Statement before Judge G. Mallon Faircloth, who sentenced me to 3 months in federal prison after I pled not guilty but stipulated to the facts of a charge for a November 22, 2003 entry onto Fort Benning, an open US military base in Columbus, GA.
Columbus, GA January 26, 2004
I’m fortunate to have been influenced by the life and witness of some extraordinary individuals, many of whom have appeared before you in court, several of whom are now co-defendants.
Their witness in this court has been valuable, constituting a rich and sad drama.
It’s important to continue bringing before this court testimony from or about those who can’t appear, people whom we’ve met when visiting places directly affected by US expenditures on military training and military solutions. Quite often these solutions are based on threat and force, rather than considerations of mercy and compassion.
A report in the London Observer yesterday quotes US Armed forces medical personnel warning that 20 percent of the veterans returning from Iraq will suffer post traumatic stress disorders -already 22 soldiers have committed suicide.
Families of these soldiers, whose arms will ache emptily for loved ones that will never return, can, I believe, find understanding in the families of others far away from the US who similarly feel bereaved.
In 1985, very aware of Joe Mulligan’s and Bernie Survil’s work, I traveled to San Juan de Limay, in the north of Nicaragua. Children there were radiant and friendly, many of them too young to understand that during the previous week US funded contras had kidnapped and murdered 25 people in their village. Later that summer, I fasted with Nicaraguan’s Foreign Minister, himself a Maryknoll priest, and listened to stories pour forth as many hundreds of Nicaraguan peasant pilgrims vigiled and fasted in the Mon senor Lezcano church to show solidarity with the priest-minister’s desire to nonviolently resist contra terrorism. Rev. Miguel D’Escoto urged us to find nonviolent actions commensurate to the crimes being committed. This experience gave me reason to believe that the US could have used negotiation and diplomacy to resolve disputes with Nicaragua.
The Christian Peacemaker Teams maintained a steady presence in Jeremie, in the southern finger of Haiti, throughout the time when the US had determined it was too dangerous for US soldiers to be there. In 1995, I was there for the three months just before the US troops returned. Throughout this stretch of history, the US spent more money on troop movements, equipping troops, training troops, –than it spent on meeting human needs. The Commandant of the region, Colonel Rigobert Jean, commented publicly that he was “ashamed and embarrassed that it was left to the ‘blans’ (Creole for foreigners) on the hill to preserve peace and security in the region.” He was referring to our five person team. Again, I had reason to believe that unarmed peacemakers could be relied on to create greater security in areas of conflict.
Indelibly marked in my memory from that summer are the Creole words that children could no longer suppress as evenings drew to a close and they longed for adequate meals. “M’gen grangou,” I’m hungry.
More recently, in Iraq, during the US bombing in March and April of 2003, I saw how children suffer when nations decide to put their resources into weapons and warfare rather than meeting human needs. All of us learned to adopt a poker face, hoping not to frighten the children, whenever there were ear-splitting blasts and gut wrenching thuds. During every day and night of the bombing, I would hold little Miladhah and Zainab in my arms. That’s how I learned of their fear: they were grinding their teeth, morning, noon and night. But they were far more fortunate than the children who were survivors of direct hits, children whose brothers and sisters and parents were maimed and killed.
Judge Faircloth, we have experienced and seen the deadly effect of US military policy on mothers and children, on families. We have held the children and tried to comfort them under bombs.
It is because of these experiences that we feel so strongly. And this is why I’m willing to go into the US prison system and experience again, as we have before, the suffering of all of these women who are being separated from their families in the American prisons. It’s important to hear the voices of women trying to comfort their own children over the telephone, children they won’t see be able to hug and cuddle, –I remember my friend Gloria, in the prison telephone room: “Momma’s gonna tickle your feets, oh baby, momma’s gonna tickle your feet, you momma’s baby.” Gloria and many thousands of other mothers locked up in a world of imprisoned beauty would never tickle their baby’s feet, because they’d been sentenced to mandatory five year minimums.
Sometimes I think we face a wilderness of compassion in this country. But when I think of the many voices that have tried, in this court, to clamor for the works of mercy rather than the works of war, I feel at home, I feel grateful, and I feel a deep urge to be silent and listen to the cries of those most afflicted, -their cries are often hard to hear-but when we hear them, we’re called, all of us, to be like voices in the wilderness, raising their laments and finding ourselves motivated to build a better world.