John Lewis was a conscientious objector to war. Did you know that?

This blog, like my book, doesn’t tend to dwell on the brave folk who completely avoided military jurisdiction — the thousands in CPS camps during World War Two, the literal millions who spent the Vietnam era in alternative-service jobs. All of whom are important and honored, but to include their stories would swamp an already-capacious text.

However, when John Lewis died, I was reminded by the folk at Center on Conscience and War that part of Lewis’ iconic nonviolent resistance was becoming the first Black conscientious objector in Alabama. They suggested I write this piece, which then appeared on Waging Nonviolence.org, in a section curated by War Resisters League.

In many ways Lewis was adjacent to our story, including his direct link with our old pal Bayard Rustin. (Thus the photo above, sitting with Lewis, James Farmer and Andrew Young at the 1964 signing of the Civil Rights Act.) And Lewis’ Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee stood with with the Fort Hood Three when they announced their refusal to deploy. What would that photo I wrote about earlier look like, if Lewis had sat beside them instead of Stokely Carmichael?

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The heroic John Lewis was a conscientious objector to war, something barely mentioned in all the elegies unfurled in his honor.

I was surprised to see so many of the well-written obituaries, including in the New York Times, fail to mention Lewis’ opposition to war; so did the beautiful elegies spoken at his funeral. But to erase this vital part of Lewis’ history feels both dishonest and potentially damaging to the movements he has helped inspire.

This moment after the murder of George Floyd needs that piece of good trouble — the spirit of war resisters. That spirit is already visible, in those resisting militarized police and federal agents in camo. They know, as Lewis did, that the “infrastructure of oppression police” is international in scope; most know that nonviolent protests trace back to those resisting war. John Lewis refused to be part of that infrastructure, to join the international shock troops deployed against people of color everywhere.

In 1961, after years enacting Gandhian practices of nonviolent action in Freedom Rides and at lunch counters, Lewis told his draft board that he was a conscientious objector — defined as a person with beliefs that make it impossible to be part of war or preparations for war. Lewis modeled his actions after the great reverend James Lawson, who spoke eloquently at his funeral about teaching Lewis non-violent resistance in those 1958 workshops in the basement of his Nashville church. Lawson was himself a conscientious objector, like fellow civil rights icon Bayard Rustin — and, like Rustin, he spent years in prison for his beliefs and then went to India to study.

The draft board declared Lewis “morally unfit” because of how often he had been arrested.

Lewis’s draft board denied his CO application in 1961. He appealed that determination repeatedly, while his commitment to nonviolence grew as he spoke at the March on Washington and mobilized hundreds to register voters during the 1964 “Freedom Summer.” At the end of the summer of 1964, Lewis’ appeal was granted, making him the first Black conscientious objector in Alabama.

The draft board reversed its decision two years later. By 1966, Lewis was nationally known for his voting-rights activism and March 1965 heroism on “Bloody Sunday” on the bridge from Selma to Montgomery. When he arrived in Selma, Lewis was carrying a book by Thomas Merton, a monk who’d hosted peace activists including Father Dan Berrigan. In August 1965, Lewis was in Washington on the day when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

A few months later, in January 1966, the always-internationalist Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, which Lewis chaired, threw a shot at the bow of the Johnson Administration’s cornerstone military policy, not just opposing the war in Vietnam but supporting draft resistance. In their anti-war manifesto, they said, “We [also] take note of the fact that 16 percent of the draftees from this country are Negroes called on to stifle the liberation of Vietnam, to preserve a ‘democracy’ which does not exist for them at home.” Lewis didn’t write that statement, but when asked he told reporters he supported every word.

Immediately after SNCC’s Jan. 6 press conference, the FBI in Atlanta wired Washington and the Department of Defense cancelled Lewis’s 1-O status as a conscientious objector; he was now classified as 4-F or “not qualified to serve.” The draft board declared Lewis “morally unfit” because of how often he had been arrested. In those days, anti-war activists often hailed a 4F as a badge of honor and it galvanized them to keep organizing.

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Decades later, Lewis carried his conscientious opposition to war onto the Congress floor. Arguing in 2002 against the invasion of Iraq, Lewis thundered on the House floor: “What fruit will our actions bear, not just for us but for our children?” Lewis asked. “And not just for the children of our own land, but the children of the West, and the Middle East, and the world? It is the children, our little boys and girls, who must live with the consequences of our war.”

