war activist Peter De Mott, who is on trial as one of the St. Patrick’s Four facing federal charges for protesting at a military recruiting center. Lawyer Bill Quigley, legal advisor for the activists, joins the discussion on the trial and also talks about his recent experience in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. [includes rush transcript]
In Binghamton New York, the trial has begun for the Saint Patrick’s Four–the four anti-war activists facing federal conspiracy charges for spilling their own blood inside a military recruiting station to protest the Iraq war. One of the defendants, Daniel Burns, said in court on Tuesday, “We wanted to make visible the truth of war. We were called by our faith, the law and our moral beliefs to peacefully protest the war.” ?One state court jury refused to convict them after the peace activists convinced the jury their actions were consistent with international law. The activists argued the 2003 invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law because it was not approved by the United Nations. The federal government got involved this year, and the four protesters now face up to six years in prison and $275,000 in fines.
- Peter De Mott, Anti-war activist, defendant in trial of the St. Patrick’s Four
- Bill Quigley, Legal Advisor for the St. Patrick’s Four
JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined on the phone by one of the St. Patrick’s Four, Peter De Mott, in Binghamton, New York, and attorney Bill Quigley, their legal adviser. Welcome to Democracy Now!, both of you.
BILL QUIGLEY: Good morning. Thank you.
PETER DE MOTT: Good morning. Thank you.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, could you tell us the latest on the case?
BILL QUIGLEY: Yes, Juan. This is Bill Quigley. We are more than halfway through the case right now, despite some very severe restrictions on the defendants. They’re not allowed to talk about international law. They’re not allowed to talk about the necessity defense. They’re not aloud to refer to the fact that another jury voted 9-3 to acquit them. They’re really not allowed to talk substantively about the legality and illegality of the war in Iraq.
Despite those restrictions that the prosecutors asked to be put on them and the gag that has been imposed, the defendants have made some very passionate and very spirited statements to the jury in their opening statements. Two of the defendants, Peter De Mott, and Daniel Burns have given their direct testimony. They have admitted from the beginning that they went into the recruiting center, that they knelt down, that they read a very powerful statement, that they poured their blood around the vestibule of the recruiting center, including on the American flag, and they’ve admitted that ever since they did it. They have been proud of that. They knelt and prayed. They were taken away and arrested.
Now, instead of facing misdemeanor charges of press pass or minor damage to property they are being challenged by a very expansive statute that has been rarely used in the history of this country, challenging them with conspiracy by force, intimidation or threat to interfere with a federal officer. As you noted, that statute contains punishments of up to six years in prison and $250,000 fine. Unfortunately, the prosecutor and the judge have agreed consistently throughout the trial to make it easier and easier and easier for the jury to convict them and much more difficult for the jury to stand up and be part of the conscience of this country and say no to the war in Iraq.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Peter De Mott, on top of the charges you’re already facing, I understand there was problems in the court yesterday, and you were held in contempt. Could you talk about that? What happened?
PETER DE MOTT:That’s correct, Juan. I was held in contempt as was my co-defendant, Teresa Grady. Both of us alluded to, made open reference in court to the previous trial on the state court in Tomkins County where the jurors there sided with us 9-3, in our favor. Having made reference to the trial was a violation of the judge’s prohibition on our speaking out against it. Effectively, we were denied the possibility of making reference to that trial in the course of federal trial. So, that’s why the two of us have now been given contempt of court charges, and Judge McEvoy has told us that he will impose sanctions at the end of the trial.
AMY GOODMAN: Um, as we move into our next segment, I wanted to switch gears a little bit, because we have Bill Quigley in the studio in Binghamton, and ask you Bill, the last time we talked to you, we were speaking to you from Memorial Hospital at Tenant in New Orleans. It was a desperate plea that you were putting out. You were with your wife, who is an oncology nurse there. So, you were there helping as family members were brought in right around the time of the hurricane. But no one could come out. There were more than 1,000 of you there. You were describing the lack of food, lack of electricity. Patients not being able to get help, who were critical. We have now learned that the authorities have found scores of bodies at memorial hospital after the days in which you were not evacuated. What do you know of this, and — well, it’s good to have you out.
BILL QUIGLEY: Well, thank you very much, Amy. I — you’re right, it was a horrible situation for the entire region. It was particularly bad in the nursing homes, the hospitals, the public shelters, as your listeners know. We did have — they have recover 45 bodies from the hospital where we were, and the only thing I can say is that you and Democracy Now!, WBAI were the first media in the country to actually alert the country that this so-called “rescue” was being mishandled and it wasn’t happening, that a full 24 hours before the mainstream media got really excited about what was going on, that you had the courage and the voice and the passion to speak up for the people who were left behind.
The 45 people that died is a tremendous tragedy. But I can guarantee you that if Democracy Now! had not sounded this national and international alarm, there would probably be a dozen or two dozen more people. These were elderly people who when they lost electricity and when they lost drinking water, when they lost water pressure, when the lights went out, when the access was restricted, when the pharmacies couldn’t open anymore because the computers didn’t work, they were deprived of all of the essential techniques of modern medicine, and we reverted back to really battlefield medicine without the kind of assistance that people have on the battlefields.
In all honesty, the nation owes a tremendous deal to you and your willingness to pick up on that story early, much earlier than anybody else, to sound the alarm, that this was being mishandled by the authorities and people were just being left behind to fend for themselves without the resources necessary to sustain life. And as a consequence, people know now, it looks like more than 1,000 people in New Orleans died. People are trapped in homes, trapped in nursing homes, trapped in hospitals, trapped in shelters all over the place because the various levels of government did not respond to the calls, and you — and you and Democracy Now! really started that call.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart because I’m absolutely convinced that the tragedy of 1,000 people who died is a heart-rending tragedy. The people who are permanently damage who did live, but I think it would are been much worse without democracy now! Starting to raise the criticism of the federal, state and local authorities, the criticism of why we didn’t have sufficient troops, why we didn’t have sufficient resources, why there weren’t helicopters and paratroopers and why there weren’t buses, ambulances and the like. I think you did tens of thousands of people a tremendous service in doing that. Thank you very much. I know that thousands people have told me they followed the story through you and have contacted me as a result. It’s just — there’s no way that I can thank you enough for what you have done. It would have been much worse without your help.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bill Quigley, I want to thank you for being with us. We’re glad you’re out and safe. Again, hurricane Rita bearing down in the south right now. So many people have fled. People who returned to New Orleans and Algiers now out again, those who intended to return cannot go back. Bill Quigley, thanks for joining us, Peter De Mott as well, speaking to us from Binghamton. This is Democracy Now!.