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.
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
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:
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.
(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
the following blog was posted on the OREPA web site this morning. while the media is captivated by the security breach angle on the Transform Now Plowshares, we believe the incident is further evidence on NNSA incompetence and should be used to call into question the UPF itself.
NNSA: The only thing they can manage right is shifting blame to others
The recent breach of security at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, TN, when three civilians, including an 82 year-old woman, penetrated the inner sanctum, high security PIDAS zone and made physical contact with the nation’s storehouse for nuclear weapons grade highly enriched uranium, has drawn attention to the site. Operations have been halted in a security “stand down” while workers are re-trained on security fundamentals.
So far, most of the publicity has been about the contractors responsible for security at the site: at both Wackenhut (WSI) and BWXT-Y12, heads have rolled—the heads at the top of the contractor command chain. Workflow and lines of accountability among contractors have been re-drawn. The Secretary of Energy has personally admonished the workforce across the weapons complex.
To this point, the National Nuclear Security Administration, responsible for actually managing the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex, has managed to keep the public focus on the contractors, displaying in this area a deftness sadly lacking in most of its other activities.
NNSA is responsible
In fact, though, the buck should not stop with WSI or with BWXT, but with NNSA, the federal agency responsible for managing the operators at Y12. NNSA’s response so far has been to “temporarily reassign” one person and bring in study teams to investigate what went wrong and assess what is required to re-establish security at the site.
NNSA has also, according to a news report, asked Brigadier General Sandra Finan, principal assistant deputy administrator for military application, to conduct an assessment “of the oversight model and security organizational structure at NNSA headquarters.” NNSA has realized it may be time to check the barn doors, apparently.
It’s not just security—it’s MANAGEMENT
The July 28 security fiasco at Y12 should compel questions about NNSA’s management, and those who ask the questions should reference the GAO testimony in Congress last February which questioned NNSA’s management capacity.
The reality GAO documents is simple: NNSA, just over a decade old, has never gotten its act together. Cited by the GAO as a prime example of the lack of NNSA management capability is the Uranium Processing Facility, sister to the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility which was compromised in the July 28 incident. The UPF is slated to be built adjacent to the HEUMF, connected by above and below ground passageways.
The GAO testimony in February 2012 starts with NNSA’s failure to manage costs of major construction projects, looks at the management systems of NNSA and declares them inadequate. “NNSA does not have reliable enterprise-wide management information on program budgets and costs, which potentially increases risk to NNSA’s programs.…NNSA lacks complete data on, among other things, the condition and value of its existing infrastructure, cost estimates and completion dates for planned capital improvement projects, and critical human capital skills in its contractor workforce that are needed for its programs. As a result, NNSA does not have a sound basis for making decisions on how to most effectively manage its portfolio of projects and other programs.” NNSA management incompetence is not limited to budget forecasting; it is systemic.
NNSA managers “save” money on security
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, when the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility was being designed, voices from the outside—the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance and the Project on Government Oversight and others—pushed repeatedly for a below-grade design for the HEUMF as a security measure. Building a massive facility to house nuclear weapons materials above ground in a valley surrounded by high ridges made no sense from a security standpoint, as the Plowshares activists demonstrated so clearly on July 28. At the time, NNSA decided to build the facility above ground to save money—the number quoted was $12 million, or 2.4% of the overall $500 million cost of the facility. In hindsight, others recognize what we were saying at the time—the added cost of this security measure should be seen as an investment in security that would last the lifetime of the facility. Compare the cost savings then with the cost of the security stand down, now 14 days and counting, and NNSA’s management decision is brought into stark focus.
NNSA management decisions plague UPF design process
Since NNSA announced its decision to build the UPF in Oak Ridge in July 2011, information has trickled out that calls into question key management decisions regarding the UPF. We can set aside the biggest one—should we build a new facility or save billions by upgrading existing facilities?—because GAO says NNSA has never crunched the numbers to know what it would cost to upgrade existing facilities. NNSA, emboldened by the deal struck by President Obama to get the votes he needed for the new START Treaty, has gone whole hog, deciding to build a Supersized, Superpriced facility—and to do it in a hurry.
Let’s build a building bigger than we need, that costs billions more, too!
That question, which many would like to avoid (none more than the management at NNSA) is crucial not just for what it may tell us about July 28, 2012, but because this same NNSA is in the process of managing the design and construction of the Uranium Processing Facility at Y12 in Oak Ridge, the HEUMF’s sister. The UPF is currently oversized: in the Environmental Impact Statement, NNSA said it could meet mission requirements with a production capacity of 10 warheads/year, but the UPF is sized to have a production capacity of 80 warheads/year—that’s 700% excess capacity every year! The UPF is also overpriced: cost estimates have gone stratospheric, rising 1000% since it was first proposed six years ago, though it’s fair to say no credible final cost estimates have been presented. NNSA says they can nail it down to within 3 billion dollars ($3.5-6.5 billion). The Army Corps of Engineers ballparked it at $7.5 billion.
