Activist Dan Choi was wrestled to the ground by MPs and thrown off the base at Fort Meade, where he was to attend the trial of Bradley Manning. Choi, who went with Pentagon Papers leader Daniel Ellsberg to the trial, has now been banned from the courtroom, and must stay off the base for at least 24 hours.
Choi, in an interview after the incident, said that he picked up Ellsberg and went to the front gate at Fort Meade, where he was stopped for 10 minutes. The base officials at the front gate apparently had a problem with him wearing his uniform onto the base. “They said, ‘you don’t have the right to wear the uniform,’ and I said I did, I was honorably discharged and I have the legal right to wear this uniform,” said Choi, who was discharged initially under the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy after coming out publicly in 2010.
Eventually, officials let him through, apologizing to Choi, and he and Ellsberg passed security and made it through to the courtroom. Moments before the trial was to resume, Choi spied a military member he identified as Staff Sergeant Leo, who Choi claimed had been giving him dirty looks before. “I said to him, ‘Hello, staff sergeant, how’s your dog.’ He ignored me, and then the marshal told me I was heckling,” Choi said.
The marshal (named John, according to Choi) and a Major Sides told Choi that someone else was tossed from the courtroom for heckling, and that he could not do that. Choi protested that he was not heckling, and that he sat through the entire trial the day before without saying a word.
Finally, the marshal told him to get out. Choi replied that they were in a contained area and he could not leave. At that point, MPs pinned Choi to the ground, ripping off his rank. Choi tweeted a picture of this from his Twitter feed. He was handcuffed and told he would be charged with assault and resisting arrest.
“I asked, what’s the charge? I will obey the order you give me, even if I don’t agree with it, but you have to charge me with something,” Choi said. The marshal responded that they would use the “same standard” they used on the heckler from earlier, banning him from the courtroom and keeping him off the base for at least 24 hours.
After a period of argument, the marshal decided not to charge Choi, but to throw him off the base. They never had him sign an affidavit or a sworn statement. Ellsberg remained at the trial, and Choi complied with the order. He said that his hand was numb from “excessive force” and the handcuffs.
Choi went to the Manning trial because “soldiers stand up for integrity, and if the code of ethics and army values are important, then we should support Bradley Manning.” He added that Manning’s actions were not only in the interest of his unit, but also in the interest of the country. “He believed that our country as a whole needed to have integrity. The law of land warfare say that if a soldier sees a crime — a rape or a murder — it’s their responsibility to report it. As I udnerstood it, he brought it up to the chain of command. The chain of command knew about it, and they were the ones who were in violation of the law of land warfare. To not report it is to be complicit. He was the only soldier in the chain of command to do the right thing, so that’s why we have to support him.”
I contacted the public affairs office at Fort Meade looking for their side of the story. They have not yet responded. When I receive a comment from them, I will update this post.