jump to navigation

How the US Turned Three Pacifists into Violent Terrorists May 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Nuclear weapons/power, Peace, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

 

 

Roger’s note: if this doesn’t send a chill up the spine of anyone with spine enough to peacefully challenge US war mongering, then I don’t know what will.  This case is Lewis Carroll, Orwell and Kafka rolled up into one.  Don’t fail to realize that this is happening under a president who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

 

three_0

From left, Greg Boertje-Obed, Sister Megan Rice, and Michael Walli. (Photo: Saul Young/News Sentinel)

In just ten months, the United States managed to transform an 82 year-old Catholic nun and two pacifists from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into federal felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism.  Now in jail awaiting sentencing for their acts at an Oak Ridge, TN nuclear weapons production facility, their story should chill every person concerned about dissent in the US.

Here is how it happened.

In the early morning hours of Saturday June 28, 2012, long-time peace activists Sr. Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, cut through the chain link fence surrounding the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility and trespassed onto the property.  Y-12, called the Fort Knox of the nuclear weapons industry, stores hundreds of metric tons of highly enriched uranium and works on every single one of the thousands of nuclear weapons maintained by the U.S.

“The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist.  For this we give our lives — for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”
– Sr. Megan Rice

Describing themselves as the Transform Now Plowshares, the three came as non-violent protestors to symbolically disarm the weapons. They carried bibles, written statements, peace banners, spray paint, flower, candles, small baby bottles of blood, bread, hammers with biblical verses on them and wire cutters. Their intent was to follow the words of Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Sr. Megan Rice has been a Catholic sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus for over sixty years.  Greg Boertje-Obed, a married carpenter who has a college age daughter, is an Army veteran and lives at a Catholic Worker house in Duluth Minnesota.  Michael Walli, a two-term Vietnam veteran turned peacemaker, lives at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house in Washington DC.

In the dark, the three activists cut through a boundary fence which had signs stating “No Trespassing.”  The signs indicate that unauthorized entry, a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

No security arrived to confront them.

So the three climbed up a hill through heavy brush, crossed a road, and kept going until they saw the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) surrounded by three fences, lit up by blazing lights.

Still no security.

So they cut through the three fences, hung up their peace banners, and spray-painted peace slogans on the HEUMF.  Still no security arrived.  They began praying and sang songs like “Down by the Riverside” and “Peace is Flowing Like a River.”

When security finally arrived at about 4:30 am, the three surrendered peacefully, were arrested, and jailed.

The next Monday July 30, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were arraigned and charged with federal trespassing, a misdemeanor charge which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.  Frank Munger, an award-winning journalist with the Knoxville News Sentinel, was the first to publicly wonder, “If unarmed protesters dressed in dark clothing could reach the plant’s core during the cover of dark, it raised questions about the plant’s security against more menacing intruders.”

On Wednesday August 1, all nuclear operations at Y-12 were ordered to be put on hold in order for the plant to focus on security.  The “security stand-down”  was ordered by security contractor in charge of Y-12, B&W Y-12 (a joint venture of the Babcock and Wilcox Company and Bechtel National Inc.) and supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

On Thursday August 2, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli appeared in court for a pretrial bail hearing.  The government asked that all three be detained.  One prosecutor called them a potential “danger to the community” and asked that all three be kept in jail until their trial.  The US Magistrate allowed them to be released.

Sr. Megan Rice walked out of the jail and promptly admitted to gathered media that the three had indeed gone onto the property and taken action in protest of nuclear weapons.  “But we had to — we were doing it because we had to reveal the truth of the criminality which is there, that’s our obligation,” Rice said. She also challenged the entire nuclear weapons industry: “We have the power, and the love, and the strength and the courage to end it and transform the whole project, for which has been expended more than 7.2 trillion dollars,” she said. “The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist.  For this we give our lives — for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons.”

Then the government began increasing the charges against the anti-nuclear peace protestors.

The day after the Magistrate ordered the release of Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli, a Department of Energy (DOE) agent swore out a federal criminal complaint against the three for damage to federal property, a felony punishable by zero to five years in prison, under 18 US Code Section 1363.

The DOE agent admitted the three carried a letter which stated, “We come to the Y-12 facility because our very humanity rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war.  Our faith in love and nonviolence encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary; that we come to invite transformation, undo the past and present work of Y-12; disarm and end any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity for an economy and social structure based on war-making and empire-building.”

Now, Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were facing one misdemeanor and one felony and up to six years in prison.

But the government did not stop there.  The next week, the charges were enlarged yet again.

