"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Transform Now Plowshares: The Sentencing Saga Begins...

Editor's Note:  Many thanks to Ralph Hutchison, of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), for this detailed account of yesterday's sentencing hearing for the Transform Now Plowshares defendants - Greg, Megan and Michael. The proceedings ended prematurely due to weather conditions, and will be reconvene on February 18th.  You can keep up with Transform Now Plowshares at http://transformnowplowshares.wordpress.com/.  


The sentencing hearing of Michael Walli, Greg Boertje-Obed and Megan Rice was interrupted by wintry weather—some might say providentially. Judge Amul Thapar announced at 1:15 that the federal courthouse was closing at 2:30pm because the accumulating snow promised to make travel treacherous. After a brief consultation among the attorneys it was decided they could not conclude the sentencing process by 2:30, so the Judge suspended the hearing; it is currently scheduled to resume February 18th at 9:00am in Knoxville.

The courtroom was full of supporters, and a second courtroom was pressed into service; that room filled and there were reports of people sitting on the floor to view the proceedings on a big-screen TV.

At 9:00am, the hearing opened with the judge hearing arguments about the amount of restitution that would be required of Megan, Greg and Michael. After hearing testimony from a B&W Y12 official, and a detailed cross examination, the judge heard brief arguments, overruled all defense objections, and set restitution at $52,953.00; he waived interest since the defendants were not in a position to pay it off immediately. How much the final assessment might actually be has yet to be determined—no one in the court could say for certain whether the government had, in fact, reimbursed B&W Y12 or Wackenhut for the items billed—if there was no reimbursement, the government can not claim restitution from the TNP three.

After a brief recess, court resumed with consideration of objections to the Presentencing Reports; the judge quickly sustained the defense's objection to the use of the word "maliciously" in the charge against Greg, Michael and Megan. There was a detailed discussion of whether or not the defendants had accepted responsibility for their actions. As in the trial, legal language bears only scant resemblance to common usage of words—accepting responsibility means pleading guilty and not putting the government to the trouble of a trial.

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Theodore used the occasion to go on a mini-rant about Ramsey Clark, from US Attorney General who testified in a pre-trial motions hearing in April. "On this issue, he has no credibility," Theodore said, ignoring Ramsey's own testimony that he was the AG when the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was signed. "He has represented just about every nefarious person out there," Theodore said, "Nazi war criminals, Saddam Hussein…he talked about war criminality at Y12!"

The judge cut him off. Francis Lloyd rose to address the record. Describing himself as a lawyer whose heroes include Clarence Darrow, he said no person should be faulted for taking any case. The judge tried to deflect Francis by reinterpreting Theodore's statements in a creatively favorable light.

The judge then danced around Francis' assertions that Megan, Michael and Greg, by submitting to arrest and admitting the particulars of their case amounted to accepting responsibility. "When you argue every element at every point, you're not accepting responsibility. You're asking the court to put a square peg in a round hole." The judge found his metaphor compelling and repeated it later. "I don't believe the defendants are contrite."

Francis pointed out that, in the history of law, it was only by repeatedly coming back to court with arguments again and again that bad law like Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned. "I get it," said the Judge.

The judge eventually ruled the TNP trio would not be given downward departures for acceptance of responsibility.

In the ensuing discussion about various cases and how they were interpreted, Judge Thapar in every instance chose the view most favorable to the prosecution, denying the defendants any benefit of the doubt, and stepping in to help the prosecution when it stumbled.

One issue raised by Greg Boertje-Obed was whether or not a nonviolent civil resistance action was "outside the heartland" of the sabotage law. The question is critical because circuit courts had ruled that if a law was being applied outside the primary purpose intended by Congress, "outside the heartland," the judge could take that into consideration at sentencing. Here's where it got surreal.

The prosecution argued, and the judge agreed, that since these kinds of cases—anti-nuclear actions—are the only kinds of cases where the law is being used at all, they must be the "heartland." Thapar said, "Congress and the [Sentencing Guideline] Commission has had plenty of time to change it if it doesn't like it." But in two of the three cases where the law was applied to anti-nuclear protesters, judges found at sentencing that it was "outside the heartland."

After some back and forth, the judge said he would not make a final decision at the moment, but would take it up during the discussion on reasons for variances.

