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Retired Army Col. Charged With Sedition For Handing Flyer on Anti-War Vietnam Vets

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On Monday, Ann Wright, a Retired Army Colonel and former U.S. diplomat, found herself handcuffed to chair inside the Fort McNair military base in Washington after being detained at the base. Her crime: passing out a flyer for the film “Sir, No Sir: The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the War In Vietnam.” We’re joined by Ann Wright, as well as the film’s director. [includes rush transcript]

Two months ago on Democracy Now, we interviewed Laura Berg. You might remember she is the Veterans Affairs nurse in Albuquerque who was accused of sedition after she wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war. Well today we look at another individual accused by the military of sedition. Her name is Ann Wright. She is a Retired Army Colonel and former U.S. diplomat. She spent 29 years in the military and later served as a high-ranking diplomat in the State Department. In 2001 she helped oversee the reopening of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. In 2003 she resigned her State Department post to protest the war in Iraq. On Monday she found herself handcuffed to chair inside the Fort McNair military base in Washington after being detained at the base. She joins us now in Washington to explain what happened.

We invited the Army to join us on the program. The Army declined the offer. An Army spokesperson did issue a statement defending its treatment of Ann Wright. The stament read “Col. Wright was inappropriately distributing literature in violation of Army Regulations 210-7 and 360-1, Section 3-8, which prohibit distribution of any non-DoD material on an Army installation without prior permission from the installation commander.”

  • Ann Wright, retired Army Colonel and former U.S. diplomat.
  • “Sir, No Sir: The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the War In Vietnam, ” excerpt from documentary.
  • David Zeiger, producer and director of “Sir, No Sir” which is currently playing in theaters nationwide. His production company is Displaced Films and he has made films that have been shown on PBS, HBO and at festivals all over the world.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we’re going to look at someone else who was accused by the military of sedition. Her name is Ann Wright. She’s a retired Army colonel, former U.S. diplomat, spent 29 years in the military, later served as a high-ranking diplomat in the State Department. In 2001, she helped oversee the re-opening of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. In 2003, she resigned her State Department post to protest the war in Iraq. Well, this week, on Monday, she found herself handcuffed to a chair inside the Fort McNair military base in Washington after being detained at the base. She joins us now in Washington to explain what happened. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ann Wright.

ANN WRIGHT: Well, thank you Amy. It’s good to be here this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what happened?

ANN WRIGHT: Yes. I was over at Fort McNair. I’m going to take this out, because there’s some interference on the line. I was over at Fort McNair to be at a court martial for the young soldier who is on trial for part of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, dog handler. We were over there to protest that Rumsfeld ought to be court-martialed, as well as that young kid, and while we were over there and found out that the court martial was not going to take place at Fort McNair, but at Fort Meade. I decided to take the opportunity to leave some of the materials that were there, and the materials were on Sir, No Sir.

AMY GOODMAN: So you were handcuffed for giving out the pamphlet, Sir, No Sir?

ANN WRIGHT: That’s correct. The young military police officer or police sergeant that came over said I was leaving seditious materials all over the post and that I needed to be detained, and he said as a part of detention that I had to be handcuffed. And I said, “Well, I’m a 59-year-old Army colonel, retired, with arthritic knees and no belligerency at all,” and while I certainly agreed to go with him to the police station and discuss this, there was no need to handcuff me. However, that argument did not work with him, and I was handcuffed out on the picnic grounds of Fort McNair, placed into a patrol car to go 75 feet to the station, took them longer to get me in there in the police car than it took to get to the police station.

And then I was handcuffed, ultimately, to the chair for another 45 minutes, until a military lawyer came down and said — as I’d been requesting, I said, “Guys, you probably need to go up and get some higher authority on this one.” So, finally the lawyer came down and said, “Uncuff her,” and then we had a discussion on whether or not materials should be placed on a military base, materials like the postcard that announces the showing in Washington, D.C. of the historical documentary of G.I. resistance in Vietnam called Sir, No Sir.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we invited the Army to join us on the program, and they declined the offer. An Army spokesperson did issue a statement defending its treatment of you, Ann Wright. The statement read, quote, “Colonel Wright was inappropriately distributing literature in violation of Army regulations 210-7 and 360-1, Section 3-8, which prohibit distribution of any non-DOD material on an Army installation without prior permission from the installation commander.” Well, we’re going to turn right now to an excerpt of the film, Sir, No Sir, that she was putting out pamphlets about. We’re going go to that film and then go to the filmmaker who made Sir, No Sir.