On Tuesday August 7, the U.S. expanded the charges against the peace activists to three counts.  The first was the original charge of damage to Y-12 in violation of 18 US Code 1363, punishable by up to five years in prison.  The second was an additional damage to federal property in excess of $1000 in violation of 18 US Code 1361, punishable by up to ten years in prison. The third was a trespassing charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison under 42 US Code 2278.

Now they faced up to sixteen years in prison. And the actions of the protestors started to receive national and international attention.

On August 10, 2012, the New York Times ran a picture of Sr. Megan Rice on page one under the headline “The Nun Who Broke into the Nuclear Sanctum.”  Citing nuclear experts, the paper of record called their actions “the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex.”

At the end of August 2012, the Inspector General of the Department of Energy issued at comprehensive report on the security breakdown at Y-12.  Calling the peace activists trespassers, the report indicated that the three were able to get as far as they did because of “multiple system failures on several levels.” The cited failures included cameras broken for six months, ineptitude in responding to alarms, communication problems, and many other failures of the contractors and the federal monitors.  The report concluded that “Ironically, the Y-12 breach may have been an important “wake-up” call regarding the need to correct security issues at the site.”

On October 4, 2012, the defendants announced that they had been advised that, unless they pled guilty to at least one felony and the misdemeanor trespass charge, the U.S. would also charge them with sabotage against the U.S. government, a much more serious charge. Over 3000 people signed a petition to U.S. Attorney General Holder asking him not to charge them with sabotage.

But on December 4, 2012, the U.S. filed a new indictment of the protestors.  Count one was the promised new charge of sabotage.  Defendants were charged with intending to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155, punishable with up to 20 years in prison.  Counts two and three were the previous felony property damage charges, with potential prison terms of up to fifteen more years in prison.

Gone entirely was the original misdemeanor charge of trespass.  Now Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli faced up to thirty-five years in prison.

In a mere five months, government charges transformed them from misdemeanor trespassers to multiple felony saboteurs.

The government also successfully moved to strip the three from presenting any defenses or testimony about the harmful effects of nuclear weapons.   The U.S. Attorney’s office filed a document they called “Motion to Preclude Defendants from Introducing Evidence in Support of Certain Justification Defenses.”  In this motion, the U.S. asked the court to bar the peace protestors from being allowed to put on any evidence regarding the illegality of nuclear weapons, the immorality of nuclear weapons, international law, or religious, moral or political beliefs regarding nuclear weapons, the Nuremberg principles developed after WWII, First Amendment protections, necessity or US policy regarding nuclear weapons.

Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli argued against the motion. But, despite powerful testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a declaration from an internationally renowned physician and others, the Court ruled against defendants.

Meanwhile, Congress was looking into the security breach, and media attention to the trial grew with a remarkable story in the Washington Post, with CNN coverage and AP and Reuters joining in.

The trial was held in Knoxville in early May 2012. The three peace activists were convicted on all counts.  Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli all took the stand, admitted what they had done, and explained why they did it.  The federal manager of Y-12 said the protestors had damaged the credibility of the site in the U.S. and globally and even claimed that their acts had an impact on nuclear deterrence.

As soon as the jury was dismissed, the government moved to jail the protestors because they had been convicted of “crimes of violence.” The government argued that cutting the fences and spray-painting slogans was property damage such as to constitute crimes of violence so the law obligated their incarceration pending sentencing.

The defense pointed out that Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli had remained free since their arrest without incident. The government attorneys argued that two of the protestors had violated their bail by going to a congressional hearing about the Y-12 security problems, an act that had been approved by their parole officers.

The three were immediately jailed.  In its decision affirming their incarceration pending their sentencing, the court ruled that both the sabotage and the damage to property convictions were defined by Congress as federal crimes of terrorism.  Since the charges carry potential sentences of ten years or more, the Court ruled there was a strong presumption in favor of incarceration which was not outweighed by any unique circumstances that warranted their release pending sentencing.

These non-violent peace activists now sit in jail as federal prisoners, awaiting their sentencing on September 23, 2012.

In ten months, an 82 year old nun and two pacifists had been successfully transformed by the U.S. government from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism.

Fran Quigley

Quigley is an Indianapolis attorney working on local and international poverty issues. His column appears in The Indianapolis Star every other Monday.

Inside Fukushima August 20, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Nuclear weapons/power.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Kazuma Obara, a native of Japan’s tsunami-hit Iwate prefecture, is the first photo-journalist to get unauthorized access to the Fukushima plant and photograph conditions for cleanup workers. Yes, they’re still there.

