U.S. Peace Activist Given Longest Prison Term in German Campaign to Oust U.S. Nuclear Bombs

Nukewatch photo

from Nukewatch

First Ever U.S. Woman Sentenced to Prison in Decades-Long Effort

Susan Crane, of the Redwood City, California Catholic Worker, has been sentenced to 229 days in prison in Germany for daring to interfere with the U.S. nuclear weapons stationed at Germany’s Büchel Air Force base, southeast of Cologne.

Crane participated in six nonviolent go-in actions, confronting the air force system on base which routinely trains to drop the U.S. H-bombs on targets in Russia,[1] most provocatively this winter in operation “Steadfast Defender 24” — which was launched in the midst of NATO’s war in Ukraine.[2]

As a result of convictions on misdemeanor charges of trespass and damage to the chain-link fence, Crane was fined a total of twenty-five-hundred Euros. Now, for refusing to admit guilt or pay, a mid-level court on Jan. 18, 2024 ordered Crane to report June 4, 2024 to Rohrbach penitentiary, a 450-bed, co-ed in southwest Germany. Crane’s 7.6- month penalty is the longest prison sentence ever imposed in the 25-year-long series of rallies, protests, marches, peace camps, and civil resistance directed at the NATO nuclear weapons base. Crane is also the first U.S. woman to be ordered to German prison in the decades-long effort.

In 2018, and 2019, Crane and others were able to get inside the base and even climb atop earthen bunkers used to store both the nuclear weapons and German Tornado fighter jets. (See photo.) Dozens of Germans, as well as two other U.S. citizens and one Dutch national have done prison time in Germany for related go-in actions.

Between 2017 and 2021, Susan joined five delegations of U.S. anti-nuclear activists attending annual summer peace camps just outside the base — organized by Nukewatch and the local group Nonviolent Action to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Crane said in a statement March 6, “When we went on the base, we reminded the military that nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral. We asked them to resign their commissions, or, if ordered, to refuse to load the nuclear weapons on their Tornado fighter jets, or to drop them anywhere.”

“I thought the German courts would listen to the reasons we went onto the base, and understand that our peaceful actions were justified as acts of crime prevention. But international law was not respected,” Crane said.

According to legal scholars, the U.S. transfer of its nuclear weapons to Germany — formally a non-nuclear weapons state — is prohibited by the Treaty on Nonproliferation. Articles I and II of the treaty explicitly forbid any “transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons”. The U.S. nuclear bombs at Büchel are the 170-kiloton “B61-3,” and the 50-kiloton “B61-4.”[3]

Crane, who has two adult children and four grandchildren, has devoted her life in California to serving poor and often homeless people of Redwood City. In her statement, she said, “I see people living in camps, living in cars, and I see working people who don’t have enough income for basic needs like rent, food, or medical care. Then, I think of the money wasted on war-making by the U.S. and NATO nations; and that 3% of the U.S. military budget alone could end starvation around the world.”

Crane argued at trial that she was justified in attempting to interfere with an “ongoing criminal conspiracy”, the unlawful plan to wage wars of mass destruction, wars in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Charter and Judgment. Crane appealed the convictions all the way to Germany’s highest court. However, it was dismissed without comment in the same way it has ignored 19 similar anti-nuclear protest case appeals. Susan then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France, just as five others in the campaign have done. (The ECHR hears appeals by defendants from 31 EU states who’ve exhausted legal redress in their respective countries.) Last December, the ECHR used a technicality to reject Crane’s appeal and did not address its merits. The ECHR has yet to decide whether to take up the appeals from the other weapons resisters.

“I don’t want to give money to the court system which I view as protecting nuclear weapons,” Crane said in her statement. “I don’t believe nonviolently resisting nuclear madness is wrong, and I don’t need to apologize for it. Paying a fine would be like admitting some guilt, while refusing is a way of withdrawing my cooperation from the courts, and from the judges who build a wall of silence and hide behind it. They deny that threatening mass destruction violates international law. I acted to uphold this law, but they pretend that treaties don’t apply in their courtrooms,” Crane said.


For updates on Susan’s case see: www.nukeresister.org


1] Reuters, “NATO to hold biggest drills since Cold War with 90,000 troops”, Jan. 18, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/nato-kick-off-biggest-drills-decades-with-some-90000-troops-2024-01-18/ ; “NATO Holds Secret Nuclear War Exercises in Germany, Ignores Turkey,” Oct. 15, 2020, https://see.news/nato-secret-nuclear-war-exercises-germany-ignores-turkey/; “Stop ‘Steadfast Noon’ Nuclear War Exercise Now!” Oct. 14, 2020; 2019 “Secret nuclear weapons exercise ‘Steadfast Noon”, https://www.bundeswehr-journal.de/2019/geheime-atomwaffenuebung-steadfast-noon/; 2017, “NATO nuclear weapons exercise unusually open,” https://www.bundeswehr-journal.de/2019/geheime-atomwaffenuebung-steadfast-noon/ ; 2015, “NATO nuclear weapons exercise Steadfast Noon in Büchel”, https://augengeradeaus.net/tag/steadfast-noon/

2] https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/222847.htm ; https://www.defense.gov/Spotlights/Steadfast-Defender-24/

3] Hans M. Kristensen & Matt Korda, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 76:1, 46-60; https://doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2019.1701286