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First US Citizen Convicted for Protests at Nuclear Weapons Base in Germany

COCHEM, Germany 

A US Air Force veteran of the US war in Vietnam and two other nuclear weapons protesters were found guilty of trespassing and damage to property in Cochem District Court May 11, 2020, as a result of July 2018 protest action at Germany’s Büchel Air Force Base, where the United States positions 20 of its nuclear bombs and where German pilots train to use them in possible attacks against Russia.

Dennis DuVall, 78, a long-time member of Veterans for Peace from Arizona and now living in Dresden, Germany, became the first US citizen prosecuted in Germany for civil resistance against the threatened use of the US nuclear weapons. (US Catholic Priest Carl Kabat was thrown out of Germany for a disarmament action against US Pershing missiles deployed there in the 1980s.)

There have been repeated arrests and detentions of US citizens during protests at the Büchel base since 2017, but no charges have been brought to trial until now. Also convicted by Cochem District Court Judge Andre Zimmermann were Susan van der Hijden, 51, from Amsterdam’s Catholic Worker House in The Netherlands, and Chris Danowski, 50, from Dortmund, Germany, a founder of the Hamburg Catholic Worker. The judge sentenced all three to fines equivalent to 30 times their daily income plus court costs. The fines ranged from 150 to 900 Euros ($165 to $990). Refusing to pay could see the defendants jailed for up to 30 days.

The three were among 18 war resisters — seven from the US, six from Germany, four from The Netherlands, and one from England — that gained entry to the base in five groups and in broad daylight on Sunday, July 15, 2018, after cutting five separate holes through its perimeter fence. Three others among the 18 were convicted of similar charges in January, and three are scheduled for trial in June.

In his defense, DuVall read a detailed statement which was in turn read to the judge by an interpreter. DuVall focused on international treaty law that forbids any planning and preparation of mass destruction. In particular, DuVall reminded the court that the Nuremberg Charter and Principles have established individual responsibility for violations of laws of war. “Planning for nuclear war at Büchel AFB is a criminal conspiracy violating international law and the Nuremberg Principles,” he said. DuVall also said in part, “While weapons of mass murder have found their way into the arsenals of nine nations, international law has not found its way into the courtroom.” And in a rebuke of the court’s silence on the question of unlawful war planning going on within Judge Zimmermann’s jurisdiction, DuVall said, “At the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Auschwitz survivor Batsheva Dagan could also have been thinking about Büchel when she asked, ‘Where was the world [which] did nothing?’ ”

DuVall, van der Hijden and Dnowski all admitted going into the base, but said that the stationing of US nuclear weapons there was illegal under US, German, and international law, making their action one of crime prevention. In her testimony, Susan van der Hijden asked the court, “Are fences more important than human lives?”

The court found the three guilty of the charges based solely on allegations made by the state prosecutor, without the use of a single witness. The procedure surprised defendants and observers from countries where charging documents are not considered evidence. In explaining his verdicts and the penalties, Judge Zimmermann drew guffaws from the gallery by twice comparing fencing around nuclear weapons to a fence around a garden where, he said, no one would like to have a hole cut. After trial, peace activist Hops Hossbach, of Greifenstein, Germany, noticed Judge Zimmermann in his open courthouse office and walked in to lambast the comparison. “It’s not the fence which is at issue,” Hossbach told the judge, “it’s what’s going on behind the fence.”

The 2018 protest was just one among dozens in a years-long campaign of nonviolent resistance against the 20 US “B61-3” and “B61-4” nuclear bombs stationed at Büchel (www.buechel-atombombenfrei.de). Pilots from Germany’s 33rd Tactical Air Force Squadron or Wing at Büchel routinely train in German Tornado jet fighters to detonate the US H-bombs against areas in Russia — in the event they are ordered to do so by a US president. The German base is also home to the US Air Force’s 702 Munitions Support Squadron, which maintains the 20 Cold War-era “dumb” nuclear bombs it calls a “Protection Level 1 Resource.” The US H-bombs are reportedly set to be replaced in the coming years in spite of massive public opposition in Germany and in violation of the 1970 Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. #####

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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