Five years later, Lewis was the first member of Congress to actively support the Appeal for Redress, an action in which thousands of active-duty military personnel appealed for a withdrawal from Iraq using their constitutional right to seek redress of grievances. Most recently, Lewis responded to the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani with the Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019, to “prohibit funds from being used for kinetic military operations against Iran” without congressional authorization.

Lewis himself affirmed that in his final testimonial for the New York Times: “In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way.” How is that not worth honoring?

Soldier-dissent in real time

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I started this week staring at the #WallofVets. The video above bears re-watching: for its diversity of ages, for the military branches represented, for the solidarity among the protesters, the “walls” of mothers, dads and veterans converged to face federal agents sent to suppress their node of the George Floyd uprising.

The wall was created after Navy vet Chris David was beaten and tear-gassed for trying to ask federal agents clubbing protesters: What about your oath to defend the Constitution?  Veterans for Peace types note that Vietnam vet Mike Hastie was in that position  before David, under a similar principle: veterans should be protecting protesters.

Progressive vets across the country had been showing up soon after George Floyd died,  especially  after  June 1—when peaceful protesters in D.C. were chased out of Lafayette Park by the Park Police, backed up by a grudging National Guard contingent.

This week Major Adam De Marco of the latter testified before Congress about that day, quoting the late John Lewis: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”

Speaking under the protection of Military Whistleblower Act, De Marco described a largely peaceful protest aggressively disrupted by the Secret Service, the D.C. Park Police, and “under law enforcement agencies I was unable to identify.” Since that day, of course, we’ve learned about the vicious braid of federal law agencies tapped by Trump to “restore order” by stomping out protest.

A few days after that moment in Lafayette Park, veterans from all over the country converged at the Lincoln Memorial, under the hashtag #Vets4BLM and #ContinuetoServe. Former Navy corpsman David Smith writes about that day: ” Veterans from upstate New York drove to DC to be a part of this protest. Veterans from across the country have been messaging me this week, asking about organization, who to contact, how to find people in their communities, what I am doing to organize a group here, how to donate, on and on and on.”

Smith, who served 2007-2019 and thus through multiple administrations, started  ContinuetoServe.vet that week. He adds that these veterans feel sworn to  “support and defend the Constitution and the citizens of this country. All citizens. Not just privileged citizens. Not just white citizens. Not just rich citizens. ALL CITIZENS.” His D.C.-based group is just once component of what’s being done in support of Black Lives Matter.

I’m working on an op-ed piece that puts this into historical context, but for right now I hope you’ll look at that video again.  Note the mix of older vets and 20-somethings like the young woman above. Or like Clint Hall, who   told the New York Times that the scene reminded him of Iraq:

After suffering through the tear gas that was shot into the crowd, Mr. Hall said that the tear gas was so strong that it was leaving burns on his skin. He said it felt worse than the tear gas he recalled from his time in the Army.

“This response from the feds is over the top,” he said.

I first noticed Hall in coverage of the Wall because of his sign: Disabled Vets For Black LivesMatter. That nod to what all this is about was common to these vets–to David Smith in D.C., to Christopher David, who kept telling journalists “I’d like to try to shift the tdiscussion back to Black Lives Matter.” These vets remind me that the historical parallels in my op-ed need to be soldiers and vets who spoke out for Black Lives. There’s no shortage of those. Stay tuned.

“Including the corpses, pal.” Notes from this week in soldier-dissent

A flyer/ad directed at troops concerned they’ll be deployed against protests in the wake of George Floyd. Of the 3 orgs in the caption, two are my former employers (sorta).

Last year, I joined the board of the Center on Conscience And War, feeling the need to help the last org standing after the death of my former employer, the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. I had no idea the org would soon need to respond to the first CONUS deployment against US citizens in a half-decade. Or that this year would turn out to so closely resemble the last time that happened. A year when so many were saying “Enough! No more!” in response to police killings of Black women and men.

