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Presidio Case Shakes Brass

If the Army brass thought they had a bright idea for terrorizing GI's and smashing the rising tide of dissent in the armed farces when they launched the 'mutiny" trial of 27 prisoners in the San Francisco Presidio's stockade, the most thick-skulled of them know better now. They are in retreat verging on rant and the whole reeking mess of the court martial system and the military prisons seems destined for a prolonged public airing.

The Presidio stockade in October, 1968 was jammed with 140 men bring in space designed for 88 (the emergency level was designated at 115 and allowed legally only for very short periods), violating Army regulations. The men were mostly AWOL's, many because they didn't want to visit Vietnam.

Rations were drawn for only 115 to feed the 140 prisoners, nine guards and three cooks. The guards and rooks got what they needed and then the prisoners got less than 75% rations, in complete violation of Army regulations.

Sanitary facilities were such that both prisoners and guards testified about human excrement sloshing on the shower room floor for days on end, in violation of Army regulations.

Men in need of medical and psychiatric care were denied it, in violation of Army regulations.

Guard brutality was rampant, and 21 prisoners had made 33 suicide attempts in six months.

On October 11 Pvt. Richard Bunch, denied reeded psychiatric aid the Army had promised his mother in writing he would get, left two suicide notes under his mattress and after asking a guard to aim at his head, ran from a work detail and was killed by a shot gun blast at 10 paces.

Bunch's death and the giant GI-led peace march in San Francisco the neat day (one of whose participants had gone AWOL far 8 hours to take part and landed in the stockade; another stockade prisoner was an ordinary AWOL who had been driven by nervous guards through streets thronged with marchers after coincidentally turning himsell in Oct. 12) aroused the inmates to mass protest.

Monday morning, Oct. 11, when morning formation was held, 27 of the men sat dawn is a circle. They chanted their requests to meet with Post Provost Marshal) Lt. Cot, John Ford, Capt. Robert S. Lamont, the stockade confinement officer, and civil liberties attorney Terence Hallinan. And they sang "We Shall Overcome" and "America the Beautiful."

When Capt. Lamont appeared, Pvt. Walter R. Paulowski attempted in read a list of requested reforms, which Lamont testified were:

"We want elimination of all shotguntype work details.

"We want a complete psychological evaluation of all personnel before they are allowed to work in the stockade.

"We want better sanitary facilities,"

Before Paulowski could go further, Lamont says he began reading the mutiny article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to the men. The men chanted. Lamont called up a car with a loudspeaker, read the mutiny article again, called up 40 MP's and the post fire truck.

When, after he claims to have three times ordered them back into the stockade building from the fenced-in yard, and the men had not budged, Lamont testified as to one of the least publicized and most significant aspects of the "Great Presidio Mutiny." As reported in the NY Times at 4 Feb 69, "he asked firemen to turn water on them but the firemen would not." No one is commenting on the significance at this refusal of orders or the failure of the authorities to order the firemen punished.

The MP platoon finally carried and pushed the men back into the building without any violence.

Capt. Lamont, Cut. Robert E, McMahon (commandant of the Presidio) and Lt. Gee, Stanley R. Larsen (6th Army commandant), in obvious concert (Lnmont had known of the planned protest and done nothing in head it off), proceeded in bring mutiny charges against the 27-to make them an example tn all dissidents in the military. They did nothing, of course, to improve the criminal conditions in the stockade.

First they overruled entirely the report of the pretrial investigation conducted by Capt. Richard J. Millard, who described conditions in the stockade as "deficient" and the procedures for complaining about them "shoddy and inefficient." Millard had recommended that the men he discharged or face wilful disobedience charges before o special court-martial, rather than mutiny charges before a general court-martial, with a potential death penalty.

Then the screws were pat on for heavy sentences from the court-martial panels composed of upper-grade officers. Pvt. Nesrey Sood, whose trial was the first completed, got a barbarous 12 year hard labor sentence. Then Lawrence W. Reidel was given 14 years and Louis S. Osczepinski 16 years. Time Magazine ran a scathing article 21 Feb 69 on the trials and Life followed with Barry Farrell's full-page blast, "The Case of Private Sood," pointedly closing with the fact that Sood's sentence, served in fall, would mean confinement in Leavenworth until "the winter of 1984."