Let’s shortcut safety
NNSA has allowed the UPF design contractor to skip the preparation of a Preliminary Safety Design Report [PSDR]. Now, with the UPF nearing 75% design completion, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board says safety is “not integrated into the design” of the UPF, and decisions to reduce criticality safety standards are “not protective of workers or the public.” A PSDR is being prepared retroactively, demonstrating clearly the wisdom behind the original mandate to prepare a Preliminary Safety Design Report. The NNSA’s decision to proceed without a PSDR has cost money (no one knows how much) and time (no one knows how much)—the cost of designing the UPF has already reached the initial low-end total estimate for the complete construction ($600 million) of the facility. And they aren’t done designing.
Should we see if our new technology works before we commit to it?
NNSA has also allowed the design team to develop plans for the UPF that incorporate unproven technologies into the design. The GAO, in a separate, November 2010 report, was highly critical of this, noting it does not meet “best practices” set forth by the Department of Energy and pointing out that should a new technology fail to pan out, the project would be placed at risk—re-design would be expensive in both time and dollars. How many new technologies are planned for the UPF? At least ten are cited by the GAO. How many of the ten will not have met the industry standard “Readiness Level 6” before the UPF reaches its final design stages? Six of the ten.
One of the more mature technologies cited in the GAO report was microwave casting. It had already been demonstrated and was moving toward production line testing in existing facilities at Y12. We learned in April the production line test took place in February, 2012 and failed. The failure was not a little glitch requiring tweaking—the core components of the microwave casting oven were returned to the manufacturer for re-manufacture. This technology was not one of the ones GAO considered risky, but it made their concerns look prophetic. Has NNSA, exercising wise management, taken a decision to adhere to industry and DOE best practices, slowing down the design process until technologies can be proven to TRL 6? On the contrary, NNSA is cheerleading for additional funding from Congress to “accelerate construction” of the UPF.
Let’s get started, even if we’re not ready
Wait, there’s more. The GAO critique of NNSA management notes NNSA is unable to provide reality-based cost estimates for major construction projects, pointing to the UPF as an example—estimates of the total cost of this project have rocketed from $600million – $1.5billion at the outset to $6.5 – 7.5 billion at present. In defiance of their own regulations, NNSA has provided no independent cost estimate for the UPF, and none is expected until at least a year after Congress approves funding to begin construction. What’s more, in an effort to circumvent its own departmental requirement that projects over $100 million receive headquarter’s approval, NNSA has announced a scheme to artificially divide the initial construction work into four pieces, the first two of which conveniently come in under $100 million (if NNSA’s numbers can be believed), allowing construction to begin without HQ approval.
Wait, maybe it’s not big enough after all…
Were the UPF not such a huge project, with critical ramifications for US security, some of the mismanagement would simply be ludicrous. An August report in the Knoxville News-Sentinel notes that, with design of the UPF 75% complete, “There are continuing reports out the Uranium Processing Facility design camp and those familiar with the work that there are real difficulties in fitting all of the desired equipment into UPF’s prescribed space. According to one report I received, the building was at least 20-25 percent too small for the equipment planned, adding to the worries as design enters the final stages for the multi-billion-dollar project.”
In July of this year, the GAO released an audit report of NNSA’s budgeting procedures that levies three significant criticisms of the process NNSA uses to develop budgets. The GAO report points out why the processes are inadequate to fully inform NNSA management and others in government responsible for budget decisions—the Office of Management and Budget as well as Congress. The failure of NNSA to put in place systems that provide accurate cost accounting and estimates as part of a project is not simply an accounting failure, it is a management failure.
Is anybody noticing? Anybody at all?
The GAO is not the only one to notice NNSA management deficiencies. Hans Kristensen, in a recent blog post for the Federation of American Scientists, notes: “The disclosure during yesterday’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that the cost of the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) is significantly greater that even the most recent cost overruns calls into question the ability of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to manage the program and should call into question the B61 LEP itself.”
One recent report about the fallout from the Y12 security breach noted that NNSA is sending its principal assistant deputy administrator for military application to Y12 for a look-see. Really? NNSA has a “principal assistant deputy administrator…”? Is it any wonder, in a management structure that has those kinds of positions/titles, that no one seems to know what is going on or who is accountable?
