[for civil disobedience on the day of the trial of the Prince of Peace Plowshares] Webster Notes
Judge David M. Cohen, U.S. District Court (Maine)
NOVEMBER 7, 1997. 2 P.M.
[About a dozen members of the support community were present. They prayed together outside the Courthouse before and after the sentencing. John and two character witnesses all spoke without written notes]
Government: Mr S. stands convicted of a crime for which the maximum sentencing is 30 days. Government asks for 30 days. Reasons: Mr. S's conduct for which he stands convicted and throughout the proceedings his total disregard for the law. He refused to leave federal property, refused collaboration with pre-trial services; he showed complete disregard for this Court during bench trial; he refused to cooperate with the probation officer. His conduct is aggravated since he is a lawyer by training who in the past was an officer of the Court. This conduct distinguishes him from Mr. Reale, who got time served, five days. Mr. S.'s criminal history dates back to l977 for similar conduct. The Government does not expect that the 30-day sentence will further deter him from the conduct he has engaged in for the past 20 years. Nonetheless, the Government feels that to allow his conduct to go unpunished to the greatest extent of the law will send a message to others to violate the orders and procedures of the Court and the rule of law.
Judge: The Court has received a testimonial for Mr. S. From Mr. Lawrence Beeker(?) [The Government attorney and J.S. approach the bench to review the letter. ] The Court understands that the only outstanding issue is what the appropriate sentence is. Is there any other issue?
JS: It is worth pointing out, as a minor footnote, that I was denied public trial. One citizen came from my home town [Samantha Smith Veterans for Peace]. He was excluded as numerous citizens of Maine were repeatedly excluded in the proceedings of the Prince of Peace Plowshares trial, despite testimony that all the citizens have been throughout respectful. and do not present a security concern.
Judge: I just want to be sure there is no issue.
JS: I was denied public trial. Violating the right of trial is invalid.
Judge: You have the right of elocution before sentencing. I invite you to address the Court on the sentencing issue.
JS: I would like to hear from three people -- First, Sister Clare Carter; second, my wife; and third, myself. To be heard on the issue of sentencing as character witnesses, and particularly since the evidence of the crime introduced by the Government was the prayer drum -- a sacred object of the Buddhist religious -- that is central to the criminal conduct you judged took place on the public sidewalk, and I would like Sister Carter to speak about the prayer.
JS: That has nothing to do with the sentencing issue.
JS: It had nothing to do with refusal to obey an order. Yet you took this sacred object and confiscated it. It was introduced as evidence by the Prosecutor. Then you apparently wanted to touch it, desecrate it. Now you argue that it is not relevant.
Judge: I am indicating that it is not relevant to the issue of sentencing. You were charged and convicted with failing to leave federal property . . . For what purpose do you propose to call the second individual?
JS: I would like Sister Clare Carter to testify as a character witness. [Judge accedes]
Sr. Carter: [Greets Judge and JS. Starts intoning Buddhist prayer ] . . .
Judge: This is not what you are here for. This is not a forum for prayer or your views on any other matter. If you wish to make a statement about Mr S.'s character --
JS: Buddhists always pray before they speak. Have you no religious tolerance whatever? [Judge refrains from comment. Sr. Clare Carter proceeds respectfully with her testimony]
Sr. Carter: [Greets Court and JS, head and hands in Buddhist greeting. Stands side on to Judge and JS. Speaks briefly of her Order and its coming to the United States]. . . .
Mr. S. helped to construct the Peace Pagoda [shows picture] in Western Massachusetts. We have been on a number of peace walks and peace and justice witnesses for nuclear disarmament and interrelated issues . . . But particularly for the abolition of war and genocidal weapons. Mr. S. has spoken at our events many times. We have a very deep spiritual tie with him.
We feel that Mr. S. standing up -- in a general sense, spiritually and morally -- in this case with the prayer drum -- I should say he first connected with our Order in l976 on a walk for disarmament and injustice. He . . . . the drum at the time and met the founder of our Order. He has traveled to Japan since then. . . . We believe Mr. S. when he stands up as he does and raises his voice in witness and prayers and in this case with the prayer drum. It is, from our understanding, in perfect alignment with the faith and practice that we hold. We have the utmost appreciation of his undertaking this activity. I just wish I could have been here, too. I don't mean to say that in defiance. I mean to say it with spirit, that this is a time when we all must stand up. We have to somehow cut through all the forces that are holding us in fear. We must stand up as human beings, believing in the sacredness of life . . .
