2 April 2003
1962's Cuban missile crisis is evoked in trial of 3 nuns
By Howard Pankratz
DenverPost.com


http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%7E53%7E1289661%7E,00.html

John F. Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic president of the United States.

On Tuesday, a federal prosecutor evoked Kennedy's memory in the trial of three Catholic nuns accused of raiding a nuclear missile silo site in Colorado.

The three Dominican sisters - Carol Gilbert, 55, Jackie Hudson, 68, and Ardeth Platte, 66 - say they took the Oct. 6 action to expose what they call the criminality of nuclear missiles that they claim are first-strike weapons.

Recalling the Cuban missile crisis, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Brown said Kennedy told the Russians to get their missiles out of Cuba.

Kennedy warned that any missile fired from Cuba - no matter where it was aimed - would be considered "an attack on the United States," Brown said.

"The reason the Soviet Union backed off is because we had these missiles," he said during opening statements.

Brown told a federal jury that nuclear missiles, and the threat by President Kennedy, probably saved the world from nuclear annihilation in October 1962.

The nuns are charged with obstruction of national defense and damaging U.S. property. Conviction on the first offense carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, and the second would carry 10 years.

At the silo northeast of Greeley, the nuns cut down a fence, used ball-peen hammers to hit the tracks and lid of the Minuteman III silo, and used their own blood to form six crosses on the silo lid, the three admitted in court documents.

The nuns are defending themselves with the help of an advisory counsel. The first thing Platte told the jury in her opening statement on Tuesday was that she forgave Brown. She also said she would tell the jury nothing but the truth.

"I know the grace of God will be with you in whatever decision you make," Platte told the jurors.

The sisters raided the silo on the first anniversary of what they characterize as the "U.S. invasion and bombing of Afghanistan."

They say they were attempting to expose the U.S. "criminal threat" to use nuclear weapons against Iraq and "rogue states."

Platte said the trio was motivated by the concerns for the people of Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

"All we could think of were babies and children who have no defense," she said.

With Iraq having been "demonized ... we had to do something," Platte said. "We intended to come here (Colorado) to do a legal action.

"We felt it our duty to stop a crime. We went there to expose (the Minuteman III) and do a symbolic disarmament."

Veteran Denver lawyer Walter Gerash, who represents Hudson, said that, at most, the nuns trespassed on government property. But he contended they didn't even do that.

"This is a symbolic disarmament of a weapon of mass extinction. They were brave women," Gerash said.

The three are members of the Plowshare Movement, an international activist organization that promotes nonviolent disarmament.

They look to the book of Isaiah in the Bible that commands nations to beat their swords into plowshares.

The book also says: "One nation shall not lift up (a) sword against (another) nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

 


2 April 2003
Taking a stand
By Annie Hundley
Greeley Tribune


http://www.greeleytrib.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?...
Greg Boertje-Obed, left, of Duluth, Minn., and Al Zook of Denver stand near the entrance to a missile silo at Weld County Road 113 and Colo. 14 — 10 miles west of New Raymer. A small group gathered at the site Tuesday afternoon and put crime scene tape and religious pamphlets on the fence at the entrance to the silo. JIM RYDBOM / jrydbom@greeleytrib.com

It’s a short distance between here and there. On this side of the fence, military police just eye you suspiciously. On the other side, they’ll haul you to jail.

Thirteen supporters gathered at the Minuteman III Missile site near Colo. 14 and Weld County Road 113 on Tuesday afternoon to honor three nuns who crossed that line last October.

Sisters Carol Gilbert, 55, Jackie Hudson, 68, and Ardeth Platte, 66, cut through the fence and beat at the silo with hammers in a symbolic disarmament. They poured their own blood on the site to protest nuclear weapons.

The nuns’ trial began this week at the federal courthouse in Denver. With more supporters than available chairs, the trip to the Weld site was a way to take turns in the courtroom and give everyone a chance to support the women.

“More of us should have the courage they do,” said Paul Rehm of Greenville, N.Y. Rehm joined the group along with activists from Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Washington state; and Colorado. Those gathered believe strongly that the nuns were right in what they did. They deserve respect, not punishment for drawing attention to America’s arsenal, some said.

“We have to respect them for doing something that often we can’t do,” Mary Alyce Behrns said at the silo site near New Raymer. Behrns is on the board of the Colorado Coalition for Prevention of Nuclear War based in Denver.

