Two Grandmothers, Two Priests and a Nun Go onto a Nuclear Base
by Bill Quigley
Two grandmothers, two priests and a nun were sentenced in federal court in Tacoma, WA Monday March 28, 2011, for confronting hundreds of US nuclear weapons stockpiled for use by the deadly Trident submarines.
Sentenced were: Sr. Anne Montgomery, 83, a Sacred Heart sister from New York, who was ordered to serve 2 months in federal prison and 4 months electronic home confinement; Fr. Bill Bischel, 81, a Jesuit priest from Tacoma Washington, ordered to serve 3 months in prison and 6 months electronic home confinement; Susan Crane, 67, a member of the Jonah House community in Baltimore, Maryland, ordered to serve 15 months in federal prison; Lynne Greenwald, 60, a nurse from Bremerton Washington, ordered to serve 6 months in federal prison; and Fr. Steve Kelly, 60, a Jesuit priest from Oakland California, ordered to serve 15 months in federal prison. They were also ordered to pay $5300 each and serve an additional year in supervised probation. Bischel and Greenwald are active members of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, a community resisting Trident nuclear weapons since 1977.
What did they do?
In the darkness of All Souls night, November 2, 2009, the five quietly cut through a chain link perimeter fence topped with barbed wire.
Carefully stepping through the hole in the fence, they entered into the Kitsap-Bangor Navy Base outside of Tacoma Washington – home to hundreds of nuclear warheads used in the eight Trident submarines based there.
Walking undetected through the heavily guarded base for hours, they covered nearly four miles before they came to where the nuclear missiles are stored.
The storage area was lit up by floodlights. Dozens of small gray bunkers – about the size of double car garages – were ringed by two more chain link fences topped with taut barbed wire.
USE OF DEADLY FORCE AUTHORIZED one sign boldly proclaimed. Another said WARNING RESTRICTED AREA and was decorated with skull and crossbones.
This was it – the heart of the US Trident Pacific nuclear weapon program. Nuclear weapons were stored in the bunkers inside the double fence line.
Wire cutters cut through these fences as well. There they unfurled hand painted banners which said “Disarm Now Plowshares: Trident Illegal and Immoral”, knelt to pray and waited to be arrested as dawn broke.
What were they protesting against?
Each of the eight Trident submarines has 24 nuclear missiles on it. The Ground Zero community explains that each of the 24 missiles on one submarine have multiple warheads in it and each warhead has thirty times the destructive power of the weapon used on Hiroshima. One fully loaded Trident submarine carries 192 warheads, each designed to explode with the power of 475 kilotons of TNT force. If detonated at ground level each would blow out a crater nearly half a mile wide and several hundred feet deep.
The bunker area where they were arrested is where the extra missiles are stored.
In December 2010, the five went on trial before a jury in federal court in Tacoma charged with felony damage to government property, conspiracy and trespass.
But before the trial began the court told the defendants what they could and could not do in court. Evidence of the medical consequences of nuclear weapons? Not allowed. Evidence that first strike nuclear weapons are illegal under US and international law? Not allowed. Evidence that there were massive international nonviolent action campaigns against Trident missiles where juries acquitted protestors? Not allowed. The defense of necessity where violating a small law, like breaking down a door, is allowed where the actions are taken to prevent a greater harm, like saving a child trapped in a burning building? Not allowed.
Most of the jurors appeared baffled when defendants admitted what they did in their opening statements. They remained baffled when questions about nuclear weapons were objected to by the prosecutor and excluded by the court. The court and the prosecutor repeatedly focused the jury on their position that this was a trial about a fence. Defendants tried valiantly to point to the elephant in the room – the hundreds of nuclear weapons.
Each defendant gave an opening and closing statement explaining, as much as they were allowed, why they risked deadly force to expose the US nuclear arsenal.
Sojourner Truth was discussed as were Rosa Parks, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.
The resistance of the defendants was in the spirit of the civil rights movement, the labor movement, the suffragist movement, the abolition of slavery movement.
Crowds packed the courtroom each of the five days of trial. Each night there was a potluck and a discussion of nuclear weapons by medical, legal and international experts who came for the trial but who were largely muted by the prosecution and the court.
While the jury held out over the weekend, ultimately, the activists were convicted.
Hundreds packed the courthouse today supporting the defendants. The judge acknowledged the good work of each defendant, admitted that prison was unlikely to deter them from further actions, but said he was bound to uphold the law otherwise anarchy would break out and take down society.
The prosecutors asked the judge to send all the defendants to federal prison plus three years supervised probation plus pay over five thousand dollars. The specific jail time asked for ranged from 3 years for Fr. Kelly, 30 months for Susan Crane, Lynne Greenwald, 7 months in jail plus 7 months home confinement, Sr. Anne Montgomery and Fr. Bill Bichsel, 6 months jail plus 6 months home confinement.
Each of the defendants went right into prison from the courtroom as the spectators sang to them. Outside the courthouse, other activists pledged to confront the Trident in whatever way is necessary to stop the illegal and immoral weapons of mass destruction.
Bill Quigley is part of the legal team supporting the defendants and was in Tacoma for the sentencing. You can learn more about the defendants at disarmnowplowshares.wordpress.com.
