Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sentencing of Disarmament Activists Postponed Again

The Asst. US Attorney asked me, “You write an online column, don’t you?” I thought, “I’m so sure you read Counterpunch.” But instead answered, “Yes, I do.” “And you called this a ‘kangaroo court’ didn’t you”? I gladly said, “Yes.”

“Do you still hold that opinion?” the prosecutor asked. Again, I readily said, “Yes.” It was a surreal moment. I found myself not just reporting on my friends Greg Boertje-Obed, of
Duluth, and former Duluthian Michael Walli, but testifying from the witness stand on their behalf.

Michael, who is 63 and now hails from Washington, DC, Greg, who is 58, and Sr. Megan Rice, 83, a Catholic nun and retired missionary from New York, were in federal court here for sentencing. Greg asked me and WWII Navy combat Veteran Andy Anderson, 88, of Duluth’s Veterans for Peace, to testify as character witnesses.

Along with Greg’s wife and partner in anti-war crime Michele Naar-Obed, and senior Nukewatch staffer Bonnie Urfer, we made the 19-hour drive from
Duluth to Knoxville to help make the case that these three nonviolent war resisters should be released with “time served” rather than given more prison time.

On the stand I missed the chance to explain why I’d said such a derogatory thing about the highly-paid Federal Judge, Amul Thapar, who now sat three feet away from me. I could have said it was because the judge had not allowed the defendants to present valid defenses — offered by expert witnesses including former US Attorney Ramsey Clark — to the felony charges stemming from their
July 28, 2012 protest.

When judges rule prior to trial in such a way as to guarantee a conviction, as Thapar did in this case, the trial becomes a kind of kabuki dance and the proceeding is no contest of facts, evidence and argument, but a disgraceful sham. I didn’t hesitate to stand by my insult, but it didn’t cost me anything to do so. The bold and courageous actions of Greg, Megan and Michael are another story, since they now face between 5 and 12 years in prison, and $52,900 in restitution.

Security Failure Brings Heavy Charges, Not Against Flunky Guard Service but Against Pacifists

On July 28, 2012, in what’s become an internationally renowned nuclear weapons protest case, Sr. Megan, Michael and Greg snuck into the US nuclear weapons factory known as “Y-12 National Security Complex” in Oak Ridge, Tennessee — formerly nicknamed “the Fort Knox of H-bomb materials” — to blow the whistle on the country’s plans for building ever more nuclear weapons.

Early that morning, the three were shocked to be able to snip through three wire fences undetected, and walk right up to the  Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, a concrete fortress with prison-like guard towers atop 20-foot walls, where they strung banners, poured blood and painted: “Woe to an empire of blood” and other slogans on the wall. 

For publicly humiliating the so-called “high-level protection force” of 800 offices that guard Y-12 complex, the three were charged with felony damage and sabotage — even though no one was threatened or injured, and repairs were completed in one weekend. The tiny group was so non-threatening in their actions that morning that the guard who finally spotted them didn’t draw his weapon. He testified at trial in May that he knew them to be “peace protesters” who never endangered him. He was so much at ease that he never drew his weapons, but was later fired for so “violating protocol.”

Still, because the “defense of necessity” — the argument that building thermonuclear weapons is a criminal conspiracy to illegally prepare massacres with weapons of mass destruction; a conspiracy that citizens have a duty to interfere with — was ruled by the judge to be “irrelevant,” the bold peace artists’ conviction was pre-determined, known in advance, a slam dunk.

Following the mockery of a trial, sentencing was originally set for September. That hearing was postponed to Jan. 28, but half-way through today’s process, Judge Thapar abruptly postponed the hearing. Courthouse authorities had announced that the puny snowfall accumulating outside forced them to close the building early. 

Mr. Walli, a Roman Catholic layman and Vietnam era combat veteran; Sr. Rice, a member of the Roman Catholic Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus and retired missionary who served 40 years in Africa; and Boertje-Obed, a house painter and former ROTC-trained medical officer, a member of Veterans for Peace — came to court bound in chains from federal custody where they’ve been held for the eight months since their conviction in May. They came prepared to speak to the court, but now have to wait until Feb. 18.

Before the hearing was postponed, Andy Anderson testified for Greg; Kathy Boylan of
Washington, DC’s Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House testified on behalf of Michael, and Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker of Yale University testified for Sr. Rice. 

Monday evening before today’s hearing, about 130 supporters gathered at a Knoxville church to hear from members of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, defense attorney Bill Quigley of Loyola Univ., Andy Anderson, Michele Naar-Obed, Kathy Boylan and Sr. Ardeth Platte of Jonah House in Baltimore.

> The article above is reprinted from the Reader Weekly.  It is written by John LaForge, who works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and environmental justice group in Wisconsin.

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