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OpedNews Journalist and Six Protesters Charged With Criminal Conspiracy After Arrest at "Army Experience Center"

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Philadelphia, PA, September 13, 2009: Six members of various anti-war groups, including World Can't Wait and Military Families Speak Out, and an OpedNews journalist, were arrested on Saturday, September 12, 2009, at approximately 3pm (ET) at a protest organized to shut down The Army Experience Center, located in Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia, PA. They were released early Sunday morning and charged with Criminal Conspiracy and Failure To Disperse. Their arraignment is scheduled for September 23, 2009 at 11:30am (ET) at Philadelphia Municipal Court, 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia.
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Photo by Rob Kall: Protester arrest outside Army Experience Center. Cheryl Biren (OpedNews) in foreground photographing event.

Those arrested included Debra Sweet, National Director of World Can't Wait, and Elaine Brower, of Military Families Speak Out, whose son was deployed three times to Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Brower:

The AEC is giving guns to 13 year olds, drawing them in with violent video games. As more and more Afghani civilians and US military are being killed in the US occupation of Afghanistan, we're saying NO to these wars. We've got to stop the flow of youth into the military where they're being used to commit war crimes in our name.

Also arrested with Sweet and Brower were protesters Sarah Wellington, Joan Plume, Beverly Rice, Rich Marini and OpedNews' Managing Editor, Cheryl Biren, who was standing separate from those being arrested and photographing the arresting officers. Biren identified herself to police as a journalist, however they swiftly approached her and arrested her with the others. The six women were detained at The Roundhouse, the central police facility in Philadelphia, until their release at 5am Sunday morning.

After her release, Biren reflected, "How can press be prevented from recording news in the making? It's shameful. It's anti-democracy."

Earlier on Saturday, as part of the Army Experience Center protest events, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Christopher Hedges, author of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, addressed the crowd outside the Franklin Mills Mall.
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Photo by Cheryl Biren (in photo Celeste Zappala, Chris Hedges, Debra Sweet)

Hedges, a former war correspondent for several publications including the New York Times, has spoken openly of his aversion to war after spending years covering major conflicts in El Salvador, the Middle East, Bosnia and Kosovo. In advance of today's event, Hedges released the following statement describing his opposition to the Army Experience Center:

War is not a game. Weapons are not toys. The essence of war is death. The purpose of war is to extinguish all opposing living systems from the economic to the political, social, cultural and finally, familial. Those who entice children to play with mock weapons of war will never allow these children to see what these weapons do to human bodies. They hide from them the fundamental truth about violence and in this way socialize them to kill.

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Photo by Philadelphia Indymedia

On the eve of the eighth anniversary of the United States' invasion of Afghanistan, with President Obama's current escalation of military action resulting in increased American and Afghan deaths, the war on Afghanistan is quickly losing favor amongst Americans. The Army Experience Center is the military's most ambitious high tech effort to counter war disfavor and drum up army recruitment by instilling militarism and passion for weapons in impressionable youth.

This $13 million, 14,500-square-foot recruitment tool has drawn wide-ranging criticism for its extreme attempt to promote war through simulated games that show none of the horror and devastation of combat, but focus instead on the adrenalin rush of state of the art weapons of destruction.