Trident Plowshares Trial Continues: Questions, Questions, Questions

Tacoma, Washington, Tuesday, December 8, 2010:The Disarm Now Plowshares trial began its second day this morning in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington.

Before bringing in the jury, Judge Benjamin Settle took up the subject of judicial notice of nuclear weapons at Bangor, stating that the defense was relying on three documents to confirm the presence of nuclear weapons at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor (NBKB) and Strategic Weapons Facility, Pacific (SWFPAC).

After the defense introduced an additional document they believed to confirm the presence of nuclear weapons at NBKB and SWFPAC, the prosecution stated what the government has done to reach a stipulation regarding nuclear weapons at Bangor.

The government will neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons at Bangor.  It is prohibited to do so.  They will only say that Bangor has the capability to service nuclear missiles.  The defense can say they thought there were nuclear weapons there, but the government will neither confirm nor deny that, and that is as far as they can go.

Judge Settle stated that nothing in the documents supplied by the defense confirms the presence of nuclear weapons at Bangor.

The judge then stated the facts accepted by the court: that nuclear weapons exist, that the Navy has fourteen SSBN’s in operation, that the Trident was designed to carry nuclear weapons, and that Bangor is home port of eight Trident submarines.  The defense will limit its questions to these four facts, whether or not there is evidence of nuclear weapons at Bangor,claiming that this is not pertinent to the issues before the court.  Judge Settle then provided the defense with specific questions they may ask.

The defense objected to the limited questions allowed by Judge Settle, but were overruled.  Judge Settle stated that the court has taken great care to protect the highly classified nature of Bangor operations.

The jury was brought into the courtroom and the prosecution began to present its case.  The government’s witnesses included an officer from the Navy NW Regional Police Department, a funding and facilities manager at Bangor, a Marine who was part of the security detail on the day of the Plowshares action, a member of the Navy security response team, and an investigator with the Naval Criminal Investigation Service Counterterrorism Unit.

After the jury was brought in the prosecution and defense continued to struggle over which facts would be presented to the jury.

In her cross examination of Naval Petty Officer Austin Wilchek, Anne Montgomery, RSCJ asked, “In any of your training were you given military regulations that prohibit the indiscriminate killing of civilians?”  The prosecution objected that the question was irrelevant, to which Montgomery retorted, “ Well, it was very important to us.”

In its examination of witnesses the prosecution paid great attention to the physical details of the case. Craig Spencer, an investigator with the Naval Criminal Investigation Service Counterterrorism Unit, was asked about the width and height of the opening cut in the outer fence, as well as the use of twist ties to close the opening.

On the other hand, the defense focused on questions of a more universal nature.  Do nuclear weapons exist?  Has the United States developed submarines intended to carry nuclear weapons?  Are there any of those submarines in the vicinity of the base where you work?  Did the base have nuclear-armed submarines on the day in question?

By this line of questioning the defense hopes to create an opening for the jury to base its verdict on a set of laws that is broader in scope than mere trespass and property damage.

Steve Kelly, SJ asked Spencer, “Are you aware of Trident’s capacity for mass destruction?”  “No, I’m not aware of what it can and cannot do,” replied Spencer.  Kelly then asked, “If you knew of a crime being committed, a law that was being broken on the base, would you be alarmed?” Spencer replied simply, “I would investigate.”

Tomorrow the government plans to finish presenting its case, and the defense may begin to call witnesses, including Scottish Trident Ploughshares activist Angie Zelter; Dr. David Hall, former President of the Washington State Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility; and Steven Leeper, Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation.

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