1 April 2003
Jury selection for trial of peace activist nuns begins
By COLLEEN SLEVIN
Associated Press Writer

 
DENVER (AP) - Potential jurors in the case of three Roman Catholic nuns accused of vandalizing a nuclear missile silo were asked in federal court Monday whether they believe people have a right to protest war during the U.S-led invasion in Iraq.

All 31 men and women agreed that people were entitled to protest.

U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn also called on several jurors by name to ask them what they felt about ''women who talk about peace'' and whether they had an enmity toward ''women who seek the world of weapons of mass destruction.'' None raised any objection to people with such views.

Jury selection continued through the afternoon and opening statements were expected Wednesday.
The Dominican sisters, Ardeth Platte, 66, Carol Gilbert, 55, and Jackie Hudson, 68, cut through the fence at a Minuteman III missile site on Colorado's northeastern plains on Oct. 6, drew crosses with their blood and pounded the silo's tracks with hammers. They said they wanted bring attention to the United States' refusal to rule out the use of nuclear weapons.

They are accused of interfering with the national defense and causing more than $1,000. If convicted, they face 30 years in prison.

Blackburn excused three potential jurors, including a man who works for defense contractor Lockheed Martin and has worked on missile silos.

One man said his religious beliefs did not permit him to pass judgment on another and another man said he didn't think he could convict the women regardless of what evidence was presented.

About 40 supporters packed into the courtroom, sharing bench space with potential jurors.

During a break, U.S. Marshals allowed the nuns to talk to their supporters but they had to keep several feet away from the bar separating them from spectators. They were excited to see Sister Anne Montgomery, who was arrested with them at Peterson Air Force Base in 2000 and who had just returned from a stay in the West Bank.

They talked about the war in Iraq. A few minutes later, a woman who had just walked into the courtroom approached the bar to give Hudson a hug.

''We can't touch, that's why my hands are back here,'' said Hudson, her arms wrapped behind her back.

One supporter inside the courtroom decided to cover the ''Take No Prisoners'' message on his t-shirt with duct tape rather than have to leave the courtroom.

Outside the courthouse, a handful of peace protestors held banners with messages such as ''Practice Peace,'' drawing an occassional honk from passing drivers.

The nuns represented themselves in previous legal proceedings. At this hearing, all but Platte have retained lawyers because they are accused of sabotage, not simply property damage, Montgomery said.

''It's risky for what this would mean for any kind of nonviolent actions in the future,'' she said.
Gilbert and Platte both lived at Jonah House, a communal residence for pacifists founded by Philip Berrigan in Baltimore. Hudson belongs to a similar group in Poulsbo, Wash.

 


March 31, 2003
Nuns’ Trial Starts Today
by Jennifer Stanley
The Greeley Tribune (Colorado)

 
Even after spending six months in jail, they are optimistic, focused and confident.

The three nuns are calm as they prepare to fend off charges that could send them to jail for the next three decades.

Sisters Carol Gilbert, Jackie Hudson and Ardeth Platte don’t deny they entered a Minuteman III missile site off Colo. 14 and Weld County Road 113 — about 10 miles west of New Raymer — on Oct. 6, 2002. But they say they had a duty to bring attention to first-strike weapons prohibited by international treaties.

Their federal trial begins today in Denver. Each woman is 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.

Speaking out

 

Catholic nuns Ardeth Platte, left, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson were arrested at gunpoint Oct. 6 after they used bolt cutters to enter a fenced Minuteman missile site in Weld County. They poured some of their own blood in the shape of crosses on the lid of the missile silo. (Photo/Bill Sulzman)
These woman have a history of defending farm workers, fighting for civil rights and protesting nuclear weapons.

They are so serious that they declined personal recognizance bonds because they couldn’t promise to avoid demonstrating again.

Platte, 66, grew up the daughter of a missionary who worked in Mexico and Guatemala.

“I grew up learning about justice and peace. My family was very religious,” she said in a phone interview from the Clear Creek County jail.

After joining the Grand Rapids, Mich., Dominican order in 1954, she worked as an educator and principal and was elected to the Saginaw, Mich., city council.

She got involved in the peace movement during the Vietnam era. In 1980, she spent seven months in prison for an action at a Texas military base.

She and Gilbert, 55, worked together to protest nuclear weapons in Michigan and Maryland. Gilbert, whose father was a U.S. Marine in World War II, entered religious life in 1965 after she completed high school. She was a junior high school teacher.

At 68, Hudson is the oldest of the trio. She joined the order in 1952 and was a piano, band and music teacher.

