Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dan Choi (and First Amendment Rights) on trial

Lt Dan Choi is an Iraq War veteran and was a member of the US military until he decided to refuse to live in any closet and came out to the world in order to embrace truth, life and equality back in March 2009.


That was months after Barack I-Will-End-Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell-If-Elected was sworn in. So it shouldn't have been an issue. But after that, he was discharged even though the administration was 'moving' on the issue (largely filing briefs opposing court decisions ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell). Since 2009, he's been one of the most visible protesters against a corrupt and unconstitutional (check the court verdicts) policy. Now he's on trial for civil disobedience and exercising free speech. Towelroad explains, "Lt. Dan Choi's trial began in federal court yesterday for protesting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with 12 other activists on November 14, 2010. Choi and the others chained themselves to the White House fence while chanting 'I am somebody,' 'We do this for you' and "President Obama, Silent Homophobia.' Choi faces 6 months in prison or a $5,000 fine for an obscure infraction of Parks and Wildlife federal regulations." Others accepted plea bagains, but Choi has refused to do so. Lou Chibbaro Jr. (Washington Blade) reports:

Choi told reporters at a news conference outside the federal courthouse Monday, after the trial recessed for the day, that he rejected the government’s plea bargain offer because he believes the law and regulation used to arrest him is unconstitutional.
"I believe there is no law that, in the history of this country, abridges freedom of speech, assembly, or the right to protest for redress of grievances, which were clear and made plain by all of the defendants," he said.

Unless, out of 'unity,' we've again passed an attack on the Constitution like another PATRIOT Act, Dan is correct. John Riley (Metro Weekly) reported on the trial last night:

After calling six witnesses on Monday, the prosecution completed making their arguments early this morning. Feldman then called Capt. James Pietrangelo, who was arrested with Choi during the March incident, to testify, followed by Choi. Both men testified for more than two hours apiece -- with Choi's testimony running longer than three hours.
On the stand, Choi said the First Amendment provides for the right of people to petition the government for a redress of grievances, which also, he said, is a moral responsibility of patriotic Americans. Choi responded under questioning by Feldman that he believed his actions were a form of speech, and that the government did not have a right to censor them by arresting him.
At times, Choi raised his voice and spoke in such a tone that he almost seemed close to shouting, especially when asked about his arrest. Under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela George, he compared the various protests against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to the 1960 sit-in by students in Greensboro, N.C., at a Woolworth's department store and said he was "insulted" by his prosecution on federal charges.

Should the verdict be guilty, Dan could be sentenced to six months behind bars. He has four attorneys and last week Steve Rothaus (Miami Herald) spoke with one of them, Norm Kent, about the case and straegy.

Sunday, Dan Tweeted the following:

Dan Choi
28 Aug

Dan Choi

Click here for Dan's Twitter feed. And the video noted above is here. Eric Tucker (AP) notes of Choi's testimony yesterday:

He said was flabbergasted he was on trial in the first place when people went to the White House to cheer the U.S. military raid that led to the death of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. He said those people gathered at the same fence but never faced any sanctions.
"What's the difference?" Choi demanded of George at one point. "You have not given me a reason why my free speech should be curtailed and their free speech should be amplified."

In other veterans news, NPR is doing a three-part look at female veterans. Part one was Jen Howard examining post war stress. Excerpt:

HOWARD: Hawthorne is a disabled veteran from the First Gulf War, over a decade ago. She was a Chemical Operations Specialist, dealing regularly with radioactive material and biological weapons. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a number of health complications she feels are related to her exposure.

Ms. HAWTHORNE: I've had several miscarriages. Ive had a couple of strokes. I was also gang raped in the military four separate times, none of which have been prosecuted.

HOWARD: Hawthorne alleges she tried to report the rapes to superiors but was rebuffed. Today she's part of a growing class action lawsuit filed in Virginia Federal court on behalf or active duty and veteran victims of sexual trauma. But at the time, Hawthorne says, she felt helpless. She tried to just get over it and do her job.

