March 12, 1930, Ahmedabad, India. Mahatma Gandhi and a company of nonviolent satyagrahi set out from the Sabarmati ashram and began his march to Dandi where, twenty-four days later, he would make hold in his hands salt made from the ocean water and declare, “Here I ruin the British empire.”
It was an audacious faith in the power of nonviolence that carried Gandhi on that walk, and that powered him for another seventeen years before the miracle was realized and India was freed from British colonial rule.
Eighty-four years later, to the day, the power of nonviolence entered into the Potter Stewart federal courthouse in Cincinnati, Ohio, where three men sat in black robes to hear arguments challenging the sabotage convictions of Gregory Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice and Michael Walli in the Transform Now Plowshares action. Appellate arguments usually echo in a courtroom empty but for judges, a clerk and the lawyers. But on March 12, 2015, the pews began to fill at 8:30. By 9:00 there were more than forty people in the courtroom—three dozen Plowshares supporters and another dozen high school students on a field trip who were about to be educated about the legal process, and maybe be prompted to think about nuclear weapons and the power of nonviolent direct action in the process.
We had made our way to the courthouse in the early morning darkness after skimming a thin sheet of frozen dew off the windshields of our car. Fortified by oatmeal, some amazing english muffins, homemade granola and a selection of teas and coffee—thanks, John Blickenstaff!—we began to pass out flyers to passers-by. The courthouse was located alongside the downtown bus terminal, providing a convenient distribution point.
Within minutes, others arrived—Ardeth, Carol and Liz from Jonah House; Kathy Boylan from Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, DC and Paul Magno; four Sisters of Charity from Mt. Saint Joseph just outside Cincinnati; members of footprints for peace; half a dozen OREPA members from Knoxville; Brian Garry from Cincinnati; Shannon from Xavier. We greeted the Quigleys who traveled up from New Orleans for the hearing. It was a nice mini-reunion of folks who enjoyed the grand spirit of community of the trial and sentencing. Those of you who weren’t able to join us were missed. Some brought kinfolk with them.
The Veterans for Peace banner was unfurled; Ellen Barfield and Eve Tetaz held it on the corner in the chilly morning air. When we ran out of flyers, we went inside.
At 10:10 our case was called. Placards on the bench identified Judge Kethledge on our left; Judge Boggs in the middle; Judge Helmick on our right. Flanking the three living judges were two other elderly white judges, portraited in their robes. On the side wall, another judge l’oeil, and behind us, on the back wall, two much-larger-than-life judges watched over the proceedings from inside their frames. The courtroom was all dark paneling reaching to within four feet of the ceiling. The paneling was rectangles; the recessed lights were squares, the benches were mitered corners; there were precious few curves in a room dedicated to the sharp angles of the law.
Each side had fifteen minutes to argue. Mark Shapiro delivered oral arguments for our side and he was brilliant. Assistant District Attorney Jeff Theodore traveled from Knoxville to make the government’s case.
The purpose of our appeal was primarily to challenge the use of the sabotage statute to convict Megan, Greg and Michael—it is the reason they got such long sentences. Piece by piece, Marc peeled back the government’s rationale, applying case law and referring repeatedly to the intent of Congress in passing a statute meant to convict people who interfered with US war-making capability in war time. We argued the government has misapplied the statute, that interfering with Y12 (the Oak Ridge bomb plant) was not the same as interfering with the “national defense,” that the defendants general aspiration to bring about global nuclear disarmament did not equate to an intent to injure the national defense, and more.
Marc began by providing a clear accurate description of three senior citizens who trespassed at Y12 and damaged property. If that were the only charges they faced, he said to the judges, we probably wouldn’t be here. “But the government went further. They said that acts of nonviolent civil disobedience are equal to sabotage. They said these people, who sang, prayed and broke bread…that was not what Congress had in mind when they passed 2155 in 1918. They were concerned with damage to the instrumentalities of the national defense in a time of war.”
Judge Boggs interrupted (appellate hearings are not exercises in good manners…) to ask how Shapiro distinguished between slight harms, which Congress did not intend to include, and larger harms. He referenced the missile silo actions of Carl Kabat and Ardeth Platte. Marc said one could consider the instruments brought in; one could also consider the immediacy of the effect of the action. A missile silo had to be able to respond within minutes to an order—a bomb plant that manufactures one component of a nuclear weapon is several steps away from a sense of immediacy.
There was a back and forth between Shapiro and Boggs in which Marc deftly steered the conversation toward the issue of intent.
Judge Kethledge picked up: Well, there are two ways of defining intent…
Marc: Yes, objective intent and actual intent.
Kethledge: In this case, I understand they brought in little hammers.
Boggs: And they didn’t know about the shipment of material that was diverted.
