11/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Supreme Law of the Land and Conscience Again Forced to the Back of the Bus

Despite the cogent efforts of eight peace and anti-torture activists charged with trespass a year ago, at the 2008 Republican National Convention, a court in St. Paul could not bring itself to admit evidence of the Constitution, binding treaties creating war crimes and the right of conscience embodied in the Minnesota Constitution. Blinders came down that nothing of this legal magnitude could be at stake in the small St. Paul courtroom last week.

At the time of their arrest, the eight were carrying messages, including a letter to President Bush, placards describing victims of the indiscriminate killing and copies of international and constitutional law documents concerning the illegality of the Iraq War as well as the illegality of torture. The city's assistant prosecutor insisted however, that the case involved nothing but the power of the police to control crowds and property rights. The judge readily accepted the prosecutor's argument that the issue of trespass was more important than the issues of international and constitutional law. (In other words, the type of narrow legal reasoning prevailed that could be used to convict Rosa Parks of sitting in the wrong seat on the bus without letting her argue the illegality of the wrongful, illegal racial discrimination that restricted the seating.) The prosecutor went so far as to generally paint "acts of conscience" and morality as being in opposition to the law. At one point he even declared that the law has nothing to do with right and wrong.

After being repeatedly cut off from explaining their intent to follow the higher "supreme law of the land," defendants provided these impressions of their often frustrating week in court.

As a result of not being able to give evidence as to how their "claim of right" negated any criminal intent to commit the crime of trespass onto the property fenced off for purposes of the RNC, the eight (named "the other RNC 8") were convicted. Defendants included a retired surgeon, physics-astronomy professor, Air Force veteran, nun, social worker, human rights workers and educators. The good news was that Conscience almost got its day in court! Through the defendants' and their attorneys' powerful closing statements (below), Conscience attempted to take its seat at the front of the bus.

The St. Paul Court chose the easy out, to take the small view. But the higher law is still out there. I predict that those who compartmentalize and are complicit with unethical, unlawful orders will ultimately discover that they are the ones with the guilty consciences.

Closing Statement of Defendant Pro Se David Harris, delivered in part on Sept. 17, 2009

You who are not on trial may not have noticed that we defendants in being sworn in all chose to take a secular oath, not to invoke the name of God. This was a mutual decision out of respect for our different belief systems. Many of my fellow defendants have spoken eloquently about their faith, and how it guides their actions. I have avoided this until now, because I believe that faith is a private matter. But I feel that it is important now for you to understand how my faith influences my behavior.

Like my fellow defendant, Joel Weisberg, I am Jewish. I was raised in an orthodox household and, as St. Paul said, "When I was a child, I thought like a child." That is, I accepted most of what I was taught unquestioningly. But, one of the best things about Judaism is that there is no Pope, no one who has the final word on what is right.

During my last year in high school, I began to grow up and question more. I read the New Testament, the Christian addition to the Bible, for the first time. When I read "The Sermon on the Mount", it was like being struck by lightning. Not only must you welcome the stranger, as in Judaism, but you must love even your enemies. Jesus teachings became inspirational for me. Of course, he went a little overboard when he said, "Be ye ... perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect." But he also displayed his humanity by saying, "Why do you call me good? Only my father in heaven is good."

So I decided for a time that I must become a minister and preach the Gospel. But I soon realized, while studying religion and history and politics in college, that I was much too ignorant to be preaching to others. My choice and good fortune at being able to become a physician enabled me to learn ever more about who we humans are, to see and talk with people who needed to trust me, because they were suffering.

When I was in Nicaragua some years ago (I have worked and traveled in Latin America about 23 times as a physician and as a human rights worker), I met two elderly nuns (very like my dear friends Betty McKenzie and Mary Vaughan) on a bus on a day when the newspaper reported that a 12 year old Nicaraguan boy had been killed by a land mine made in America. I asked them why such things happened, why is the world so cruel? One of them said she thought it was because we need new martyrs from time to time, because we forget. At the time, I was angry and felt this was a very unsatisfactory response. But maybe she was right. We forget easily, especially in an age of short attention spans where many of our children, lacking adult role models, are never taught in the first place.

