The Disarm Now Plowshares were in court again; this time for the pre-trial conference in which a most important issue – the motions to dismiss their case – was argued.
All five Disarm Now Plowshares co-defendants – Bill “Bix” Bichsel, SJ, Susan Crane, Lynne Greenwald, Steve Kelly, SJ, and Anne Montgomery, RSCJ – were present for the proceedings in Judge Benjamin Settle’s courtroom at the U.S. District Court, Tacoma, Washington on November 22, 2010.
Susan Crane began the defendant’s testimony; the following are some of her key points.
“Our action on Nov. 2, the testimony of Ramsey Clark, the motions we filed, make clear that we are concerned about the trident nuclear warheads…”
“The trident nuclear weapons system is illegal and immoral. It’s a system preparing for the mass murder of innocent civilians that will affect generations to come.”
“As loving human beings, we have a responsibility, right and duty to use nonviolent actions to prevent the trident nuclear weapons system from operating.”
Crane went on to invoke the heart of the Plowshares vision and its vital importance in addressing Trident (and nuclear weapons) that constitute the tap-root of violence in our nation (and the world).
“On Nov. 2, 2009, we remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah, who had a vision of beating swords into plowshares”…convert weapons of war into something useful for human life. It is our firm understanding that these Trident nuclear weapons are illegal under national and international law, as well as the teachings of our faith, and general humanitarian law and conscience.”
Crane worked to build the defense case for applying the necessity defense; that “the indisputable facts of Trident are hard to face, but we can’t deny that it is in preparation for the use of nuclear weapons.” Understanding that there is “imminent harm” from the manufacture, deployment and preparation for the use of Trident, the Disarm Now Plowshares acted out of conscience, and moral and legal duty. “The harm we created (cut fence) is minor in comparison with the harm of a nuclear explosion.”
Anne Montgomery spoke to former Attorney General Ramsey Clark’s previous testimony in this case before she moved on to discussing her first Plowshares action, King of Prussia in 1980. She remembered thinking at that time that, “If someone had a gun in his or her hand, I would have to knock it out of that hand.” She stated that they cut the fences because there was no other way in; no criminal intent. Montgomery also stressed that they have tried all other means to bring light to these weapons, and had to do this Plowshares action because the public is ignorant of the existence of the weapons. “We were willing to give our own blood to avoid shedding the blood of others.”
“Accordingly, whenever a defendant pleads justification, the court should ask, ‘What higher value than the value of literal compliance with the law is defendant asserting?’ The trial court failed to ask this question. Apparently in its eyes no higher value is implicated in this case. And for the dissent, this case is to be decided as we would decide a case involving ‘the theft and destruction of guns or explosives by altruistic and well-meaning citizens who sincerely believe that guns or explosives possess the potential to kill at sometime in the future.’ But appellants are not pleading the danger arising from ‘guns or explosives;’ they are pleading the danger arising from nuclear missiles. One who does not understand that danger does not understand appellants’ plea.”
“Appellants do not assert that their action would avoid nuclear war (what a grandiose and unlikely idea!). Instead, at least so far as I can tell from the record, their belief was that their action, in combination with the actions of others, might accelerate a political process ultimately leading to the abandonment of nuclear missiles. And that belief, I submit, should not be dismissed as ‘unreasonable as a matter of law.’ A jury might – or might not – find it unreasonable as a matter of fact. But that is for a jury to say, not for a court.”
Although not referred to in today’s proceedings, the following text from the closing argument for the Plowshares Eight appeal (referenced above) is most powerful, and sums up the reality of the peril of nuclear weapons.
“The people in the Pentagon offices and their counterparts in the Kremlin where the questions of coping with war injuries are dealt with must be having a hard time these days, looking ahead as they must to the possibility of thermonuclear war. Any sensible analyst in such an office would be tempted to scratch off all the expense items related to surgical care of the irradiated, burned, and blasted, the men, women, and children with empty bone marrows and vaporized skin. What conceivable benefit can come from sinking money in hospitals subject to instant combustion, only capable of salvaging, at their intact best, a few hundred victims who will be lying out there in the hundreds of thousands? There exists no medical technology that can cope with the certain outcome of just one small, neat, so-called tactical bomb exploded over a battlefield. As for the problem raised by a single large bomb dropped on New York City or Moscow, with the dead and dying in the millions, what would medical technology be good for? As the saying goes, forget it. Think of something else. Get a computer running somewhere in a cave, to estimate the likely numbers of the lucky dead. L. Thomas, On Medicine and the Bomb, reprinted in L. Thomas, Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. Nor is the peril confined to those who will be ‘irradiate, burned, and blasted.’ It extends much farther, to our survival as a species. If only a small fraction of the nuclear missiles now able to be fired, either by us or by the Soviet Union, are fired, a ‘dark nuclear winter’ will occur: a cloud of debris will block off our sunlight; temperatures will plunge; and our death by freezing of starvation will follow. Scientists have identified a 100 megaton explosion as the ‘nuclear war threshold’ that once crossed will lead to such a global catastrophe. See ‘After Atomic War: Doom in the Dark,’ Phil. Enquirer, November 1, 1983. It is in the light of this peril that the reasonableness of appellants’ belief must be judged.”
