Acting Like a Patriot

The tenth of July 1995 was the tenth anniversary of the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior by the French government. The RW had been protesting French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. Fernando Pereira was killed. In 1995, the French were again testing nukes in the Pacific and Greenpeace had been holding a protest vigil outside the French Embassy in Washington, DC.

On the morning of the tenth, I rode my bike through the neighborhood around the embassy, noting several buses full of uniformed Secret Service police. They knew Greenpeace was going to mount a major protest that day and they were ready.

What they weren’t ready for was that the protest occurred at the French ambassador’s residence, several blocks away, guarded by a lone Secret Service officer, who was just biting into his sandwich when several vanloads of activists emptied into the street, hung a 400-foot banner on the ambassador’s fence and began to lock themselves down.

By the time the main force of cops and cop commanders arrived, they were furious. They felt they’d been “shown up,” some sort of ego thing. As a result, the dozen or so of us arrested were given the treatment: strip-searched, restrained with manacles and belly chains, put into two-person cells with accused killers (all of whom, I must say, were cordial), taken out into driving rain at midnight, then placed in a freezing cold cell.

Let me say a few things here: I’ve never set out to “get arrested.” I know there are some (too many) angry activists, who seek arrest, who seek abuse by police officers and who wear these things like medals of honor. I try not to be one of those people. I’ve tried to use protest as a way of raising awareness to injustice, to recall people to human values I think we all share, regardless of our political differences.

The police officers I’ve dealt with in these protests are – usually – professional. We’re not there protesting them and they’re not there to torture us. Sometimes they tell me they agree with me, sometimes we politely dispute. Usually, things are on the up and up.

Which is why we knew the rough treatment was out of the ordinary. So we asked, “What’s up with this? Why are you doing this?” We got a straight answer: “We don’t think the courts are going to punish you for what you did, so we’re going to punish you while we’ve got you.”

The arrestees were a fairly veteran group, so we endured the hazing with aplomb (we had some sort of ego thing going ourselves) and as it transpired, the courts did not punish us. The case was thrown out because when the police arrived on the scene, they were so PO’ed they just started arresting people without giving us the chance to leave voluntarily. We would not have left voluntarily, so I suppose you could say we “got off on a technicality.” Those “technicalities” are called civil rights.

So, 16 years later, I suddenly feel the need to unburden myself? This all came to mind this morning as the Washington Post reported that federal prosecutors are dropping some of the charges against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake.

Mr. Drake, no hippie protester (nor am I, for that matter) tried to work through channels to warn the government that the NSA was developing a program that would violate citizens’ civil rights (and waste hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the process), while ignoring means to defend against terrorism, protect civil rights and save the government a bundle.

No one in government wanted to listen, so he went to the press. He was careful not to reveal classified information, but his house was raided, his papers and computers were seized and he was charged under the rarely-invoked 1917 Espionage Act. Today’s Post story is about the sorry state of the government’s case and how it appears the executive branch has been abusing its power for the past three years to harass Mr. Drake and ruin his career, at which it has been successful.

“We don’t think the courts are going to punish you for what you did, so we’re going to punish you while we’ve got you.” The cop who said that to me was a low-level uniform, the bottom rung of the executive branch. All he had to offer was 30 hours of discomfort and indignity. The decisions to ruin Thomas Drake’s life were made at the highest levels of government. He messed with the state security-industrial complex. Yes, he’ll be vindicated and probably pretty soon, but the message will have been sent to anyone else who might be thinking about acting like a patriot.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *