First U.S. citizen convicted for protests at nuclear weapons base in Germany

May 26, 2020
by John LaForge, Nukewatch

COCHEM, Germany 

A US Air Force veteran of the US war in Vietnam and two other nuclear weapons protesters were found guilty of trespassing and damage to property in Cochem District Court May 11, 2020, as a result of July 2018 protest action at Germany’s Büchel Air Force Base, where the United States positions 20 of its nuclear bombs and where German pilots train to use them in possible attacks against Russia.

Dennis DuVall, 78, a long-time member of Veterans for Peace from Arizona and now living in Dresden, Germany, became the first US citizen prosecuted in Germany for civil resistance against the threatened use of the US nuclear weapons. (US Catholic Priest Carl Kabat was thrown out of Germany for a disarmament action against US Pershing missiles deployed there in the 1980s.)

There have been repeated arrests and detentions of US citizens during protests at the Büchel base since 2017, but no charges have been brought to trial until now. Also convicted by Cochem District Court Judge Andre Zimmermann were Susan van der Hijden, 51, from Amsterdam’s Catholic Worker House in The Netherlands, and Chris Danowski, 50, from Dortmund, Germany, a founder of the Hamburg Catholic Worker. The judge sentenced all three to fines equivalent to 30 times their daily income plus court costs. The fines ranged from 150 to 900 Euros ($165 to $990). Refusing to pay could see the defendants jailed for up to 30 days.

The three were among 18 war resisters — seven from the US, six from Germany, four from The Netherlands, and one from England — that gained entry to the base in five groups and in broad daylight on Sunday, July 15, 2018, after cutting five separate holes through its perimeter fence. Three others among the 18 were convicted of similar charges in January, and three are scheduled for trial in June.

In his defense, DuVall read a detailed statement which was in turn read to the judge by an interpreter. DuVall focused on international treaty law that forbids any planning and preparation of mass destruction. In particular, DuVall reminded the court that the Nuremberg Charter and Principles have established individual responsibility for violations of laws of war. “Planning for nuclear war at Büchel AFB is a criminal conspiracy violating international law and the Nuremberg Principles,” he said. DuVall also said in part, “While weapons of mass murder have found their way into the arsenals of nine nations, international law has not found its way into the courtroom.” And in a rebuke of the court’s silence on the question of unlawful war planning going on within Judge Zimmermann’s jurisdiction, DuVall said, “At the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Auschwitz survivor Batsheva Dagan could also have been thinking about Büchel when she asked, ‘Where was the world [which] did nothing?’ ”

DuVall, van der Hijden and Dnowski all admitted going into the base, but said that the stationing of US nuclear weapons there was illegal under US, German, and international law, making their action one of crime prevention. In her testimony, Susan van der Hijden asked the court, “Are fences more important than human lives?”

The court found the three guilty of the charges based solely on allegations made by the state prosecutor, without the use of a single witness. The procedure surprised defendants and observers from countries where charging documents are not considered evidence. In explaining his verdicts and the penalties, Judge Zimmermann drew guffaws from the gallery by twice comparing fencing around nuclear weapons to a fence around a garden where, he said, no one would like to have a hole cut. After trial, peace activist Hops Hossbach, of Greifenstein, Germany, noticed Judge Zimmermann in his open courthouse office and walked in to lambast the comparison. “It’s not the fence which is at issue,” Hossbach told the judge, “it’s what’s going on behind the fence.”

The 2018 protest was just one among dozens in a years-long campaign of nonviolent resistance against the 20 US “B61-3” and “B61-4” nuclear bombs stationed at Büchel ( Pilots from Germany’s 33rd Tactical Air Force Squadron or Wing at Büchel routinely train in German Tornado jet fighters to detonate the US H-bombs against areas in Russia — in the event they are ordered to do so by a US president. The German base is also home to the US Air Force’s 702 Munitions Support Squadron, which maintains the 20 Cold War-era “dumb” nuclear bombs it calls a “Protection Level 1 Resource.” The US H-bombs are reportedly set to be replaced in the coming years in spite of massive public opposition in Germany and in violation of the 1970 Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.


