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Free Speech

CHURCHILL TRIAL BLOG: Terrorist attacks on U.S. 'perfectly predictable'
By John Aguilar
Mar 23, 2009, 5:28pm

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From the Daily Camera, Boulder CO

Ward Churchill references the book, Smallpox and the American Indian (World Disasters), during his testimony in his civil suit against the University of Colorado at the City and County Building in Denver, Colorado March 23, 2009. Churchill is suing the University of Colorado for wrongful termination. CAMERA/Mark Leffingwell
Photo by Mark Leffingwell


Camera reporter John Aguilar is covering Ward Churchill's wrongful termination trial and will be filing live updates throughout the day from the courtroom in Denver District Court.

Churchill, 61, sued the University of Colorado after it fired him in July 2007 for allegedly plagiarizing, falsifying and fabricating portions of his academic work. The former ethnic studies professor claims in his suit that CU trumped up charges of academic misconduct in retaliation for controversial comments he made about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He is suing to get his job back. CU, which has already ruled that Churchill's 9/11 comments were protected speech, claims Churchill is using a First Amendment argument as a smokescreen for shoddy scholarship.

The case has generated headlines across the country and spurred fiery debates about academic freedom versus academic integrity.


UPDATE: 3:12 p.m.

Ward Churchill, with an eagle feather placed on red fabric next to him in the witness box, told the jury about how he ended up at the University of Colorado--Boulder after growing up in Illinois.

His attorney, David Lane, asked him about the 9/11 essay he wrote that caused a national uproar in January 2005, when it was uncovered by a student at Hamilton College in New York.

Churchill said he wrote the piece during the afternoon and evening of Sept. 11, 2001 to make the point that Americans shouldn't be surprised that people who have long felt oppressed by U.S. foreign policy would choose to strike back.

"This was perfectly predictable," Churchill told the jury. "The U.S. has been doing things to people and the world as as matter of course, as a matter of routine."

He said if you make it a "practice of killing other peoples' babies for your own personal gain, that eventually, they are going to give you a taste of the same thing."

Churchill testified that he was "apalled" at former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's use of the term "collateral damage" to describe innocent people killed in Iraq and other places the United States has bombed.

He said the use of the term "Little Eichmanns" -- a reference to Nazi technocrat Adolf Eichmann -- in his essay was his way of trying to make it clear that even those whose roles in society are seemingly innocent are still participating in helping push along the greater system in which they live.

Without Eichmann, he said, the Nazis' efforts to wipe out millions of Jews would not have been nearly as efficient and quick.

"When you bring your skills to bear for profit, you are the moral equivalent of Adolf Eichmann," Churchill told the jury.

He said he wanted to use "our language" in his essay and apply it from the perspective of the terrorists.

Churchill said when his essay went widely public in 2005, the reaction to it began to consume his life.

"I coudln't go to bed without some reporter trying to crawl through my window trying to get a comment," he testified.

UPDATE: 2:26 p.m.

Ward Churchill takes center stage

Ward Churchill took the stand at 2:15 p.m. with the words: "My name is Ward Churchill."

The former CU ethnic studies professor is going through his background, growing up in Illinois, serving in Vietnam, and ending up in Boulder in 1976 while on his way to New Mexico.

Post-lunch testimony saw two witnesses take the stand in quick succession Monday afternoon.


George "Tink" Tinker, a professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, testified that Churchill's academic work is highly regarded.

"His work is widely respected by Indian people in this community and in the Indian reservation community," he testified.

Tinker said Churchill, who he has known for 25 years, would not tell lies in his scholarship.

"He is not a liar or one prone to speaking mistruths," Tinker said.





Next up on the stand was Russell Means, an American Indian activist and a member of the Lakotas.

He said Churchill, through his work, is "righting the wrongs of history."

He said the final report from CU's investigative committed "enraged" him.

"It's an insult to my people and my history," Means said. "It's a scholarly massacre and it's not right. It's full of holes and full of lies. It's unconscionsable, because they don't treat white professors at CU the same way."




UPDATE: 12:23 p.m.

Judge and Churchill's lawyer butt heads

Ward Churchill's attorney, David Lane, butted heads with Chief Denver District Judge Larry Naves this morning while asking the testifying witness certain questions.

Naves repeatedly sustained objections that University of Colorado lawyer Kari Hershey registered as Lane attempted to ask CU sociology professor Michael Radelet about whether other scholars had accused him of research misconduct in his own past.

