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Archive for September 2012

Greg Boertje-Obed released, awaiting Y-12 trial

Video interview with Greg, click to view.

Greg Boertje-Obed was released from Blount County Detention Center at 8:30pm on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 to await trial, currently scheduled fro February 26, 2013. Greg, along with Sr. Megan Rice and Mike Walli, formed the Transform Now Plowshares action which entered the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex on July 28, 2012, penetrated the high security “exclusion zone” with a pair of low tech bolt cutters, and hammered, prayed, painted “Swords into Plowshares” and poured blood on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility in Oak Ridge, TN.They were protesting ongoing nuclear weapons production at Y12 and plans for a new $7.5 billion bomb plant, the UPF, slated to begin construction this fall. Greg has been in Blount County Jail since July 28. His co-defendants, Megan and Mike, accepted release in July following their arraignment. Additional reports from court can be found on OREPA’s web site: http://www.orepa.org.

Greg’s release came as a result of his request for a detention hearing following the reset of the trial date from October to February. He had originally declined to seek release, but told the judge he was now prompted by the difficulty of trying to consult with co-defendants in preparing for trial and by family concerns.

At the detention hearing, Assistant District Attorney Melissa Kirby rehearsed her well-worn reasons why Greg should be locked up, adding that he had warned the court earlier he would not accept or comply with conditions of release. Then the judge asked her if Greg, with his lengthy record, had in any instance not shown up for court. She admitted she had no evidence of that. “He was convicted numerous times in the past, so I assume he was in court,” she said. “However, in this case he said he would not appear.” “I don’t believe he said that,” the judge said.

Greg told the judge he had a 100% record of appearance in prior cases for “anything I have been arrested for, all of which, in my opinion, were ‘good deeds.’”

The judge subjected Greg to a lengthy interrogation—an apparent payback for Greg’s earlier refusal to accept release unless the judge declared nuclear weapons to be a war crime. In the end, after Greg attempted to explain his living situation at the Catholic Worker in Duluth (“Is it a part of the Catholic Church?” “No.” Is it affiliated with any church?” “No, but many churches contribute to our work.” “How did it get the name, then?” “In 1933, the name Catholic Worker was chosen by the founders.” “Huh.”) The judge then asked Greg what he did in Duluth and Greg said he found work painting houses, landscaping, and volunteering hospitality to homeless and others in need.

Finally indicating that he might accede to Greg’s request, the judge asked about what he would do if he were released. “Do you have a place to stay locally until you can get a bus to Duluth?” Erik Johnson rose from the audience. “My wife Libby and I would be honored to provide hospitality to Greg.”

The judge took a recess. When he returned, he walked the court through all the guidance provided to judges in making detention determinations. “His record of appearance is good,” said the judge, “by his own word, one hundred percent.” Responding to the prosecution’s assertion that Greg posed a danger to the community, the judge said, “He poses little danger. In fact, it may be that some people in Duluth will benefit if he returns to his normal activities.” Finally, the judge said, “Taking in the totality of factors, Mr. Obed appears to be an appropriate case to release.”

Then the judge offered an aside, “In my experience in these kinds of cases, and I’ve had several (actually two), in the cases of these Y12 protesters, and I think we may have some in the audience, I see Sister Lentsch there…in my experience these protesters actually want to attend trial. Candidly, I don’t think I could keep them from it. Part of the express purpose of their action is to publicize the production of nuclear weapons, and they view their arrest and trial as part of the publicity. So right or wrong, he’s likely to appear.”

Turning to Greg, the judge said, “Mr. Obed, I think you’re a man of your word. Before, you told me you would not agree to conditions or agree not to break any laws if you were released, and I think you meant it. Now you say you will, and I think you mean it. If you do, you will remain out and will be able to do good while you are out.”

With that, the judge declared that Greg would be released that evening, and five hours later he walked out of Blount County Jail. He will leave for Duluth on the Megabus at 11:30am, Wednesday, September 12. His departure coincides with the opening of Congressional hearings in Washington, DC, on the Transform Now Plowshares security breach at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex.

Video interview with Greg Boertje-Obed

I’ve been preparing for more than a year, discussing with other people and then specifically Megan and Michael.

Many months ago, Megan learned about the Disarm Now Plowshares, and she went to the trial on the west coast, and that moved her to want to explore doing a similar type action.  Because of the experience, all the expert witnesses they had, all the reasons why nuclear weapons are illegal.

And Michael has always felt that the rule of law is a key motivating factor for him.  He believes strongly that nuclear weapons are illegal, and that we have a duty and an obligation, especially according to Nuremberg Principles, to take steps to intervene in war crimes of building nuclear weapons.

Was there any physical fitness preparation, did you expect this to be a rigorous…?

I did ask Megan to practice walking.  Months in advance, you know, because she does lose breath when she walks a long distance.  And she had been practicing.

But not cardboard boxes.

That’s a recent problem.

We take responsibility for what we did.  We say, we are the people who did it, and we want to explain why we believe it was legal and the right thing to do.

In the early morning, 2:00, 2:30, whatever it may be, on July 28th, that morning — can you say, I think we talked somewhat about this, but I’m not sure — did someone actually drop you off at a certain point?

That’s another thing that we say: the Spirit led us there.  And we don’t want to implicate other people who might have not wanted to be known.

It boils down to, nuclear weapons are designed to be of mass destruction.  They are going to kill civilians.  The intent of killing civilians is a war crime also.  And preparing, just by building you are preparing for a war that will kill civilians.

Video by Michael Patrick, News Sentinel

Trial date reset for Feb 26; Sister Megan injured wrists

Court Update from Ralph Hutchison:

Judge Shirley arrived in court a few minutes late for the Transform Now Plowshares hearing on Friday, September 7, but it gave us time to visit a bit with Greg Boertje-Obed when he arrived, in stripes and shackles, from Blount County Detention Center. Greg looked and sounded healthy, inquired about his co-defendants, and then settled into a conversation with his “elbow counsel.”

When the judge arrived, he declared that he would hear motions for a continuance in the case, originally scheduled for trial on October 9.

By the time it was over, he had made several rulings and established a new calendar. The trial is now scheduled for February 26, 2013, though it is not entirely clear that date will hold.

The motions were dispensed with in a straightforward hearing. The government did not object to the granting of a continuance, though they did dispute the request from the defendants that the case be designated “complex.” In the end, the judge said he would not designate the case “complex,” but he would also not agree it was not—the defense could come back and argue another day if necessary.

The prosecution told the court it had provided initial discovery and would be releasing the second (and likely final) batch of discovery materials today or Monday. The defendants suggested it was quite possible they would seek additional materials in discovery which might lead to hearings and even litigation. The judge urged them to see what was forthcoming and attempt to resolve any outstanding issues informally with the government and the defendants agreed.

As the 50 minute hearing drew to a close, the judge set new dates:

  • Motions deadline: October 9
  • Response to motions: October 30
  • Motions hearing:  November 20, 9:30am
  • Plea cut-off: January 25
  • Trial:    February 26

Note: Many may have already heard that Sister Megan Rice fell and suffered two broken wrists late last week. She is recovering; new casts have been placed on her wrists that enable her to use her fingers. Megan is seeking permission to relocate to Rosemont, PA where her community can better provide for her rehabilitation. The judge this morning indicated the decision rests with the probation office. If and when Megan moves, we will try to post updated contact info on this site and on the OREPA web site: www.orepa.org.

Reflection from Blount County Jail, by Greg Boertje-Obed

Greg Boertje-Obed at a November 2011 protest at the construction site of the new Kansas City nuclear weapons parts plant

(published in issue #167 of the Nuclear Resister newsletter)

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.  
– Psalm 118.22-23

When Megan, Michael and I were preparing for the witness that became the Transform Now Plowshares, we discussed this passage and were struck by how it might apply to the action we were considering. We learned of government and corporate plans to build a new factory for making “modernized” nuclear weapons, called the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF). Peace activists called for a campaign to halt the plans for this $7.5 billion death factory whose projected costs kept increasing. We knew that many of our international treaties committed us to stop building nuclear weapons and to reduce to zero our weapons of mass destruction.

When studying the above scripture, we read that Jesus quoted it in a parable in which he was the stone rejected by the religious and political leaders of his day. He was to become the cornerstone for followers of the Holy One. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the early disciples quoted this verse, applying it to the rejection of Jesus and his rising from the dead.

A thought that came to us was that the builders of nuclear weapons have rejected the teachings and example of Jesus. Our leading was to seek to act in the tradition of plowshares actions, to bring hammers and blood, and to attempt to hammer on a cornerstone of a building used for making nuclear horror weapons. We knew that a recent structure was built that was intended to be a counterpart to the proposed UPF.

Our intention was to reject nuclear weapons as a cornerstone of our national policy by symbolically and actually hammering on a cornerstone of the new building. We also intended to explain that our action was a rejection of the U.S. role in the world. We knew that our nation functions as an empire that viciously oppresses weaker peoples around the world.  Nuclear disarmament and rejection of imperial oppression are both necessary for justice and life.

We believe God clearly guided us through the fences to the uranium building where we put up banners, poured blood, spray painted, put up crime scene tape, and began to hammer on a lower corner of the wall beneath an imposing guard tower. After a few blows, the wall began to crumble. After a few more strikes, the hole widened. A short while later, Megan came with her tiny hammer and swung a few times. The wall continued to crumble.

We give thanks for the miraculous leading of the Spirit, which is how we understand the action occurred.  If God can raise people from the dead, then God can lead people past forces of death to continue the process of transforming structures of death to become structures for life-enhancing purposes.

We continue to pray for more transforming and are encouraged by the Spirit that sings:
This is the day that the Lord has made,
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
– Psalm 118:24

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