Shapiro: There is no dispute about that. They could not have foreseen that they would get all the way in, not past one fence or two or even three, but through four. It was a surprise to everyone that security was extremely flawed. What they could expect was they could expect to be stopped. They did expect that. They hoped they would have a chance to educate the employees there about weapons of mass destruction. This gets to intent. Beyond that, no one expected this action would bring an end to nuclear weapons or stop production.
Kethredge: When they unfurled the banners, did they intend to eliminate nuclear weapons? Proximately?
Shapiro: No one could intend that.
Boggs: But they don’t have to eliminate all nuclear weapons to injure the national defense.
Shapiro: But Congress is clear. Slight injuries are not included in this statute.
Boggs: They took a chunk out of the wall.
Shapiro: Which everyone would see is a symbolic act.
Time was called, Marc having reserved four minutes for rebuttal.
It was Theodore’s turn. He tried to take the offensive. “There was sufficient evidence to sustain the sabotage charge; there are two elements, and they are only disputing one. To interfere with, injure or obstruct the national defense is enough. They surreptitiously entered, cut the fence, crossed the PIDAS security zone, and targeted the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility. They brought a banner. They read an indictment for war crimes,” he said, his voice rising with a little emotion at the end.
Kethredge cut in. “Sounds more like a protest than sabotage.”
Theodore: It was more than that. They had the desire, and then they took action.
Kethredge: Do you not recognize a distinction between motive and intent? If a man shoots his wife to get her money, his intent is to kill his wife, but his motive is to enrich himself.
Theodore: There is a difference to the extent. I don’t agree with their interpretation of the case they rely on.
Kethredge: Let’s look at the particulars. How big were the hammers?
Theodore: About a foot.
Kethredge: And they hammered on the building. Does that show an intent to injure the national defense? Banners?
Theodore: They intended to disrupt the national defense.
Judge Helmick spoke for the first time: “How is that accomplished, at that time of day (4:00am), when the damage they did was $8,500, at a time when no one was working…”
Theodore: They could have reasonable foreseen…
Kethredge: But reasonably foreseen has been defined as practically certain. Could they be practically certain that they would stop shipments from coming in, or that the bomb plant would be shut down for two weeks?
Theodore: They could be sure of a strong response.
Kethredge: They would more likely be certain they would be shot.
Theodore: Which did not happen, thank God. But the intent was to overall disarm, to enter.
Judge Kethredge then proposed a scenario where 20 ardent disarmament proponents undertook to lay down on the public road leading into the bomb plant to block a shipment of nuclear materials. “Suppose it takes a long time to remove them, and you can’t have bomb material waiting by the side of the road for a couple of hours, so they have to turn around and go back, three or four states away. Would those people be guilty of sabotage?”
Theodore: They would meet the second element, intent to injure.
Boggs: Intending to keep nuclear materials from getting in.
Theodore: They have to willfully intend to injure the national defense. If they indicated their intent…these people said at trial and in the media…
Boggs: But there was a time, a long time ago, when people would lie down in front of trains. Was that obstructing and interfering?
Theodore: They have all the right in the world to be against nuclear weapon and to protest. But when they take action and they try to interfere…
Kethredge: Well, standing on top of the missile silo door is different. What is missing is the proximate effect and substantiality. It’s de minimis, in terms of expectations. It is less proximate than Platte, right?
“It is,” Theodore admitted, then argued on a parsing of the statute to defend his position that Y12 is a national defense facility. “The bottom part refers to the military and armed forces. Everything above that is broader.”
Kethredge cited a recent case, Bond, and noted an uncanny parallel. In Bond, the defendant attempted to poison a person by applying chemicals to a doorknob, a little at a time. The government charged the defendant with using chemical weapons. Kethredge said, “The court said, ‘We’re not going to read chemical weapons that closely,’ even though there were chemicals that were used. Is it fair to say, banners, hammer, spray paint and blood—those are instruments to harm the national defense?”
Theodore could not back down now. “They could be—“
“Could be?” Kethredge cut him off. “These people are in prison right now.”
In that instant, humanity entered the courtroom that usually dealt only in verbal interpretations of legal language, hypothetical cases and the intentions of legislatures long since past.
Kethredge continued, “I’m inclined to the view of Chief Justice Roberts that we have to take a step back from a definition of national defense so eggshell that banners…
Theodore tried to argue for a broad reading.
Kethredge pushed back. “Banners? Bread? To injure the national defense?
Theodore: Or obstruct.
Theodore tried to present an interpretation of another case to suggest a broad application of the law. “We would not have these weapons or the national defense without Y12,” he said. “The statute should be interpreted to fulfill its purpose.”