In this fraught time, I’ve felt compelled to leave soldier-dissent behind and use my small talents on behalf of Black lives and to uplift Black voices and stories, but soldiers (in the broadest possible sense) keep dragging me back here. In the past week alone:

  • Two long-overdue responses to the epidemic of military white supremacy, from the Pentagon and from Germany, the latter dissolving an entire SOF company so riddled with Nazis it can’t be saved.
  • In the Washington Post, Greg Jaffewrites about the triply-betrayed platoon whose commander, Clint Lorance, was pardoned by Trump after/for his unspeakable crimes.
  • And speaking of triply betrayed, the death of PFC Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood calls forth the ghosts of LaVa Johnson and other women left for dead by the military machine. I keep thinking about a father of one of is them passing out photos of his uniformed daughter, from before she ended up dying under suspicious circumstances. The fact that noticing this still counts as dissent is gutting.

Not to mention the media clinging to generals who stood up to Trump. Fred Kaplan as the expert on this at Slate? We can do better than that.

And the post title? From the quote I’ve used as an avatar for decades, from the great John Berryman:

— It takes me so long to read the ‘paper,
said to me one day a novelist hot as a firecracker,
because I have to identify myself with everyone in it,
including the corpses, pal.’

Photo: A flyer/ad developed for outreach to troops subject to CONUS deployment during the protest,

For the 50th (?!) anniversary of Kent State

Written 10 years ago, and most of the text below didn’t make it into the published book.

I’m listening to a program on NPR’s Talk of the Nation about the events of May 4, 1970, at Kent State University. including a survivor of the shootings and a few historians that reminded/explained the super-intense political context. While I was eight years old at the time, this year I feel I do have some memories to offer: those of the people I’ve spent four years writing about. A few paragraphs from the book:

vvaw_logoThe U.S. had just invaded Cambodia, sparking mass protests around the country. William T. Ehrhart, later of the laureates of Vietnam poetry, told Gerry Nicosia, author of Home At War, that he and his fellow vets in Philadelphia were stunned:

We hadn’t heard of [Vietnam Veterans Against the War] yet but they were in green and they were obviously Vietnam vets and they were obviously trashing the ROTC building with great glee. And the students ate it up: “The Vietnam vets are going crazy!” The next morning we found out about the students getting killed at Kent State.

On May 4, four students were shot and killed by National Guardsmen after the university’s ROTC building was set aflame. The lasting image in a nation’s mind was not the one the protestors remembered, of hippies facing down children who’d joined the Guard (perhaps to avoid Vietnam) and putting flowers in their M-16s, but one young girl weeping over the dead body of Alison Krauss, twenty years old.

Erhart told Nicosia what the killings meant to new vets — to people who, like him, had thought they were sent abroad to prevent the harming of U.S. civilians. It isn’t enough to send us halfway around the world to die, I thought. It isn’t enough to turn us loose on Asians. Now you are turning the soldiers loose on your own children. Now you are killing your own children in the streets of America. GI’s and civilians protested together in dozens of cities. In Seattle, near Fort Lewis, nearly 13,000 blockaded the Seattle Freeway, to protest both the Cambodia invasion and the Kent State and Jackson State killings.

Turned cynical by Chicago '68, Ochs always turned up for soldiers.

Turned cynical by Chicago ’68, Ochs always turned up for soldiers.

Two weeks later, the national Armed Forces Day traditionally celebrated near military bases was celebratcd differently at some U.S. bases, in the first annual Armed Farces Day. At Fort Bragg, 700 GI’s marched through the base, addressed by Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland at the rally’s end; at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota Phil Ochs, in his now-trademark gold suit, asked over his guitar “Who’s the criminal here?”

At Fort Lewis, 20 miles from Seattle, my old friend Steve Morse, once a young Quaker who had not been subject to to the draft, was Sgt, Morse, appearing before a special court-martial for distributing seditious material. Instead of a term in the brig, though, Morse was soon headed to Cambodia as a member of K-Troop, 11th Cavalry Division.

What? I hear you cry.

That same question was sort of what inspired me to do the book in the first place; I first published Steve’s story, about the Quaker boy who ended up a GI organizer, as an article in the 50th-anniversary magazine of the now-defunct Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. (When I started the book I phoned him and said, “Steve, I’m writing a book about….you!”) To read my version of the rest, you’ll have to wait till the book comes out.

But I’ll take this moment to salute the veterans who, just like the former hippies, are busy calling each other to say – “F***k, has it really been FORTY years?”

watch?v=Qxk0x5wuRH0

p.s.  Since I mentioned Phil Ochs, here he is a year after that Armed Farces Day, shortly after his legendary performance to launch the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation. Legendary because I have yet to meet ANYONE who remembers hearing him that week, even those who were central to the event like Scott Camil and Bill Perry.  Maybe someone reading this remembers that early concert?

outtake: Capt. Rockwood, who took the Marine Corps Values too seriously.

