Library - Reading Room

Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!

Ranger Trial Begins

(San Francisco, Cal.) In what could be an unprecendented move, a federal court has intervened in the area of pre-trial confinement in the military. US District Federal Court Judge Robert F. Peckham ordered the Navy on Noy 21 to "consider. relaxing the confinement" of Fireman Patrick D. Chemoweth, 21, of Puyallup, Wash., who has been held in the brig since Aug 2 at Treasure Island. He had been charged with willful destruction of government property and sabotage in time of war. Chemoweth is accused of inserting a paint scraper and two bolts into the #4 main reduction gears of the USS RANGER aircraft carrier, causing $800,000 damage and delaying the ship's return to Vietnam or 3 and a half months. The incident occurred in late July just days before the RANGER was due to leave Almeda NAS. Chenoweth faces a 35 year sentence if convicted.

One of the judge's primary considerations was that the Navy had lied and said that Chenoweth had been convicted at age 14 of malicious destruction, which they argued, was partial grounds for keeping him in pre-trial confinement. In fact there was no such conviction. The Navy has been given 10 days to relax Chenoweth's confinement. It is not clear what relax will mean in the context. The Navy will probably either release Chenoweth from the brig while confining him to base, or change his prison status from medium to minimum security.

Peckharn's order also states that the Navy should refrain from reading Chenowoth's mail and should guarantee him a private room without eavesdroppers, for consultations with counsel.

This ruling came after defense appeals on pre-trial confinement all the way up to the Secretary of the Navy had been turned down. Chenoweth, who had already been on one tour of duty on the RANGER off Vietnam, had no civilian criminal record and no military infractions other than two one-hour UAs.

In separate proceedings, Chenoweth's General Court martial, at Treasure Island, began in early November. It is currently in pretrial motion stages and is expected to last several weeks. One of the aspects of the case the defense will challenge is the 30 year 'sabotage in time of war' charge. Soon the courtroom will be turned into a forum on the legality of the Vietnam war in the dual context of how it has been declared (or not declared) and how it has been fought.

In the last court session Eric Seitz, Chenoweth's civilian lawyer, presented some motions for discovery and inquired about the rumor that due to "economic" reasons the case may be moved to Subic Bay, the Philippines. The Navy said yes, they were considering the move but had not decided on it. As Navy's case is shown to be shakier, they might he temnpted to make the move, making it very difficult to rally political support in the States and also putting the defense teem in real physical danger since the Philippines are under martial law. Already the only civilian lawyer doing military work and two legal counselors were arrested and deported from the Philippines.

The Navy is trying desperately to frame Chenoweth and make an example of him to sailors who are fighting back. Witnesses have been threatened, information concealed from the court and the press has been lied to. A request that crewmembers essential to the defense be held at Alameda for the trial after the ship left on Nov 16 was turned down. Now they will be brought back one by one when it is time for their testimony. Since some of these will be called by the prosecution also, it appears that the Navy does not want these men free to speak with the public. Two of the sailors plan to file complaints with the Department of the Navy and various Congressmen for this act.

The Navy's case is based almost solely on testimony from three sailors who claim they overheard Chenoweth confess to friends of his. Sietz said that he had found 20 men who overheard similar admissions all over the ship and who admit to making similar statements themselves. Furthermore, two of the three witnesses testified they thought Chenoweth was joking when the alleged statements were made. (Incidentally, two of the three key government witnesses were reported to be UA when the ship left for the Pacific.) Seitz added that there were no witnesses to the actual act, no physical evidence linking Chenoweth to the crime, and no evidence to indicate when within a possible 8-day period the act occurred. There is evidence that hundreds of sailors had access to the gear in question.

The sabotage incident Chenoweth is being charged with was only one out of over two dozen incidents aboard the RANGER since last May. Fire hoses were cut, the ship's drinking water was contaminated twice, small fires were started, oil pressure gauges and oil pumps were damaged, the generators were damaged, and several times bomb threats and rumors of mass desertion spread through the ship. The Naval Investigative Service (NIS) has confirmed 12 incidents since may, and at least 16 more have been revealed by crew members.

Most of these caused only minor damage. Then in late July the damage to the reduction gears delayed the ship's departure. The RANGER's commanding officer, Capt. H. P. Glindemann Jr., decicad it was time to nail someone so sailors would think twice about continuing to screw the ship.

In fact the opposite seems to be true. Since Pat Chenoweth's arrest the sabotage on the ship has continued and political activity has increased. There have been three sabotage-related malfunctions in the engines, though none of them major, in October alone. Also antiwar stickers have begun to appear on the damaged equipment. A few weeks ago an Indochina slide show was smuggled aboard and shown in the carpenters' shack. More and more sailors are identifying with the Stop Our Ship movement. Several men have worm SOS buttons in spite of Capt. Glindemann's orders. Recently one such button was confiscated and the sailor is drawing up charges against Glindemann under Article 139 of the UCMJ.

Camp News, vol. 3, no. 12

 

© 2005 Displaced Films. All Rights Reserved