The final point argued was about the defendants' "civic, charitable, public service," which can be taken into account. "But it has to be truly exceptional," said the judge, noting that for a billionaire to give millions to charity, it's not such a big deal. The fact that Michael, Greg and Megan have devoted their entire lives to civic, charitable public service did not seem to strike the judge as truly exceptional, but he allowed it could be taken up later, under "3553A factors."

It was 11:45, and Kathy Boylan took the stand. It was established that she has known Michael Walli for more than 20 years, sharing living space at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, DC for most of that time, where people are "committed to looking at the suffering of the poor, to alleviate that suffering, to eliminate violence, and to work for peace."

Chris Irwin, Michael's attorney, asked Kathy to tell the court who Dorothy Day was and she provided a brief, succinct description of Dorothy's coming to terms with poverty and suffering by working to change conditions that created poverty and suffering. "Dorothy and Peter Maurin wanted to change society to serve the ideals of the kingdom of God," said Kathy.

"And if Michael were released, would you be prepared to help him reintegrate into society?" asked Chris. "We'd like to do it immediately," Kathy said instantly.

Chris: Is there anything else you'd like to tell the court?

Kathy: Michael is a beloved member of our community and a servant of God. Every morning, we walk down the street to pray with our friends at the Assissi house. They sent a letter I would like to read.

The letter explained that Michael joined in prayer every morning, and that was how they had come to know him. "He is an unwavering example of active nonviolence, generous, kind, helping in many ways, whether it is picking up litter or working in the garden. He is always willing to help others, especially those with special needs. Michael is a man of deep faith; he is a role model, a living example of the gospel."

Chris: Does he get paid?

Kathy: We get a $20 stipend, plus $10 for Metro.

Kathy went on to describe Michael's 2013 Pax Christi Peacemaker Award and the certificate was entered in evidence. Kathy then told of a one of the women who shares the house with them, a woman from Ethiopia who is working hard to learn English. "One day she asked me, because she didn't understand this word, 'What is generosity?' The answer came to me immediately. I said, 'Michael Walli.' And she then described in her broken english the many ways Michael serves the community."

Kathy spoke also of a neighbor who, during a recent snow storm, came up the walk of the Dorothy Day house with a snow shovel. When he finished cleaning the walk he said, "I was just sitting inside watching the snow and I thought of how many years Mike Walli shoveled my walk, and other walks up and down the block, and I thought I should repay that since he was in jail."

Kathy described Michael as a teacher and a missionary for Jesus who commanded us to put down the sword. She quoted Dorothy Day on the atomic bomb—"If we wouldn't put people in gas chambers, why would we fling gas chambers at them?" I've learned these things because Michael has said them so often, she said. She spoke of Martin Luther King who condemned nuclear weapons in 1959 and declared that we face a choice between nonviolence and nonexistence. She quoted the Second Vatican Council: "Any act of war against cities is a crime against God and warrants universal condemnation," and Pope Paul VI who described Hiroshima as "a butchery of untold magnitude."

In closing Kathy drew the clear parallel between Michael Walli and the character Moshe the Beadle in the book Night. In the book Moshe is expelled from Hungary and goes to Poland where he witnesses the deportation of the Jews. Returning to Hungary, he seeks to warn everyone of the coming doom, but they won't listen. They thought him mad. They went to the gas chambers. We hope we would have cut the fences of the camps to free the prisoners, Kathy said. I am certain our Moshe, Michael Walli, would cut the fences. In our world, our gas chambers are nuclear weapons. They are ready for use. The whole world is the concentration camp, prepared for omnicidal weapons unless we transform this reality. Michael is trying to save our lives. Your life, Judge Thapar. Your life, Mr. Theodore. All our lives.

The courtroom was still for a long minute.

Jeff Theodore rose to cross exam, extracting information from Kathy, who gave it up easily. Yes, she has been a member of a Plowshares action group. Yes, she has engaged in protests. Yes, with these defendants. Yes, an action against nuclear submarines in Newport News—five times, she volunteered to save Theodore the trouble. Five times I have acted against these gas chambers without walls. He said "You don't believe what he did was wrong, do you?" She answered, "There is a higher law than the one in this court. There is the law of God." Theodore lowered the boom: "If he were to come back to be reintegrated into your community, would you try to discourage him from doing this kind of action again?" Kathy said she would not.

Chris Irwin rose to redirect, asking Kathy to described the basis for the Plowshares movement and she paraphrased the Isaiah passage. We should always take a hammer to the chains that enslave people, she said. We have fashioned these weapons with our hands, we can take them apart.