Statement of Christiane Danowski, Amtsgericht Cochem 

11 May 2020
Honorable court, dear Judge Zimmermann, dear prosecutor, 

According to the facts investigated by the public prosecutor’s office, I am charged with trespassing, as I unlawfully entered a pacified property on 15.07.2018. 

I do not deny that I entered the area of the NATO airfield in Büchel on that day. However, I deny the accusation that I did so unlawfully and refer to the § 34 StGB “Justifying State of Emergency” (1 Anyone who commits an act in a present danger to life, limb, freedom, honour, property or another legal interest, which cannot be averted in any other way, in order to avert the danger from himself or another, does not act unlawfully if, when weighing up the conflicting interests, namely the legal interests affected and the degree of danger threatening them, the protected interest substantially outweighs the impaired one. 2 However, this applies only insofar as the act is an appropriate means of averting the danger). 

I think it is an undeniable fact that on the aforementioned site there are US nuclear weapons of type B61 stored. I think it is an undeniable fact that this storage of such nuclear weapons violates international law. The facts about this have been presented to the court in several proceedings, but I will list them again here in extracts: 

– Non-Proliferation Treaty 1968 

Article 2: “Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party undertakes not to accept, directly or indirectly, nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or the power to dispose of them from anyone, not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, and not to seek or accept assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. 

Germany is one of the non-nuclear weapon states, but stores U.S. nuclear weapons on federal German territory. Germany is acting illegally. 

– 2+4 Treaty 1990: 

On 12 September 1990 the two German states concluded the 2+4 Treaty with Russia, England, France and the USA. Article 3 reads as follows: (1) The Governments of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic reaffirm their renunciation of the production and possession of and control over nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. They declare that the united Germany will also comply with these obligations. In particular, the rights and obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1 July 1968 shall continue to apply to the united Germany. 

At the NATO base in Büchel, the German Bundeswehr exercises control over the nuclear bombs stored there. Germany is acting illegally. 

– Judgement of the Intern. Court of Justice The Hague 1996 

In its ruling in July 1996, the International Court of Justice in The Hague stated that the threat and use of nuclear weapons would generally violate the rules of international law applicable to armed conflict, in particular the principles and rules of so-called international humanitarian law. For if nuclear weapons were to be used, the following rules of so-called humanitarian (war) international law would apply and must be observed, which, however, could not be observed due to the specific characteristics of nuclear weapons: 1) Any use of weapons must distinguish between fighting troops (combatants) and the civilian population; 2.) unnecessary suffering must be avoided; 3.) uninvolved and neutral states must not be harmed. 

The judgement is to be applied to the Federal Republic of Germany by Article 25 of the Basic Law: “1 The general rules of international law are part of federal law. 2 They take precedence over the laws and create rights and obligations directly for the inhabitants of the federal territory.” 

The stationing of nuclear weapons on German territory is a threat, the power of disposal of Federal German soldiers a possible use. Germany is acting illegally. 

I say once again: it is not I, not we who are accused here, who have acted illegally. The Federal Republic acts illegally every day! 

If I now use § 34 StGB for my deed, then I must also confess here: I was not aware of this at the time of my crime. Rather, I was aware that the fact that nuclear weapons are not only stored on German territory, but are also kept active for possible use, shocks me and frightens me. As a citizen of this country and as a human being I feel threatened by these nuclear weapons. They are a danger to life and limb. The non-violent invasion of this area is an attempt on my part to do my part to abolish these weapons and thus to eliminate the fear-inducing threat. I am absolutely of the opinion that my non-violent action and the associated damage to property is an appropriate means of averting the danger in the sense of §34 GG. 

I am a Christian and mother. And I am a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany. As a Christian I am called to love and to act in love and in the preservation of creation. As a member of the non- violent Catholic Worker Movement, I live out my Christian faith by working for peace for a long time. As a mother, I have a responsibility for my son and for creating a world in which my son can live as the next generation. I have already cried many tears from despair and fear of what is being done to other people by violence. 