Boggs noted one of the cases being used, Ortiz, ended up with the court requiring the government to go back to “get better intent.” Theodore’s time was running out. “We have to make sure the military establishment is prepared,” he said. Boggs took the last word: “It takes a long time to get from Y12 to a bomb.”
Now Marc Shapiro rose for his last few minutes. Boggs asked him to address the de minimis argument by creating a hypothetical poisoning of 20 soldiers at Fort Leavenworth. Is that interference?
Marc parried deftly and returned to the question of instrumentality—it could not be lost on the court that banners and bread were not poison and guns.
Marc noted: The government says they did this surreptitiously, but the whole point was exposure. They may have gotten in at night, but they were not trying to dilute the Uranium and hide out to see what happens. The point is, in this case, they intended to be exposed.
There was a pause and he closed, plain and strong: “We ask the court to reverse the sabotage conviction.”
We rose to file out while the lawyers for the next case stepped to the lecturn. I turned at the door to look back—the courtroom empty except for three people in suits, waiting their turn to address the judges.
There are other parts to the appeal, and they were all masterfully argued in the written briefs, but the oral arguments focused on the parts the judges felt were at issue. It is impossible to know from what we saw in court how the judges will rule. It did seem clear that no weaknesses in our arguments were exposed, and the judges seemed skeptical of Theodore’s arguments.
There is also no way of knowing when we will get a ruling from the court. We can hope, since at least one judge recognized the decision has implications for people who are incarcerated, they may have incentive to rule sooner rather than later.
If the TNP three are successful on appeal, the most likely result would be a resentencing, with the sabotage charge taken out of the picture. That would cause an adjustment in the calculations used to determine maximum and minimum sentences and could very likely result in reductions for Megan, Michael and Greg.
In the aftermath of the hearing, as we gathered at Panera Bread to speculate, we were reminded of the generosity of the lawyers for Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe—Shapiro, Thomas McConville, and Judy Kwan, who briefed the appeal, and Bill Quigley, always faithful and almost always hopeful. It was a great team, and a very good day for truth in the courtroom, at least a slice of the truth in the courtroom in Cincinnati.
Lawyers for the Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli will have 15 minutes to present oral arguments before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 9:00am. Counsel is expected to ask the court to vacate the convictions of Megan, Michael and Greg on the charge of sabotage, arguing the statute was wrongly applied in this case.
Those who attended the trial and sentencing in Knoxville may recall the judge himself expressed concerns about the charge, but in the end he let it stand.
The court has scheduled 30 minutes for oral arguments, which is standard procedure. The judges are not expected to issue a decision for some months.
It is not clear whether a decision in favor of the TNP three would result in a new sentencing hearing and/or reductions of sentences for the three. In any case, the process might not be concluded in time to affect Megan’s term since she is due to be released in November of this year.
If you are interested in attending the hearing, the courthouse is at 100 East Fifth Street in downtown Cincinnati. You should arrive no later than 8:30am in order to clear security. Be sure to bring a photo ID.
Two years after Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli entered the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, TN to issue an indictment against the continuing production of nuclear weapons components there and to oppose plans for a multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility which would produce thermonuclear cores for US weapons, and fifteen months after their conviction in federal court in Knoxville, TN on charges of sabotage (at which point they were held in jail), and six months after they were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to five years, lawyers for the Transform Now Plowshares resisters have filed an appeal in the Sixth Circuit court of appeals in Cincinnati, OH challenging the government’s use of the Sabotage Act, and the prosecutions efforts to prejudice the jury by inappropriately presenting testimony of prior offenses and invoking a comparison of the nonviolent demonstrators to 9/11 terrorists.
The appeal (you can access it below or under the Legal Arguments button above) asks the Sixth Circuit to reverse the defendants’ convictions. The arguments articulate what many of us who witnessed the proceedings firsthand felt during the trial—the prosecution sought to twist the law in a way that would achieve a conviction and, in so doing, subverted justice. “How can this be?” we wondered.
It turns out it can’t be, at least not legally. The appeal cites Berger v. United States in pointing out that “a prosecutor’s interest is not simply to ‘win a case, but that justice may be done.’ While he (sic) may strike hard blows, he may not strike foul ones.”
The appeal asserts that the prosecutor knowingly and wrongly conflated harm with the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex with harm to the national defense, and the court failed to distinguish between the symbolic action of the Transform Now Plowshares resisters and previous Plowshares actions that damaged actual apparatus of nuclear attack. The appeal also notes that motive—wishing to advance the cause of global nuclear disarmament—is not the same as an intent to disrupt Y12 operations.
The appeals team asks the sixth circuit to hear oral arguments. The appeal was prepared by the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP with assistance from Bill Quigley and Anna Lise Lellilid-Douffet from the original defense team.
