In DeWitt, New York, Judge David Gideon has renewed “orders of protection” for 17 activists arrested last year after blocking three entrances of Hancock Air Base to protest Reaper drones piloted from the base.
The original yearlong orders were issued October 25, 2012, after the 17 American protesters were arrested and arraigned at the request of Hancock’s mission support group commander, Col. Earl A. Evans, banning their return to Hancock, home of the 174th Attack Wing of New York’s Air National Guard.
Gideon renewed the orders until April 30, 2014, or until the conclusion of the protesters’ trial on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct. The trial has been scheduled for December 12 in a DeWitt court. One of the 17 has entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors. The rest are awaiting trial.
Many of the protesters believe the orders are being used to suppress their First Amendment rights.
“We’re nonviolent activists, so for a commander of a base to get an order of protection against us is, of course, ludicrous,” said Ed Kinane, one of the 17 arrested. “Especially when you consider that it’s a barbed-wire enclosure, guarded by men with guns who have been trained to kill and blow up things.”
“The purpose [of the orders], it would certainly seem, is to suppress our First Amendment rights to express dissent and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The 2012 action was part of Upstate Drone Action’s campaign to expose drone strikes on civilians throughout the Middle East by weaponized Reaper drones piloted from Hancock Air Base. The group was attempting to deliver what they call “a people’s indictment” for war crimes to military officials at the base.
According to Heidi Boghosian, director of the National Lawyers Guild, state courts in New York issue such orders to limit the behavior of a person who has harmed or threatened another individual. They usually pertain to safety issues and most often are used in cases of domestic violence. The orders may be issued to direct offenders to cease certain behaviors, such as keeping away from family members or from a family home, and not to keep a firearm in the home. The orders also can direct persons to pay child support or abide by custody orders. In New York, such orders can be issued by family courts, criminal courts and Supreme Courts (as part of divorce proceedings) and can be done as part of a criminal case or a civil case.
“It seems that an [order] to protect drones, a form of property, is contrary to the long-established policy of issuing [orders] to protect the safety and well-being of persons,” Boghosian told Truthout in an email.
Since 2010, Upstate Drone Action has organized more than 100 arrests of civil disobedience protesters at the air base, and some protesters have been arrested at Hancock after the issuance of an order barring them from the military installation. Thousands of dollars of fines and bail remain tied up in the court system.
Mark Colville also was arrested during the October 25 civil disobedience last year and was jailed for six days after he refused to pay bail. He told Truthout that, during his time in a DeWitt holding cell in the town court, he observed military officers from the Hancock Air Base conversing with court officials in a way he felt was possible collusion over the activists’ charges. Gideon could not be reached for comment.
“Our government and Congress and the president are stuffing up their ears so that they don’t have to hear it,” Colville said, referring to the recent congressional hearing where drone strike survivors from Pakistan testified about their experience for the first time. Only five members of the House of Representatives attended. “These are crimes, and the blood is on our hands. Unless we’re standing against the legalization of this kind of murder, then we’re colluding in it.”
Colville told Truthout he intends to violate his order before his trial date December 12 by returning to Hancock Air Base to protest.
“These [drone] killings are lynchings, really. They happen in several Islamic countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia. They all happen to be Islamic,” Kinane said.