After a dozen attempts to elicit the information from Radelet by reframing the question, Lane was called to the front of the courtroom by the judge for a private discussion.

"Counsel, I'd like to see you in a sidebar," Naves said sternly.

Radelet served on the investigative committee that found Churchill guilty of fabrication and falsification in his scholarship.

Earlier in the cross-examination, Lane pointed out to Radelet that he had previously testified on tape that he didn't think Churchill had made up his claim about Captain John Smith introducing smallpox to the Wampanoags in the early 1600s.

Radelet was shown on a screen in the courtroom saying that there was a "small chance" Churchill's claim was true.

But Radelet countered that the problem was Churchill's citation of another source for his claim that ultimately didn't check out.

Lane grilled Radelet on whether Churchill even needed to include footnotes in his essay or whether it was a more general publication with more lenient citation protocols.

Lane also questioned Radelet whether he thought it was fair that Marianne Wesson -- a CU law professor who headed up the investigative committee -- was allowed to play the role of judge after making disparaging comments about Churchill before she assumed that position.

"Did that show a bias by Mimi Wesson?" Lane asked.

"No," Radelet answered.

Hershey asked Radelet if the source Churchill cited for his smallpox claims really pointed to the French as being responsible for introducing disease among the Wampanoags rather than to Smith, who was British.

He said Neal Salisbury, the author Churchill cited, indicated it was the French who were ultimately responsible.

"If you choose to have footnotes, do you believe they should be accurate?" Hershey asked him.

"Yes," Radelet responded.

Radelet has stepped down and the jury has broken for lunch.

Churchill is expected to take the stand this afternoon.

UPDATE: 10:55 a.m.

Committee member: "He just cheated"

University of Colorado sociology professor Michael Radelet, who served on the investigative committee looking into allegations of academic misconduct by Ward Churchill, said his initial concern was that his colleague was being "railroaded" by people who wanted to see him punished for writing a controversial essay.

Radelet said he even signed on to a statement drawn up by his colleagues calling for Churchill's academic freedom and First Amendment rights to be protected by the university during the days after the 9/11 essay came to light.

"I am not and was not a person they would pick if they wanted someone to frame, railroad or even convict Ward Churchill of research misconduct," Radelet told the jury.

He testified that the committee, sensitive to the concept of academic freedom, "bent over backwards" to give Churchill the benefit of the doubt.

Radelet, who looked into allegations that Churchill had falsified information through his contention that there was "pretty strong circumstantial evidence" that Captain John Smith purposely introduced smallpox to the Wampanoag Indians in Massachusetts, said the claim was "simply made-up, simply false."

"He just cheated," he told the jury.

He said Churchill's citation to Neal Salisbury's "Manitou and Providence" turned up no mention of what he was claiming in his own work.

CU attorney Kari Hershey asked Radelet if the wording Churchill used in the sentence could be construed as his opinion rather than as a presentation of historical fact.

"If it was presented as an opinion or a conjecture, it should be presented as such," the witness responded.

Radelet dismissed the notion that just because a handful of examples of research misconduct was found by the investigative committee out of thousands of pages of Churchill's work that it was much ado about nothing. He testified that the committee didn't come close to looking at all of Churchill's scholarship and that there was no guarantee there weren't more problems in those pages.

"It just sullies everything he's done," he said.

Radelet, who recommended that Churchill be suspended for five years, said he had hoped that the ethnic studies professor would have acknowledged his errors and come back to CU a changed man.

"I've certainly seen no signs he's done so in the last three years," he testified.

Radelet said it was "incredibly sad" when the committee members agreed Churchill -- who he described as a scholar of many talents -- had cheated.

"No one smiled, no one took any joy," he said.

Radelet also criticized Churchill of "another example of dishonesty" for accusing him of telling a tasteless joke about Churchill at a graduation ceremony a few years ago. Radelet said he did not ask an audience if Churchill should be "gassed" or not.

Radelet is being cross-examined by Churchill attorney David Lane.

UPDATE: 9:20 a.m.

One of the five members of the investigative committee that found Ward Churchill had engaged in academic misconduct, Michael Radelet, has been called to the stand by the University of Colorado this morning.

He is chair of the Sociology Department at CU.

Churchill is expected to take the stand later today.

The wrongful termination trial of Churchill vs. CU began its third week this morning with a heavier than normal audience in the spectator benches.

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