Congress: Please ask the BIG question
Congress should ask questions about the security breach at Y12, but it should not limit its curiosity. When the stakes are so high, Congress should broaden the scope of its investigation to ask about NNSA’s management capacity. In the meantime, it is fiscally irresponsible to dump piles of money on the UPF boondoggle when NNSA can not answer the most fundamental questions about its bomb plant.
The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance works to stop nuclear weapons production at the Y – 12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Protesters point out ugly truth about Y-12
Op-ed, Knoxville News Sentinel
August 3, 2012
Should a native of Roane County, Tennessee — or any of us, as citizens of the United States — be proud of the nuclear warheads made possible by the uranium processing done at Y-12?
Pam Strickland has written a beautiful op-ed for the Knoxville News Sentinel answering this question. A job with the Department of Energy (called the Department of Extinction by some, for their role in producing nuclear weapons) at Y-12, Oak Ridge, was considered wholesome and respectable. It was considered life-giving work, helping to fund schools and other community institutions.
As Strickland grew older however, her views changed. What was the cost of using nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What is the cost of holding this power to be “the destroyer of worlds,” as J. Robert Oppenheimer said, quoting the Bhagavad-gita?
How do we respond?
Are we proud? ashamed? do we simply go about our business?
Strickland outlines the Plowshares movement, which takes its mandate from 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 anymore.”
Finally, Strickland asks the most important question: in the wake of Greg, Megan, and Michael’s action, will more of us stand up for what we know to be right?
Strickland ends with a rousing call, sending the ripples from this action out across the world and asking us to do the same: Let us all stand for life and against nuclear weapons, each of us in our own way. Let us band together.
Sister Megan Rice was recorded by videographer Adam Brimer for the News Sentinel shortly after her release. Below is a rough transcription of the interview she gave.
Your assistance is much appreciated. You have the mission of spreading the truth. 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.
Which has only escalated in the last seventy years. I was aware of it before it was even made, because I was 82, when I was nine years old I was aware that a huge secret thing happening three minutes from where I lived in Manhattan. The man next door was a physicist and a mathematician, his name was Dr. [Seeley Katt?]. Next door, as near as that door is, to our apartment. We knew he was doing something secret in his work. He couldn’t even tell his wife what he was doing, nor his daughter. To me, that the first message that here must be something very evil happening, because how could a husband keep something secret from his wife or children, or vice versa. This secrecy has predominated this industry. This is why the whole country and whole world has not stopped it, it’s gone on for seventy years.
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. Which has gone into that which is only to be transformed and regretted.
Reconciliation is available. Relying on all people of good will, creation, god’s life, we are all sacred and we will together respond and keep our planet sacred, alive, whole and healthy by transforming this into sustainable alternatives — which exist. To create better jobs! a cleaner environment! and a future for the seventh generation.
When asked if it was easier to get onto the property than she thought it would be…
Far easier! We were led, miraculously. (pause) But it was difficult. 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.
How’s it feel to be free again today?
More empowered to continue with the great people of humanity and all creatures in transforming this into life-sustaining and enhancing alternatives.
The video ends with Mike exclaiming from the midst of a group hug:
Nuclear weapons will be eradicated as antichrist scourge from the earth soon! Isaiah will be vindicated, weapons will be destroyed, warmaking will be abolished!
From: Ralph Hutchison
A Day in Court • Transform Now Plowshares Trial Set
* * *
Greg, Megan and Mike all appeared to be in good health and spirits as they came into Magistrate Judge G. Clifford Shirley’s courtroom in Knoxville, Tennessee, for what was supposed to be a preliminary hearing. Before the judge arrived, they spoke with their counsel, and we held up a copy of the newspaper’s bold headline: Y12 halts nuke operations. Greg saw it and smiled broadly; the lawyers for the others indicated they had made sure their clients knew.
When Judge Shirley came in, he informed the court that the government had chosen a different route than the preliminary hearing and was presenting a bill of information with the same charge as before—misdemeanor trespass. That meant we were starting over, sort of, and the judge went through the formalities of re-appointing attorneys, and we had a second initial appearance. It does appear Judge Shirley will be on the bench for the remainder of the proceedings.
After reviewing the information, the judge asked the defendants to enter pleas. Mike Walli spoke clearly, “Not guilty.” Megan Rice did the same, emphasizing the not. When asked for his plea, Greg said, “I plead justified because the building of nuclear weapons is a war crime.” The judge asked him to plead guilty or not guilty, and Greg responded, “I plead for the downtrodden around the world who suffer the consequences of our nuclear weapons.” The judge asked a third time for a formal plea and Greg said, “I plead for the children who need someone to intervene for them.” The judge said, “Fine, I will enter a plea of not guilty.” Continue reading