Ms. HAWTHORNE: We have basically, like, trained ourselves to act like that didnt hurt, roll with the punches. And so when we come back and we have, like, PTSD, flash backs, things like that, we deny it more than men do because were saying oh, well I just - well, shes just emotional.

HOWARD: So, once she was back, Hawthorne tried to keep her symptoms at bay. She finally had a baby with her husband, but then their marriage fell apart. And Hawthorne got sicker.

Among the many groups working on the issue of MST (Military Sexual Trauma) is VETWOW. Those needing additional information or resources on MST can refer to that organization. For more press on the issue, click here for an August 8th MST segment hosted by Allison Keyes that aired on Tell Me More (NPR). The second All Things Considered segment was Julie Rose exploring the difficult transitions and adjustments that are made for the military and the civilian world. Excerpt:

ROSE: If she sounds a little weary, that's because it can be exhausting being a young woman in the civilian world after coming of age in the military. She loved the no-fuss life in uniform and thought she'd always be an intelligence analyst, even after her last deployment in 2007 which entailed six straight months of 12-hour days and the constant threat of rocket attack.

BLUMENBERG: I would do every bit and more if I had been given the opportunity. I would probably have been back there three more times by now.

ROSE: After that last deployment in Baghdad, she fell into anxiety, depression and alcoholism. She thought it might be PTSD, but was afraid to get a diagnosis for fear she would lose her top secret clearance. In late 2008, she was arrested for driving while intoxicated and worried that could end her military intelligence career. She was 23 years old and felt her life was falling apart.

BLUMENBERG: I went home and overdosed on Ambien. I woke up two days later in the hospital and was sent to basically a psychiatric facility for a few weeks after that.

The following community sites -- plus and Random Thoughts (On The Edge) -- updated last night and this morning:

Plus Stan's "Posion Ivy," Rebecca's "eugene mcdaniels" and Mike's "The Libyan War."

IVAW's Jose Vasquez notes:

October 7th, 2011 will mark 10 years since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the start of the Global War on Terror. To commemorate this sad anniversary, we are calling for a month of local and national activities from September 7th to October 7th. During this time, we hope to promote relationship-building among people and communities affected by U.S. militarism and the U.S. war economy, both in the U.S. and Afghanistan, reflect on how our world has changed in the past 10 years, and share our "war stories" from the last decade.

We have spent the last 10 years marching in the streets and participating in many forms of nonviolent action to end the wars, put a stop to the growing militarization of U.S. communities and borders, and redirect our country’s resources to meeting human needs here at home. Despite of these efforts, we’re still entangled in two (or more) wars; at least 200,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 6,000 U.S. troops have died in combat, and thousands more have taken their own lives; Muslim individuals and communities as well as immigrants to the U.S. are under ever-increasing surveillance by a racist and Islamophobic "Homeland Security" system; unemployment numbers keep rising and funding for education, social security, and healthcare are all being gutted while Congress continues to increase military spending.

In Washington D.C. on October 7th, we will be marking this commemoration of the Global War on Terror with a unique forum, War Voices, which will bring together people directly impacted by U.S. militarism and the U.S. war economy with ally groups, as well as writers, musicians, and artists. Through story-telling, workshops, discussions, and cultural performances, we will build our power as a movement by meeting one another, building relationships that will inspire us for the long haul, envisioning new directions for the future, and planting the seeds for structures of mutual support and solidarity that will allow us to create a demilitarized world. We will be providing a live webcast of the forum in D.C. for those who are unable to join us for the event. At the forum, we also hope to premiere new digital media featuring Afghan organizations talking about their work.

On September 7th, we will be launching a new popular education-inspired curriculum on the U.S. war economy, as well as a section on the current on-the-ground reality in Afghanistan and Afghan-led organizing efforts for a more just society. These materials will be posted to our website on September 7th, but if you are interested in hearing more about the curriculum or using it to build with economic justice groups in your local area, we welcome you to contact us at:

We’re calling on our members and supporters to help us promote these events nationwide and organize a workshop or forum in your own community on or before October 7th. We will be posting resources on how to adapt these tools and projects to meet your local needs.

For general questions about the month of local and national activities against 10 years of war and occupation, contact: Please help us to spread the word!

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