"One more question," said Irwin. "If Martin Luther King, Jr. were still alive, and he came to the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house, would you discourage him from committing civil disobedience?"

"No!" said Kathy.

At 12:05 Mary Evelyn Tucker took the stand and Francis Lloyd walked her through her CV, and through the relationship between her family and Megan's. "How long have you know Megan Rice?" he asked. Mary Evelyn leaned into the microphone. "All my life," she said with a mixture of love and pride.

"Would you describe her personality?" Francis asked.

Mary Evelyn: She believes deeply and clearly. She is so far from disingenuous. When he (Prosecutor Theodore) used that word, it hit my heart. She is a sincere person of conviction, compassion and love. Her commitment to nonviolence—Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King—there is a lineage of transformation. She has committed her life to this way of seeking transformation.

"To allow Megan to continue the work of her life, the work to alleviate suffering, outside the walls of a prison would be an invaluable gift to the world," said Mary Evelyn. "To keep her inside, the world would be diminished for lack of her work." Mary Evelyn then told the court that Megan has served as the caretake in her large family, often accompanying the older generation in its final journey. "With Aunt Megan by our side…" said one niece.

"I can't think of any good purpose that would be served by keeping her in jail. Megan is in a great lineage. Gandhi preached nonviolence; King practiced nonviolence; Mandela proclaimed nonviolence; and Megan invoked nonviolence. Through her work, we can imagine a future for our children, that we will not have to live under the long shadow of nuclear peril. Surely we want to be the generation that stood up for all of life and the future of the planet."

Jeff Theodore asked no questions.

Andy Anderson, Duluth Minnesota Veteran for Peace, age 87, took the stand. Bill Quigley began to ask him questions about his history. "Careful about those memory questions," Andy cautioned. The courtroom chuckled, appreciating the easing of tension. "I enlisted in the Navy in 1944," said Andy. "I served on a destroyer in the Pacific. Our group came under fire from suicide planes and torpedoes; our job was to go around rescuing sailors. I sat in the stern of the ship and held a friend in my arms when he died.…No more violence. I came home a different person, and I hope I've been a different person ever since."

Andy spoke of knowing Michael and Greg, of serving food to the homeless with Greg and being on the street with Michael. "There are terrific human beings," he said.

"If you were the judge, what do you think you would say," asked Bill Quigley.

"What is a crime? If I had my way—forgive them their mistakes and it's gone. The only way to be able to help people is to be free. I would ask the judge to consider the release of Michael and Greg so they can continue to serve the community in the manner they have been serving."

"Anything else?" "These aren't harmful people. They are decent, warmhearted. Let 'em go.

John La Forge was the last defendant. He told the court he knew Mike and Greg through the Catholic Worker movement fro 20 and 16 years respectively. He talked of taking vegetables from the farm in Luck, Wisconsin to the kitchens and shelters in Duluth. He pointed out there work was unpaid.

"And how would you describe Michael Walli?" asked Bill Quigley.

"He is the quintessential Christian," said John. "He speaks in Biblical terms, about the burden the Bible places on us to do the right things. He will do it all. He is one of the unsung heroes, a man of all tasks, willing to do the ordinary work—changing beds, doing laundry, dishes.

Quigley: Would you described him as disingenuous?

LaForge: I was taken aback that the court said that. Maybe you qualified it. But there was a statement that they don't care about the law. For people who practice nonviolence, this kind of nonviolence, they care deeply about the law. So much of this is about US law.

John also described a recent trip to Germany where he stood with people there for a two-week demonstration against the Tornado jets that carry US B61 nuclear bombs. Everybody in Germany wants these bombs out of there, he said, the people, the government, all the political parties. But the United States is bringing these bombs back here, to be refurbished, here at Y12, and then sending them back to Germany.

Greg asked John to talk about his knowledge of the history of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and John replied by referencing the work of Gar Alperovitz and Robert Lifton who documented that Japan was suing for terms of surrender in July 1945, and who linked the decision to drop the bomb to Russia's expected entry into the Pacific theater on August 8, 1945. "After the bomb was dropped," said Greg, "we accepted the terms offered by Japan, and they were able to retain the emperor."

Jeff Theodore attempted to discredit John by getting him to recount his arrest history, which John cheerfully did. "You don't think there was anything wrong with what they did, do you?" asked Theodore. "I might have done a few things differently," allowed John.

"If they were released, you would encourage them to do it again, wouldn't you," said Theodore, unmindful of the lawyers' dictum about asking questions you don't know the answer to.

