Free-speech win for Abu Ghraib protesters

By Mark Follman
Published October 15, 2004 8:33PM (EDT)

The atrocities committed against Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison havent gotten much attention down the homestretch of the presidential race, even as the situation in Iraq looks increasingly dark under the Bush administration's war policies. Today, six anti-Bush protesters who back in July sought to keep the prisoner abuse scandal in the public eye when the president campaigned in Smoketown, PA, have been vindicated. From the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal:

"Prosecutors announced today they are withdrawing disorderly conduct charges against the six Lancaster men accused of dropping their pants last July in protest during President George W. Bushs visit to Smoketown Elementary School. The men, nicknamed the 'Smoketown Six,' stripped down to thong underwear and piled on top of each other minutes before the Presidents motorcade passed, saying they were re-enacting the infamous human-pyramid photo of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. This morning, Lancaster County District Attorney Donald Totaro announced that a joint decision was made between members of his office and the East Lampeter Township Police to withdraw the charges.

"'Because this was symbolic conduct, designed to protest foreign policy in Iraq,' Totaro explained, the groups action that day is protected under the U.S. Constitutions First Amendment right to free speech."

Whatever one thinks of their choice of method, it's an important affirmation of Americans' right to express their dissent about U.S. government policies -- especially during turbulent times, and when the subject matter is especially hard to look at.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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