I testify on behalf of our Order which is an international order. We stand by Mr. S. and are deeply grateful for his witnessing that day in Maine. I don't believe you are intending disregard for Buddhism or the prayer drum. I do hope that you will return the prayer drum to Mr. S. [ Shows picture of the Peace Pagoda and picture taken in Auschwitz]. This is a picture taken in Auschwitz. Mr. S. was one of the people most responsible for organizing this gathering -- a nine-month pilgrimage two years ago from Auschwitz to Hiroshima. This is another context of his activity.
[Thanks Court. Inclines head respectfully to Judge and to JS].
JS: Next witness is Carolyn Frances Donahue Suchard.
Carolyn S.: [She stands side on to Judge and JS] I come today as a witness to the character of John Suchard, not only as his wife, but on behalf of the people who share in this auspicious moment. I have known John Suchard since September l980. I met him first in a courtroom where he was being arraigned for having entered the General Electric Plant at King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, along with seven other founders of the Plowshares movement. Having been a close friend of Daniel Berrigan since my teenage years and living near General Electric in the illusion that they were making lamp bulbs and 'bringing good things to life' [laughter], I was shocked out of the cloud of my unknowing when I went to that arraignment where a new movement inaugurated to protect life was honored by the sacrifice of eight brothers and sisters.
Throughout the l980s I continued my work in Pennsylvania. I lived every day in community with many people with mental retardation. A few months before I met John . . . . .
two Vietnamese, both refugees -- one who survived the famine in Cambodia, both sent out in boats in the night in an effort by their parents to protect their lives. Throughout the l980s, John came and went from our community on his path and pilgrimages, honoring the additional refugees that came to live in my family, deeply honoring and recognizing the gifts, the wonder, the needs and even the prophecy of people with disabilities. I visited John in prison. I was honored and deeply moved by my friendship with his sister and was deeply wounded by the event of her sudden death by automobile crash, and feel her presence here today. She was an artist who used art therapy for young people in order to protect life.
In l990, after a series of enormous events, John's paths which had led him with his sacred drum to walk, to stand, to pray in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Vietnam, Hiroshima, Nagasaki -- . . . . my path as a single mother of three children, trying to commit myself not only to the mentally disabled, but to those handicapped by the ultimate disabling condition of war. Our paths brought us to establish the House of Peace in Ipswich, Massachusetts, to offer physical refuge and spiritual shelter to victims of war and to try to offer spiritual nourishment to all those who would sacrifice themselves to avert the ultimate war. Our marriage occurred in a small chapel of that house -- Our seventh anniversary is in a few days. In our seven years as founders and parents of the House of Peace we have had some 35 young people representing about twenty countries, of whom 22 have been our sons and daughters -- from Vietnam, Haiti, El Salvador, Cuba, Iran, Albania.
Throughout these 17 years I have known and honored John, confided to him the care of my own three children with me, recognized his fatherhood to his own children -- all as a man of law, a man who cherishes the law beyond anyone I have known. . . . . . in community with all those who, in this same building last week, further witnessed their love and their cherishing of the law which is to protect life.
It is a very demanding life, to see the wounds of war as manifest in teenage kids who have lost everything. Many of the sons that we have raised in their first years in this country have witnessed the execution of their parents. It was John holding on to them in mighty storms of their life, coming by boat to our shores, that has seen them through. He is a man of law who honors the creator God of law, a man who cherishes the 23rd Psalm, says it often and knows that walking through the valley of the shadow of death we shall fear no evil.
I am not here to ask for any lighter sentence than a month's time. John fears not the reality of serving time, because he is part of a community that serves THE times in which we are living. Two nights ago with John we received into our home five more Bosnian refugees, many of whom make their way to us as their first stop into America. One is the sole survivor of the massacre of his family. Others carry the map of that complicated war on their faces. Last night we had a welcome dinner for them, although I knew it would be a farewell dinner for John. The English is halting, but they say, 'John Suchard, We will pray for you every day of our life.' There is no way I can communicate with them why we are here today . No image to offer them to explain why we are here today. But there is our daughter at home -- who was here for the trial of the Prince of Peace Plowshares. She knows. And she carries in her adolescent beauty the hope and the promise and the agonizing pain of why we are here today.