OPEN LETTER FROM THE BROOKLYN METROPOLITAN DETENTION CENTER
from Sr. Megan Rice, on behalf of the Transform Now Plowshares
July 28, 2014
Our Dear Sisters and Brothers,
We send warm greetings and many thanks to all who actively engage in the transformation of weapons of mass destruction to sustainable life-giving alternatives. Gregory Boertje-Obed (U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas) Michael Walli (Federal Correctional Institution McKean, Bradford, Pennsylvania) and I are sending you some of our observations and concerns on the 2nd anniversary of our Transform Now Plowshares action.
On July 28, 2012, after thorough study of nuclear issues, and because of our deepening commitment to nonviolence, we engaged in direct action by cutting through four fences at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the U.S. continues to overhaul and upgrade thermonuclear warheads.
On that day, two years ago, when we reached the building where all U.S. highly-enriched (bomb-grade) uranium is stored, we prayed and also wrote messages on the wall, such as “The Fruit of Justice is Peace”. (Realistically, the higher and stronger fences built as a result of our nonviolent incursion can never keep humans safe from inherently dangerous materials and weapons.) We acted humbly as “creative extremists for love”, to cite one of our most important and revered leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr.
There are a number of reasons for what we did. We three were acutely mindful of the widespread loss to humanity that nuclear systems have already caused, and we realize that all life on Earth could be exterminated through intentional, accidental, or technical error.
Our action at the Y-12 site in Oak Ridge exposed the storage of weapons-making materials deliberately hidden from the general public. The production, refurbishment, threat, or use of these weapons of mass destruction violate the fundamental rules and principles by which we all try to live amicably as human beings. The United States Constitution and the Laws of War are intended to ensure the survival of humanity with dignity. However, it is abundantly clear that harmony and cooperation among nations can never be achieved with nuclear weapons. (These arguments, we assume, will be made on our behalf during the eventual appeal of our convictions that accused us of sabotage, though it was never our intention to harm our country.)
Our “crime” was to draw attention to the criminality of the 70-year-old nuclear industry itself and to the unconscionable fact that the United States spends more on nuclear weapons than on education, health, transportation, and disaster relief combined.
We three Transform Now Plowshares consider it our duty, right, and privilege to heighten tension in the ongoing debate of Disarmament vs. Deterrence because history has repeatedly taught us that the policy of deterrence doesn’t lead to security, but rather to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. During our trial, the U.S. prosecutors and the U.S. courts accused the wrong people when they claimed that we violated the law, because what we did was to make America’s citizens aware of egregious preparations for mass murder.
We took action because we were acutely aware that our government has failed to keep its long-standing promise to pursue nuclear disarmament. (As Ramsey Clark testified during one of our pre-trial hearings, the U.S. entered into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the 1960’s because our country was finally facing up to the severe human and environmental consequences of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as to the hideous results of countless nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. government within and beyond our own borders.)
One of our pressing concerns is that U.S. prosecutors and the courts adhere to an obsolete view of security with no cognizance – or consciousness – of the horrific effects caused by nuclear weapons. Greg, Mike, and I believe that, undeniably, the U.S. is in a state of denial. It’s what Hannah Arendt called not evil, but the banality of evil. “There’s nothing deep about it. It’s nothing demonic! There’s simply the reluctance ever to imagine what the other person is experiencing, right?” (Hannah Arendt, “Eichmann was Outrageously Stupid” in The Last Interview and Other Conversations, Melville House, Brooklyn 2013, p. 48).
We citizens cannot permit ourselves to be rendered passive and mute by the banality of evil! Only complete nuclear disarmament can save humanity. At stake is the honor and dignity of the Hibakusha, along with the physical, environmental, emotional, and psychological trauma long suffered by victims of the nuclear system, from uranium miners to down-winders. (From 1946 to 1958, Marshall Islanders were bombarded with 67 atomic and thermonuclear tests that were carried out by the United States.)
Michael Walli, Greg Boertje-Obed and I are in U.S. prisons because, ironically, our action at Oak Ridge was based on the common sense reality that we human beings have endured more than enough destruction and exploitation. We believe that we citizens can exercise our collective power to consciously transform our nation’s priorities. We all need to actively insist on more humane uses for the billions of dollars now budgeted for the nuclear weapons/industrial complex.
Two years ago, as we neared the building in Oak Ridge, we were extremely surprised by the ineffectiveness of the system that supposedly guarded our nation’s most important National Security Complex. We believed that we were about to expose the source of unfettered violence that has led to the chronic spiritual and economic decline in the U.S. As it turned out, it was the laxity of the security system at Y-12 that caught the attention of the courts and the mainstream media. Security weakness became the big story. There was no mainstream acknowledgement that the national security complex is rotting from its own irrelevance.
Most surprisingly, our July 2012 action and our court cases have revealed that it is not the U.S. government that is in control of the nuclear weapons complex, but in reality it is the corporations that are in control through their solicitation and manipulation of endless funding for the refurbishment of unlawful thermonuclear warheads. We three are incarcerated because we stood up to a nuclear weapons industry that is kept thriving by the interlocking and obsolete institutions that subscribe to the long-discredited notion that law and security can be enforced by ever-greater force.
Regarding the 22.8 billion dollar contract recently awarded for the operation of the Y-12 site in Oak Ridge and the Pantex site in Texas for the refurbishment of thermonuclear warheads and a new Uranium Processing Facility (UPF), the relevant corporations don’t actually operate under the long-discredited myth of “nuclear deterrence”. Rather, corporations such as Babcock and Wilcox, Lockheed, and Bechtel operate under limited liability subsidiaries, joint ventures, consortiums, and partnerships for the main purpose of making profits by engaging in huge nuclear weapons production/refurbishment contracts. By this time, Congress certainly is aware that valid contracts can be issued only for the dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and for the environmentally-sound treatment and disposition of all nuclear materials.
In order for the U.S. to negotiate for nuclear disarmament in good faith, we say it is essential to peaceably transform these very corporations so that they are no longer able to violate the most basic moral and legal principles of civilized society by deliberately precipitating planetary self-destruction.
We thank you for your letters and your concerns. We ask you to support the Republic of the Marshall Islands in their current legal actions against the United States in U.S. federal court and against the U.S. and all the other nuclear weapons states in the International Court of Justice, for failure to eliminate their respective nuclear arsenals. You can learn more and add your support by signing the petition at http://www.nuclearzero.org.
Greg, Michael and Megan
Several people requested we post this song, performed at the most recent Festival of Hope. Lyrics are by Ralph Hutchison; the performed version lifted the tune from Joel Rafael’s excellent piece, China Basin Digs.
They cut the fence and they started in about a half past two
They had no doubt when they thought about what they were called to do
The prophet said that hammers would make plowshares out of swords
And people turn their hearts to study peace instead of wars
They scaled the ridge in darkest night, couldn’t see what lay below
But they knew the bomb plant was out there, they headed toward the glow
One building gleaming white stood out ‘gainst the darkened July sky
Three fences blocked the way ahead, but they knew they had to try
The second fence had a low wall, and bright light shone beyond
They sprayed a message “Disarm Now” before the chance was gone
In a moment they’d be surely caught, and so they poured their blood
A symbol of the justice that will flow down like a flood
Before them stood the Y12 plant, where nuclear bombs are made
Where Hiroshima’s death was formed, and where the devil’s paid
Their cutters snipped the second fence and they headed for the third
Compelled to act by lessons they had learned from Nuremberg
When people see the government is bent on doing wrong
They have no choice, they have to act, they can not go along
Whispering prayers they forged ahead, the nun was first in line
They reached the third fence and they read the lethal warning sign
But the cameras failed to capture them, the alarms were all ignored
They crept ahead and came to where the nuclear swords were stored
But no guards came—they later said it was a miracle
They were kept at bay, heads turned away, the angels in control
They unrolled crime scene tape to say, “What happens here is wrong”
Poured blood and painted “Plowshares please;” they wouldn’t have too long
They painted on, each letter seemed a dove that was released
The words were like the voice of God; the fruit of justice, peace
And when the guard finally arrived, they met him with a bow
No gun was drawn, the guard could see there was no danger now
They offered him some bread to eat; the offered him their prayers
He radioed his bosses he had peace protesters there
They locked the Transform Plowshares up, for how long no one knows
But the seed of peace they planted there has sprouted and it grows
Who knows what act will turn the tide and lead the way to light
It’s the reason we’re required to do what we see is right
You don’t need all the answers, may not know precisely how
But ignorance is no excuse; the time to start is now
It’s enough to know we can not stand in silence anymore
Every dollar spent on bombs and guns is stolen from the poor
What started at Y12 that night in Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Is somehow still a living thing, it lives in you and me
A dream, a vision, a prayer, a call for all those who have ears
Transform swords to plowshares, please, make pruninghooks from spears
“STOPPING BY THE U. S. CONSTITUTION ON A SNOWY EVENING”
Poem by MICHAEL WALLI , with thanks to Robert Frost
Whose world this is
I know altho
The CIA thinks it
Is the Federals’ so
Surely they see us
To fill the jails
With empty show
The Founding Fathers
Must think it queer
To adjudicate without
A Constitution near
Between the paychecks
And frozen chosen
The biggest hypocrisy
Of the year
They give their burial
Shrouds a shake
To ask if there
Is some mistake
The only other
Sounds you hear
Is contractor money
And greedy take
The Constitution is lovely
Dark and deep
So many promises
You do not keep
When no one can sleep
Forsake your sleep!
— February, 2014
Here is the prepared statement Megan Rice read to the court on Tuesday, February 18, 2014:
As I sat observing the facial expressions of participants present in the hearing on January 28th, I sensed a clear sense of a shared mental reaction during the arguments on this restitution evidentiary Table submitted by the Prosecution (identification…) (display my Exhibit I)
I think we felt something of a Master’s compassionate consternation with the hypocrisy at his accusers. (Luke 6:5-11 Mark 4:20-30)
I was stunned that 8 months had elapsed with apparently no prior conversations, out of court, between the opposing sides and the court in this case, and would have imagined it had been resolved by negotiation during those delays, and relegated to where it deserved to be disposed. – unworthy of evidence in any court of law.
This very document [hold up Exhibit 1] is self-incriminating evidence for all the world to see. It represents in microcosm an enormous cloud of deception, exaggerated expenditures in time, energy and cost under which Y-12 has hidden these 70 years since its inception. It reveals but a sample of the extortion by unaccounted for or unaccountable profiteering and blatant miscalculation over Y-12’s entire evolution till today. – Draconian extortion of the hard-earned labor of the people in this country over the last 70 years, and perhaps before.
It provides evidence why we are in deep trouble today. – A perfect analogy to what Greg spoke of as “Emperor’s new clothes.”
Why can we not call a spade a spade?
Why can we not admit the bare truth, and just get on with what is humanly possible: transforming this humanly constructed horrific monstrosity, an entity which has, effectively un-impeded, evolved into risks of perilous portent to the very existence of this sacred Planet and life as we have known it; for whose transformation we all readily long to give our lives.
Who or what is capable of naming, and being heard to name,
this Emperor’s new clothes?
(if not already named in countless ways and forms.)
When will we be willing to listen,
and to face the truth?
Good morning! Thank you, Judge Thapar, and each of you, in this Beloved Community. We are so grateful this morning, in the depths of our hearts. Grateful to each of you for gracing us from your very busy lives, to be here once again. Your coming here from Kentucky, your honor, and up from New Orleans, Bill and Anna. Down form Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Anabel and David, faithfully giving time, and so much zesty, passionate energy and legal expertise in popular education for truth and justice’s sake on current status of international and domestic law; and here, also from a crowded date book at Yale’s Schools of Divinity and of Forestry and the Environment, Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker, to witness on behalf of our entire Planet. A Beloved Community joins us in Spirit, from the four corners of the Earth, speaking truth from people in places like Seychelles, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Denmark, Finland, France, Belgium, Qatar, Bolivia, Alaska, Africa, Scotland, Ireland, Montenegro, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Britain, and many places in between. These messages from the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers came by post for this court. May I deliver them now?
It is indeed fitting as the issue here before us today has touched with perilous risk, for 70 years, the very existence of our sacred, lovely home, which we all share and try to treasure – our Planet Earth, which many of us revere as Mother! So thank you. We treasured the time all you gave in attending the trial in one way or another.
This trial has exposed, quite gratuitously, in the evidence, thanks to the prosecution’s witnesses, the truth about what is happening. That this one facility is part, of what Kristen Iversen says, the U.S. has become: one, huge, bomb factory, of which Y-12 is but one very significant part.
We are all grateful, as Anabel Dwyer points out, with the Defense team of Lawyers, that the details of the goings-on at Y-12 were revealed by the witnesses for the government, details kept mostly secret, over nigh to 70 years – the specific warheads being “enhanced” and “modernized” – the enormous quantities of highly enriched uranium material (HEUM) produced and stored there, in the very building we were able, almost unknowingly, to reach, to touch, and to label with statements and symbols of truth. This alerted Y-12 workers to what has been kept secret for nearly 70 years.
The secrecy began in 1943, when worker women, by thousands, could not tell fellow workers or family. Still now, secrets are kept between workers, officials, and managers. The secrecy prevailed to try relentlessly to turn these United States into a “super power,” an empire. As Germany tried to be under the Third Reich. When I was growing up, to our generation, these were very evil terms. Has any empire, or aspiring super-power not declined, not fallen apart from exceptionalism into decadence? So we had to come to this facility to call it to transformation. Thank you for revealing these secrets as evidence.
Many who were here on Jan. 28th had attended plowshares trials around the country, your honor, from the most recent in Tacoma, WA – the Disarm Now Plowshares (seniors also, I allege, aged from 84-60: One Sacred Heart Sister, Anne Montgomery of happy memory, 2 Jesuits Frs. Bill Bicshel and Steve Kelly, and 2 grandmothers, Susan Crane and Lynne Greenwald.) In many of these earlier trials, even the words, nuclear weapons, have been called “classified” and denied to be alluded to. Despite being components for weapons of mass destruction, contrary to the Non-Proliferation and other treaties and laws, to which the U.S. is legally bound, and for which crimes we citizens bear shared responsibility by law to expose and oppose as crimes, when we know they are being committed.
