It's time to stick up for journalism.
By Kathy Kelly
On July 10, 2014, in New York State, Judge David Gideon sentenced Mary Anne Grady Flores to a year in prison and fined her $1,000 for photographing a peaceful demonstration at the U.S. Air National Guard's 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field (near Syracuse) where weaponized Reaper drones are remotely piloted in lethal flights over Afghanistan.
Dozens have been sentenced, previously, for peaceful protest there.
But uniquely, the court convicted her under laws meant to punish stalkers, deciding that by taking pictures outside the heavily guarded base she violated a previous order of protection not to stalk or harass the commanding officer.
Mary Anne is a 58 year-old grandmother of three, from Ithaca, New York, where she is part of the Upstate Drone Action.
Since late 2009 this grassroots group has persistently raised awareness about the consequences of drone attacks in Afghanistan, the global epicenter of U.S. drone warfare. In December 2012, the U.S. Air Force revealed that U.S. drones had struck targets in Afghanistan 477 times during just the preceding year.
Hundreds have gathered in Syracuse for events the coalition has organized, including nonviolent civil resistance at the Hancock base.
Frustrated by the tenacity of war resisters willing to risk arrest, the commander at the base, Colonel Earl Evans, has sought and received an "Order of Protection Grant" -- a restraining order -- from the DeWitt Town judges, claiming that peace activists posed a threat to his personal safety as an individual when they protested there.
At first, the thought of such an order imposed on nonviolent demonstrators seems merely laughable. These orders of protection are typically used in domestic violence cases, against stalkers, or to protect a victim of (or witnesses to) a crime. How could a U.S. military commander, living in a fortified base, surrounded by advanced weaponry and the soldiers preparing to use it, be threatened by unarmed civilians like Mary Anne? She, like most of her companions in the coalition, has worked throughout her adult life to prevent bloodshed and killing.
But De Witt courts have upheld Colonel Evans's right to be protected from the peace activists, and so everyone covered by the Order of Protection who crosses the boundary (which isn't clearly marked) outside the military base risks being charged with contempt of court for violating the order.
Mary Anne had lingered for a few moments with the group she wanted to photograph to ask her sister, Ellen, something about the camera she was using.
During her court case and at her sentencing hearing, Mary Anne tried to help Judge Gideon understand that young people like the Afghan Peace Volunteers, with whom I'm now living, here in Kabul, are threatened by the drones. She and other coalition members have already presented the court with a letter from Raz Mohammed, an Afghan Peace Volunteer whose brother-in-law was killed by a drone, asking that the U.S. courts issue a mandate protecting him and his family from sudden annihilation by remote control.
In Syracuse, a probation department pre-sentencing report had recommended no jail time at all for Mary Anne, noting that she has been the major caregiver for her mother and that the infraction didn't warrant incarceration. But Judge Gideon worried aloud that if he didn't jail Mary Anne, she might thumb her nose at the courts and again risk arrest.
Judge Gideon has tried numerous peace activists in the De Witt Town Court for their actions protesting drone warfare.
"This has got to stop," he declared, in a moment of exasperation following an earlier court hearing.
It seems that he imposed this sentence on Mary Ann because he and other authorities want to deter activists from gathering peaceably to petition, as the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment phrases it, "for redress of grievances."
"I hope she feels proud," said Abdulhai, a member of the Afghan Peace Volunteers here in Kabul, when he learned that Mary Anne was sentenced to a year in prison. "She has a good heart. She thinks about other people far away."
At her sentencing hearing, Mary Anne told Judge Gideon that a series of judicial perversions brought her before him.
"The final perversion," she concluded, "is the reversal of who is the real victim here: the commander of a military base whose drones kill innocent people halfway around the world, or those innocent people themselves who are the real ones in need of protection from the terror of US drone attacks?"
Mary Anne has appealed her case, and a New York judge has released her from prison until the appeal is heard.