Four peace activists who were arrested and jailed by Department of the Army Police at Wisconsin's Fort McCoy at an antiwar protest on August 9 are exploring possible legal responses to what they charge is their false imprisonment and various violations of posse comitatus laws that restrict the military from acting as civilian police.
The nonviolent protest commemorated the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Over 50 participants of the "Walk for Peace," a three day demonstration march, ended their march at the gates of Fort McCoy, a military training center which deploys National Guard units to Iraq and Afghanistan. Nine activists who carried their protest onto the base received citations for a federal petty offense that required them to appear in court at a later date. Normally the cited person is immediately released pending that later court appearance. But in this case, military authorities released only five of the nine and continued to detain four, telling them that they would be jailed because they had each been apprehended at previous protests at the Fort.
U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil told Wisconsin Public Radio that a glitch in communications between his office and military police at the base led to the four's jailing.
Representatives of Fort McCoy told the four prisoners, media, and public inquirers that the four would be held at the base until they were turned over to United States Marshals for transport to the Dane County Jail in Madison, WI. However, the four were instead held on the base for over three hours before being chained, loaded in a van by Fort McCoy police, and driven seventy miles to the Dane County Jail where they were incarcerated as "federal holds." The US Marshals' office in Madison claimed no knowledge of the four and had no record of their detention.
The four were released the next afternoon, 24 hours after being apprehended by Fort McCoy Army police. They never appeared before a judge. Jail guards told them that "Fort McCoy wired that they were lifting their hold" on the prisoners.
The incident raises many disturbing issues, according to the Mass Defense Committee of the National Lawyers Guild attorney Larry Hildes of Bellingham, Washington. He says the bizarre events in Wisconsin constitute a "virtual kidnapping." Hildes represents other activists around the country regarding a growing number of alleged violations of the Posse Comitatus Act. He says the Dane County Sheriff's Department "should have been asking a lot of questions" before accepting the prisoners delivered by Army police.
Joy First, co-convener of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance and one of the four, stated: "...the officials at Fort McCoy acted as judge and jury as they illegally detained us and took us to Madison to be held overnight in the Dane County Jail."
Another of the four, Bonnie Urfer of Nukewatch, sees parallels between Fort McCoy police treatment of the protestors and military policy regarding detainees abroad: "The four of us received just a small taste of what it feels like to be rounded up and punished by a military out of control and operating outside the law... In the U.S., illegal military detention should not be happening for any amount of time at all."
"What the US Attorney calls a ‘glitch in communications' is in reality a crime and a part of a larger pattern of illegal government activity that needs to be resisted on many levels," says Brian Terrell of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. "Wars of aggression and illegal occupations not only take the lives of civilians and soldiers without distinction, they also inevitably erode civil liberties and freedoms here at home."
More acts of nonviolent protest are being planned at Fort McCoy until all US troops are brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan, say the activists in information they provided.