WALTER CRONKITE: A new phenomenon has cropped up at several army bases these days: a so-called underground G.I. press which consists largely of anti-war newspapers. Military authorities are clamping down hard on the papers.

MONTAGE: Fort Knox, Kentucky, Fun, Travel and Adventure, Fort Gordon, Georgia, The Last Harass, Fort Lewis, Washington, Fed Up, Fort Benning, Georgia, Chanute Air Force Base, Four Year Bummer, Fort Dix, New Jersey, Shakedown, Fort Hood, Texas, Fatigue Press is published by a group of radical soldiers stationed at this Army base.

DAVID CLINE: And we used to distribute it clandestinely on base. We’d go around and leave bunches of them in barracks, as we’d go through barracks at night and leave them in foot lockers. If you were caught distributing literature on base, that was a court-martial offense.

NARRATOR: Despite the military’s best efforts, the underground press became the lifeblood of the G.I. movement, as the Army’s own recruiting slogan, “Fun, Travel and Adventure,” turned into the popular G.I. expression, “F—- the Army.”

SOLDIER: There must have been close to 300 anti-war newspapers written, produced and published on bases all throughout the world. It was wherever there were G.I.s, American G.I.s in the world.

SUSAN SCENALL: We got together a number of times and talked about how we were going to organize active-duty G.I.s go to the peace demonstration. And then I remember also hearing about the B-52 bombers that were dropping leaflets on Vietnam, urging the Vietnamese to defect, and I thought, well, if they can do it overseas, then we can hire a small private plane, load it up with leaflets, and drop the leaflets on military bases in the San Francisco Bay Area, thousands and thousands of leaflets. At one point I know we were a little concerned about getting shot down, but nothing happened. Evidently they landed pretty accurately. That’s what they testified at the court-martial.

JANE FONDA: I grew up believing that if our flag was flying over a battlefield that we were on the side of the angels. My father fought in the Second World War. He won awards and medals, and, you know, I grew up during the “good wars.”

JANE FONDA: [playing Pat Nixon] Mr. President, there’s a terrible demonstration going on outside.

MICHAEL ALAIMO: [playing Richard Nixon] Oh, there’s always a demonstration going on outside, Pat.

JANE FONDA: Yeah, but Richard, this one is completely out of control.

MICHAEL ALAIMO: What are they asking for this time?

JANE FONDA: Free Angela Davis and all political prisoners, out of Vietnam now, and draft all government officials.

MICHAEL ALAIMO: Well, now we have people to take care of that. They’ll do their job, you do your job, and I’ll do my job.

JANE FONDA: But Richard, you don’t understand. They’re storming the White House.

MICHAEL ALAIMO: Oh, in that case I’d better call out the Third Marines.

JANE FONDA: You can’t, Richard.


JANE FONDA: It is the Third Marines.


JANE FONDA: What if we put together an antiwar show that’s, you know, the opposite side of the coin from the Bob Hope show?

FREE THEATER ASSOCIATES: [Singing] I went down to that base. / They took one look at my face / and read out an order to bar me. / I said, “Foxtrot Tango Alpha / Free The Army!”

JANE FONDA: “F— the Army.” We always said, “Free the Army!” or “Fun, Travel and Adventure,” but it really meant, “F—- the Army.”

DR. HOWARD LEVY: I think the most startling thing to me occurred, however, as the court martial began. What would happen was, we would walk from the parking lot to the building where the court-martial was being held, and it was the most remarkable thing when hundreds, hundreds of G.I.s would hang out of windows out of the barracks and give me the v-sign or give me the clenched fist. This was mind-boggling to me. This was a revelation, and at that point it really became crystal clear to me that something had changed here, and that something very, very important was happening.

NARRATOR: And with soldiers beginning to question the war in the wake of the Tet Offensive, thousands began going AWOL, or Absent Without Leave. Many found their way to San Francisco, where a series of events brought the emerging G.I. antiwar movement onto the national stage.

INTERVIEWER: Have you given much thought to the penalty of being AWOL?


INTERVIEWER: Can I see your chains, please?

OLIVER HIRSCH: We joined together in July 1968. We took sanctuary in a church and chained ourselves to ministers. We essentially called the press and said to them, “We’re not going to Vietnam. We’re refusing our orders, and, in fact, we’re resigning from the military. Come and get us.”

KEITH MATHER: They had nothing to lose, and they had no idea what was going to come, and that’s a free place. It’s a really free place, you know? You don’t know what’s going to happen, don’t know where you’re going, but you know what you’re doing.

And that was my introduction to the San Francisco Presidio stockade.

