Choi on Vindication, Kathy Griffin

BY Neal Broverman

July 15 2010 10:25 AM ET

Lt. Dan Choi and Army Capt. James Pietrangelo girded themselves Wednesday morning at Washington, D.C.'s superior court. They were facing charges of failing to obey police orders after they chained themselves to a White House fence in defiance of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy — once in March and another time in April. But on Wednesday the Justice Department prosecutor dropped all charges, and Choi and Pietrangelo walked out of the court as free men — happy but dumbfounded. Choi, who has become the 21st-century poster boy for gay-rights–related civil disobedience, talked with The Advocate about his reactions to yesterday's news, what's next for him, and why he holds no ill will toward Kathy Griffin.   

Were you surprised all the charges were dropped? And so quickly?
Surprised is not an emotion that I’ve had lately. So many things have happened. But I certainly am overwhelmed with that feeling of vindication for the whole civil disobedience, direct-action ideals. It was certainly justification — but it was clear the government was embarrassed to do that. But I didn’t think the trial would happen so quickly. We were there for five minutes. I put on my uniform and got a haircut!

I was surprised to see so many veterans there. It was cool to see them and acknowledge that today we might be on opposite sides of the case, but we’re all serving. And the bond always surprises me a little bit.

We had our case loaded, ready to go. Jim and I went through a war game strategy, asked questions of each other. I realized this year I had become accustomed to TV interviews, live interviews. As we were prepping, I thought that being cross-examined and redirected it could get really ugly to me on an emotional level because I never had time to reflect on a personal level everything that’s happened over the past year.

The judge had two other trials on the docket, so we sat in the back and acknowledged the judge and bailiff. We thought we were going to be waiting there a while, I shook the hand of the Metro Police guy that was there. And then the judge calls us right up. We got up there, myself and my lawyer, Mark Goldstone, and as I was walking up, I said, “Here we go.” I took my hat off and put it on the table. The prosecutor said the government was not going to press the cases, and Mark asked, “All four of them — two against me, two against Jim?” She said yes. It got quiet, and I thought we were supposed to say something, and the judge said you’re dismissed.

I thought we were going to have to come back — I was like, I want to have my trial today. But it was over. There was no emotional outburst, no punctuation. So we just left and said “thank you” to the judge. He acknowledged it and we went to the arresting officers and shook their hands again and had a brief exchange again where we thanked each other for our service. Jim’s lawyers asked if the stay-away order is not in effect and the judge acknowledged that. I said to the cops, “I’ll see you again soon.” 








You told the Associated Press that the the case was dropped because the Obama administration didn’t want
attention brought to DADT. Do you still believe that?

You’ve heard
the Pentagon spokesperson say some ridiculous thinks about segregation. They’re being so careful and “lawyerly” about the
repeal. You get the feeling that they’re incompetent as far as showing
real leadership.

It’s demoralizing —
Obama failing in leading on civil rights. It’s not like there’s so much
on his plate; we know that's a cop-out. [The Administration] is
incompetent with dealing with civil rights, and that is the most
frustrating. Obviously, I respect my commander in chief and I’ll carry
out what he requires and that’s why we quoted all his speeches where he
said, “You have to pressure me.” That’s reminiscent of FDR. But they
don’t know how to do what needs to be done. That’s very dangerous for
any commander in chief. You have to be as a commander like Truman: “Look
if you don’t like it, get the fuck out.” Don’t talk about shower
curtains; that shows abject incompetence of the older folks involved
with DADT. I don’t think they realize how much damage they’re doing to
the military.

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