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Plowshare 5 activists show their courage | Letters | Dec. 17
I want to share with you two wonderful days I spent last week sitting in the Federal Court House in Tacoma.
Last November, five elderly people armed with bolt cutters and a love of humanity entered the Bangor Submarine Base and walked slowly (one of them has a serious heart condition) for several hours before they were apprehended.
Their trial by jury started two weeks ago. They face five to 10 years in prison.
They conducted their own defense, supported by a team of lawyers who passed them notes or whispered in their ears. They cross-examined government witnesses on Wednesday and examined defense witnesses Monday and debated points of law.
One of the sticking points was that our government will neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons at any specific site at a particular time.
The court did not allow the defense of “necessity” or considerations of international law. The jury was specifically instructed not to take account of these considerations when making their deliberations.
We saw people (both military and civilian) who work at the base and claimed that they did not know that there are nuclear missiles on the base.
We heard a young Marine sergeant say he unquestioningly followed all orders, when asked why he put bags on the heads of the defendants after they were arrested and asked them to lie on the ground. He didn’t seem to understand when he was asked if he knew about the Nuremberg trials.
On Monday, we heard from Stephen Leaper, who runs an organization in Hiroshima devoted to peace. Most of the testimony of the defense witnesses was blocked when the judge sustained objections by U.S. attorneys of irrelevance.
The defendants argued that the evidence spoke to the way in which their intention to enter the base was informed in the years before by contact with such people, but the judge would not allow that evidence.
We also heard (between objections) from former Captain Rogers, who served on a Trident submarine and is now a Ground Zero member. The judge upheld an objection by U.S. attorneys to a publication of his being entered as evidence.
William Money, a professor at the University of Washington-Tacoma, was allowed to testify that Father Blix (82 years old and with a serious heart condition) often addressed students on the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. David Hall, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, was able to say that he knew the defendants through their work at Ground Zero over the years and had many discussions with them.
He was not allowed to enter into evidence photographs showing the medical effects of the bomb in Hiroshima and an image depicting what Seattle would look like if it was hit by a nuclear missile.
I couldn’t help thinking that the jury must be impressed by the demeanor of these two Jesuit priests, a Catholic nun, a nurse and Susan Crane. How can they incarcerate these people?
Last Friday, the jury announced that they were unable to agree on a verdict on all counts.
On Monday, they convicted them on all counts. Sentencing will be on March 28 at Tacoma Federal Court at 9 a.m.