"I'll refer to Phil Berrigan," said John, "who said we should always discourage each other from doing Plowshares actions. If a person can be discouraged, they are not ready to do it."

"So you would try to prevent him?" said Theodore. "Argumentatively, yes," answered John.

"But you would support him if he did it."

"Of course."

Greg asked John to describe his case before Judge Miles Lord; John explained the Judge used the case to condemn nuclear weapons production and the companies that made them before sentencing John and to six months unsupervised probation.

When John finished, the court took a 15 minute break. We returned at 1:15 to the judge's announcement that the courthouse would be closing at 2:30 due to the snow. The lawyers consulted calendars and the 18th of February came up as the next day all were free, so the sentencing hearing was suspended until then.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Abolish Nuclear Weapons: Choose Life

Dear Friends,

The following post is a reprint of an article I was invited to write for the social justice newsletter of Saint Patrick Catholic Church in Seattle.  This past Wednesday (on Martin Luther King Jr's birthday) I participated in a shared Eucharist at the Trident nuclear submarine base at Bangor, Washington.  The Eucharist was led by Fr. William "Bix" Bichsel, the wonderful and notorious nuclear abolitionist and Plowshares activist (among many other fine things) from the Tacoma Catholic Worker. It was intended to bring people together in witness against nuclear weapons as well as in solidarity with the people of Jeju Island, South Korea, who continue to struggle against the naval base under construction that threatens their "Island of Peace."  I thought this an appropriate time to share the article here.

In Peace,


P.S. - You can see photos of Wednesday's shared Eucharist by clicking here.


Abolish Nuclear Weapons: Choose Life 

“In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims. The truth of peace requires that all - whether those governments which openly or secretly possess nuclear arms, or those planning to acquire them - agree to change their course by clear and firm decision and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament. The resources which would be saved could then be employed in projects of development capable of benefiting all their people, especially the poor.” (Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, 2006)

Decades before, the Archbishop of the Seattle Archdiocese, Raymond Hunthausen, was active in resistance to the U.S. stockpiling of nuclear weapons and the new Trident submarine-based nuclear weapons system, which included the Bangor Trident submarine base in Puget Sound just 20 miles west of Seattle. In 1981 Archbishop Hunthausen referred to the Trident submarines based there as "the Auschwitz of Puget Sound."

The Church’s condemnation of nuclear weapons is grounded in the Church’s respect for life and the dignity of the human person. People of faith have been active throughout the movement to abolish nuclear weapons, and the struggle to resist Trident mirrors this history. Even before the first Trident submarine sailed into Bangor, people were coming together to build a resistance to it.

The Pacific Life Community (PLC), a small intentional community, formed to resist the coming of Trident to the Pacific Northwest. Two years later, out of the initial PLC experience, Jim and Shelley Douglass co-founded Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action (GZ). The GZ community purchased land adjacent to the Bangor base, laying the groundwork for the long work ahead.

As the submarines came and the base grew, so did the resistance. In the early years resisters handed out leaflets at the Bangor entrance gates. When the first Trident submarine arrived it was met by thousands of protestors on land in addition to a small flotilla of boats.

Next came rocket motors, and then nuclear warheads, transported by trains to Bangor for assembly to complete the Trident nuclear missiles. These trains were met by huge numbers of people, many of whom risked arrest blocking the tracks leading into the base. Archbishop Hunthausen was present at some of these actions in solidarity with the resistance.

The Douglasses later moved to Birmingham, Alabama to start a Catholic Worker House, and GZ's work continued. Today that work is as strong as ever. A new Center House has risen from the ashes of earlier structures on the grounds. Three annual actions ground our continuing resistance to Trident - Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Mother's Day weekend and the Hiroshima/Nagasaki commemoration.

This continuing resistance, deeply rooted in nonviolence, is absolutely necessary in this time of renewed pursuit of nuclear weapons as a foreign policy tool. Besides the US Government's buildup of its nuclear weapons research, development and production infrastructure, it is pursuing new nuclear weapons systems - among them a new generation of Trident submarines.

The new submarines, currently in research and development, are intended to replace the aging Trident nuclear weapons system, a relic of the Cold War. Twelve submarines will cost $100 billion just to build, in addition to hundreds of billions in operational costs.

Beyond the costs - For people of faith, killing is simply wrong; and nuclear weapons, which are omnicidal by design, are an abomination in the eyes of God. His Holiness was clear in his 2006 statement - Nuclear weapons must never again be used; they must be eradicated, and we must dedicate ourselves to life-affirming ends.

