Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2009, pages 60-61

Waging Peace

Iowa Activists Fined $10 for Ash Wednesday Occupation

  • Outside the Federal Building immediately after the seven activists were charged and released on the day of the occupation (Photo M. Gillespie).

A FEDERAL magistrate fined six Iowa peace and social justice activists $10, plus $25 court costs, following a trial on June 11.

The charges stemmed from an Ash Wednesday occupation of Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) office in protest of the senator’s support of Israel’s 22-day assault on Gaza in December and January.

In the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Magistrate Judge Celeste F. Bremer accepted guilty pleas from Ed Bloomer, 61, Frank Cordaro, 58, Renee Espeland, 47, Chester Guinn, 80, and Brian Terrell, 52, for “failure to comply with directions of a federal police officer.” The fifth defendant, Elton Davis, 47, was found guilty by Judge Bremer, after pleading “No Contest” to the same charge.

The six activists, along with a seventh, Sherry Hutchison, 90, were arrested on Feb. 25, 2009, for “interference of official acts.” Hutchison had pleaded guilty to the original charge and paid her fine earlier. All seven are Des Moines residents except Brian Terrell of Maloy, Iowa.

Immediately prior to the trial, federal prosecutor John Courter informed the activists that the original charge had been dropped for lack of evidence and they had been charged with “failure to comply.” The six ultimately pled guilty to that charge.

About 20 people occupied Harkin’s office for most of the afternoon of Feb. 25 to draw attention to Israeli crimes and the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. They urged Senator Harkin “to use his position and influence to demand an investigation of the embargo and occupation of Gaza and especially of the illegal use of U.S.-supplied weapons against civilians there.”

The group compared Harkin’s historic exposé of “tiger cages,” the inhumane prisoner detainment cells used by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, with the Gaza crisis. Declaring that “all of Gaza is a tiger cage,” they asked their senator to show the same conscience and courage on behalf of the people of Palestine.

After pleading, each defendant was permitted to speak to the court. Sentencing fines far below the suggested minimum of $125, Judge Bremer told the defendants, “I appreciate the strength of your convictions.”

Mona Shaw and Michael Gillespie