National Intelligence Director John Negroponte’s Commencement Address to the graduating class of private St. Johnsbury Academy was disrupted twice by protesters inside the auditorium where the ceremony was being held.
Over 75 protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside of the Academy protesting Negroponte’s shadowy record that spans decades including a stint as the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras and Ambassador to Iraq before his present position as the nation’s number one “intelligence” overseer. Two other protesters from Vermont School of the Americas Watch were arrested as they attempted to gain entrance to the auditorium.
Briefly after Negroponte began his address, Michael Colby, a horse logger from Worcester, VT stood up saying, “In the name of democracy I object to this man speaking. He has blood on his hands from his work in Central America and Iraq. He shouldn’t be at the podium, he should be in jail. He is a war criminal.” Colby was grabbed by police and security and escorted out of the auditorium to awaiting police cars.
As Colby was being escorted away, Negroponte told the audience, “Now it’s my turn.” But before he could continue, Boots Wardinski, another logger quickly rose stating, “No! It’s my turn! When the headmaster intorduced Negroponte, he forgot to tell about all the people tortured, killed and raped [under Negroponte’s helm in Honduras]. You should be ashamed to stay in here and listen to this man.”
Some of the protesters assembled outside started to move toward the auditorium. Palmer Legare and Brendan O’Neill, both from Vermont School of the Americas Watch, were grabbed by the police and arrested.
O’Neill shouted to reporters and bystanders, “They are arresting the wrong people. This man [Negroponte] teaches war, not peace. He is responsible for the murders of 30,000 innocent Nicaraguans.”
“Negroponte should have been arrested,” stated Legare as he was being arrested and put into a police car. Legare continued, “he is a war criminal.”
All four were arrested for disorderly conduct and trespass although both Colby and Wardinski had tickets allowing them inside for the Negroponte speech. Both Colby and Wardinski represented Horse Loggers for Peace and Wardinski is also a member of Veterans for Peace.
After the four were released, Colby said that he told the arresting officer that, “I come in peace.” Colby said then the officer punched him in the stomach.
Wardinski said his arresting officer called him a, “punk asshole.”
Fliers handed out by protesters made the accusation that while Negroponte was “ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985, he collaborated with the Honduran military government overseeing one of the most scandalous and shameful periods of U.S. foreign policy overseeing:
–An increase in military aid to Honduras from $4 million a year to over $77 million
–An illegal and unauthorized ‘Contra’ war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua
–Increased collaboration between U.S. military, CIA., Honduran military and the Nicaraguan Contras forming paramilitary death squads, secret torture and detention camps and widespread assassinations of peace and justice activists
–The disappearances of 32 American women social justice church leaders
–Collaboration between the CIA with the School of the Americas’s trained founders of the infamously violent Honduran paramilitary organizartion Batallion 3-16
–Censorship of the media’s reporting on the war
–The now infamous Iran-Contra Scandal…after the U.S. congress voted to withdraw support due to widespreadhuman rights abuses by the Contras…”
Although Negroponte did not speak about foreign policy or government spying on people in the U.S. during his speech, most protesters were alarmed that Negroponte was chosen as the Commencement speaker for St. John’s Academy (even though Negroponte’s son was graduating.) Long time activist Brian Tokar told reporters, “It’s outrageous that he’s being given a position of honor in our community.”
Activists also pointed out that another Vermonter, Robin Lloyd, is in federal prison after being convicted of “crossing the line” at a Fort Benning, GA, School of the Americas protest that happened last November.
Orin Langelle and Anne Petermann are Co-Directors of Global Justice Ecology Project and are contributors to various publications internationally. Orin Langelle and Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project