Nuclear resisters speak out against US nuclear weapons policies in court

On November 9, ten nuclear resisters associated with Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Poulsbo, Washington, appeared in Judge Stephen J. Holman’s courtroom at the Kitsap County District Court.

The ten had participated in a nonviolent direct action along with six other individuals on August 6, 2012. The sixteen resisters engaged in a rolling blockade of the main entrance to the Bangor Trident nuclear submarine base in Silverdale, Washington. All sixteen resisters were briefly detained by Washington State Patrol officers and cited for “Walking on roadway where prohibited.”

The Trident submarine base at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, just 20 miles from Seattle, Washington, contains the largest concentration of operational nuclear weapons. Each of the 8 Trident submarines at Bangor carry as many as 24 Trident II(D-5) missiles, each capable of carrying up to 8 independently targetable warheads. Each nuclear warhead has an explosive yield up to 32 times the yield of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

In speaking to the resisters’ appearance in court, Leonard Eiger, the communications coordinator for Ground Zero said, “We were there [in the courtroom] to speak on the public record as to our government’s obligations to make sincere efforts toward nuclear disarmament, something that is not occurring based on the evidence, and is pushing the world (once again) toward the inevitable accidental or intentional nuclear war.”

Two of the defendants, Malcolm Chaddock, Portland, OR and Bernie Meyer, Olympia, WA contested the charge.

Early on in his testimony Chaddock invoked international law. The prosecutor objected on grounds that this was a civil (traffic) case. After some clarification Judge Holman allowed both Chaddock and Meyer wide latitude in what could be included in their testimony.

In his testimony, Meyer reinforced the issue of international law. “I have risked arrest because of a higher law. We symbolically blocked the access road to the platform releasing nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons which are a threat to life on earth and are illegal. If the Court believes I am guilty, punish me to the full. If the Court sees the urgency and purpose of international law incorporated by US law, including International Humanitarian Law, join the effort to save life.”

Both Chaddock and Meyer were found guilty of the charge, and the judge reduced their fines to $25.

The remaining eight defendants did not contest the charge, and chose mitigation in order to be able to speak on the record as to the reasons for their August 6 action. Those choosing mitigation were Tom Rogers, Poulsbo; Michael Siptroth, Belfair; Betsy Lamb, Bend, OR; Leonard Eiger, North Bend; Brenda McMillan, Port Townsend; Mack Johnson, Silverdale; George W Rodkey, Tacoma; and Elizabeth Murray, Bellingham.

Elizabeth Murray began her testimony with a perspective on what brought her to Bangor for her first action there. “Prior to retiring I served for 27 years as a political analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency. The last position I held was Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East at the National Intelligence Council. I am therefore keenly aware of the need to protect and safeguard our country. However, the past 10 years—particularly in the wake of 9/11—have shown that it is time to embrace a new paradigm of “strength through peace”—and that includes nuclear disarmament.”

Betsy Lamb spoke to her direct intention on the morning of the action. “My purpose was to remind them [workers arriving at the base] of the implications of their labors, to provide them with a moment to stop and think, and perhaps reconsider what they were doing, or at least what they were contributing to.”

Lamb also spoke to a fundamental reason for nonviolent direct action in this case. “Writing my legislators and signing petitions had not succeeded in eliminating the Trident deployments. It was necessary to take my protest a step further, which I did on August 6 when I was in the roadway at the gates of the Base that deploys these Tridents.”

George Rodkey provided a perspective on the importance of individuals taking personal risk for the greater good. “We often hear about various governments and their attempts to gain nuclear weapons (Iran, North Korea), but seldom or never do we hear of the growing non-governmental organizations, groups and individuals acting to bring an end to nuclear weapons. Our acting is, in part, then, to be a catalyst for even greater changes and initiatives to take place. This is a reasonable expectation because taking a personal risk such as this, with altruistic motive, gets peoples’attention like nothing else. Thus the necessity of our action.”

Retired Navy Captain Tom Rogers was direct. “I’m here because I believe our country’s national security strategy based on the threat of nuclear annihilation is a dangerous Cold War relic.” Rogers spoke extensively, based on this naval experience, on the relevance of international law to this issue. He cited the 1996 International Court of Justice opinion in which “the conclusion is that use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is contrary to international law and in particular to the principles and rules of humanitarian law.”

Rogers justified his actions within the context of setting precedent. “If this unlawful threat of use of nuclear weapons is unchallenged, then the violation will become moot. I blocked the road to challenge deployment of the Trident Weapons System as a violation of international law.”

Rogers concluded by invoking the Nuremberg Principles. “When nations fail to challenge unlawful behavior by other nations, it falls on individual citizens to act. The Nuremberg Principle of Individual Responsibility recognizes the right of ordinary citizens to challenge the unlawful behavior of their governments. Among other things, the Principle is intended to protect citizens engaged in reasonable non-violent protest from the legal violence of the state.”

Mack Johnson, who focused on the law and the duty to uphold Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, spoke of the U.S. Government’s selective enforcement of international rulings, applying them only when they are“expedient for our national security.”

In his testimony, Eiger spoke to the continuing modernization of the Trident weapons system, including the planned Trident submarine replacement. “A new ballistic missile submarine program (even with fewer missile tubes) will continue to foster our nation’s reliance on the false security inherent in the concept of nuclear “deterrence”, and will quite likely further destabilize efforts at disarmament and nonproliferation.”

Michael Siptroth brought out the tremendous human and economic costs of militarism and nuclear weapons spending. He stated that the cost of one Trident submarine ($3 billion) could fund 50,000 teachers each year. “We have a choice. We can educate children or we can build nuclear weapons.”

In the conclusion to her statement, Brenda McMillan summed up the resister’s sentiments, “Silence means consent.”

After hearing everyone’s statement, Judge Holman made a brief statement in which he said that, “If your intention here today was to provoke me to think, then you did.” He went on to say that he is constrained by the law (confined to this specific statute) and that his decision must be based on only the issues that relate to it. Judge Holman reduced everyone’s fine to $25.

In reflecting on the day in court, Ground Zero spokesperson Eiger said, “The judge’s reduction of everyone’s fine is, in some sense, a vindication of our actions. Although constrained by the rules of the court, the judge recognized that we had acted in accordance with our conscience and our understanding of well established legal precedent, including the Nuremberg Principles.”

Most of the defendant’s full court statements are available, and can be accessed at http://psnukefree.blogspot.com/2012/11/august-6th-nuclear-resisters-in.html.

For over thirty-five years Ground Zero has engaged in education, training in nonviolence, community building, and resistance against Trident and action toward a world without nuclear weapons.

Leonard Eiger is the coordinator of Puget Sound Nuclear Weapon Free Zone www.psnukefree.org and the media and outreach person for Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action www.gzcenter.org and Disarm Now Plowshares http://disarmnowplowshares.wordpress.com