The Life of the Planet is at Risk
The prosecution has, from the outset, twisted the law to distort the central truth of the Transform Now Plowshares action. By the end of the trial, three completely nonviolent civil resisters—who brandished only baby bottles filled with blood, cans of spray paint, Bibles and roses and a loaf of bread, who had painted words of peace and poured blood on the side of a building—were convicted of sabotage, by definition a crime of violence.
A moment early in the court proceedings was illuminating. Eighty-two year old Megan Rice, 63 year old Michael Walli and 57 year old Greg Boertje-Obed sat quietly in court, shackled, in prison stripes, as the Assistant U S Attorney argued they should be held behind bars until their trial because they posed “a danger to the community” should they be released. That, at least, was too much for the magistrate who responded, “In fact, it seems likely that if they go back to doing what they have been doing for most of their lives, they will be a benefit to their communities.”
The Transform Now Plowshares case has revealed how justice is corrupted when it serves political ends. The mission of the prosecution was never to seek the truth; it was to prevent any challenge to the government’s nuclear weapons policies or activities. No claim was too absurd or mendacious. The defendants were forbidden to talk about their faith or good intentions; the prosecution was allowed to take statements out of context and present them as evidence of maleficent intent.
During the trial, the defendants were forbidden to explain they went to Y12 seeking justice—they wanted a jury to hear how the US government is violating its treaty obligations by building nuclear weapons at Y12. They wanted a jury to decide which is the greater crime: trespassing peacefully on a nuclear weapons site or threatening the planet, but the judge ruled they could not speak of US nuclear policy. The prosecution, though was allowed to use US nuclear policy against them, declaring they had compromised the nation’s security by revealing security flaws and undermining our capacity to project a convincing nuclear deterrent. The jury was not permitted to consider all the facts—instead, they were handed the status quo as a given, they were to assume it was legal to produce weapons of mass destruction in Oak Ridge. They did as they were told.
In an early hearing, former-US Attorney General praised the courage of the peace activists. The prosecution, turning the Nuremberg code on its head, argued it only applied to people who were required to do unlawful things by their government. “They were not compelled,” he argued. Clark replied, “That’s the admirable thing. Somebody had to act, and they did.”
“They were justified,” he said. “There is a long history of justifying minor infractions to prevent grave injury. The only requirement is courage. If they had to cut through a fence, so be it. It was a minor infraction to prevent a calamity.”
The jury heard none of it. Though US courts require witnesses to promise to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” the first ruling of the court was to eliminate entire categories of testimony from the trial—the jury never knew that, either.
Throughout, Greg, Megan and Michael have maintained a steadfast course. “We did the action,” says Greg. “That’s what we were called to do. We relinquish any control over all the rest. The action stands on its own.”
On its own, the action issued a clear and persuasive indictment against the production of nuclear weapons at Y12 and the plans for a new bomb plant—the Uranium Processing Facility—at Y12. What has unfolded since that action is the revealing of what Gandhi called the miracle of nonviolence.
Hundreds of thousands of people have read a detailed account of the action and the work at Y12 in the pages of the Washington Post; the action was covered in the Netherlands, Britain, Japan, Indonesia and elsewhere around the world. There have been articles in the New York Times, Mother Jones, on TV and radio. Hundreds have met with Michael, Megan and Greg in person; they have received awards and commendations from the peace community. And for eight months, since their conviction in May, they have been in jail.
US nuclear policy is not yet in the dock, but it is being questioned. Construction of the new bomb plant planned for Oak Ridge has been pushed back several years at least, and the plant is being re-evaluated. It’s not all because of the Transform Now Plowshares action, but the action has been a factor.
And the future, as the miracle continues to unfold? Michael, Greg and Megan may well spend years in prison—but those of us outside are free to take up the critical cause, to renew our commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons, to call others to wake up, and to take action, whether its writing letters, demonstrating in the streets of Oak Ridge, or holding meetings in your own community.
It’s not just the hundreds of billions of dollars we should be spending for life instead of death; it’s not just the hypocrisy of US policy that builds bombs while denying others—it is what Ramsey Clark said: “The life of the planet is at risk from this one plant in Tennessee.”