Platte and Gilbert are members of Baltimore-based Jonah House, a group that advocates disarmament. Hudson is from Washington where she is a member of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

The women say God led them to the Weld County missile silo. For nine months before their arrest — as war with Iraq seemed more and more likely — the women gathered for prayer and discussion.

“It’s like the Spirit led us to Colorado and there it was. It was something we had to do,” Platte said.

She said the N-8 site was ideal because it is visible from the road. They picked Oct. 6 because it marked one year since military action began in Afghanistan.

As Platte, Hudson and Gilbert entered the site about 7:35 a.m., they wore jumpsuits displaying the letters CWIT, standing for Citizen Weapon Inspection Team.

Once inside, they cut a chain-link fence, hammered at a silo and railroad tracks with a ball-ping hammer and painted crosses on the tracks and silo with their own blood, which they carried in baby bottles. The plan was a symbolic disarmament, they said.

Hammering at the silo couldn’t have triggered a blast, said Sgt. Bryan Gatewood of Warren Air Force Base. The silo includes a 110-ton blast door made of concrete and reinforced steel.

Then they waited, singing hymns and praying.

An hour later, military personnel and law enforcement officials arrived, surrounding them with weapons and ordering them to the ground. A bomb squad helicopter flew above.

Sisters’ main defense denied Platte, Gilbert and Hudson insist international law is on their side and that they were doing what the Germans didn’t to prevent the Holocaust.

The Nuremberg trials after World War II established that citizens are obligated to violate domestic laws to prevent their country from committing crimes against humanity.

“We are trying to call the government to be accountable. At this point we have criminal acts at the highest level of government,” Hudson said from jail.

However, the jury won’t hear that defense. U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn decided last week that international law does not apply to this case.

In his decision, he wrote that there were other legal options for voicing their objections, such as letter-writing campaigns and demonstrations.

But Denver attorney Walter Gerash, who represents Hudson, said they still have a case.

“They didn’t interfere with national defense unless you think painting a cross on concrete does that,” Gerash said.

Attorney Scott Poland is advising Platte, who is representing herself.

“At best, this was a trespass with very minor vandalism. What the government is trying to do is to place them in such jeopardy that they’ll send a message to other individuals,” he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Brown is prosecuting the case, but said he could not comment. However, Bill Taylor, the office’s chief of major crimes, said it’s important to take the nuns’ actions seriously.

“These military installations contain some of the most sensitive and sophisticated weaponry in the country. They are a critical part of our national defense and must be protected,” he said in a statement. “Those who interfere with these installations will be prosecuted.”

If convicted, Platte, Gilbert and Hudson face a 30-year sentence, which could be the rest of their lives.

“No one wants to be in jail, but we would give our lives to save lives,” Platte said. “Peacemakers are here to give life. If it comes to it, it will be a sacrifice for life that none of us looks forward to.”

 


29 March 2003
THREE NUNS ON TRIAL
Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II,
Press Release

 
P.O. Box 915, Colorado Springs, CO 80901
Ph 719 389 0644

Contact: Max Obuszewski [one of those arrested]
410-323-7200 or 410-377-7987 or mobuszewski@afsc.org

WHO: Three Dominican sisters involved in the Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares action at Peterson Air Force Base in 2000, Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert, and Jackie Hudson, were arrested on Oct. 6 after entering the N-8 missile silo in northern Colorado. In their "Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II" resistance action the nuns nonviolently inspected and symbolically disarmed a nuclear missile by hammering on the tracks and putting their blood in the form of crosses on the silo cover.

They were indicted on federal charges of injury, interference and obstruction of the national defense, plus damaging government property. The combined charges could earn each of them up to 30 years in prison and a fine as high as $250,000. Two of the nuns, Gilbert and Platte , are members of Jonah House in Baltimore , while Hudson is with Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Poulsbo , WA . They have been incarcerated since the arrest.

At a motions hearing, international and criminal law expert Professor Francis Boyle testified that any threat or use of the Minuteman III, N-8, a high-alert, first strike 300 kiloton nuclear weapon of mass extermination, is a crime against peace, war crime and crime against humanity under binding US and international law. International law Professor Ved Nanda of Denver University Law School made it clear that the US threat to attack Iraq was real and in violation of basic US and international law. The Prosecutor was visibly shaken by Professor Nanda's assertion that the US has not excluded use of the nuclear Minuteman III ICBM in Iraq and that the nuns' nonviolent and symbolic action was reasonable in the very dangerous circumstances. Unfortunately the testimony was ignored by the judge in his ruling to deny motions for dismissal by the three nuns.