REPORTER: For 19-year-old private, Michael Bunch, life in the Army had been little more than a series of AWOL violations. His last stop was here at the Presidio stockade, where he was fatally shot last Friday while trying to escape from a work detail.

KEITH MATHER: So we reacted viscerally and with anger and disgust and outrage. And then things started to calm down, because we started to plan. We came to a decision that the best thing we could do was to have some kind of a demonstration.

SOLDIER PROTESTER: At a certain point, the commandant came out and read us the mutiny act, and we just kept singing louder and, you know, kind of linked arms and sing and sing.

KEITH MATHER: We were scared, man. I’ll tell you, we were really scared, but we had them right where we wanted them. They were finally listening to us, man. That’s the first time I can ever remember anybody listening to us while I was in the military.

SOLDIER PROTESTER: The commanding general of the Sixth Army, which was the jurisdiction, and he said that they thought that the revolution was about to start and that they really had to set an example, you know, come down hard, and we were the guys that they decided to do that with, and they did. I mean, you know, we were on trial for our lives. You know, I kind of came in as an AWOL and within two days of hitting the stockade, I was, you know, I was facing the death sentence for singing “We Shall Overcome.”

INTERVIEWER: How did you come to the decision to desert?

TERRY WHITMORE: You know, when you laying on your back and you can’t move for day in and day out, you have a lot of time to think. So you think about what you did, you know, what you’ve done, things that you’ve gone through, the people that you’ve killed, the people that are dying.

Then you actually see what I saw, what was going on in the States. Dudes are running down the streets wearing the same kind of uniform that I got. They’re in Memphis. They’re beating up on people. Wait a minute. We’re over here beating up on people over here, and you’re beating up on black people. Dogs are running everywhere, tanks are on the streets.

NEWS ANCHOR: This was Armed Forces Day, and in many cities across the country there were the usual parades, displays and bands. But the recent surge of protest over the war in Indochina cast a shadow over today’s activities. This was even true at some military bases, where the presence of antiwar demonstrators led to the cancellation of planned observances.

DAVID CLINE: A thousand G.I.s marched the first year right outside the base, and they told people it was off limits, and they told people that if you went there, you were going to get arrested. Store owners downtown were putting up plywood coverings on their windows, because the cops told them it was going to turn into a riot, but then people decided to change it to “Armed Farces Day,” because, you know, we thought making fun of your enemy was as valuable as yelling at them. The second year, 1971, there had to be three or four thousand on the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the film Sir, No Sir, as we go to the phone right now to speak to its director, David Zeiger. Welcome to Democracy Now!

DAVID ZEIGER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s good to have you with us. At the top of this segment we were talking to Ann Wright, who was handcuffed on a military base for handing out the fliers that advertise this film. Your response?

DAVID ZEIGER: Well, this is the film that tells the long-suppressed story of the G.I. movement against the war, the scenes that you just showed. It’s not surprising to me that the military responded this way. This is something that over the last 35 years, particularly beginning with the Reagan administration, the government and the military has gone to great lengths to suppress any knowledge that this movement happened. I mean, here is a movement that involved over 300 underground newspapers, thousands of G.I.s demonstrating, a level of resistance that led to the pulling out of the ground troops in the early 1970s, and yet no one knows anything about this movement. It’s been replaced with the myth of G.I.s being spat on by antiwar activists when they returned. So, of course, it doesn’t surprise me that it would be responded to by the military in this way, referring to it as sedition and whatever. Our response is that it just brings out how important this story actually is. This isn’t just a story about history. It’s a story that really speaks to the situation that’s faced by hundreds of thousands of soldiers today.

AMY GOODMAN: According to the Pentagon, half a million soldiers deserted during the Vietnam War, and also what I think was so impressive about it is the military publications, the underground military publications, and how many there were around this country and the world.

DAVID ZEIGER: I don’t think there’s ever been something like this at any time in history. I mean, hundreds and hundreds of underground publications, mimeographed, printed. I mean, people were putting these things out daily, and sometimes it would be a couple hundred, sometimes it would be five thousand, fifteen thousand, and these were all put out by soldiers themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: David Zeiger, I want to thank you for being with us, producer and director of the film Sir, No Sir, currently playing around the country in theaters. His production company is Displaced Films, and he’s made films that have been shown on PBS, HBO and festivals around the world, and for those who are wondering, our music break, what it was. It was from the film, and it was Rita Martinson singing “Soldier, We Love You.” And that does it for today’s broadcast. Thanks also to Ann Wright who joined us.

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