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Workers’ Defense League

To the Editors:

The Workers Defense League, founded in 1936 by Norman Thomas and his friends in the labor movement, has concerned itself with protecting the legal rights of workers. In recent years its emphasis has evolved around the rights of workers in the military. In 1955, Rowland Watt’s study, “Draftee and Internal Security,” blasted then prevalent Armed Services practices and compelled substantial reforms, literally within weeks after its publication.

Today the Workers Defense League is once again deeply involved in the defense of GIs. As an example of its efforts (and successes), Workers Defense League cooperating attorneys defended those accused in the Fort Dix stockade rebellion of June 5, 1969. The Fort Dix rebellion was a warning signal that young Americans are unwilling to yield their civil and human rights when they don a uniform. Terry Klug, one of the key figures charged by the Army, was acquitted of riot and arson. He was placed in the Fort Dix stockade because he had been absent from Fort Bragg from June, 1967, until January, 1969. While away, he was active in Europe organizing and promoting RITA (Resistance In The Armed Forces). Believing that the struggle was at home and not abroad, he voluntarily surrendered.

While en route back to Fort Bragg under military orders, he was taken into custody at Kennedy Airport. His statement to the press in opposition to governmental policies and military practices was introduced into evidence at his court-martial under the strong objection of his Workers Defense League attorneys, Rowland Watts and Jesse Moskowitz. Rowland Watts argued his appeal on April 9, 1970, before the Court of Military Review in Washington, which reversed Terry’s conviction of desertion on September 10. Terry is very fortunate. He is now out. However, he did serve seventeen months at hard labor on the original charge of desertion. His conviction of AWOL carries a maximum sentence of one year’s confinement.

The Workers Defense League has also filed briefs with the Court of Military Review for Jeff Russell and Bill Brakefield, other members of the “Fort Dix 38.” If necessary, their cases will be brought before the Court of Military Appeals and the Supreme Court.

Most of the other men incarcerated by the Army are the unfortunate ones. There were 76,320 courts-martial in the Army alone in 1969 with a conviction rate of 94 percent. Few defendants had trained civilian counsel. Ninety percent of them were in stockades and brigs on charges of AWOL. Their average age is nineteen.

The clash between a growing militancy among GIs and the Army bureaucracy means that more and more men are brought to trial. These men need your help. Workers Defense League cooperating attorneys contribute the equivalent of $300,000 in free legal services each year, but so much more is needed, for depositions, transcripts, travel, investigations, phone, mail, and other out-of-pocket expenses. I urge you to help. Please mail your check to the Workers Defense League, 112 East Nineteenth Street, New York City 10003.

Murray Kempton

New York City

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