WHAT: On March 21, in a 32-page ruling, Judge Robert Blackburn denied defense motions to dismiss all charges and then granted the prosecution's motion in limine. In effect, it will be difficult for the activists to provide any defense in relation to their symbolic disarmament. They will not be permitted to discuss nuclear weapons, international law or the war in Iraq during their trial.

WHEN: beginning Monday, March 31, 2003

WHERE: Federal Court in Denver , Colorado

WHY: They went to Colorado to unmask the false religion and worship of national security so evident at military sites such as Buckley AFB, in Aurora, the Missile Silos, and in Colorado Springs: Schreiver AFB (the Space Warfare Center), the Air Force Space Command Center at Peterson AFB, Cheyenne Mountain (NORAD) and the Air Force Academy. They believe it is the United States government that is breaking treaties and international law by maintaining its nuclear-weapons program and by militarizing space by pursuing a "Star Wars" missile-defense system.

The judge and prosecutor remain unimpressed. "These military installations contain some of the most sensitive and sophisticated weaponry in the country," said William Taylor, chief of the major-crimes unit for the U.S. attorney's office. "They are a critical part of our national defense and must be protected. Those who interfere with these installations will be prosecuted."

In Blackburn 's ruling on the defense motions, he included disdainful comments about the defendants' arguments and actions. Bill Sulzman, a Plowshares supporter in Colorado , concluded, after reading the full document, that the judge sees "no difference between a piece of pie in a military mess hall, a military sleeping bag or a nuclear bomb. All are equally legitimate 'national defense' materials." It would seem that the defendants would be hard-pressed to get a fair trial.

Lawyers tried to convince, unsuccessfully, the nuns to argue, after the judge's ruling, a "Mistake of Law" defense. This would involve stating it was their mistaken understanding they were acting within the law. Also suggested, but disregarded by the defendants, was the filing of a motion for a continuance given the war mentality they are likely to encounter in a jury.

On September 9, 2000, Carol Gilbert OP, Jackie Hudson OP, Anne Montgomery RSCJ, Liz Walters IHM, and Ardeth Platte OP, naming themselves the SACRED EARTH AND SPACE PLOWSHARES 2000 entered Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs for the purpose of "hammering swords into plowshares" (Micah 6:8.) Their prophetic action against a mockup of the Milstar communications satellite and a Warthog A-10 aircraft resulted in arrest and incarceration. Later, though, all five defendants were released from custody and never prosecuted. It is likely that because three of them returned for another Plowshares disarmament the prosecution will be very intent on gaining convictions and suggesting severe sentences.

"Dissent without resistance is consent."-Henry David Thoreau.


22 March 2003

Dear Friends,

Amid all the killing and madness from this war of conquest, another kind of distressing news arrived in our laps - not unexpected - the judge in the case of the Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II has  issued a 32 page order denying all the motions submitted on behalf of the nuns. He went on, in his order, to state that none of the issues they raised could be used as a defense in their regard. In addition, he granted the government's in limine motion.

The judge explained in his order that he does not accept the lawyers' (defendants) definition of national defense and national defense material. All our weapons, in his view, are part of our defense (this, despite the fact that Pentagon spokespeople brag about 80% of our weaponry being offensive - we can take that in more ways than one).

The judge allowed that the only thing that would alter his order is some new information that the defense might submit. At the 11th hour, after extensive work on their part, it is hard to imagine new information.

Local lawyers are trying to convince the nuns to make a try at what they term a "Mistake of Law" defense. This would involve stating that it was their mistaken understanding that they were acting within the law. They are strongly resisting that advice. In addition, they are strongly resisting the advice of lawyers to seek a continuance given the war mentality they are likely to encounter in a jury. They are resisting that advice as well.

(Becky Johnson - Oberlin graduate, going to trial in Georgia on April 1 and facing 1 and 1/2 years for repeated actions against the School of the Americas has been given the same advice to postpone and has also rejected that advice. Please keep her in mind and heart and prayer this week as well)

It was Carol Gilbert who put in the call last night; they have had some trouble reaching us this week as we - like so many/most of you - have been in the streets and jails resisting this awful war. Carol is calm and reports that they are all at peace and preparing as best they can for their trial.

These women (all 4 of them - I'm including Becky) are, in the words of Anabel Dwyer, a national treasure. Would that they lived in a nation that understood the "things that make for peace."

Love, Liz, Susan, Gary, Oswaldo, et al


( Other reports on 3 ploughshares nuns here )


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