I really tried to keep this one, perhaps because when I interviewed him in 1996, I didn’t realize I was beginning my life’s work. He’s also someone I’ve seen repeatedly over the years since, not just when I interviewed him again in San Diego but at Occupy in 2011, and the Manning trial in 2013.But his story got cut eventually, and like the others his voice no thrums between the book’s pages.

Rockwood wasn’t objecting to any war; instead, his dissent happened during one of Bill Clinton’s “humanitarian” interventions, when only peaceniks like me and Todd Ensign wanted to help him. Often, soldiers turning to the peace movement have been stalwart militarists. Captain Lawrence Rockwood was no exception.

Rockwood still chuckles a little when he thinks about the day in 1994 that he called attorney Tod Ensign: “If there was a believer in what U. S. military as a force for good, it was me. And I still do.”[i] Tod Ensign had helped soldier-dissenters since the Vietnam War; now, he kept busy helping those caught in the Clinton administration’s new armed interventions, the ones touted as wars for international human rights. In September 1994, Rockwood had just thrown away a promising career in military intelligence by charging his command with flagrant disregard for the laws of war.

A Catholic who’d once tried to join the Capuchin monastic order, Rockwood had transferred to military intelligence after nearly 11 years as an enlisted medic; at first, he mostly read communiques and analyzed data for the 10th Mountain Division. Rockwood had been exhilarated when Bill Clinton declared Operation Uphold Democracy, a response to the well-publicized brutality taking place in Haiti. Rockwood’s division was deployed to help restore power to deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former priest, and to guard against human rights abuses by the FRAPH (the Haitian militia that had overthrown Aristide).

As his unit was preparing to depart, Rockwood found that the intelligence being supplied to commanders was inadequate and steeped in stereotypes. He was told to classify intelligence into five categories or PIRs (Priority Information Requests), one of which was “Haitian-on-Haitian violence,” a categorization heavy with racist implications, one that omitted the structural and geopolitical issues that fueled this violence. “The phrase, reminiscent of the expression ‘black on black violence’ concocted to describe South African violence in the mid-1980s,” wrote one journalist covering Haiti for InterPress Service, “seeks to equate the two ‘sides’ of the Haitian struggle and thereby conceal both the reality of Haiti and the responsibility of US proxies.”[ii] Similar tropes were raised during the Philippine War and World War I. The nation’s original sin was alive and well.

Then, 10th Mountain commander General David Meade changed the mission, citing a lack of political support for Aristide and determined to prevent “his” Marines from suffering what those in Somalia (whose bodies militants had paraded in front of CNN) had the previous year. Meade told the 10,000 arriving troops that their number one priority was “force protection.” When Rockwood’s informers described the brutal murders of Aristide supporters in the poorest section of Port-au-Prince, Rockwood could do nothing. “We had all these soldiers and Marines,” he told me, his voice breaking. “It was as if we could hear them crying for help, but our orders were to stay inside and protect each other.”

In addition to a master’s degree in international relations from Catholic University and years of thinking of himself in his military role as a humanitarian or healer of sorts, Rockwood carried with him the memory of a childhood visit to Dachau, during which his father told him that the United States had been morally bound to intervene. “He told me that the reason that these things are created is because of blind obedience and cynicism,” Rockwood recalled later. “That’s exactly what I was seeing, blind obedience and cynicism.”[iii]

When Rockwood told his superiors that he’d learned that some five to twenty people a day were being killed in Haiti’s notorious National Prison, he was told that an investigation would happen “in due time.” After hearing that it might take a week, “during which hundreds might die,” Rockwood registered a letter of protest with the brigade commander. On the night of September 20, 1994, he jumped the fence of his compound to start an investigation himself.

I said, “Well, I’m here to get a list of names, a list of the prisoners. I’m going to go through the prisoners and I’m going to call out, and I want them to answer.” [The major assigned as prison warden] said, “I can’t do that until the morning.”… I was there about three-and-a-half hours. And an American officer from the embassy, Major Chuck Lane, shows up. And he was …. one of the people who started FRAPH [the paramilitary Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti]. … And he was saying, “You know, the world’s full of hellholes. And why does this one bother you?” I said, “This hellhole is the responsibility of the United States Army. That’s why this one bothers me. The other ones aren’t.”