In May last year, together with Susan van der Hijden, who is sitting here next to me, I made a trip to the USA to demonstrate against the armament of the very atomic bombs that are stored here at NATO’s Büchel airfield. In Kansas City, Missouri, on 27 May 2019, I also joined many others in a non- violent action of civil disobedience to draw attention to the deadly effects of the production and storage of these weapons. I was also arrested there. 

I am of course aware that as an individual I have no power to really abolish these US nuclear weapons stored in Büchel. I am of course also aware that there are – false – laws that want to prevent me from really doing so. 

And yet, by invading the NATO compound in Büchel, where the nuclear weapons are still illegally stored, I want to do my part to abolish them. Together, not alone, peacefully, without violence, I stand for the abolition of all nuclear weapons and a peaceful coexistence of peoples. 

Because this is my conviction as a Christian and mother. 

Closing statement:

I would like to quote my co-defendant Juergen Hoßbach: 

We have waited long enough. 

We have been committed to nuclear disarmament for many years. We do not want to resign ourselves 

and put the future of our planet in the hands of others we cannot trust in this. But we’re tired of talking and waiting.
With the demonstrating and the waiting. 

With the voting and the waiting. 

With the collecting signatures and the waiting. 

For many years, we have been working for a nuclear weapons-free world. 

We have demonstrated and waited. 

We have voted and waited. 

We have signed petitions and distributed and waited. 

We have attended meetings, planned actions and cooked and washed up and waited for activists. 

We have written letters, designed posters and edited a magazine. 

In the meantime, our children have been born and we are still waiting for a nuclear weapons-free world. A world without fear of a nuclear holocaust. A world where even our children can still live. 

We are tired of waiting and living with the fear that the accumulated weapons of mass destruction are putting our future and the future of our children at risk. 

We are tired of waiting for the production and renewal of nuclear weapons to claim new lives every day. People who pay with their lives for our supposed security. 

Today is another opportunity to stop waiting. To take a step in the right direction. Towards a nuclear weapons-free world. 

Mr Zimmermann, you can keep us waiting. You can also take that step today. By recognising that the storage of and threats against nuclear weapons are in breach of international law and that this untenable legal situation must be clarified before higher judicial bodies. 

– – –

Statement of Dennis DuVall, Amtsgericht Cochem

11 May 2020

When my wife and I moved to Germany two years ago, we joined the campaign to remove American nuclear weapons from Büchel AFB. Living in Nürnberg, we often went to the Street of Human Rights, and I knew Nuremberg was best known for the Nuremberg Principles that established the precedent of individual responsibility for war crimes. The murder of millions of innocent civilians by Nazi Germany was a war crime of incomprehensible horror. The Nuremberg Tribunal in 1945 was an historic moment in the evolution of international law from the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928 to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017. 

(I believe the American fire bombing of Tokyo and Dresden, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the massacres of the Vietnam and Iraq wars were equally reprehensible war crimes)

Exposing another war crime is the reason I am standing in this courtroom here today. Today the unimaginable horror is the threat of nuclear war. American thermonuclear hydrogen bombs in Europe are designed to be used in a nuclear war and NATO is using these weapons now to threaten nuclear war. Planning and preparing for this war to happen is the primary reason for the nuclear-armed NATO military alliance and is the only reason for the United States to position nuclear weapons in Europe. Nuclear bombs were deployed to Büchel shortly after Germany joined NATO in 1955. Each B61 hydrogen bomb stationed at Büchel is two to eight times as destructive as the atomic bomb that incinerated the city of Hiroshima. In his book, The Doomsday Machine, Daniel Ellsberg revealed that 200 million people in Europe would die in a nuclear war between Russia and the United States.