Steve Kelly then summed up the legal case. He stated that U.S. voluntary participation in international law is well established, and that Ramsey Clark clearly established this fact in his earlier testimony. Kelly also cited the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear weapons.
Constitutionally, the laws are clear that the threat of use of nuclear weapons is unlawful, and the presence of Trident (which targets civilian populations) is grossly unlawful. He further stated that the conditions of necessity have been met; the defendants were not trying to change the law, but were “trying to block any intended threat or use of those weapons,” and they did in fact successfully do so; the base was locked down and no work was done on the warheads for up to 11 hours that day.
Earlier in the proceedings Crane stated (in justifying the Plowshares action) that over many years people have tried many, many other avenues, including fasting, vigils, war tax resistance and demonstrations, to bring the government’s attention to this issue, but they have still been ignored. The prosecution later declared that the Disarm Now Plowshares co-defendants had taken the easy path; “Going to Bangor is easy,” stated the prosecutor. He further stated that the hard thing is engaging in the democratic process, using speech, etc.
Bill Bichsel responded to the prosecution’s statement, saying that they engaged in nonviolent action to turn these weapons (symbolically) into plowshares, and inform the public about the presence of these weapons so that the democratic process could be fulfilled. After 40 years of using every method conceivable, any reasonable person would consider these actions reasonable and necessary. Bichsel also spoke to the traditions that have been so important and effective over a long period of time; that the defendants are standing in the tradition of people like Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, and are schooled in the nonviolence of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Following the testimony, Judge Settle denied both motions to dismiss, and stated that although he understands that the defendants “are acting out of conscience,” that does not apply here since the court is supposed to uphold the Constitution. It must therefore follow, by precedent, that the Nuremburg Principles and necessity defense are not applicable in this case.
When Crane responded that all five co-defendants “feel we are entitled to a full defense,” Judge Settle replied that court is bound by precedent, and that the defendants can appeal should there be a conviction. Case closed???
The Disarm Now Plowshares five trial begins at 9:00 AM on December 7, 2010. Although the government has essentially denied the defendants any reasonable defense, the five are prepared to forge ahead with joyful hearts. Let all who believe in extinguishing the violent fire of nuclear weapons before it erupts support these courageous individuals who are fully prepared to give up their freedoms for this just cause.
There are many opportunities to support Disarm Now Plowshares. In addition to coming to the court to witness the trial and join in vigils outside the courthouse, there will be evening programs in Tacoma beginning on Monday (December 6) and continuing each evening of the trial. These will be opportunities to meet the members of Disarm Now, hear speakers, and enjoy music, food and fellowship.
On Monday evening, December 6, Angie Zelter will be the main speaker. Zelter, a peace, human rights and environmental campaigner, has written several books, including “Trident on Trial – the case for people’s disarmament.”
On Tuesday evening, December 7, Colonel Ann Wright, is the main speaker. Wright, who served in the U.S. Army and Foreign Service, resigned on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, stating that without the authorization of the UN Security Council, the invasion and occupation of a Muslim, Arab, oil-rich country would be a violation of international law. Most recently, she was on the May, 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla that was attacked by the Israeli military.
On Wednesday evening, December 8, Steven Leeper, Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, and the first American to ever serve in this important position will speak.
There are other speakers not yet confirmed, and all the event information (including locations and times) are being posted on the Disarm Now Plowshares “Events” page as they are confirmed.
Read the Disarm Now Plowshares Blog for ongoing reflections leading up to trial and daily reports during the trial.
Finally, please spread the word about Disarm Now Plowshares and their courageous act of resistance so that everyone may learn of these immoral and illegal weapons of mass destruction (Trident) and their duty, as citizens, to speak out against them.
Peace to All,
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