activist Phan Nguyen

Subpoenaed activist Phan Nguyen

Courage to Resist. January 31, 2007

After surrendering earlier this week on subpoenas intended to force journalists to testify against Lt. Ehren Watada for his critical statements of President Bush and the Iraq War, the Army today dismissed subpoenas targeting three anti-war activists as well.

In December Olympia, Washington anti-war activist Phan Nguyen, and Veterans for Peace (VFP) Seattle Chapter organizers Tom Brookhart and Gerri Haynes were placed under order by the U.S. Army to appear for the prosecution in the case of U.S. v. Watada.

Activists were under order to help prosecute public speech

Tom Brookhart and Gerri Haynes came to the attention of Army prosecutors for their role in organizing the VFP National Convention in August where Lt. Watada was a keynote speaker. The Army has charged Lt. Watada with “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” for the content of that presentation . Specifically, Lt. Watada comment that “to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it.”

Phan Nguyen, a member of the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace, was the moderator of a number of press conferences and rallies last summer in support of Lt. Watada. Nguyen introduced the pre-recorded video of Lt. Watada’s initial statement against the war at a June 7 media event.

That video statement is the basis for the other remaining “conduct unbecoming” charge against Lt. Watada. “The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people with only limited accountability is not only a terrible moral injustice, but a contradiction to the Army’s own Law of Land Warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes,” explained Lt. Watada.

Port Olympia

Top: Styker convoy in Olympia WA May 06, photo by Sandy Mayes. Bottom: Resistance 5/30/06, photo by Carrie Lybecker.

When Army prosecutor Captain Kuecker first contacted Nguyen in December all of his questions focused on the behind the scenes workings of the regional anti-war movement. “Kuecker basically demanded that I name the names of any key organizers that had anything to do with the public support campaign created to support Lt. Watada,” explained Nguyen. “They are clearly on a political fishing expedition. Unless we fight back, this could have a chilling effect on anti-war organizing at a time when we have to step up to end the war,” he later told a Tacoma press conference on January 3.

From Port Olympia anti-war blockade to Army witness?

Last May, Nguyen had been a supporter of the mass civil disobedience at the Port of Olympia where activists attempted to block Fort Lewis-based Stryker units for shipping out to Iraq by simply placing their bodies in the streets. The “Port Militarization Resistance” group at the time declared, “Just as soldiers have a responsibility to disobey unlawful orders, we have a responsibility to refuse to cooperate with the American Empire.” 37 were arrested, but international news coverage inspired people the world over that some in America had yet to surrender to endless war.

A couple of weeks later, Nguyen heard that a local solider—an officer no less, and from that same Fort Lewis Stryker Brigade—had decided that he would “refuse illegal orders” to go to Iraq. Nguyen jumped at the chance to help. Up until this morning, Nguyen faced the choice of helping the Army prosecute that soldier, or possibly spend six months in prison in contempt of a military court if he refused.

Army dismisses all remaining subpoenas

After receiving a brief email this morning from the Fort Lewis Witness Liaison Office stating that, “the government will no longer need your testimony,” Nguyen contacted Army prosecutor Captain Kuecker to verify that they had indeed backed off. Kuecker told him that “this must be a relief to those subpoenaed” and that he “never really wanted to compel us to testify,” commented Nguyen.

“The subpoenas of activists were ridiculous from the start, as ridiculous as charging Lt. Watada for reiterating what every clear-thinking person already knows — that the war on Iraq is illegal and immoral. It must be difficult for the prosecution to do battle with common sense,” added Nguyen today.

In discussing her own victory in leading a campaign that forced the Army to drop the subpoenas of reporters earlier this week, independent journalist Sarah Olson noted, “I am glad the growing number of dissenting voices within the military will retain their rights to speak with reporters. But I note with concern that Lt. Watada still faces prosecution for exercising his First Amendment rights during public presentations.”

The Army will attempt to prosecute these two charges of public speech without the help of anti-war activists. Lt. Watada will face two years in prison for “missing movement,” and another two years imprisonment for public comments critical of President Bush and the Iraq War when his court martial begins February 5 at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Report by Courage to Resist organizer Jeff Paterson