Demonstrations and protests began to develop across the country. 800 clergy, law students and seminarians protested in Bosten. The daily presence of peace and civil liberties activists at the Presidio swelled until on Saturday , 15 Mac 69 a crowd variuosly estimated from 5,000 to 15,000 GIs, vets and civilians gathered in protest. Mrs. Helen Osczepinski, typical of the poor, white small-town background of the victims end the fight-back the cases are stirring, led a demonstration before the Florida, N.Y, post office in support of her son and his buddies. The same was going on in small California communities, no well as New York City, Chicago, and dozens of other cities.

Senators Alan Cranston (D., Cal.) and Charles Goodell (R., N.Y.) and Congressmen Don Claussen, Philip Burton, Jerome Waldie, Jeffrey Cohelan and Don Edwards of California, as well as Mayor Alieto of San Francisco, have joined in the protests.

Pvt. John Coup, the fourth defendant tried, was defended by attorney Ran Sypnicki, who seemed is be currying favor with the authorities by offering them a far out story to get them off the hook. The Army transferred the trial from the demonstrator-dominated Presidio to Fort Irwin in the Southern California desert, and the defense contended that the whole "mutiny" was a plot by Halinan, who was scheduled to defend most of the remaining cases!

Sypnicki claimed Hallinan had not only sent Pvt. Stephen Rowland into the stockade Oct. 12 to organize the demonstration along with defendants Paulowski and Keith Mather, but had himself infiltrated the stockade in the guise of a Catholic priest to stir op the men. Hallinan, who had turned Rowland in from an AWOL expecting that he would not even he put in the stockade, and who could enter an on attorney without any priestly garb, laughed at the charges and added "..but if this argument is going in get his client off, let him to ahead."

Colip got four years at hard labor, the first hint of Army backpedalling.

The 249-1 barrage of unfriendly teltgrams that followed the Sood sentence hadn't moved Gen. Larsen, who packed Sood, Reidel and Osczepinski off to Leavenworth immediately after their trials, contrary is the ordinary practice of waiting for the transcripts to be typed up and reviewing them with the defense and prosevoting counsel. But after 5,000 or more demonstrators at the gates and with the heat on nationally, Larsen cot Sood's sentence to 7 years, 18 Mar 1969.

In an unprecedented move, the case records were flown to Washington and, acting under a rarely applied clemency authority, Maj. Gm. Kenneth J. Hodson, Army advocate general, cut the sentence to 2 years the very next morning, 19 Mar 1969. The Chicago Daily News that day carried no AP dispatch saying:

"The decision reflects a high-level Army conclusion that mutiny charges ...were ill-advised and that initial convictions brought 'outrageous sentences'.... Sec. of the Army Stanley N. Resor has been gravely conversed about controversy surrounding the Army's handling of the matter and wanted no delay in making amends. Resor's chief concern was that the public might lose faith in the military system of justice and that the entire legal setup would be undermined by dissent. Hodson was aware of Resor's concern."

Resor's fears are well founded. A father of a defendant said, anonymously: "The government isn't running the Army, the Army's running the government and the Army is rotten clear through." (People's World, 22 Mar 69).

Four more canes were tried at Ft. Lewis, Washington. Pvts. Edward 0. Yost, William H. Hayes, Ricky L. Dodd and Harold J. Swanson were all found guilty and sentenced in from 9 months to 5 years.

Paulowski and Mather, as well an defendant Linden Blake have all escaped from the Presidio while awaiting trial and made it to Canada.

That leaves Hallinan smith 14 men to defend. They are scheduled last, April 7, and Hallinan will no doubt try to keep the trials right at the Presidio. Calling the Sood sentence redaction a "tremendous victory," he warned: "If the Army does not dismiss the charges against my clients and give them honorable discharges, we'll open op the biggest scandal the Army and this country has seen."

VS&SP readers are urged to raise the demand far freeing all 27 men, trying those guilty of violating Army regulations in operating the Presidio stockade, and launching a Congressional investigation. Contact Sec. of the Army Resor at the Pentagon, your Congressman and Senators, and President Nixon. Write to your local paper As the GI Defense Organization said in its full-page NY Times ad 30 Mar69: "DON'T LET THE PENTAGON COURT-MARTIAL THE FIRST AMENDMENT." Visit your Coogressman with a delegation when he comes home.

Veterans Stars and Stripes for Peace, vol. 2, no. 2

 

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