Jury selection began this morning in a trial against protesters arrested inside the U.S. House of Representatives gallery this summer while demonstrating against funding for the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
The original group of 14 defendants arrested during the June 23 demonstration was later whittled down to five people. All of the protesters are representing themselves at trial, although their attorney advisers are First Amendment law veterans Ann Wilcox and Mark Goldstone, both solo practitioners.
District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher is presiding.
The demonstrators are charged with one count of disorderly and disruptive conduct on Capitol grounds. According to charging documents, one of the protesters allegedly stood up during the middle of a House session and began yelling “No relief for Guantanamo Bay” and other statements.
After that person was removed from the gallery by Capitol Police officers, according to filings, other demonstrators allegedly began “yelling loudly similar statements in reference to Guantanamo Bay” before they were also removed by Capitol Police.
The defendants are all members of Witness Against Torture, a national grassroots organization, and they see the trial as a chance to bring their cause to the public, said Witness Against Torture member Helen Schietinger, who is not one of the defendants.
With a jury, Schietinger said, “they might be found not guilty because they were required to do that by their consciences and by the fact that some of the things inside the [National Defense Authorization Act] were criminal and illegal.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Long and Peter Taschenberger are prosecuting the case.
The morning began with a decision by Fisher to admit new video of the incident taped by C-SPAN. Fisher denied the government’s request to admit the Congressional Record – a written account of the day’s sessions – from that day, however, saying that there was too much uncertainty over how it was prepared. Goldstone had argued that the Congressional Record can be altered and edited after the fact, and that it didn’t always match up with visual evidence of what happened in the chamber.
The trial is expected to last about two days. In addition to typical questions asked during voir dire, potential jurors will also be asked about their feelings on people who protest and about Guantanamo Bay.