Rockwood was eventually court-martialed for insubordination and conduct unbecoming an officer. His defense was led by Ramsey Clark, U.S. Attorney General under President Jimmy Carter. Clark successfully beat back a last-minute effort to drop one of the charges, “conduct unbecoming an officer,” which would have prevented Rockwood from giving the reasons for his actions. Rockwood’s defense counter-charged that the Marines, who had operational control of the Haiti mission, had been far too reluctant to take risks on behalf of the Haitians they were there to protect. Clark found perhaps the most compelling witness possible on Rockwood’s behalf: Hugh Thompson, the pilot who had discovered and helped stem the My Lai massacre in Vietnam decades earlier.

When he read in the newspapers of Rockwood’s arrest, Thompson had telephoned immediately and offered to come to Fort Drum to testify. In court, Thompson recounted his actions in March 1968 and added, “I think you have a moral obligation to be a good officer and you need to follow it up and take the consequences. We don’t need a lot of ‘yes men’ in the military. We need somebody who will get the job done and take responsibility.” He said of Rockwood, “I don’t see where what he did warrants conduct unbecoming an officer. … It sounds like he was forced into a no-win situation.”[iv]

After being found guilty, Rockwood was dismissed from the service; although a progressive who passionately believed in the potential of the military to act for good in the world, he was no longer welcome to enact that belief in uniform.[v] Instead, he joined others of the era’s dissenting soldiers, who’d believed similarly in the military’s potential for good, until that belief was sorely tested by their government.

[i]       Interview, August 1999, San Francisco. We also spoke in June of 2006 at Rockwood’s home in San Diego; unless indicated otherwise, quotes in this chapter are from the latter conversation.

[ii]      Dan Coughlin, “The case of Lawrence P. Rockwood.” Haiti Progres, vol. 12, no. 51, 20 March 1995,

[iii]     Rita Beamish, “A Court Martial Over What the Real Mission Was in Haiti.” Associated Press, May 6 1995.

[iv]     Trial transcript provided by Rockwood.

[v]      When he accepted an invitation in 2000 to teach human rights at the School of the Americas, many allies in Veterans for Peace, including Thompson, were aghast. “But I’m not a pacifist,” Rockwood insisted.

Outtake: Scott Olsen, who almost died for Occupy

Eight years ago this week, a NYPD riot at New York’s Zuccotti Park evicted the last remaining Occupy Wall Street activists. That year had seen an incredible amount of movement-building, with organizing from coast to coast–including by dissenting veterans.  Below, a vigil for Iraq vet Scott Olsen at Occupy Oakland.occupyoaklandvigil

In 2011, Obama’s Afghanistan “surge” came and went without accomplishing its goals, making the projected 2014 end date of the war feel questionable. The exit of troops from Iraq set the stage for a far-more-developed debate about services for veterans, and Iraq Veterans Against the War initiated its first “Project Recovery” campaign, demanding that a PTSD diagnosis automatically preclude a return to the war zone. They also linked up with local social-justice struggles, such as Occupy Wall Street and its “Occupy” off-shoots—including Marine Scott Olsen, whose treatment at Occupy Oakland by that city’s police would make the latter notorious and deepen Olsen’s commitment to dissent.

Olsen had joined IVAW soon after coming home: His doubts about the war had begun in his first tour, at the border town of Qay’im, after “conversations with other Marines, and with some Iraqis, through “witnessing some of our actions and inactions, through putting my life on the line and seeing my brothers lose their lives that they had put on the line—for what? Where are these liberated Iraqis? Where is their democracy and right to self-determination? What have we done? And what are we still doing here?” His second tour, as part of the troop-withdrawal phase, made him close to cynical, since his Kilo Company had one specific assignment: the opening of Al-Anbar Province’s massive K3 Oil Refinery. Joining IVAW, “it felt good to know that I wasn’t the only Iraq vet who felt betrayed, ripped off, or used.”[i]

Olsen kept in touch with IVAW when he moved to San Francisco to take a software job. Rather than immerse himself in Northern California’s tech scene, Olsen found himself also drawn to Occupy San Francisco, one of a dozen such encampments that had sprung up after the takeover of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan on September 17, 2011.

