Jury reaches verdict in Disarm Now Plowshares trial

Tacoma, Washington, Monday, December 13, 2010: The federal criminal trial of five veteran peace activists that began December 7 ended today after the jury found them guilty on all counts. The five defendants, called the Disarm Now Plowshares, challenged the legality and morality of the US storage and use of thermonuclear missiles by Trident nuclear submarines at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base outside Bremerton Washington.

In their defense the peace activists argued three points: the nuclear missiles at Bangor are weapons of mass destruction; those weapons are both illegal and immoral; and that all citizens have the right and duty to try to stop international war crimes from being committed by these weapons of mass destruction.

The five were charged with trespass, felony damage to federal property, felony injury to property and felony conspiracy to damage property. Each defendant faces possible sentences of up to ten years in prison.

On trial were: Anne Montgomery, 83, a Sacred Heart sister from New York; Bill Bischel, SJ, 81, a Jesuit priest from Tacoma Washington; Susan Crane, 67, a member of the Jonah House community in Baltimore, Maryland; Lynne Greenwald, 60, a nurse from Bremerton Washington; and Steve Kelly, SJ, 60, a Jesuit priest from Oakland California. Bill Bischel and Lynne Greenwald are active members of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, a community resisting Trident nuclear weapons since 1977.

The five admitted from the start that they cut through the chain link fence surrounding the Navy base during the night of the Feast of All Souls, November 2, 2009. They then walked undetected for hours nearly four miles inside the base to the Strategic Weapons Facility, Pacific (SWFPAC). This top security area is where the Plowshares activists say hundreds of nuclear missiles are stored in bunkers. There they cut through two more barbed wire fences and went inside. They put up two big banners which said “Disarm Now Plowshares: Trident Illegal and Immoral,” scattered sunflower seeds, and prayed until they were arrested at dawn. Once arrested, the five were cuffed and hooded with sand bags because the marine in charge testified “when we secure prisoners anywhere in Iraq or Afghanistan we hood them…so we did it to them.”

The eight Trident nuclear submarines home ported at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor each carry 24 Trident D-5 nuclear missiles. Each missile carries up to eight warheads, each one having an explosive yield of up to 475 kilotons, over 30 times the destructive force of the weapon dropped on Hiroshima.

Additionally, Bangor is home to SWFPAC where nuclear warheads are stored ready for deployment. Located just 20 miles west of Seattle, it is home to the largest single stockpile of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal, housing more than 2000 nuclear warheads.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the 2,364 nuclear warheads at Bangor are approximately 24 percent of the entire U.S. arsenal, more than the combined nuclear warheads than China, France, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan.

The jury heard testimony from peace activists who came from around the world to challenge the use of Trident nuclear weapons by the U.S. Angie Zelter, internationally known author and Trident Ploughshares activist from the UK, testified about the resistance to Trident weapons in Europe.

Stephen Leeper, Chair of the Peace Culture Foundation in Hiroshima, told the jury, “the world is facing a critical moment” because of the existence and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Though prohibited from testifying about the details of the death, destruction, and genetic damage to civilians from the US nuclear attack on Hiroshima, he testified defendants “have a tremendous amount of support in Hiroshima.” When asked if he had encouraged the Disarm Now Plowshares defendants in any way he said, “Yes, I told them, ‘Yes, do anything you possibly can to bring this to the consciousness of the world, because Americans more than any other people in the world are unconscious of what’s going on.’ ”

Retired US Navy Captain Thomas Rogers, 31 years in the Navy, including several years as Commander of a nuclear submarine during the Cold War, said of Trident, “strategic nuclear weapons on submarines… are kept on alert, deployed, and if ever used, they are released with a coded message that’s authenticated on board the ship, and the commander of the ship shoots the missiles, delivers the weapons. Which, in my opinion, in my knowledge, is contrary to the law of armed conflict which says a commander is responsible for – – is responsible for following the rules and principles of humanitarian law, and for not indiscriminately hurting noncombatants and for not causing undue suffering or environmental damage, and that commanding officer is powerless, and it’s an awful feeling.

The peace activists represented themselves with lawyers as stand by counsel. Attorneys Anabel Dwyer and Bill Quigley also assisted the defendants. Dwyer is a Michigan attorney and Board Member of The Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP), and an expert in humanitarian law and nuclear weapons. Quigley is the Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and Professor at Loyola New Orleans.

Prosecutors said the government would neither confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear weapons at the base, and argued that “whether of not there are nuclear weapons there or not is irrelevant.” Prosecutors successfully objected to and excluded most of the defense evidence about the horrific effects of nuclear weapons, the illegality of nuclear weapons under U.S. treaty agreements and humanitarian law, and the right of citizens to try to stop war crimes by their government.

The Disarm Now Plowshares defendants tried to present evidence about the presence of nuclear weapons at Bangor despite repeated objections. At one point, Sr. Anne Montgomery challenged the prosecutors and the court, “Why are we so afraid to discuss the fact that there are nuclear weapons?”

There were many indications that the jury found it difficult to convict the Disarm Now Plowshares defendants. Jury questions,facial expressions, body language and post-trial conversations all gave this impression. One of the jurors said that from what he could tell, no one was ready to convict right away.

After the verdict was read and the Judge Settle was about to dismiss the jury, Steve Kelly stood and announced that the defendants would like to bless the jury. Steve and all of his co-defendants stood with their hands raised in blessing as he said, “May you go in peace and have a safe, happy holiday.”

Sentencing is scheduled for March 28, 2011 at 9:00 am.

For more information on the trial and the Plowshares peace activists please see the site for Disarm Now Plowshares http://disarmnowplowshares.wordpress.com or Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action http://www.gzcenter.org/index.html

Contact: Leonard Eiger (425) 445-2190
Media & Outreach Coordinator
Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action