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Topics In the News
Lt. Dan Choi Convicted, Fined, Hospitalized
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 03/28/13
Last updated on: 03/29/13
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Lt. Dan Choi.

One of the heroes of the struggle to repeal the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, Lt. Dan Choi, who, with 12 other protesters, was arrested in November 2010 after handcuffing himself to the fence in front of the White House, was convicted on March 28, 2013 for his act of civil disobedience, fined $100, and then hospitalized.

During the struggle to repeal the discriminatory policy, Choi, a charismatic infantry officer and Arab linguist who served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, became one of the most recognizable activists protesting against the policy. He outed himself in March 2009 on The Rachel Maddow Show and was subsequently discharged.

An attractive and eloquent speaker, Choi energized the movement to repeal DADT through his frequent appearances at gay rights events and pride parades. His media appearances helped give a human face to the discrimination visited on glbtq servicemembers as a result of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. He engaged in several acts of civil disobedience and on at least two occasions handcuffed himself to the White House fence.

The trial for the November 2010 civil disobedience, in which Choi and 12 other activists associated with the direct action group GetEqual were accused of disobeying a lawful police order, began in August 2011, but was adjourned for more than a year because of procedural disputes.

The prosecutor initiated a highly unusual procedure known as a Writ of Mandamus that successfully overturned a ruling by the judge to allow Choi to argue that he was targeted for "selective" and "vindictive" prosecution.

Choi was the only one of his fellow protesters who rejected an August 2011 offer by prosecutors to plead guilty to the charge of disobeying a lawful order in exchange for having the case dismissed if they were not arrested again at the White House within a four-month period.

At the trial that resumed on March 28, Choi faced the possibility of a jail sentence of six months in federal penitentiary and a $5000 fine.

Among the supporters who attended the trial were British human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who called Choi a "human rights hero" and said, "This looks like a petty, vindictive prosecution. Lt. Choi was arrested for protesting peacefully against a homophobic military policy that is now repealed."

However, according to Ann E. Marimow's report in the Washington Post, Choi, who represented himself, appeared erratic and unstable in the packed courtroom on Thursday. "Choi's erratic demeanor swung from emotional outbursts at the lectern to belligerent confrontations with a U.S. Park Police officer and the federal prosecutor."

According to Marimow, Choi "alternated between whispered apologies for his teary breakdowns and loud rebukes of Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela George for failing to refer to him as a lieutenant."

"All I want at the end of this day is to return to the U.S. military," the distraught Choi said through tears.

Lou Chibbaro, Jr. reports in the Washington Blade that Choi called four witnesses, two U.S. Park Police officers who played a role in his arrest at the White House fence and two people who supported his defense--lesbian former Army Sgt. Mariam Ben-Shalom and Rev. C. T. Vivian, a civil rights leader and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1960s civil rights movement.

One of the most dramatic moments of Thursday's trial session came when Choi played a video of the 2009 interview of Choi by Rachel Maddow, in which he came out as gay.

With the lights dimmed in the courtroom and the video playing on several screens, Choi began to sob uncontrollably before shouting to Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola, "The defense rests!"

Facciola responded by calling a recess for lunch, prompting Choi to lie on the courtroom floor yelling and cursing. At Facciola's orders, two U.S. Marshals lifted Choi from the floor, carried him out of the courtroom and into an elevator.

When the trial resumed about two hours later, Choi returned to the courtroom with Ben-Shalom helping him walk. After the prosecutor delivered her closing argument, Choi delivered a 40-minute rambling speech in which he discussed his views on civil rights, religion, the First Amendment, the Iraq war and strife between Iraq's Shiite and Sunni Muslim factions, among other topics that Choi said touched on his theme of justice and equality.

At various times during the trial and in his closing argument Choi spoke in Arabic.

He was then found guilty by Facciola, who fined him $100, a sentence that many of Choi's supporters considered a rebuke to the prosecutors.

In response, Choi shouted, "I refuse to pay it. . . . Send me to jail."

"You have a right to appeal," Facciola said before adjourning the trial without responding to Choi's assertion that he would not pay the fine.

According to Wendy Carrillo of Politic365.com Lt. Choi was carried out of the courtroom and transported to a nearby Veterans Administration Hospital.

Lt. Choi, who has previously been diagnosed as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, deserves our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time. He sacrificed a great deal in the fight to dismantle "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

In the video below, from 2009, Rachel Maddow interviews Dan Choi after he was dismissed from the military for coming out.

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