Platte, Gilbert and Hudson are nuns from a Grand Rapids, Mich., Dominican order. Platte and Gilbert are members of Baltimore-based Jonah House, a group that advocates disarmament. Hudson lives in Washington state, where she works with the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

The four remaining members of the Jonah House flew to Colorado this week to stand behind the nuns during their trial. Gary Ashbeck saw the missile site for the first time Tuesday. He called the weapon a false God for America and praised the nuns for risking everything to call attention to it.

The group’s community “is a house based on convictions,” Ashbeck said. “And we want to support those who acted on those convictions.”

Bill Salzman of Colorado Springs said the fact that so many of these missiles are stored underground in Colorado and Weld shouldn’t just be of interest to peace advocates. It needs to be a local issue, he said.

“People have become comfortable with the presence of weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “In some ways, we’re kind of embarrassed that people had to come from Baltimore and Bremerton, Wash., to point this out.”

Salzman questioned the validity of a war to disarm Iraq when the United States has so many of its own weapons of mass destruction.

“Cutting ourselves slack from the laws we enforce is such blatant hypocrisy,” he told the group.

Several in the group said they feared the nuns’ trial was a foregone conclusion because the judge already rejected what they had hoped to use as a defense.

Cindy Farquhar works with Platte on peace activism in Baltimore and said she’s not ready to hear bad news at the end of the trial. But something Platte told her recently helped prepare her for the worst.

“She said ‘If I have to spend the rest of my life in prison for this, it will be worth it.’ ”

The missile

The Minuteman III is an intercontinental ballistic missile. Each missile contains one nuclear warhead, allowed by the 1992 Washington Summit Agreement.

There are 500 in the United States. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming controls 150 in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. In Colorado, there are 49, with most in Weld County.

The missiles are housed in underground hardened silos that are connected to an underground launch control center through hardened cables.


2 April 2003
Prosecution, nuns outline case to jury
By Jennifer Stanley

 

DENVER — Sister Ardeth Platte had remained so composed. Through an arrest. In jail for six months. As she approached a trial that could send her away for 30 years.

But as the nun, who is representing herself in a federal trial, concluded her opening statement Tuesday, she let her emotions — and perhaps her passion — show. She started to cry.

Platte and two other nuns, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson, each are charged with one count of willful injury, interference or obstruction of national defense and one count of causing more than $1,000 in damage to federal property.

Early in the day last Oct. 6, the trio — in their 50s and 60s — went to a missile silo off Colo. 14, about 10 miles west of New Raymer. Once inside, they cut a chain-link fence, hammered at the silo lid and tracks and painted crosses on the tracks and silo with their own blood, which they carried in baby bottles.

They sang hymns and prayed for about an hour until military personnel arrived and arrested them.

Air Force officials say the hammering couldn’t have triggered a blast because the nuclear weapon is guarded by the 110-ton concrete and steel lid.

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Brown outlined his case for the 12 jurors, he didn’t claim nuclear weapons aren’t dangerous. But he argued that they are a means of protection.

His speech reminded jurors of Cold War fears that prompted the arms race.

“The defense will say that these are offensive weapons of mass destruction. But I submit that while they are capable, they prevent another country from firing at us,” he said. “It’s sort of like having a burglar alarm in your house.”

He warned the jury to put their emotions aside and consider the law, suggesting there were legal avenues, such as letter writing and rallies, to protest.

But Platte and attorneys for Gilbert and Hudson told jurors evidence would prove they were merely demonstrating, caused very little damage and didn’t prevent a missile from firing.

“This is the case of a religious symbolic disarmament of a weapon of mass extermination,” said Walter Gerash, a Denver attorney representing Hudson.

At most, he said, they deserved a trespassing charge.
“Bloody crosses and ping-ping on the rails. Oh, that’s terrible,” he said sarcastically. “Does it interfere with national defense?”

The defense also said the nuns’ action caused less than $1,000 in damage and that the military caused the rest during the arrest.
Platte used her turn to explain the action.

In October, talk of war was getting stronger and the sisters felt nuclear weapons might be used.

“We heard there was a targeting of Iraq. All we could do was think about our brothers and sisters. All we could do was think about the babies and children who had no defense,” she said.

She told the jury they had hoped to stop a crime against humanity by exposing the site to the world.

“We want people in this world to live,” she concluded, through tears. “You might think this is a soapbox, but this is our passionate plea.”

She returned to her seat, still crying. As the government prepared to present its case, her advisory attorney hugged her. Gerash kissed her cheek.

From the back of the Denver courtroom, a sniffle was heard.


( Other reports on 3 ploughshares nuns here )


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