Created to protest rising income inequality, Occupy had from its start been welcomed by the more left-leaning soldier-dissenters. Vietnam veteran Bill Perry had traveled from Philadelphia to join the original, growing encampment at Zuccotti Park, and stayed there until the encampment was evicted by the NYPD around Thanksgiving; by then, the Occupy movement had metastasized, with similar encampments from coast to coast. The San Francisco camp, with its collective breakfasts and speak-outs, was regularly evicted. Across the Bay Bridge, a more militant, diverse group occupied Oakland’s City Hall and regularly threatened to close the busy Port of Oakland.

None of which had escaped the national-security state; the Department of Homeland Security was publishing a weekly national “intelligence report” with FBI-generated data on encampments from Boston to California. Police chiefs across the nation held conference calls to share strategies on how to combat the smelly, not-quite-violent masses. Police departments deployed their most militarist riot gear when evicting protesters—as Scott Olsen learned in Oakland, on October 25, 2011.

The resulting scene, immortalized on cell phone video, would be used as evidence in Olsen’s lawsuit against the City of Oakland. Between the wall of helmeted police and the mass of blue-jeaned Occupiers was a steel police barrier in front of two IVAW members: Joshia Shepherd,  in Navy service uniform, and the less-imposing Olsen in a Marine Corps fatigue jacket. As the sun set behind them, police warned the remaining protesters to disperse or else. Then the video shifts as protesters scatter and begin to scream, “[Olsen]’s been hit!” They carry the young man, bleeding from the scalp, to the side and wait until paramedics arrive.

Olsen had been hit and nearly killed by a tear gas canister thrown by police. When released from hospital he was, for a long time, unable to speak. But he did recover, and stayed involved with IVAW; I met him in 2014 at the group’s tenth-anniversary gala, not long after the City of Oakland agreed to a $4.5 million settlement in his case. I told him about the book, and the likelihood he was in it; I’m still sad that my editor’s very smart cuts included his story.    When I come to the Bay Area, I hope he’ll join me in honoring his role in an important movement.

Well, that felt like an episode of Law and Order. But #Justice4Reality?

As readers of this blog know, I love watching lawyers work. I remember telling David Coombs, one day at Fort Meade, that it was like watching a great painter as layers and layers gradually create a picture. This week, in federal court, I watched prosecutors paint  a black-and-white editorial cartoon, then saw that picture turned full color  by defense attorney Matthew Chester (of the powerhouse firm Baker Donelson.)

A local news report elegantly summarized Chester’s argument: “Winner’s lawyers say agents made her believe she was in custody by taking her cell phone, car keys, blocking her car, and following her around her property,” But ‘blocking her car’ doesn’t evoke the image, supported by defense photographs, of more than seven cars blocking her small driveway, or the 11 FBI agents streaming through her small Augusta home.

The effect of all of this on a 25-year-old young woman, not much taller than my own (shrimpy) height): she felt as though she had no choice but to do what they asked.  “This was a custodial interrogation,” Chester said. None of the agents ever told her she was free to go, though one made sure to say at intervals, “You’re here voluntarily.”

The National Law Reporter  did even better with this headline: “Reality Winner’s Lawyers Say FBI Interrogation Was Unconstitutional.” The reporter also got down Chester’s list of why:

  • FBI agents informed Winner they had search warrants for her residence, her car and her person, suggesting she was not free to leave until she was frisked.
  • Agents took Winner’s car keys and cellphone as she arrived home from the grocery store.
  • Winner was never advised that she was not in custody. When she asked if she was going to be arrested, agents hedged, according to defense lawyers and a transcript of the conversation, telling her they did not know.
  • Winner was not searched until after her arrest—another indication that she was not free to leave.
  • Agents remained at Winner’s side as she put away groceries, including perishables that had been sitting in her car in the summer heat, when they began their inquiry.
  • Agents also accompanied Winner as she leashed her dog and secured her cat.
  • At one point, Winner also felt compelled to ask permission to go to the bathroom, asking agents, “How’s that going to work?” according to a transcript of her interview.
  • After asking if there was a place they could speak privately, agents directed Winner to a small, unfurnished room she said she didn’t like.
  • During the interview, two agents blocked the entrance and questioned her as Winner faced them with her back against the wall.
  • At the end of the interrogation, she was arrested rather than released.
  • Agents also made what the defense described as “accusatory statements … that the evidence against her was ‘very, very, very compelling’ and that she was ‘the most likely candidate by far and away.’” They also told her she was “the prime suspect” in the possible mishandling of classified information.
  • FBI agents informed Winner they had search warrants for her residence, her car and her person, suggesting she was not free to leave until she was frisked.
  • Agents took Winner’s car keys and cellphone as she arrived home from the grocery store.
  • Winner was never advised that she was not in custody. When she asked if she was going to be arrested, agents hedged, according to defense lawyers and a transcript of the conversation, telling her they did not know.
  • Winner was not searched until after her arrest—another indication that she was not free to leave.
  • Agents remained at Winner’s side as she put away groceries, including perishables that had been sitting in her car in the summer heat, when they began their inquiry.
  • Agents also accompanied Winner as she leashed her dog and secured her cat.
  • At one point, Winner also felt compelled to ask permission to go to the bathroom, asking agents, “How’s that going to work?” according to a transcript of her interview.
  • After asking if there was a place they could speak privately, agents directed Winner to a small, unfurnished room she said she didn’t like.
  • During the interview, two agents blocked the entrance and questioned her as Winner faced them with her back against the wall.
  • At the end of the interrogation, she was arrested rather than released.
  • Agents also made what the defense described as “accusatory statements … that the evidence against her was ‘very, very, very compelling’ and that she was ‘the most likely candidate by far and away.’” They also told her she was “the prime suspect” in the possible mishandling of classified information.

Later, I told one of Winner’s lawyers that the day had felt a little like an episode of Law and Order. “Usually,” he said, “a day in court is much more boring.”

Attorneys on both sides have military/intel backgrounds; Winner’s senior counsel (not Chester) is former NSA, Tuesday’s main prosecutor a former JAG.  The latter, who told court personnel that she missed military life sometimes, said she found “insulting” that Chester had noted the sex of the 11 FBI agents. I later told Billie Winner that the prosecutor was  the whitest woman in the room, someone who’s never had a reason to fear the police.

 

outlaw!

Tuesday night, at a gathering hosted by Reality’s mom and stepdad, I met the three-legged dog, Outlaw (above), that Reality has adopted as her mascot. I also saw the small room where Winner was interviewed. I can’t see how three people could stand comfortably in there, less have the casual conversation described in one agent’s testimony:, “It looked like 3 people talking in a Starbucks line.”

Another agent described Winner’s affect that day as “flat, unemotional.” Again, I refer you to my post on “the politics of grief.” Winner’s biological father had died about six months earlier, a trauma she was still processing.  When the FBI showed up, she turned on a cheery vibe , a cheery mix of competent professional and the good Texas girl her parents raised.  As a trained intel analyst, she knew she was in trouble.  In the courtroom, we all listened to bits of the audio of that day in June, and I could feel the tightness in her voice. She wasn’t about to show these strange men what she was thinking and feeling, really.

As the hearing ended, both sides promised to submit briefs using the classified evidence that can’t be discussed in court. My guess is that the prosecution will try to drag the issue out of Law and Order, more toward Homeland  or 24, reviving their image of this kid as some kind of terrorist mastermind.  She’d joked (in a text to her sister) that she might fail her background check! She had done Internet searches on “How to make friends with the Taliban!” Worst of all, she had money in the bank, all cited as reasons to deny her bail. The judge-magistrate, Brian Epps, was persuaded enough that Winner’s still in county jail.  Still, Epps was open to Winner’s constitutional claims, and said he’d welcome the additional briefs.

Whether or not Epps eventually agrees that Winner’s confession should be suppressed, her trial will take place before a different judge, likely  not till the fall. But I’ll write here when that decision is reached, with news from the court of public opinion.

 

 

Notes from the road: my inner Smedley Butler

womenspa1981This morning, I get to pretend I’m 1/3 my age, when I didn’t think much of getting up early to ride halfway across the world for a good cause. (Above: 18-year-old me in Washington, D.C., at the 1981 Women’s Pentagon Action. I’d traveled there from Binghamton, New York.)

In this case, I’m catching a ride to Augusta, Georgia, with some fervent supporters of Reality Winner. And tomorrow, we’ll be in a courtroom on James Brown Boulevard, while Winner’s defense counsel argues that since the FBI  never informed her last June of her Miranda rights, none of what they learned that day should be admissible in court.

My housemate’s dad, a former Air Force JAG and Vietnam-era veteran,told me this was a law-school exercise, in earlier times. But those were times before the Patriot Act, the revival of Woodrow Wilson’s Espionage Act prosecutions. Before “9/11 changed everything,” meaning that some people lost their danged minds. Before Chelsea Manning could tell me, with a straight face, that she can’t comment on Winner’s case from her own experience, because that experience is now classified.

So is Winner’s experience, apparently, as explained at the Columbia Journalism Review: “Because the court has said her lawyers can only look at news reports containing classified information in secure facilities, they cannot even Google basic news stories from their office or discuss them with their client.”

Since I’m interested in Winner’s AF experience, I asked the PA folks at Fort Gordon if I could come for a tour, to see where she worked before 2015. I was referred in no uncertain terms to the NSA, which has come a long way since people whispered “No Such Agency.” Though it makes sense when you think about what Winner was doing back then:  helping plan drone strikes. I wonder if Winner’s lefty dad made sure she’d seen this video of Smedley Butler, famous for saying “War Is a Racket,” that he had been a servant of empire.

Butler had by then helped prevent a coup against FDR; I’m guessing Reality Winner might have felt a kindred spirit.

Right now, it’s time to summon my inner Marine, as well as that fearless girl who stood in the snow and cried at the Pentagon. More later, i hope.

reality winner and the politics of grief

What comes to your mind when you hear the name Reality Leigh Winner?

i asked on social media, and got a range of responses: including “Exploited mistaken fool” and “traitor.” No one mentioned anything on my list, but  that’s OK: The words that cram my mind are both predictable and self-contradictory. Power lifter?Millennial? Russia? Trump? “That’s really a name?” Veteran? Drone analyst? Prisoner?Defendant? Security clearance?

For now, I’m settling on two: Veteran and Whistleblower.   That’s Winner in the spring of 2017, when she came across evidence (since publicly confirmed) that the Russian government had successfully hacked into some U.S. voter registration lists. She was spending her days, as an intelligence contractor, facilitating drone strikes in the Middle East, which under Trump have escalated the number of civilian casualties. She was doing that job while she sought opportunities to do humanitarian work overseas, where she might make amends for that damage. Her interest in doing so is now seen by prosecutors as “anti-American,” of which another veteran said to me last night: “Hey, I’ve gone abroad, I’ve done humanitarian work. Am I anti-American too?”

Kerry Howley’s  amazing New York Magazine Winner profile  quotes her boyfriend, about her work on drones: “It was definitely traumatizing…You’re watching people die. You have U.S. troops on the ground getting shot at, you miss something, a bomb goes off, and you get three people killed.” I thought of Brandon Bryant, Heather Linebaugh, and Lisa Ling when I read that. (Those names should be familiar to readers of this blog, as well as from the films National Bird and the underrated DRONE.)

The 2017 leak attributed to Winner, published by The Intercept, had nothing to do with drone strikes,  but the connection is clear to me. If there’s reason to mistrust the president who’d have been her commander-in-chief had she not left the military in 2016, she found reasons for that mistrust in her job as a contractor . She likely knew enough about the whistleblowers I’ve covered here to sense that official channels didn’t exist for what she wanted: an open discussion of these facts.

Another keyword that occurred to me, largely from the Howley profile: grieving daughter. My father-in-law died last spring, giving me a front-row seat to my wife’s journey through the year after. Winner’s father died on December 21, 2016. She wrote in a letter to Howley, “I lost my confidant, “someone who believed in me, my anger, my heartbreak, my life-force. It was always us against the world … It was Christmastime and I had to go running to cry to hide it from the family.” If her FBI investigators had any emotional intelligence, they could have evaluated her rage-filled anti-Trump social media posts with that searing fact in mind, especially since December 2016 was also when the Trump campaign became our political reality.

Instead, they’ve approached her from day one as an enemy combatant, not entitled to Miranda rights or other Constitutional protections. Most recently, they responded to a motion from her attorneys by holding a private session with the judge and the Classified Security Officer, whose proceedings are too secret for you and me.

I wonder how that session will affect this month’s hearing in Augusta, Georgia, on that same motion. I plan on being there to find out.