2 Comments so far

Posted by acemoab
Aug 20 2011 – 12:04am

Frightening photos, especially in the black and white versions here. They gave me a very sad deja-vu about pictures of Hiroshima bomb sufferers I saw as a child. There really is not a very thick veneer between “civilized” life and the chaos of horrors like this. Just a thickness of metal in a containment vessel. No more.

Posted by Aaronica
Aug 20 2011 – 10:16am

I am again reminded of my training from the military.   NBCD, Nuclear, biological chemical defence.  Of course of the three biggie WMDs the training for the nuclear part was the quickest.  I quote “if the idiots ever do launch those fucking things, you will bend over, apply your lips to your arse, kiss it goodbye.”

The Indoctrination of Missile Launch Officers August 2, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Roger’s note: don’t miss the bonus I have posted at the end of this article, the Lyrics to Tom Lehrer’s classic, “Wernher Von Braun.”
Published on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

The US Air Force has a history of indoctrinating its missile launch officers to assure that these officers will have no moral qualms about following orders to use weapons of mass annihilation. In a PowerPoint presentation used in the training, the Air Force makes absurd arguments for the morality of war and the use of nuclear weapons. It includes numerous quotations from both the Old and New Testaments to make the case for the morality of war. For example, “Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior.” (Revelation 19:11)

The Air Force training acknowledges the devastation caused at Hiroshima and then raises questions for the young officers to contemplate, in seeking to assure that they are not hindered in their assignment to launch nuclear weapons if ordered to do so. Among the questions are those below with my own response to each of them in italics.

  • Can you imagine a set of circumstances that would warrant a nuclear launch from the U.S., knowing it would kill thousands of noncombatants?

No, I can’t imagine such a circumstance, and with nuclear weapons, the number of civilians killed could reach far beyond thousands into the millions.

  • Can we exercise enough faith in our decision makers, political and military, to follow through with the orders that are given to us?

No, I can’t exercise such faith in our decision makers. I know, for example, that in my lifetime, US leaders have not always been honest and have led us into aggressive and illegal wars on false grounds.

  • Can we train physically, emotionally, and spiritually for a job we hope we never have to do?

Why not put our efforts where our hopes and our consciences are instead of training for a job that would cause untold death and suffering?

  • To accomplish deterrence, we must have the capability and the will to launch nuclear weapons. Do we have the will now? What about fifty years from now?

Deterrence has many flaws. The capability and the will to launch nuclear weapons are not sufficient to assure that nuclear deterrence will be effective. It requires, for example, rationality and clear communications. The will required is the will to massively slaughter innocent people. Nuclear weapons are immoral instruments and nuclear deterrence is an immoral doctrine that could result in mass annihilation. We profess to have the will to use nuclear weapons now, and I can only respond by continuing to work to assure that we will have moved beyond nuclear weapons and the theory of deterrence long before fifty years have passed.

  • Bonus question: Are we morally safer in other career fields, leaving the key turning to someone else?

Bonus answer: We are morally safer working to eliminate all nuclear weapons than to maintain them, assuring that no one has either the capacity or the moral indoctrination to launch these weapons of mass annihilation.

To bolster its argument for the morality of using nuclear weapons, the Air Force training quotes former Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun: “We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through, and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.” It is a fine touch to turn to a former Nazi scientist for moral standards.

Captain Charles Nicholls, Electronic Warfare Officer of the 328th Bombardment Squadron, is quoted in the PowerPoint as stating: “Each of us in the strategic nuclear deterrence force must establish a moral foundation for our service. Our will to unhesitatingly fulfill our duty will strengthen deterrence, the morally best choice of action to assure peace and freedom.” He calls, in essence, for a moral foundation to unhesitatingly choose the morality of massive nuclear annihilation.

The PowerPoint presentation also includes a quote from General Omar Bradley: “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.” The Air Force would do well to reflect upon General Bradley’s statement.

The Air Force seems to have been comfortable with attempting to demonstrate its nuclear prowess in combination with its ethical infancy. It has just announced, however, that it has taken this PowerPoint out of its curriculum “to have a good hard look at it and make sure it reflected views of modern society.” It would be a significant step forward if it were to find that society’s views, long after the end of the Cold War, reflected the morality of a desire to urgently achieve the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.

<!–

–>

David Krieger

David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org), an organization that has worked since 1982 to educate and advocate for a world free of nuclear weapons. 