And still we have more room and reasons for gratitude, you honor. Because recent laws, by the U.S. congress, gave you distress, you felt that you had to keep these jury-convicted, conscience-bound peace-makers as “violent saboteurs,” felons accused of “seriously damaging the national defense of the U.S.” in detention while awaiting sentencing. Detention in a privately-contracted, for profit, rendition warehouse, which punishes and tortures unsentenced people, partly because of the enormously overcrowded courts and prisons in this country. These facilities are not effectively overseen nor accountable. Because of our experience of the ill-equipped conditions and inadequately trained personnel in those for-profit warehouses, we now know how U.S. citizens and non-citizens are treated for nonviolent crimes of “conspiracy” and other medical, drug laws as they exist. Crimes engendered by the failed socio-economic situation which prevails today in a national security state. The direct fall-out from gross misspending to maintain a nuclear industrial complex – of ten trillions of dollars over these last 70 years. An economic system devoid of any outcome other than death, poverty for the masses in a debt-ridden country, with obscene wealth for the less than 1% of the people – individuals wealthier than the GNP of entire countries and I would ask, from war-profiteering?
We thank you, Judge Thapar, for giving us this time to become inspired by truly great human beings, so patiently enduring flagrantly inhuman conditions. We can now report to you and the general public, who are the government, of the conditions where people are experiencing punishment and torture as unsentenced, awaiting changing court dates, or places in federal prisons today. We have seen how this far-profit detention contract system fails to accomplish any kind of restorative justice or rehabilitation. Women and men who are the victims of a nation, impoverished by the violence and cost of an economy based on manufacturing WMDs and war-making – inhumanly separated by distance and poverty, managerial incompetence; inordinately separated from contact with loved ones and families.
I am grateful also for what Daniel Berrigan called in a letter to me in Danbury Prison in 1998, “my time under federal scholarship.” We have tried to make the most of it. (Have learned enough for 2 or 3 Masters degrees, and written and received letters to and from enough to do a doctoral dissertation!) We are activated by the people who suffer under disempowering conditions of detention. Activated to invite U.S. prison reform, which calls for transformation of minds and hearts from violence. Violence of profiteering from the “fall out” of constant, unending war-making, by a military industrial complex. Those engaged in the production of ever more massively powerful, death-dealing weapons, – nuclear, chemical, biological, unmanned weapons, which rob the poor and sabotage and pollute all of life and creation on this Planet. Imagine the profit accrued by charges like mine: $15 for one 10 minute call to Washington DC from Knoxville Detention Facility. TN instate calls can be close to $3.00 each for 10 minutes. Or a sick call, which can cost an inmate $15 to obtain a dropped, previously sanctioned prescription for a nightly Claritin tablet for controlling an allergy condition. Medical records denied to be passed on from facility to facility as inmates are moved along to prisons.
We are energized to call for life-enhancing alternative projects: like disarmament, depleting radioactive isotopes and toxins, and those which meet real needs – social, cultural, spiritual and environmental: restoration, healing, harmony, balance and peace in non-violence.
May I close with a prayer? A rendition of an ancient Hebrew country song – PS 98 (according to Nan Merrill) as again we thank you, Judge Thapar, honorable jurors, our defense team, lawyers on behalf of the government (whose crimes, we as law-abiding citizens attempt to disclose, oppose, and heal), and for each of you, you in this most honorable Beloved Community, a prophetic peace-making remnant, from whom we receive hope and inspiration and encouragement to carry on as grateful participants in your noble pursuits:
Let us sing to the Beloved a new song.
For Love has done marvelous things!
By the strength of Your Indwelling Presence, (Your right hand)
We, too, are called to do great things;
We are set free through Love’s Forgiveness and Truth.
Yes, for Your steadfast Love and Faithfulness
are ever-present gifts
in our lives.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the glory of Love’s Eternal Flame.
Make a joyful noise to the Beloved,
all the Earth;
Break forth into grateful song
and sing praises! [-Sacred the Land, Sacred the Water, Sacred the Sky, holy and true!]
Yes, sing songs of praise extolling
Lift up your hearts with gratitude and Joy!
Let the voices of all people blend in harmony,
in unison let the peoples magnify the Beloved!
Let the waters clap their hands!
Let the hills ring out with joy!
Before the Beloved who radiates Love to all the earth.
For Love reigns over the world
with truth and justice,
bringing order and balance, [harmony]
to all Creation!
