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Taking on West Point

Taking on West Point is like taking on a mountain. West Point is the most prestiguous military installation in the country. Located about 50 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River, it is certainly the premier institution in Orange County. As a high-visibility military institution, it's not just a training ground but a college campus and cultural center. It attracts well known government officials who use graduation ceremonies to articulate policy. It also attracts anti-war protesters when people like Vice President Cheney address graduating cadets.

Over the last few weeks I have (without charge) handled an emergency lawsuit on behalf of anti-war protesters who want to protest Cheney's graduation address, scheduled for today (May 25). Everyone knows that when presidential administrations speak at West Point, they use it as a bully pulpit to promote their war policies. George W. Bush unveiled the pre-emptive war doctrine at West Point graduation in 2002. God knows what the attack dog in the Vice President's office will say today. Thanks to some recent court rulings, Cheney will say whatever he wants without any opposition.

In the past, anti-war protesters marched outside of West Point, in the neighboring village. There was never any violence or disorder. This time around, because Cheney was speaking at commencement, they wanted to march inside West Point, around a large field about three quarters of a mile from the football stadium where Cheney will tell future military officers that the Iraq War is central to our existance as a democracy and that the war critics are full of shit and hate America. Of course, he won't put it quite that way, but there's no telling what this ideologue will say in order to rally the troops.

You know that the protesters would have been on their best behavior if they got to march on West Point property. But West Point told the war protesters that they can't march there, so we filed the lawsuit on May 15, 2007. The judge decided not to take West Point at its word that the march would interfere with security so he scheduled a trial on the issue for May 17, 2007. We were optimistic -- rarely do the courts actually agree to hear evidence on an issue like this. Courts usually just throw out lawsuits challenging military speech policies on the theory that protests at military installations threaten soldier loyalty, security, morale, etc.

In the end, the trial judge agreed wholeheartedly with West Point's theory that the march on graduation day would strain West Point security, and the court actually speculated that anti-war marchers create special security concerns even though West Point invites over 20,000 people to watch graduation in the football stadium, in close proximity to Dick Cheney. But the judge left open the possibility that West Point might have to allow a protest march on some other day with fewer security concerns. While the military gets the benefit of the doubt in censoring speech, the judge reasoned, that doesn't mean West Point can always deny permission to march out of hand.

A few days later I was in the Court of Appeals, asking the panel of three judges to reverse the trial court and allow the march to proceed inside West Point. Most lawsuits don't move this fast; cases get argued on appeal maybe a year after they are filed. But this was an emergency case and time was of the essence. Within 2 minutes of the oral argument, it was clear we would lose the appeal. The judges said flat-out that you can't have any protests at West Point and that the marchers have no wiggle room in claiming the protest was carefully planned in advance and would only last about an hour, far from Cheney and the graduates who probably would not even know the protest was taking place. Yesterday, two days after I argued the appeal, the Court of Appeals rushed out a decision upholding West Point's right to deny protesters the right to enter the property.

What does it all mean? It means that the people that I represented in court had the guts to take on West Point at a time when Cheney can no longer be allowed to spew his propaganda in support of a war disaster that has no end in sight and is killing American soldiers every day. It also means that while our society claims to support free speech and the right to protest, we really only give those values lip service. You can do whatever you want in the public square, but bring your message to the policymakers (like graduation, where policies are sometimes articulated for the first time) on hallowed ground like West Point and you are better off talking to a mayonnaise jar.

Here is the news article reporting on our loss at the Court of Appeals. My fatalist quotation in the article was this: "No other institution in our society enjoys the deference that the military establishment enjoys," [Bergstein] said. "There are things you can't do in our society, and protesting at a military institution is one of them. It's a shame because they invite Cheney and he can say whatever he wants."

Protesting Cheney at West Point would not have stopped the war, but it damn sure would have reminded everyone that more Americans than ever before oppose this war which continues to kill Americans and Iraqis and deplete the national treasury, not to mention increase the risk of another terror attack on U.S. soil.

It's hard to keep up with the continuous revelations about pre-war negligence and recklessness. Today's story is the classified report that predicted the Iraq War would have precisely the negative consequences that unfolded. Check out this bombshell, courtesy of ThinkProgress.org:

The U.S. intelligence community’s pre-war clairvoyance is notable. While there was originally no link between al Qaeda and Iraq, they accurately predicted how a U.S. invasion would ignite Islamic sentiment against the U.S., allowing terrorists networks like al Qaeda to resurge elsewhere and disrupt regional stability. Some highlights of the report:

“A stable democratic government in postwar Iraq would be a long, difficult, and probably turbulent challenge.?

“Al Qa’ida probably would see an opportunity to accelerate its operational tempo and increase terrorist attacks during and after a U.S.-Iraq war.?

“Rogue ex-regime elements could forge an alliance with existing terrorist organizations or act independently to wage guerilla warfare against the new government or Coalition forces.?

“A US-led defeat and occupation of Arab Iraq would boost proponents of political Islam and would result in ‘calls for the people of the region to unite and build up defenses against the West.’?

“Funds for terrorist groups probably would increase as a result of Muslim outrage over US action.?

But like several other reports, the Bush administration dismissed these predictions. “The committee also found that the warnings predicting what would happen after the U.S.-led invasion were circulated widely in government, including to the Defense Department and the Office of the Vice President.?

A news reporter asked Bush yesterday why the American public should deem him credible on the war. Bush answered, "I'm credible because I read the intelligence." Click here for the video.

That's bullshit. Bush does not read any of the intelligence. Cheney does. Cheney knew in pushing for war that it would increase, not decrease terror, and that "Al Qa’ida probably would see an opportunity to accelerate its operational tempo and increase terrorist attacks during and after a U.S.-Iraq war." But who cared? The administration wanted war so badly nobody cared about the consequences.

What I told the Associated Press is true. The military gets whatever it wants. It gets billions and billions of dollars to fight a war that never should have started and no one knows how to end. It gets a fresh supply of young American soldiers who can die tomorrow from a roadside bomb, and then it gets more young Americans to die, and when they die, even more Americans are sent to Iraq. It gets to promote its war policies without significant opposition. The war critics will be attacked as un-patriotic and un-American. But what's really un-American is the national policy -- recognized by the courts -- that makes it impossible to protest a horrific war policy at the country's premier military installation and institution.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 26, 2007 7:29 AM.

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