A federal judge cleared the way for a priest and two veterans to be tried before a federal jury on September 13, 2006 for damaging a Minuteman III intercontinental nuclear missile in North Dakota.
The three, dressed as clowns, hammered and poured their blood on the silo of the 40 ton weapon. The bomb has over 20 times the destructive power of the one dropped on Hiroshima. If convicted on the felony charges of criminal damage to property, each face up to 10 years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000.
They dressed as clowns “to show that humor and laughter are key elements in the struggle to transform the structures of destruction and death. Clowns as court jesters were sometimes the only ones able to survive after speaking truth to power.”
Warheads launched from the Minuteman III missile silo can reach any destination within 6000 miles in 35 minutes. The nuclear bomb launched from a Minuteman silo produces uncontrollable radiation, massive heat and a blast capable of vaporizing and leveling everything within a 50-mile radius. Outside the 50 square miles — extending into hundreds of miles — the blast, wide-spread heat, firestorms and neutron and gamma rays are intended to kill, severely wound and poison every living thing and causing long-term damage to the environment.
Because the Minuteman III is a weapon of mass destruction, they argued, it is illegal under international law.
In a statement, defendants challenged the hypocrisy of U.S. policy on nuclear weapons. “US leaders speak about the dangers of other nations acquiring nuclear weapons while our nation has thousands of horrific weapons of mass destruction. Our nation fails to act in accordance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which commits the U.S. to take steps to disarm its weapons of mass destruction. We act in order to bring attention to people’s responsibility for disarming weapons of state terrorism.”
The judge refused to dismiss the charges saying: “The laws of the United States do not support the theory that an individual has a right or responsibility to correct a perceived violation of international law or humanitarian law or tribal law or religious law by willfully destroying government property.”
Known as the Weapons of Mass Destruction Here Plowshares, the defendants are: Fr. Carl Kabat, 72, a Catholic priest who has spent more than fifteen years in prison for anti-nuclear protests; Greg Boertje-Obed, 51, a husband, father and ex-military officer; and Michael Walli, 57, a Vietnam vet. Boertje-Obed and Walli are members of the Loaves and Fishes Catholic Worker community in Duluth, Minnesota.
Francis Boyle, a professor of law at the University of Illinois, submitted his legal opinion to the court in support of dismissing the charges: “Where the “property” allegedly damaged is part of an illegal and criminal threat of use of a weapon of mass destruction these defendants acted lawfully and reasonably to prevent the most egregious and fundamentally prohibited of all crimes, war crimes.”
Testimony from the Mayor of Hiroshima about the effects of nuclear weapons and the 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice outlawing nuclear weapons were submitted to the court.
“We are not criminals,” Fr. Kabat told the court. “We are following the laws of morality. These weapons are the crimes against humanity!”
The jury trial will be held in Bismarck, North Dakota. Defendants, who remain in jail awaiting trial, are now dressed in black and white striped jail jumpsuits. No word yet on how they intend to dress for their appearance in court.
BILL QUIGLEY a human rights lawyer and teaches at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law. Bill is a legal advisor to the protestors. You can reach him at Quigley@loyno.edu
For more information about the upcoming trial contact the Loaves and Fishes Community in Duluth at 218.728.0629 or Nukewatch at 715.472.4185. Copies of some pleadings in the case, pictures and updates from the men are posted on the Jonah House website http://www.jonahhouse.org