May we choose life.


Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2013 edition of Roots of Justice: A Social Justice Newsletter of Saint Patrick Catholic Church in Seattle, Washington.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Doomsday Clock Stays at 5 Minutes to Midnight; Can We Move the Hand Back???

Once more the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have announced the position of the well-known and iconic Doomsday Clock, which, since 1947 has symbolized (to quote The Bulletin) "the urgency of the nuclear dangers that the magazine's founders--and the broader scientific community--are trying to convey to the public and political leaders around the world."

This is NOT Chicken Little screaming "The sky is falling..."  This is a respected, knowledgeable, scientifically-grounded group of individuals who come together in consensus on the most difficult and important issues of our time.

Earlier today The Bulletin announced that the hands of the Doomsday Clock would remain where they have been since 2012, at 5 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT. This is not good news. Time is short, and the proverbial (and literal) waters are rising.  We must act now.

 Read on to hear what the experts have to say, and then take action.  As citizens, it is our right and duty to help bring our nations' leaders to their senses for humanity's sake. If we do not act now the chances of moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock back are slim. We can and must abolish nuclear weapons once and for all, and we must start moving forward now to reverse!!!



CHICAGO -- January 14, 2014 -- The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists today called on the United States and Russia to restart negotiations on reducing their nuclear arsenals, to lower alert levels for their nuclear weapons, and to scrap their missile defense programs.

The Board also implored world leaders to take immediate action to combat climate change as it announced that the minute hand of the Bulletin’s iconic Doomsday Clock will remain at five minutes to midnight because “the risk of civilization-threatening technological catastrophe remains high.”

The Board’s annual announcement on the status of the Doomsday Clock was addressed this year to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and members of the UN Security Council. In the announcement, the Bulletin’s Board of leading science and security experts acknowledged that 2013 included positive developments in negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program and in the production of renewable energy.

But, the Board noted, those developments came within a “business-as-usual” context that has stalled efforts to shrink nuclear arsenals and reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. And beyond the threats of nuclear weapons and climate change lie a host of emerging technological dangers—including cyber weapons and killer robots—that further endanger humanity, the Board said.

“As always, new technologies hold the promise of doing great good, supplying new sources of clean energy, curing disease, and otherwise enhancing our lives. From experience, however, we also know that new technologies can be used to diminish humanity and destroy societies,” the Board wrote. “We can manage our technology, or become victims of it. The choice is ours, and the Clock is ticking.”

The minute hand of the Doomsday Clock has been at five minutes to midnight since January 2012. In explaining why the hand would remain so close to figurative doomsday, the Bulletin’s science and security experts focused on the failure of world leaders to take action that would reduce the possibility of catastrophe related to nuclear weapons and climate change.

The Board noted that after Russia offered political asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked US classified documents and created an international media sensation, US President Barack Obama called off a planned summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. There appears to have been little movement since on nuclear agreements between the two countries.

The Bulletin’s experts asked UN leaders to demand that the United States and Russia return to the negotiating table. “Once there,” the Board wrote, “they should take the courageous steps needed to further shrink their nuclear arsenals, to scrap their deployment of destabilizing missile defenses, and to reduce the alert levels of their nuclear weapons.”

The Board also called on world leaders to show courage in battling domestic political trends that have stalled efforts to address climate change. These trends include serious threats to renewable-energy support in the United States, the European Union, and Australia and are exemplified by Japan’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and refusal to honor promises on voluntary greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

“The science on climate change is clear, and many people around the world already are suffering from destructive storms, water and food insecurity, and extreme temperatures,” the Board wrote. “It is no longer possible to prevent all climate change, but you can limit further suffering—if you act now.”


The January 14, 2014 Doomsday Clock decision followed an international symposium held in November 2013 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC. The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in consultation with the Governing Board and the Board of Sponsors, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates, reviewed the implications of recent events and trends for the future of humanity with input from other experts on nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, climate change, and emerging threats. The Clock hand has been moved 20 times over the past 65 years, since its appearance in 1947 on the first cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Click HERE for the Science and Security Board’s Clock announcement.

Click HERE to watch video of the November Doomsday Clock symposium.


Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock in 1947, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the information and life sciences. The Bulletin won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2007.

MEDIA CONTACT: Janice Sinclaire, 707.481.9372, or jsinclaire@thebulletin.org.