LYRICS TO TOM LEHRER’S “WERNHER VON BRAUN”
ARTIST: Tom Lehrer
TITLE: Wernher Von Braun
Lyrics and Chords

Gather round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun
A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience
Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown
"Ha, Nazi schmazi," says Wernher von Braun

/ G7 - C - / G7 C G7 C / G7 - C A7 / Dm C G7 C / 

Don't say that he's hypocritical
Say rather that he's apolitical
"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down
That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun

/ B7 - Em - / / G7 - C A7 / Dm C G7 C /

Some have harsh words for this man of renown
But some think our attitude should be one of gratitude
Like the widows and cripples in old London town
Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun

You too may be a big hero
Once you've learned to count backwards to zero
"In German oder English I know how to count down
Und I'm learning Chinese," says Wernher von Braun

Peace on Earth or the Earth in Pieces December 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Peace, Peace.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

“Peace in the World or the World in Pieces,” ink on paper, Roger Hollander, December 2009

We must choose between
The brotherhood of man or smithereens.
The people of the world must pick out a thesis:
“Peace in the world, or the world in pieces!”

From “Talking Atom Blues/Old Man Atom” by Vern Partlow and Irving Bibo(sung by Sam Hinton, the Weavers, Sons of the Pioneers,

For the complete lyrics: http://www.ildb.info/Vern+Partlow-Old+Man+Atom++Atomic+Talking+Blues+Talking+Atom+,lid85708-a14992.html

Pete Seeger at 90 May 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Peace.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

pete-seeger

by Peter Rothberg

Sunday, May 3, 2009,  The Nation

In January, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Pete Seeger was the oldest person to perform as part of Barack Obama’s inauguration festivities. 

Singing the “greatest song about America ever written” (Bruce Springsteen’s words) before 500,000 people live and tens of millions more on television, the then-89-year old legend crooned two little-known verses of his friend Woody Guthrie’s 1940 patriotic standard, “This Land is Your Land” — both about Depression-era poverty — restoring the song to its former glory over the sanitized version that ruled for too many years.

Over the course of a remarkable lifetime, Seeger has been an ambassador for peace, social justice and the best kind of patriotism. A uniquely American mix of blueblood and bluegrass — a product of Harvard University and the son of a violinist mother and musicologist father — Seeger has lived the story of the American left in the 20th century. The celebrations of his 90th birthday on Sunday offer a good opportunity to showcase and celebrate the causes to which he’s devoted his great life.

Defiantly leftist, pacifist–and for a decade or so, Communist–Seeger has embraced and supported virtually every major progressive advance of the 20th century. He’s sung and spoken out for organized labor, against McCarthyism, in support of racial justice, on behalf of nuclear abolition and against the Vietnam War; his voice put early wind into the sails of the environmental movement.

The right to dissent in a democracy has been a cornerstone of Seeger’s activism. In the fourth episode of the video series This Brave Nation Seeger talked about the infamous 1949 riot in Peekskill, NY, and the impact it made on his political development and commitment to free speech.

 

Seeger’s songs have engaged people, particularly the youth, to question the value of war, to ban nuclear weapons, to work for international solidarity and against racism wherever it is practiced, and to assume ecological responsibility.

A particular hero to the civil rights movement on whose behalf he’s worked so tirelessly, Seeger made his first trip south at the invitation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1956, and returned in ’65, again at King’s personal invitation, to join the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Amid the tension and heat, Seeger went from campfire to campfire when the marchers stopped for the night, raising morale with rollicking sing-alongs of new freedom songs.

Seeger also vigorously joined protests against the Vietnam war, playing countless benefits and protests and recording “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” the lyrics of which have renewed relevance today: “But every time I read the papers/That old feeling comes on/We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says push on.”

Sometime soon after King’s assassination in 1968, Seeger began to focus his energies locally around the town of Beacon, New York and the notoriously polluted Hudson River. Gathering together friends and colleagues, he picked up a literal hammer, this time to build the sort of sailing ship that hadn’t been seen on the river in decades to raise consciousness of environmental issues. They named it the Clearwater. Seeger also established Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a group which sponsors annual eco-festivals and acts as a bulwark against polluters in the area. Today, people can swim in the Hudson again.

Seeger birthed a folk revival that remains strong and relevant, and the music he championed is still sung on marches and picket lines coast to coast. As he moves into his tenth decade, it’s worth celebrating the music he has made–and the changes he has helped to bring about.

Peter Rothberg writes the ActNow column for the The Nation. ActNow aims to put readers in touch with creative ways to register informed dissent. Whether it’s a grassroots political campaign, a progressive film festival, an antiwar candidate, a street march, a Congressional bill needing popular support or a global petition, ActNow will highlight the outpouring of cultural, political and anti-corporate activism sweeping the planet.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 228 other followers