When John was arrested on the eve of President's Day in Kennebunkport his prayer that morning was a mighty calm. I have a concern for the people . . . . . . .
[RAN OUT OF PAPER AND ENVELOPE BACK AT THIS POINT! Mike Donnelly made a few notes. I made the following notes around the edges of a two-page printed article. Best I could do. -- MW]
. . . . I testify to his character as a man of law and a man of prayer. . . a man of word and deed. [ She ended by reading an extended quotation from Daniel Berrigan, beginning, 'Some stood an hour . . . . .']
JS: [Thanks the prosecutor for her words focusing on the law, and the judge for the opportunity to be heard.] . . . The study of the law, the practice of the law, concerns for justice have been a major part of my whole life. I can tell you that others have reacted as Paula S. [Prosecutor] has. It presents a troubling question. But if we look back at history -- at the courts which legitimized and recognized the genocide against Native Americans; legalized and legitimized, defended and protected the buying and selling of human beings; legitimized and enforced marshals, police, military, legal institutions in the effort to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe; legalized apartheid in South Africa -- that brings us to the greatest crime of human history -- which it is quite possible to miss. . . As a human being I didn't recognize it deeply until I faced . . survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was a blind lawyer, too, adept at stringing out gnats and swallowing camels . . . . With five days fasting in Auschwitz I realized it was both the law and Christianity that was responsible for the antisemitic hatred that led to the policies aimed at the extermination throughout Europe of every person of faith of that time. And I realized that no matter how much a person thinks they have known or read, or what films they have seen, or survivors -- the cruelty, the suffering, the massiveness of that crime against humanity will never, never penetrate deeply and far enough. In the mostly highly educated country of the time, in the system of laws, in a highly articulated legal system. . .
Paula S. [Prosecutor] I speak to you as a human being, personally -- You might study the law and I tried to present it to you -- the Geneva Conventions, the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Principles -- I didn't take it as a matter of course that you would do the bidding of the Pentagon . . . But like many prosecutors before you, you are no diffeent from the others who wink at the law. When I tried to present it to this Court, David Cohen, you would not accept it. So it is for us to ask ourselves when we are before a Government and before a judge who says the Nuremberg principles are not relevant in this jurisdiction, the UN Charter not binding -- who is holding the law in contempt? Who, after Auschwitz, anywhere on the face of the earth, would say the Nuremberg Principles were not central and applicable? How could this Court . . . where Peter Weiss traveled here (a survivor of the Holocaust. . .) and be treated by your court and this legal system with contempt and be sent back to New York, saying that he had nothing to say. . . not allow his testimony in a court of law? And on that ruling I knelt down in front of the Courthouse of this building and prayed into the heart of the law of righteous nonviolence.
The law has a voice. This Court has a voice. In this moment you stand under the law of Nuremberg, of the UN Charter, the US Constitution, of the Convention Against Genocide, as accessories after the fact to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, and Vietnam. And accessories during the fact of starvation of millions of people in Iraq . . . 40 percent of the children of Maine going hungry. A billion for an Aegis destroyer and no millions for the hungry. . . . . .
JUDGE: [The sentencing] . . . has nothing to do with your views or your right to speak them, to protest. You blocked the entrance to the Courthouse and refused an order to move from there. That is all this is about. Nothing more than that.
Judge Cohen sentenced John to 'time served,' payment of a fine of $100 within 20 days [paid by anonymous donor] and $5 fee. He said: I don't have any illusions about your willingness to abide by the law. I do not expect I will have any effect on your conduct. He explained not imposing the harsher penalty [30 days incarceration requested by Government] saying that 'by and large people are law abiding and recognize the distinction between expressing their rights and . . . , and that placing themselves with the effect of obstructing entrance to a federal building is putting themselves outside the law.'
You have the right to appeal . . . etc.