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Catholic Worker Activists Acquitted of NY Drone Base Protest

Acquitted! (Photo: Nuclear Register)

Acquitted! (Photo: Nuclear Register)

Five Catholic Worker activists have been acquitted of blocking the gate of a New York air base where US unmanned aerial drones are remotely operated.

The Nuclear Resister reports the five activists were acquitted earlier this week in DeWitt Town Court court of disorderly conduct charges in connection with a February 13 protest at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse. Technicians at the base remotely pilot Reaper drones on missions in the US-led war against terrorism.

Prior to the Ash Wednesday protest, Catholic Worker activists said the action was planned “to remember the victims of [US] drone strikes and ask God’s forgiveness for the killing of other human beings, especially children.”

The defendants, who represented themselves in court, asserted that their intention was to uphold, not break, the law. Drone strikes have been declared illegal by United Nations officials and human rights groups, and the UN is investigating the US for possible war crimes related to the killing of innocent civilians with weaponized drones.

Earlier this week, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released reports detailing how US drones strikes have killed many innocent civilians in Pakistan and Yemen. According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as many as 1,000 innocent civilians, including as many as 205 children, have been killed in as many as 395 US drone strikes against Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia– nations with which the United States is not at war– since 2004.

President Barack Obama, who last year claimed that drone strikes “have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” insists drones are a precise means of targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban militants without having to put American boots on the ground.

Judge Robert Jokl acquitted defendants Father Bill Frankel-Streit, Linda Le Tendre, Ellen Grady, Carmen Trotta, and Father Bill Pickard. The prosecuting district attorney objected, but Judge Jokl said he couldn’t find mens rea.

“We are happy to be part of a groundswell of opposition to the drones,” Trotta said following the defendants’ acquittals. “Ultimately, it seems [Judge Jokl] was moved by our consciences.”

“My hope is that dissent is once again welcome in the US and we turn away from killing to caring as a country,” Le Tendre added.

Grady said “we pray and will continue to act [so] that the children of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and all countries will some day soon be without the terror of drones or any wars.”

The Catholic Worker Movement is a collection of autonomous Catholics who “aim to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ.” The movement was founded in 1933 by socialist journalist and activist Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. There are more than 200 local Catholic Worker communities providing social services and engaging in social justice activism. The movement is known for its advocacy of nonviolence, as well as its opposition to wars and economic inequality.

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