On September 19, 2006, George Bush spoke before the United Nations to defend the war in Iraq and the torture of detainees and the rest of his criminal program before the world.
Shortly after noon, nearby, right as Bush stepped to the podium to deliver his speech before the U.N. General Assembly, a line of anti-Bush activists stretched across 44th Street at 1st Avenue chanting "Arrest Bush" and "Bush is a War Criminal". Their statement said: “We have come to the United Nations today to engage in non-violent civil disobedience. We demand the war on Iraq end immediately. We oppose any attack on Iran. We declare to the world that President George W. Bush has been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He does not speak for us.”
The response was swift and vicious. Besides arresting all 16 protestors for disorderly conduct, two were targeted for more. Geoff Millard, a disabled Iraq war vet and member of Iraqi Veterans Against the War, his cane needed for walking taken from him by police, fell down trying to board the police wagon and received the additional charge of resisting arrest. Father Barrios, as was documented on video, was tackled from behind by a group of cops, who piled on and pushed his face into the pavement. And Father Barrios, the victim of this assault, was then hit with additional charges of felony assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. This injustice continued for another 7 months as the government proceeded to trial with this outrageous case.
On May 9th, after a 7-month legal battle, a NYC jury acquitted Father Luis Barrios on all major charges: “Not guilty” to assault charges and “Not guilty” to resisting arrest. Only the minor charge of disorderly conduct was upheld, for which the Judge ordering Father Barrios to pay a $95 fine.
The voice of Father Barrios is well-known to tens of thousands in the New York area. He is associate priest at St. Mary’s Church and minister of the Spanish-language church, Iglesia San Romero de Las Americas, head of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Department at John Jay College and is on the national steering committee of World Can’t Wait. In his regular bi-weekly column in the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario/La Prensa column near the time of Bush’s visit to the UN, he had called for Bush to driven from office and put on trial for his crimes.
Charges against 14 of the defendants were dropped early on and Geoff Mullard’s case was settled after 5 months. But despite numerous calls for the absurd charges to be dropped against Father Barrios, the prosecution insisted on pursuing the case against Father Barrios, making only one adjustment, reducing felony assault on a police officer to misdemeanor assault, a charge carrying a possible one year sentence.
Dozens of people came to each of Father Barrios’ court appearances, only to have the case repeatedly postponed and rescheduled. When the trial actually began on May 7th, supporters filled the courtroom, including NYC City Councilman Charles Barron. The Judge was keenly aware that the court was packed with supporters, mentioning it several times from the bench.
On the opening day, the defense attempted to introduce the printed “Bush Crimes Commission Verdict and Findings of Fact” which the defendants were attempting to serve on Bush at the UN at the time of their arrest. The prosecutor objected to this on the basis that the charges made against Bush were “hearsay” (in court, you are not supposed to be able to attribute statements to someone unless you actually heard him or her make those statements). The defense responded that whether the points made about Bush in the Bush Crimes Commission report were direct testimony or secondary “hearsay” was irrelevant here because, while Bush ought to be the one on trial here, that Father Barrios was the defendant. The DA was left to quickly cobble together a completely different argument to prevent the jury from having access to the Bush Crimes Commission report.
The main prosecution witness, a cop, claimed Father Barrios had intentionally kicked her, causing her injury and a miscarriage six weeks later. This was contradicted by video and other evidence. Father Barrios, in his testimony, acknowledged that he and the other defendants were there to take a strong moral stand and anticipated getting arrested. The claim that they were “resisting arrest” or assaulting anyone was ridiculous. As for “disorderly conduct”, as he put it in a recent interview, if bringing out that Bush is a war criminal is considered “disorderly”, then he is “innocent as charged”.
According to comments made by jurors afterwards, it only took them a few minutes to throw out the serious charges in the case.
A young student at John Jay College who was involved in the defense committee said, “I learned a lot from this experience. It inspired me to take responsibility for what is going on this country as a young person, the need to act. The need of the community to be present in cases like this. The need to defend our right to protest.”
And Father Barrios himself has refused to be silenced. He and a number of others from the defense committee came out to defend political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal at Mumia’s hearing in Philadelpha last week (see “Federal Appeals Court Hears Case of Political Prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal,” at revcom.us). In Philadelpha, he told Revolution, “Before we came up with World Can’t Wait I was part of ‘I Can’t Wait’. We can’t wait. We belief that impeachment is possible. We need to bring this man to trial.”~