Supporters celebrate when drone protester didn’t receive jail time at sentencing; a year or more was expected

Mark Colville with his family before sentencing.

Mark Colville with his family before sentencing.

Surprise Conditional Discharge for Hancock Drone Resister Mark Colville

Mark Colville, a Catholic Worker from New Haven, Connecticut, was sentenced on December 3 in DeWitt Town Court on 5 charges stemming from a protest at Hancock Air National Guard Base on December 9 of last year, when he and two Yale Divinity School students presented flowers and a People’s Order of Protection for the children of Afghanistan and their families at the guard gate. In a surprise decision, Judge Robert Jokl sentenced Colville to a 1 year Conditional Discharge and $1000 fine. He said that sending Colville to prison would not serve justice, nor would parole serve any good purpose, and he did not issue a permanent Order of Protection.

Colville was facing 2 years in jail on 5 counts, including Contempt of a Judicial Judgment and Obstructing Governmental Administration.

In his pre-sentencing statement, Colville said that he had come to the base in response to an “urgent, personal plea” by Afghan youth Raz Mohammad on behalf of his family. Mohammad’s brother-in-law was killed in a drone strike in 2008. Earlier today Mohammad wrote to Colville, “My sister says that for the sake of her 7-year-old son, she doesn’t want to bear any grudges or take revenge against the U.S. NATO forces for the drone attack that killed his father. But, she asks that the U.S./NATO forces end their drone attacks in Afghanistan, and that they give an open account of deaths caused by drone attacks in this country.”

In his pre-sentencing remarks, Attorney Jonathon Wallace said that the law is like a sail; that without the wind of public morality, it is nothing more than a pile of cloth on the floor. Colville called out the judge, saying that nothing will change until someone sitting in his chair decides to apply the laws that are there to protect the innocent.

Colville’s protest is part of a worldwide nonviolent movement against the use of weaponized drones. On July 10, 2014, Mary Anne Grady Flores from Ithaca was sentenced to a year in prison for violating an Order of Protection. She is currently free on appeal. Jack Gilroy from Binghamton was just released after two months in jail for his nonviolent protest on April 28, 2013. He faces three years on probation. On December 10, Julienne Oldfield of Syracuse will be tried for her act of civil resistance at the same April protest. There are 11 more trials scheduled for Hancock protesters in DeWitt between now and next July.

Hancock Air National Guard Base is a training site for pilots, technicians and sensor operators. Heavily armed Reapers piloted at Hancock fly lethal missions over Afghanistan and possibly elsewhere. Hancock pilots also fly test flights from Fort Drum over Lake Ontario. Upstate Drone Action has been protesting the Drones at Hancock Base since 2009 with bimonthly vigils, annual rallies, educational events and nonviolent civil resistance. For more information go to

Read the article by Sean Kirst here.

Listen to Mark Colville’s interview on Democracy Now! here.


Judge Jokl:

I am standing here before you tonight because I tried to intervene on behalf of a family in Afghanistan whose members have experienced the unspeakable trauma of witnessing loved ones being blown to pieces, murdered by hellfire missiles fired from remote control aircraft like those flown from the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Airbase. I stand here, under judgement in this court, because a member of that family, Raz Mohammad, wrote an urgent plea to the courts of the United States, to our government and military, to stop these unprovoked attacks on his people, and I made a conscientious decision to carry Mr. Mohammad’s plea to the gates of Hancock. Make no mistake: I am proud of that decision. As a husband and father myself, and as a child of God, I do not hesitate to affirm that the actions for which I stand subject to punishment in this court tonight were responsible, loving and nonviolent. As such, no sentence that you pronounce here can either condemn me or deligitimize what I’ve done, nor will it have any impact on the truth of similar actions undertaken by dozens of others who are still awaiting trial in this court.

The drone base within your jurisdiction is part of a military/intelligence undertaking that is not only founded upon criminality, but is also, by any sober analysis, allowed to operate beyond the reach of law. Extrajudicial killings, targeted assassinations, acts of state terrorism, the deliberate targeting of civilians- all of these crimes form the essence of the weaponized drone program that the United States government claims to be legal in its prosecution of the so called “war on terror”. Recent studies have shown that for every targeted person killed in a drone strike, twenty eight people of undetermined identity have also been slaughtered. The military admits to employing a mode of operation called “double-tapping”, in which a weaponized drone is directed back to strike a target a second time, after first responders have arrived to help the wounded. Yet never has any of this been subject to congressional approval or, more importantly, to the scrutiny of U.S. courts. In this case, you had the opportunity, from where you sit, to change that. You’ve heard the testimony of several trials similar to mine; you know what the reality is. You also heard the desperate plea of Raz Mohammad, which was read in open court during this trial. What you chose was to further legitimize these crimes by ignoring them. The faces of dead children, murdered by our nation’s hand, had no place in this court. They were excluded. Objected to. Irrelevant. Until that changes, this court continues to take an active, crucial role in condemning the innocent to death. In so doing, this court condemns itself.

And I think it’s fitting to end with the words of Raz that were sent to me this afternoon on behalf of his sister, widowed after a drone attack killed her young husband:

“My sister says that for the sake of her 7 year old son, she doesn’t want to bear any grudges or take revenge against the U.S./NATO forces for the drone attack that killed his father. But, she asks that the U.S./NATO forces end their drone attacks in Afghanistan, and that they give an open account of deaths cause by drone attacks in this country.”