Dissent Disallowed in Democracy?


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“This past Labor Day I was arrested for silently walking around the New York State Fair in an orange jump suit, black hood and shackles. A sign on my chest read: CLOSE GUANTANAMO.

Guantanamo had vexed me for years. Since it opened on January 11, 2002 in a US-leased enclave in Cuba, the existence of this Nazi-like internment camp has trashed our standing throughout the world. During their campaigns, declaring the illegal confinement and torture practiced there reprehensible, the top three presidential candidates had already agreed that, if elected, they would close the US Army-run camp….”

Author: Ed Kinane of Syracuse, New York, involved in working to close the US Army’s notorious School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia
Published in: Huntington News Network (home page: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/)
Date: December 21, 2008

For the full article:
Dissent Disallowed in Democracy?
(789 words)
by Ed Kinane

This past Labor Day I was arrested for silently walking around the New York State Fair in an orange jump suit, black hood and shackles. A sign on my chest read: CLOSE GUANTANAMO.

Guantanamo had vexed me for years. Since it opened on January 11, 2002 in a US-leased enclave in Cuba, the existence of this Nazi-like internment camp has trashed our standing throughout the world. During their campaigns, declaring the illegal confinement and torture practiced there reprehensible, the top three presidential candidates had already agreed that, if elected, they would close the US Army-run camp.

On January 11, 2008, the beginning of the camp’s seventh year, dozens of us from Witness Against Torture [www.witnesstorture.org] sought to do a liturgy in the august entry hall of the US Supreme Court. Our decorous, mostly faith-based, group was symbolically providing the hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners, past and present, their day in US court.

Realizing that this public building had been infiltrated by the public, SC security panicked. They not so gently dragged us out of the hall. The upshot was that we spent about 30 hours in booking. At the trial some weeks later the judge refused to let me finish reading aloud my brief sentencing statement. US Marshals soon transported us to the DC Detention Center to serve out a week of our 10-day sentence.

Neither at the Supreme Court nor at the Fair was I doing “civil disobedience”: I had no intention to break the law. I was not courting arrest. At the Supreme Court we wanted to be heard; at the Fair I just wanted to be seen.

Because the hood impaired my view, my friend Rae Kramer led me around the Fair. We even visited some of the military recruiting tents. (In one – at the family-friendly Fair – there were automatic weapons lying on a counter available to the public for hands-on fondling. We chose not to play.)

Mostly we were ignored. But after about a half hour the state troopers accosted us. They insisted that I take the jump suit off or leave the Fair. Although we were in the street, thronged by other Fair-goers, the troopers claimed we were on private property. They claimed my “protest” was creating a disturbance.

Through some lapse in their schooling or in their professional training, the troopers had somehow gotten the idea that there is something wrong with protesting. They seem to have forgotten that we live in a land originating in dissent. The troopers didn’t seem to be aware that the First Amendment – in a Constitution they may even have pledged to defend – protected free speech.

Since the NY State Fair was a public place, the troopers were obviously overstepping their authority. I refused to either undress or depart. So that day I was arrested, arraigned and – not willing to post bail — again began a week in jail. The DA charged me with trespass on private property. Some weeks later, oblivious to the contradiction, the DA turned around and further charged me with disorderly conduct on public property.

On December 8 in the Geddes town court I refused the DA’s offer of “time served” in exchange for a guilty plea. I told Judge John D. Kinsella I was ready to get on with the trial. I was looking forward to cross-examining the troopers and calling Rae, my star witness, to the stand.

But Judge Kinsella saw through the charade. Dismissing the charges, he affirmed that the Fair was public property and said that the DA had given him no reason to think I was creating a disturbance, nor that I was doing anything other than expressing my opinion.

To date neither the troopers nor the DA have apologized.

The Washington, DC and State Fair detentions were not isolated incidents. As a politically active citizen these weren’t the only times I’ve been arrested for publicly and nonviolently engaging in Constitutionally-protected political expression. Some law enforcement agencies and officers seem to feel they can suppress dissent or arbitrarily curtail political expression that they may not agree with.

The Guantanamo prison camp – with its isolation and torture, with its secrecy and lack of habeas corpus – embodies Cheney/Bush’s brazen contempt for law and human life, both domestic and international. As in my case, there has been little evidence against many of the hundreds of men and teenagers detained at Guantanamo over the past seven years. Indeed some of the prisoners were captured and turned over to US authorities by bounty hunters out to make a buck or play out a grudge.

Guantanamo is Cheney/Bush’s deliberate attempt to subvert the Constitution. Its mockery of due process comes home to roost. It may even help undermine law enforcement here in the land of the free.
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Ed Kinane, of Syracuse, New York, has long worked to close the US Army’s notorious School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.