Trident Ploughshares Women Acquitted
After considering profound and unchallenged evidence on the illegality of Britain's Trident fleet and the necessity for three Trident Ploughshares 2000 (TP2000) campaigners to act against it, a Scottish jurist, Sheriff Margaret Gimblett, ordered a jury to acquit Ellen Moxley, Ulla Roder, and Angie Zelter. At this conclusion of the three and one-half week trial on October 20, the three women were immediately freed from prison, where they were held since last June. In the closing days of the 1999 NATO attack on Serbia and its neighbors, they were charged with causing £80,000 damage to the acoustic research barge Maytime in Loch Goil, which conducts work on Britain's four Trident submarines.
Beginning September 27, the first two weeks of trial in Greenock Magistrates Court were taken up with lengthy prosecution evidence, including a video showing fishes swimming among the equipment which was thrown overboard and starfish crawling around the computers. No expert testified for the Crown to assert the lawfulness of the Trident.
Due to scheduling necessity, Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois, gave evidence for the defense on October 1. Author of the classic 1980s handbook, "Defending Civil Resistance Under International Law", Professor Boyle demonstrated his thorough study of the issue and long experience as an expert witness with a forceful assertion that Trident is illegal.
Other defense expert witnesses included Bradford (UK) University Professor of Peace Studies Paul Rogers about Trident, nuclear accidents, and global proliferation; German judge Ulf Panzer about the blockade of a nuclear missile base by German "Judges and Prosecutors for Peace"; and disarmament treaty monitor Rebecca Johnson.
On October 8, Angie Zelter gave a moving account of her reasons for carrying out this disarmament action. At several points the Procurator Fiscal tried to prevent her from giving evidence. She parried his every legal thrust, revealing the depth of her own - often jailhouse - study of international law and citizen responsibility to prevent crimes against humanity. Zelter was one of four women acquitted of criminal charges for disarming a British warplane destined for export to Indonesia in January, 1996, a success which spurred her and others to initiate the Trident Ploughshares 2000 campaign the following year, and draw attention to the July, 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the illegality of nuclear weapons.
From her statement to the court: "A trial such as this gives the people, in the role of the Jury, a chance to set the record straight, and by finding us not guilty, to send a clear message to everyone to take responsibility for the wrongs around us and to urge the Government to finish the disarmament themselves."
Danish peace activist Ulla Roder, a social worker and mother of two from Odense, testified on October 14 that her campaigning was triggered by the French nuclear tests of 1995. She collected signatures, published a newsletter and met with government officials.
In April 1999, she had written to Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen, to protest NATO's expansionist policy and nuclear strategy. When he failed to reply he was sent a "citizen's summons," informing him of the illegality of NATO's nuclear weapons under international law. Although the people of Denmark had voted in a referendum against nuclear weapons on Danish soil, such weapons had been brought into Denmark on U.S. ships with the full knowledge of the Danish government.
Roder said, "I promised myself that I did not want to be the only one left behind one day, realizing that I had done nothing when I knew what could happen."
When questioned by the prosecutor, Roder admitted that she and the other two women had boarded the floating laboratory, damaged a number of items and thrown some into the sea. She had intended to make sure that they could not again be used as part of the Trident system. Although their action had probably only caused a delay in testing the new Trident submarine, she explained that the women were only a part of the Trident Ploughshares campaign and many others were committed to nonviolent direct action.
On the last day of testimony, Ellen Moxley, a peace campaigner from Dollar in Scotland, asserted in her own defense that the threat of nuclear war was just as real and imminent as the threat presented by the preparations for Hitler's final solution. She said, "No one would be criticized for putting one of Auschwitz's incinerators out of action. Our case is exactly the same."
She told the jury, "I would like to express my appreciation to this court for the time and resources devoted to this subject. Every day I pray 'Lead me from darkness to light' and this court has done that in airing this case. Fundamentally this is a spiritual issue. It's a question of our relationships with each other and our relationship with this fragile, delicate earth. As well as considering all the testimonies given here I would ask that you pray about these matters."
Comments by the Sheriff during the trial revealed her very careful study of the ICJ ruling. She also considered the recent High Court appeal of Helen John's TP2000 case, where Lord Caulsfield had said possession of Trident was not criminal in Scots Law. Sheriff Gimblett's understanding was that indeed, possession of Trident was not the question, but whether it is used in a threatening manner, and in particular at the time of the action, thereby creating the immediate danger required for a defense of necessity.
She heard no evidence the three acted with criminal intent, and much that they were justified in believing Great Britain used the Trident in a threatening manner.
In her final instruction to the jury to acquit, Sheriff Gimblett acknowledged "I am only a very junior sheriff without the wisdom and experience of those above me... A point of international law has been raised here and I have to answer it. I take comfort from the fact that there are other higher courts which can rectify any mistake."
And with a nod to the way Trident was deployed during the aggression in the Balkans, she also warned other activists, "If anyone else takes such action they do so at their peril. The law is not clear on nuclear arms. I may be totally wrong. If it goes to appeal I may not be upheld and every case depends on whatever circumstances. What I have said is with regard to the very special circumstances of this trial and in the light of international tension around June 8."
Within the week, the Lord Advocate declared the Crown's intent to appeal the verdict to the High Court. The appeal would settle law on the case but not reverse the jury's decision. A Trident Ploughshares spokesperson said, "We are delighted that the Lord Advocate has not run away from this one. We have been looking forward to the day when the legality of Trident would be properly debated at this level. We are ready to demonstrate again that Britain's nuclear weapons system is utterly irreconcilable with the principles of international humanitarian law."
For more information, contact Trident Ploughshares 2000, 42-46 Bethel
Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 1NR, UK; phone + 44 (0) 1603 611953; firstname.lastname@example.org