“Have you heard about the St. Patrick’s Four? Of course not. They aren’t going to tell you about the St. Patrick’s Four. The St. Patrick’s Four were four people from the Catholic peace movement who, on St. Patrick’s Day last year, poured their blood around at a military recruiting station in Ithaca, New York, and they were put on trial. And the jury refused to convict. It was a hung jury. So I’m hopeful about the future of this country based on the idea that people have a certain common decency and that when they learn the truth, the truth has a power that can overcome even the most sophisticated of propaganda machines that they government has and the media collaborate with.”
Howard Zinn, May 8, 2004, “The Power of the People,” The Progressive, May 8, 2004. This was Zinn’s speech to The Progressive’s 95th Anniversary Party.
Two years ago today, March 17, 2003, four peace activists in Ithaca, New York, poured their own blood on the walls, posters, windows, and a US flag at a military recruiting center in order to try to stop the imminent invasion of Iraq. They took action based on international law. Then knelt in prayer and waited to be arrested. Though one state court jury refused to convict them, today they face serious federal charges.
Last year the peace activists convinced nine members of a state court jury that their actions were consistent with international law. Daniel Burns, 43, Clare Grady, 45, Teresa Grady 38, and Peter DeMott, 57, all members of the Magnificat Catholic Worker community in Ithaca, admitted to the jury from the very beginning that they poured blood in the recruiting center in order to try to stop the war in Iraq. They testified they risked arrest in order to protect our sons and daughters in the military and to protect our sisters and brothers in Iraq.
The four argued that their actions were legal because the invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law. Because the United Nations had not approved the invasion of Iraq, the invasion was a series of serious illegal acts that constitute war crimes. And, under the Nuremberg Principles of international law, individuals have international rights and duties to prevent crimes against humanity which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state.
They further argued that if their actions were indeed illegal, they were authorized under the defense of necessity because the harm they caused was far smaller than the harm they were trying to prevent.
They talked with the jury about Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, and the Boston Tea Party. They reminded us, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, that everything done by supporters of Hitler in Germany was legal, it was only those who tried to stop him who were violating the law.
After twenty hours of deliberation, the jury locked up 9-3 to acquit them. As the jury was released, the crowded courtroom gave them a thunderous standing ovation. The power of the people to present their views about justice had prevailed over narrow law.
Later, the District Attorney announced he would not re-prosecute them, stating that he thought another jury trial would yield the same outcome.
Recently, however, the federal government jumped into the fray.
Last week the St. Patrick’s Four appeared in federal court in Binghamton, New York to be charged on four federal charges arising from the exact same action.
They are now charged with federal conspiracy “by force, intimidation, and threat” to impede an officer of the United States – a felony charge that carries punishment of up to six years in prison and a $250,000 fine. They are also charged with criminal damage to property and two counts of trespass, charges punishable by up to an additional 2 years in prison.
In his closing argument to the first jury, Daniel Burns asked the jurors to look at the defendants’ actions in context:
“The immediate context for the justice of our action is the Pre-emptive Invasion of the War of Iraq. An invasion opposed by the United Nations, opposed by most nations in this world, and founded on lies about weapons of mass destruction, and an invasion that has cost a billion dollars a day, hundreds of American sons and daughters, and thousands of our Iraqi sisters and brothers.
“Also we ask you to look at the justice of our action in light of the context of international law. Why was the invasion opposed by the UN and many of our allies? Because International law only allows an attack on another country in self defense or with approval of the UN security council – and we had neither. And The Nuremberg principles provide a legal defense for people seeking to prevent war crimes.
“No jury would convict 4 people of breaking and entering if they broke into a burning house to try to save a child. Here, the building was on fire – as Iraq is now, and we broke in to try to save our troops and the innocent Iraqis. We did not save them, but justice says we should not be punished for trying.
“So, we end where we started. We ask for justice. We ask for justice for the people of Iraq and our troops, We ask for justice for world peace. We ask for justice to say no to pre-emptive illegal war.”
On this St. Patrick’s day, as the war in Iraq continues, we can only hope that international law, and the law of justice, will have a chance to prevail in Iraq and in the US. We can also be thankful to the many people, like the St. Patrick’s Four, who are resisting the war in Iraq.
BILL QUIGLEY is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law. Bill is an advisor to the St. Patrick’s Four. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.