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Monday, September 11, 2006

Banned in Washington - Where’s the Free Speech? - by Ann Wright

So much for free speech in the nation’s capital and capitol. On July, 11, 2006 I was arrested for offering a citizen’s voice in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing against the nomination of one of the Bush administration’s architects of torture, William Haynes, former Department of Defense General Counsel (chief civilian lawyer) for a life-time appointment to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Yesterday, September 7, I appeared in the Criminal Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on charges of “Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct on the United States Capitol Grounds on July 11, 2006.” During that appearance, I was ordered by the court to “Stay Away” from the US Capitol, all Senate and House Office Buildings and committee hearing rooms and the streets surrounding the Capitol area.

The court papers state that I must abide by this order until my case is disposed of and that “any violation of this condition (order) could result in your prosecution for Contempt of Court, the revocation of your release and/or your detention pending final disposition of this case.” I was released on my personal recognizance but instructed in writing that “a warrant for your arrest will be issued immediately upon any violation of a condition of this release. And shall subject you to revocation of the release; an order of detention and prosecution for contempt of court (a fine of not more than $1000 or imprisonment not more than 6 months or both.)

Another paragraph said that “if you are convicted of an offense committed while released, you shall be subject to the following penalties: imprisonment of not less than one year and not more than 5 years if convicted of committing a felony while released; and imprisonment of not less than 90 days and not more than one year if convicted of committing a misdemeanor while released; such to be consecutive to any other sentence of imprisonment.”

All of these prohibitions are because I stated in the US Congress that I am opposed to torture and that the Congress should not confirm a person associated with the Bush administration’s torture policy. These court orders definitely curtail my ability to voice to the US Congress my concerns and the concerns of much of the American people about important issues they are considering, like the following the Congress will consider next week:

Bush’s demand that Congress authorize greater warrantless wiretap authority;

Bush’s demand that Congress agree to military tribunals where defendants can be tried and convicted without seeing the evidence; that classified evidence can be used with neither defendants nor their lawyers told about such information; that prosecutors could rely on hearsay or evidence obtained indirectly and evidence obtained by coercion if the panel’s chief deemed it reliable and directly related to the accusations;

Bush’s demand that Congress agree to keep CIA secret detention sites in other countries operational;

Bush’s demand that Congress confirm John Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations;

Don’t you believe these are issues that we the people must instruct our Congress on how we feel? Of course, you can call, write or email your Senators and Congresspersons.

But I like to go into the committee rooms and look our elected officials in the eyes and tell them what I think. It doesn’t take long to tell them because the Capitol police officer in the hearing room usually arrives at your side quickly when you speak out. When you speak out in a committee room, our elected officials, those who serve us, are left with a succinct statement of concerns about the issue. Hearings would probably be a lot better if the Congresspersons had the same police at their elbows demanding shorter statements!

I do understand that committees not take the time generally to hear from the public in their committee rooms; lobbying for an issue is done in the halls and offices. But, I think there is a role for a lightning comment—but it comes with the risk of being arrested for “disrupting” the hearing or at a minimum being escorted out of the hearing and later released.

Now that I am banned from the Capitol area, I hope others will come to the Congress and express their views. We the people must tell the Congress to be brave and courageous in these perilous times—now of all times, we need strong character and moral courage from our Congress. We the people must give them courage.

But tomorrow, Veterans for Peace is marching around the capitol area as a stop the war, treat our veterans right march. I am banned from the area. But what about peaceful, nonviolent marches? Are all rights withdrawn because one speaks out against torture?

Well, this has been a “banner” week for being banned. Besides from being banned from the Capitol area, yesterday the Commanding Officer of Fort Myer, VA denied my request for reconsideration of a one-year ban from Fort Myer, VA and Fort McNair, DC, a ban he ordered in May, 2006 after I placed a few 3”X5” postcards on Fort McNair concerning the limited showing in Washington, DC of “Sir, No Sir,” the documentary about GI resistance to the Vietnam war.

I had asked for a reduction to “time served” (two months that I had not been on the base-I didn’t know I had been banned as his letter went to my home in Hawaii and I only got the letter once I arrived there in June.). The Commander denied my request and commented that my conduct “clearly violated common standards of good order and discipline on a military installation.” As a US Army retired 29 year Colonel, I now am prohibited from entering the two military bases nearest to Washington, DC until May 25, 2007! I would say that’s quite remarkable treatment for a three decade veteran!

I am now banned from the Capitol area and from two military bases in the DC area as well as also banned for life (along with Codepink Women for Peace Medea Benjamin) from the National Press Club. In April, 2006 we dared to question to a Press Club speaker and were banned for life for our questions. The speaker was Senator Hillary Clinton and we asked why in her 50 minute energy policy speech she never mentioned the war on Iraq and Iraqi oil.

It surely seems that freedom of speech and the right to question our elected officials in our nation’s capital is a dangerously endangered right.

But that’s what its all about. If we don’t stand up for our freedoms, they will be taken away.

So in the spirit of they can’t take our country away from us, I will see you in Congress, the National Press Club and on the military bases---or in jail or detention camps!

You can’t ban speech and thought.

It is our country and they are our freedoms. Let’s take them back!

Ann Wright is a 29 year retired US Army Colonel and a 16 year US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.

Banned in Washington - Where’s the Free Speech?


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