First day of trial encourages moral deliberation in Trident case

An impromptu video reflection on the trial by Anabel Dwyer, Esq., expert on international law.

December 7, 2010, Tacoma, Washington: Plowshares activists were in court for the first day of their trial for entering a U.S. Navy nuclear weapons storage depot.

The trial of the Disarm Now Plowshares five, who entered the U.S. Navy’s Strategic Weapons Facility (SWFPAC), Pacific on November 2, 2009 in a symbolic act intended to bring light to the immoral and illegal nuclear weapons stored and deployed from there, began in U.S. District Court today.

During the morning’s jury selection there was an animated discussion. The U.S. Attorney asked if considerations of the defendants health and age, or the fact that they might be priest or nuns would hamper their ability to render an impartial judgment.

Defendant Susan Crane started her voir dire questions by asking, “Would you have convicted Rosa Parks?” One prospective juror answered that she was not asked to judge the integrity of the law; it is not like the movies or TV. Another answered, “I totally respect the rule of law, but some laws are meant to be broken, and that is how laws are changed. … It is written: ‘Thou shalt not kill, and it doesn’t say there are some conditions under which you would be able to kill.”

Another prospective juror, who is herself a lawyer, called Parks “courageous”, and said she would feel “conflicted” if asked to come to a verdict on her case. There are the facts of the case, she said, and then “there are things in our society that are just wrong. It would be very difficult for me.”

Before the prospective jurors were seated, the defense had attempted to counter the government’s effort to limit their cross examination. The defense asked the Judge to take judicial notice that nuclear weapons are stored at SWFPAC and attempted to introduce documents citing such evidence, but Judge Benjamin Settle stated the they had not yet produced anything from the public record indicating that there are nuclear weapons on the base. The defendants believe that the presence of nuclear weapons at SWFPAC is central to their ability to present any defense.

Opening statements began after the lunch recess. The U.S. Attorney Arlen Storm’s first words were, “This is a case about trespass and damaging government property.” The defendants have a different perspective.

Susan Crane started off her opening statement by introducing the defendants and all the humanitarian work they have done in Tacoma and around the world. She then focused on the three central pillars of their defense: the nuclear weapons at SWFPAC are horrendous; they are illegal; it is our duty as citizens to resist them.

The jury listened attentively as Crane described the medical and environmental effects of nuclear weapons. She tried to convey to the jury that the use and threatened use of nuclear weapons is a war crime, and was interrupted as the prosecutor objected to the reference to international law. Crane replied, “Alright, I’ll go on, but it is hard not to tell the truth.”

In his opening statement, Father Bichsel’s voice shook with emotion as he described his experience in Japan hearing the stories of survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He said the greatest gift he brought back from his visit was the commission to “please get rid of these nuclear weapons.”

Bichsel explained the Disarm Now Plowshares state of mind as they entered SWFPAC, where lethal force is authorized. They went “in solidarity with half the people in our world, who are living under authorized lethal force – without food, without housing, without education, without the possibility of employment. The things that they live under – it’s lethal force. And it’s authorized, it’s not just happenstance that they are living that way. It doesn’t have to be that way, and we have the power to change it.”

In his opening statement Bichsel also explained how the consciences of Disarm Now Plowshares have been formed by the people they hope to call as expert witnesses in the coming days: Steven Leeper, Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation; Angie Zelter, Scottish Plowshares activist and founder of Trident Ploughshares; Dr. David Hall, former president of the Washington State chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility; and Retired Colonel Ann Wright, who resigned from the State Department over the U.S. led invasion of Iraq.

On Wednesday morning the trial will continue as the government presents its case.

6 Responses

  1. What a great first day update! Keep up the good work!

  2. Inspiring words and work!

  3. The trial has begun well……..count on my support and prayer as it continues………..and know that what you do is not in vain.

  4. You each are in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you!

  5. I like the Rosa Parks analogy – you guys are my heroes. Keeping you in prayer….

  6. Thank you for your inspiring examples. May the jury and judge listen first to their consciences, their inner Light.

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