In keeping with all that is just and Fair.
and may we go forth
as Your holy right hand, to do great things, in Love!
(MK 3: LK 7)
Megan then asked the judge if it would be all right to sing a song. He agreed, then was taken aback as she turned to the audience and they rose to join her in singing “Sacred the Earth.”
Sr. Megan Rice, SHCJ, February 18, 2014
U S Federal Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Judge Amul R. Thapar passed sentence on Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice
and Michael Walli on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 in federal court in
Knoxville, Tennessee. The three were convicted in May 2013 for their
nonviolent action called Transform Now Plowshares at the Y12 Nuclear
Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on charges of depredation of
property and sabotage—the convictions carried possible maximum
sentences of 30 years in prison. Sentencing guidelines, based on
factors including history, recommended sentences ranging from 6-10
Sentencing began at 1:30pm; the three were permitted to be in the
courtroom together by Judge Thapar.
Michael Walli received a sentence of 62 months on each count, to be
served concurrently, followed by 3 years of supervised release.
Greg Boertje-Obed received a sentence of 62 months on each count, to
be served concurrently, followed by 3 years of supervised release.
Megan Rice received a sentence of 35 months on each count, to be
served concurrently, followed by 3 years of supervised probation.
“Judge Thapar has tried to strike a compromise that reflects the
nature of this nonviolent action but satisfies the government’s
demand that Megan, Michael and Greg’s sentence send a deterrent
message to the wider community. For now, their bodies remain in
prison. But their voices are free, reminding us that the central
issue of this action and trial have not been resolved—as long as the
government continues to produce thermonuclear weapons of mass
destruction in Oak Ridge or anywhere, people are required to resist,”
said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental
At the hearing, each of the Plowshares resisters spoke, reminding the
court of the central purpose of their action—to call the court’s
attention to the ongoing violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty at the Y12 plant in Oak Ridge. In testimony at hearings
leading up to the trial, former Attorney General of the United States
Ramsey Clark called the production of nuclear weapons components at
Y12 “unlawful,” and the work there “a criminal enterprise.”
Megan, Michael and Greg entered Y12 in the wee hours of the morning
on July 28, 2012, cutting four fences and traversing a lethal-force-
authorized zone, arriving at the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials
Facility, the nation’s warehouse of weapons grade highly enriched
uranium. They poured blood on the walls of the HEUMF and spray
painted “Plowshares Please Isaiah,” and “The Fruit of Justice is
Peace.” They also chipped a corner of the concrete wall with a small
hammer, a symbolic act reflecting the Old Testament prophecy of
Isaiah who said, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares.”
The statement issued at the time declared the United States in
violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and said Y12 was
chosen for the action because of plans for a multi-billion dollar
bomb plant to be built there—the Uranium Processing Facility. The
sole purpose of the UPF (pricetag now $19 billion) is to produce
thermonuclear cores for warheads and bombs. Y12 is an active weapons
production facility—workers today are performing Life Extension
Upgrades on the W76 warhead at Y12.
Supporters outside the courtroom said, “The United States is breaking
its own law when it builds bombs in Oak Ridge. Any goverment that
would lock up Megan, Michael and Greg is desperate to hide the truth.
By their actions, they have broken the silence; their sacrifice
challenges each of us to speak up for a safer world. In prison or
out, Michael, Greg and Megan will continue to pray and work to save
the life of the planet.”
Judge Amul Thapar received a sentencing brief from sentencing law expert Douglas Berman on the eve of the Transform Now Sentencing hearings. Berman’s brief dealt with several questions raised in court at the first session of the sentencing which was disrupted by snow on January 28.
One argument put forward by the defense at the initial hearing was the use of the sabotage law against nonviolent protesters was outside the “heartland” of the law—meaning the law was intended for use against real saboteurs, not in cases like this. The prosecution argued, and the judge appeared to agree, that since the sabotage law was upgraded, it was rarely used against civilians, in fact, it had been used only three times, and all of them were in nuclear weapons protest cases. The logic was “if this is what it is being used for, it must be what it was meant for.” The judge, ignoring the fact that in two of those three cases judges had ruled for the defendants that the case was “outside the heartland,” concurred with the prosecution. Professor Berman disagrees.
The defense attorneys labored into the evening Monday, February 17, and filed their response to Bermans’ brief, noting Judge Thapar now not only has the discretion to provide some relief in sentencing, but has the opinion of an expert who suggests the Transform Now Plowshares defendants need not and should not be treated as though they were terrorists bent on actual sabotage.
You can read the Berman brief here:
And you can read the superb response by the defense team here:
Sentencing on February 18 is expected to begin at noon with Michael Walli, followed by Greg Boertje-Obed at 2:00 and Megan Rice at 4:00pm.