Where is the judgement of Nuremberg now that thermonuclear weapons threaten to kill hundreds of millions of people? Why is nuclear war above the law? Why is it that the defense of necessity and the testimony of experts in international law are verboten in the trials of antinuclear activists? Even when nuclear abolitionists accept personal responsibility for preventing nuclear holocaust, why are we denied international and humanitarian law to defend ourselves? While weapons of mass murder have found their way into the arsenals of nine nations, international law has not found its way into the courtroom. Yet, the threat of nuclear war is hundreds of times more horrendous than the Holocaust, not only in counting human lives, but because the uncontrollable and indiscriminate heat, blast and radiation from hydrogen bombs is a nuclear nightmare that threatens omnicide, the destruction of all life on our planet.

The judiciary must wake up and allow international law into the courtroom.

Courts must apply the Nuremberg Principles and recognize that international law and world opinion are on the side of eliminating nuclear weapons. Governments and the courts must not be allowed to ignore this. Judges have a moral obligation to personally oppose the criminal policies of nuclear annihilation imposed by the United States and underlying NATO’s so-called “defensive” strategy of first strike total war. Judges and lawyers must challenge the legitimacy of nuclear weaponry and must challenge the legal conspiracy of silence around the nuclear nightmare being planned at Büchel AFB.

Büchel’s Tornado warplanes practice delivering hydrogen bombs in NATO’s war games, a military provocation that risks a nuclear miscalculation or accident. The rise of far right nationalism, the climate crisis and the abdication of nonproliferation and disarmament treaties also increase tensions and the danger of military conflict in Europe. Missile defense systems and a nuclear arms race to build a new generation of tactical “low-yield” nuclear weapons for Europe’s nuclear arsenal also increase the risk of a military confrontation that could escalate to first-use of a nuclear weapon. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has sounded the alarm by moving the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds before midnight, closer to nuclear war than anytime since its creation in 1947.

Thermonuclear bombs at Büchel, protected by fences and guards, are a crime against humanity in the same sense as the crematoriums at Auschwitz. In Humanizing Hell: The Law v. Nuclear Weapons, George Delf says it best: “We are all living in a nuclear death camp with extermination awaiting us and willingly paying for the weapons that will kill us.” The weapons that will kill us are the B61 nuclear weapons of mass murder kept inside the fence at Büchel AFB. For the court to focus on damage to a fence is a deliberate distraction that trivializes a matter of life and death: the war crime of planning and preparation for nuclear war inside the fence at Büchel is an Auschwitz waiting to happen. At the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Auschwitz survivor Batsheva Dagan could also have been thinking about Büchel when she asked “Where was the world who did nothing?”

And this, Judge Zimmermann, is why we’re here, to help you feel the very real threat of nuclear annihilation and inspire you to use your influence to halt the planning and preparation for nuclear war at Büchel AFB. B61 thermonuclear bombs are positioned at Büchel in order to threaten an adversary with mass murder. Training pilots to drop hydrogen bombs on assigned targets is also training these pilots to commit mass murder. Planning for nuclear war at Büchel AFB is a criminal conspiracy violating international law and the Nuremberg Principles. My trial is an opportunity for you to send a message to the German government to remove B61 H-bombs from Büchel AFB and return them to the United States for dismantling and disposal.

Judge Zimmermann, the threat of nuclear weapons is a clear and present danger to the European community and nuclear war is an existential threat to the web of life on our planet. It is urgent that you stand up and speak out for a world free of nuclear weapons. It is crucial for this trial to send the message NOT to replace B61 bombs with B61-12 “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapons prohibited by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is also crucial for a world without nuclear weapons that Germany ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

For these reasons, I implore you to acquit me and all Büchel defendants who do stand up and speak out for the elimination of all nuclear weapons. I wish to underscore the need for judicial courage to shine a spotlight on preparations for nuclear war taking place at Büchel AFB. I ask you, Judge Zimmerman, to either refer my case to the Federal Constitutional Court, or allow me to go unpunished by recognizing the unlawful threat of using nuclear weapons stationed at Büchel AFB.