The problem of human suffering, why we treat each other so badly, has been my preoccupation as well as my occupation all my adult life. I have read and reread the Biblical story of Job and comments about it by many writers, and I refuse to accept the premise that human suffering, or for that matter suffering of anything that lives, is a mystery in a whirlpool beyond human understanding. I believe that most of the suffering and cruelty around the world is the result of human actions, and I refuse to blame God for it. This means that we humans must stand up for those who are in pain, and this is a world in great pain.

We know what we must do. The Story of the Good Samaritan is the story about a stranger who came to the aid of his traditional enemy, a Jew, while the rabbis, busy with more important matters, walked past him. I believe that the Holocaust, where all of my wife's grandmother's Polish relatives were obliterated in the concentration camps, so wounded the Jewish survivors that they lost the long-held Jewish tradition of living in peace and projected their fear and hatred and despair into the formation of a new and militant nation, the State of Israel. I believe that it is the suffering of the Palestinian Arabs, at the hands of people of my own faith tradition, that must shame and ultimately redeem the Jewish people. I also believe that it is the suffering of poor and disempowered people around the world that must be recognized by we who live in relative wealth and security. I believe that building walls, whether in Israel on the West Bank or in the United States in gated communities or along our southern border, will not bring us security. I believe that economic and military action, whether under former President Bush in Iraq or under President Obama in Afghanistan, can never make us safe.

I believe, as my hero Martin Luther King, Jr. said shortly before he was murdered, "The greatest perpetrator of violence in the world is my own government." We will find safety and security when we learn to love our neighbors, to be responsible for those who suffer, to renounce violence as a way of solving problems and disagreements.

This is a moment, an opportunity, not only for us the defendants, but for all of you listening, Your Honor, Judge Wilson, Mr. Prosecuting Attorney, people in the jury box and people outside the jury box, to help communicate our ultimate message which we tried so hard to deliver on August 31, 2008, that war and violence are wrong, that truth and justice and love must become our guiding lights. And if we are found guilty by defining the law narrowly, it will not be the last chance for you or us to think further about the meaning of our existence and to work for a better world.


Court File Nos. 62-CR-09-1776

State of Minnesota,


Jeanne M. Hynes,
Joshua D. Broiller,
Joel M. Weisberg,
Elizabeth A. McKenzie,
David L. Harris,
Stephen D. Clemens,
Daniel R. Pearson, and
Mary A. Vaughan


Judge Edward S. Wilson, Presiding

Closing Argument Delivered to the Jury in Trial on Thursday 17 September 2009 by Kirk R. Lund, Attorney-at-Law, Representing Defendants Jeanne M. Hynes, Joshua D. Broiller, Joel M. Weisberg, Daniel R. Pearson, and Mary A. Vaughan

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury:

We sincerely thank you for devoting a week of your valuable time to this case and for listening to the Defendants' testimony.

Every Wednesday morning for the last 13 years at Alliant Tech Systems, a local weapons merchant, vigilers have displayed a sign asking two simple questions: "Who Profits?" and "Who Dies?"

I ask you: Will we ever hold our political officials accountable when they 'lead' our nation into an illegal and immoral war?

The Defendants in this case have testified that their intent on August 31, 2008 was not to trespass - not to commit a crime - but to deliver a message to President Bush and to engage in a dialogue with the delegates to the Republican National Convention [(RNC)].

The Defendants have testified that they communicated to law enforcement officials prior to their actions at the RNC that they were steadfastly committed to non-violence in all of their actions. And the Defendants have testified that they crossed the fence at the RNC with a reasonable, good faith belief that they had a right to be on the property pursuant to International Law, as applied through the Article VI Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution - that they had a "Claim of Right" to be on the property.

Judge Wilson has instructed you that acting without a bona fide "Claim of Right" "that permission is given to the Defendants to be on the premises" is an element of the crime of trespass under Minnesota law, and that the burden is on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendants acted without a bona fide "Claim of Right" at the RNC.

Judge Wilson has also instructed you that, if the state fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendants acted without a bona fide "Claim of Right," then you must find the Defendants NOT GUILTY.

Judge Wilson has further instructed you that a bona fide "Claim of Right" can be based on a "statute, rule, or regulation."