Bill Quigley is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Contact Bill at quigley77 @ gmail.com
By Bill Quigley, Dec. 10, 2010
The federal criminal trial of five veteran peace activists facing several charges was recessed until Monday after their jury announced late Friday they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on one of the counts. The Tacoma Washington trial has been going on since Tuesday. The five defendants, called the Disarm Now Plowshares, challenged the legality and morality of the US storage and use of thermonuclear missiles by Trident nuclear submarines at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base outside Bremerton Washington.
The peace activists argued three points: the missiles are weapons of mass destruction; the weapons are both illegal and immoral; and that all citizens have the right to try to stop international war crimes being committed by these weapons of mass destruction. “It is not a crime to reveal a crime,” they argued. Supporters from around the world packed the main courtroom every day of the trial. Numerous others followed the trial in an overflow court room.
The five were charged with trespass, felony damage to federal property, felony injury to property and felony conspiracy to damage property. Each faces possible sentences of up to ten years in prison.
On trial are: Sr. Anne Montgomery, 83, a Sacred Heart sister from New York; Fr. Bill Bischel, 81, a Jesuit priest from Tacoma Washington; Susan Crane, 67, a member of the Jonah House community in Baltimore, Maryland; Lynne Greenwald, 60, a nurse from Bremerton Washington; and Fr. Steve Kelly, 60, a Jesuit priest from Oakland California. Bill Bischel and Lynne Greenwald are active members of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, a community resisting Trident nuclear weapons since 1977.
The five admitted from the start that they cut through the chain link fence surrounding the Navy base during the night of All Souls, November 2, 2009. They then walked undetected for hours nearly four miles inside the base to their target, the Strategic Weapons Facility-Pacific. This top security area is where activists say hundreds of nuclear missiles are stored in bunkers. There they cut through two more barbed wire fences and went inside. They put up two big banners which said “Disarm Now Plowshares: Trident Illegal and Immoral,” scattered sunflower seeds, and prayed until they were arrested at dawn. Once arrested, the five were cuffed and hooded with sand bags because the marine in charge testified “when we secure prisoners anywhere in Iraq or Afghanistan we hood them…so we did it to them.”
Eight Trident nuclear submarines have their home port at the Kitsap-Bangor base. Each Trident submarine has 24 nuclear missiles on it. Each one of the missiles has multiple warheads in it and each warhead has many times the destructive power of the weapon used on Hiroshima. One fully loaded Trident submarine carries 192 warheads, each designed to explode with the power of 475 kilotons of TNT force. If detonated at ground level each would blow out a crater nearly half a mile wide and several hundred feet deep. In addition to the missiles on the submarines, the base has an extensive bunker area where more missiles are stored. That storage area is the Strategic Weapons Facility-Pacific. That is where the activists made their stand for disarmament.
The trial brought peace activists from around the world to challenge the US use of the Trident nuclear weapons. Angie Zelter, internationally known author and activist from the UK, testified about the resistance to Trident weapons in Europe. Stephen Leeper, Chair of the Peace Culture Foundation in Hiroshima, told the jury “the world is facing a critical moment” because of the existence and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Though prohibited from testifying about the details of the death, destruction, and genetic damage to civilians from the US nuclear attack on Hiroshima, he testified defendants “have a tremendous amount of support in Hiroshima.” Retired US Navy Captain Thomas Rogers, 31 years in the Navy, including several years as Commander of a nuclear submarine, told the court he thought the US possession of nuclear weapons after the Cold War was illegal and immoral. When asked how these weapons would impact civilians, he responded “it is really hard to detonate a 475 kiloton nuclear device without killing civilians.” Dr. David Hall of Physicians for Social Responsibility testified about the humanitarian core beliefs of the defendants. And Professor and author Michael Honey told the jury about the importance of nonviolent direct action in bringing about social change.
Prosecutors said the government would neither admit nor deny the existence of nuclear weapons at the base and argued that “whether or not there are nuclear weapons there or not is irrelevant.” Prosecutors successfully objected to and excluded most of the defense evidence about the horrific effects of nuclear weapons, the illegality of nuclear weapons under US treaty agreements and humanitarian law, and the right of citizens to try to stop war crimes by their government.
The peace activists, who represented themselves with lawyers as stand by counsel, tried to present evidence about nuclear weapons despite repeated objections. At one point, Sr. Anne Montgomery challenged the prosecutors and the court “Why are we so afraid to discuss the fact that there are nuclear weapons?”
The government testified that it took about five hours to patch the holes in the fences and most of the day to replace the alarm system around the nuclear weapons storage area.
The twelve person jury reported it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on all counts and the judge sent them home for the weekend.
The extensive peace community gathered at the courthouse supported the defendants and rejoiced that the jury was taking the defendants and the charges seriously. Supporters promised to continue to protest against the Trident and its weapons of mass destruction. They echoed the words of one of prospective jurors who was excluded from the trial because, when asked whether he would follow the instructions of the judge in this case, said “I totally respect the rule of law, but some laws are meant to be broken, that is how things change.”
Jury deliberations will resume Monday.
Note: for photos made by the government, taken after the action was over and the participants had been arrested, see here.
No Nukes is good news!
Love of enemies means disarming nuclear weapons
They will hammer their swords into plowshares