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October 9, 2015

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Judge delays decision in ‘Creech 14’ drone trial

Decision expected in January on trespassing case


Dave Toplikar

Carrying signs and singing, about 40 people gathered Tuesday morning on the north side of the Clark County Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas to show support for the so-called “Creech 14,” who went on trial later in the day on trespassing charges for their protest April 9, 2009, at Creech Air Force Base against the use of unmanned drones. The drones are remotely controlled at Creech to hit targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Click to enlarge photo

Dozens of demonstrators, including two in Mothers in Mourning costume, protest before Tuesday morning's "Creech 14" trial at the Clark County Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas. Fourteen people were arrested on trespassing charges on April 9, 2009, at Creech Air Force Base while protesting against the use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The drones are remotely controlled at Creech.

Creech Air Force Base

The real question at the heart of the trial — whether the U.S. should be using drones controlled at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada on bombing missions to other countries — never came up.

Instead, Judge William Jansen tried to keep the trial centered on one issue — were the 14 people who protested on April 9, 2009, at Creech breaking the law by trespassing?

After Jansen oversaw the four-hour bench trial Tuesday, he came to a conclusion: The so-called "Creech 14" case needed much more thought.

"This case has a lot more consequences than a trespass case," Jansen said. "... I want to make sure my decision is the correct decision."

Jansen told the packed courtroom that he needed to take about two to three months before he would render a written decision on the case. He set the date for that decision to be at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 27, 2011.

During the next few months, Jansen said he planned to go over the transcript of the somewhat unusual trial that took place in Las Vegas Justice Court.

Some of the issues he will ponder were raised in testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a member of President Lyndon Johnson's Administration, who brought up memories of social protests during the 1960s, including sit-ins at segregated restaurants in the South.

He'll also consider some of the arguments raised by Bill Quigley, a Loyola University law professor and legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, about why such actions to draw attention to government misdeeds may be justified and how it's important "to be on the right side" of history.

And Jansen will consider the testimony given by retired Army Col. Ann Wright, a former U.S. diplomat, as to the culture of the armed forces and how soldiers need to hear more opinions from outside the military to decide whether they want to follow what could be a illegal order.

Jansen will weigh that against testimony from the security officer at Creech AFB and a Nevada Highway Patrol officer, who said the protest group was read a warning to leave and when they didn't leave they were handcuffed and arrested on trespassing charges.

Those facing the misdemeanor charge are the Rev. John Dear, a Jesuit priest; Dennis DuVall; Renee Espeland; Judy Homanich; Kathy Kelly; the Rev. Steve Kelly, a Jesuit priest; Mariah Klusmire; Brad Lyttle; Libby Pappalardo; Sister Megan Rice, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus; Brian Terrell; Eve Tetaz; and the Revs. Louie Vitale and Jerry Zawada, both Franscican priests.

The day for the defendants began about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday outside Jansen's courtroom on the north sidewalk in front of the Clark County Regional Justice Center.

About 40 people from across the country gathered, holding signs such as "Thank G-D for Whistleblowers," "Drone Attacks Kill People And Peace," "Ground the Drones, Lest We Reap the Whirlwind," and "Put Drone Warfare on Trial."

Jim Haber, coordinator of the Nevada Desert Experience, said the goal was to bring attention to the issue of the use of drones. It is true, that fewer U.S. soldiers are killed by the use of drones, said Dear, a Catholic priest from Santa Fe who is one of the defendants.

"But some of the reports are that up to 90 percent of the victims are actual civilians," Dear said outside the justice center. "I'm saying, in the long run, we are turning many millions of people around the world against the United States."

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