The Defendants have testified that, under the Article VI Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Treaties and International Law are given the status of "supreme Law of the Land," and that the Judges of all states are bound by Treaties and International Law.

The Defendants have testified that their "Claim of Right" to be on the premises is based on Treaties and International Law, as applied through the Article VI Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Defendants have testified that the Nuremberg Principles must remind us that we cannot hide behind local or national laws as an excuse to ignore the commission of "War Crimes" and "Crimes Against Humanity" by our government, military, and corporations.

The Defendants have further testified that the International Committee of the Red Cross, designated by the United Nations to enforce International Humanitarian Law - the Laws of War, calls on "national courts and public opinion" to assist in the implementation and enforcement of the Laws of War.

Unless local and national authorities properly enforce International Law through the U.S. Constitution, those U.S. citizens who have educated themselves about International Law, like the Defendants in this case, have a responsibility to take non-violent action to help bring the illegal and immoral policies and actions of our government to the attention of the public.

To remain silent and NOT do all that is non-violently possible to stop the war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by our government would be negligence, and would amount to complicity with these crimes.

The Defendants have testified to taking many prior actions to oppose the illegal war in Iraq, including marches, writing letters to elected officials, and giving public educational talks about the war.

In order to inform their own actions, the Defendants have asked themselves the question, 'What do we wish the German people would have done when war crimes and crimes against humanity were being committed by their government before and during World War II?'

Would we REALLY have been arguing about property rights if citizens of Germany had, quote "trespassed" at Auschwitz in an effort to stop the heinous crimes being committed there?

Many national leaders try to shield themselves from those who would challenge the legality and morality of their policies and actions.

Erecting iron fences at the RNC in order to shield themselves from dissent was an act of cowardice and complicity with the war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by the U.S. government.

Property rights should not outweigh the rights of humanity to be protected from indiscriminate weapons and from torture.

Property rights are NOT more important than Human Rights.

We CANNOT afford to act like 'good Germans' and say that 'we didn't know what they were doing.' As German Pastor Martin Niemoeller said about the Nazis' actions during World War II, "First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not Jewish, so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."

No one is free while others are oppressed.

There are no, quote 'winners' in this case until all of us can work together to rid our world of indiscriminate weapons; to stop illegal and immoral 'wars of choice;' and to end the scourge of torture.

You can help us start now - today, - here in our own backyard, - here in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The Defendants here have spoken. Now it is your turn to add your voices on behalf of the voiceless civilian victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity - on behalf of those people whose screams while being tortured have been drowned out by fear-mongering and blind patriotism.

It is your duty here today to do justice and to listen to your own conscience. Thank You.

Pre-Sentencing Statement of Defendant Pro Se Steve Clemens, Sept. 17, 2009

I stand convicted of a crime. Everyone here knows that this case was not about simple trespass. There would have been no arrests had this not been about war, torture, and other gross violations of human and civil rights.

Our real crime is in challenging the dying empire, pointing out that the "emperor has no clothes". I have chosen to say "No!" with my body and spirit - to all the war-making, the domineering swagger of greed, the priorities so out of whack that we spend $50 million on "security" for the RNC - to protect what Dorothy Day has called "this filthy, rotten system."

I do not pride myself as a lawbreaker but rather one who has chosen to understand that there is a hierarchy of laws -some are clearly more important than others and must be given more weight and consideration.

The Court tells us it is the arbitrator of the law. It decides what can be spoken or not. Ultimately, for me, our laws should be contracts among ourselves, to allow for the human spirit to flourish rather than to squelch conscience and creativity.
I stand before you today as a naive optimist. I always come to trial with the hope that we might turn away from a course of domineering and instead look for a course of mutuality and compassion. Much of our society is caught up in fear. I choose to act in hope -hoping that we can choose a new way.

When I did the crime, I was willing to "do the time". I still am. I ask you to sentence me to jail for my act of resistance to war. To pay a fine is a tax on my conscience. I've done my "community service" by raising my voice and nonviolently acted to stop war and torture. If you feel the need to hide behind an insignificant law when a crime that is described as "the supreme war crime" continues to be committed, then please send me to join those others who have been marginalized by this system.

Martin Luther King reminded us one year before his martyrdom:

"Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours. " ...
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."