The Peace Page 11/21/12

Kangaroo Court Looming for Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Critics

By John LaForge

Three disarmament radicals that snuck into the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex last summer are preparing for their February 2013 trial, and face the prospect that any mention of nuclear weapons will be forbidden.

Y-12 is the 811-acre site in Oak Ridge, Tenn. that’s been building H-bombs and contaminating workers and the environment since 1943. On July 28, Sr. Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed snipped through fences and walked up to the new Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility building. They unfurled banners, spray-painted the building with phrases such as “Woe to the empire of blood,” poured blood, prayed and broke bread.

Now they face felony charges that carry a maximum of $500,000 in fines and 15 years in prison. Additionally, in what looks like an attempt to scare them into pleading guilty now, federal prosecutors have mentioned bringing two heavier charges, including sabotage “during wartime,” which together carry up to 50 years imprisonment.

As with previous cases of symbolic damage to nuclear war systems, a kangaroo court is being arranged in advance. If the government gets its way again, the trial judge will keep facts about nuclear weapons away from the jurors and make sure that questions about the bomb’s outlaw status are left out of jury instructions. Instructions are the juror’s marching orders, the last thing they hear before starting deliberations.

On Nov. 2, prosecutors led by U.S. Attorney William Killian offered a motion “in limine,” urging U.S. Magistrate C. Clifford Shirley to “preclude defendants from introducing evidence in support of certain justification defenses.” The motion asks the court to forbid all evidence — even expert testimony — about “necessity, international law, Nuremberg Principles, First Amendment protections, the alleged immorality of nuclear weapons, good motive, religious moral or political beliefs regarding nuclear weapons, and the U.S. government’s policy regarding nuclear weapons.” The “basis” for excluding evidence regarding the threatened use of our H-bombs is that it is “not relevant.”

Volunteer defense attorneys have submitted a detailed memo to the contrary, arguing that interference with and even defacing and damaging nuclear war plans is a legitimately excusable “lesser harm” that prevents an indisputably greater one. These lawyers argue that forbidding a defense of necessity violates protesters’ rights. Citing case law from 2005, 1994, 1980 and 1976, they note, “In a criminal case it is reversible error for a trial judge to refuse to present adequately a defendant’s theory of defense,” and, “where a defendant claims an affirmative defense [necessity, crime prevention, etc.], and that ‘defense finds some support in the evidence and in the law,’ the defendant is entitled to have the claimed defense discussed in the jury instructions.”

It’s easy to show that necessity defenses are relevant, the memo notes, since the “burden is not a heavy one” and is met “even when the supporting evidence is weak or of doubtful credibility.” Nevertheless, as the prosecutor’s motion points out, “Courts have precluded defendants from presenting any evidence in support of such defenses at trial, including expert testimony.” Indeed, gag orders in similar cases have been upheld by the 9th, 8th, 7th and 11th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal. Judges and prosecutors have in fact placed nuclear weapons and war planning beyond the reach of the law — unlike assault rifles, poison gas or other contraband — as if H-bombs were sacrosanct, unquestionable, too precious to be addressed by mere mortals.

In this case, Magistrate Shirley is expected to grant the stifling motion. He and Mr. Killian know that if jurors learn about the effects of nuclear attacks, about the law against planning massacres, and about U.S. plans for nuclear warfare, they would likely acquit the defendants. The U.S. Attorney’s motion even confesses, “[we] do not suggest that the deployment of nuclear armament systems does not violate international law, but merely that Congress has power to protect government property….”

If a gag order from Magistrate Shirley follows suit with earlier nuclear weapons protest cases, the accused will again be denied the right to defend themselves. With the world clamoring for nuclear abolition, it won’t be the defense that’s irrelevant then, but the court system.

John LaForge is co-director of Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, and edits its Quarterly.


Options to Prevent a Nuclear Armed Iran

By Louis Kriesberg

Determining U.S. policy toward Iran and its nuclear programs should begin with considering the way the Iranian leadership and people regard their effort to develop nuclear power and nuclear weapons.  The current leadership wants to remain in power, but they differ about how that is best accomplished.  Ahmadinejad does not determine policy.  To what extent it is ultimately shaped by Ayatollah Khamenei or by the high military leaders is widely debated.  There is also widespread Iranian disaffection with the ruling regime.  The U.S. should be wary of unifying the divergent groups within the country.

It is safe to believe that the major purpose of the Iranian leaders is to maintain themselves in power and to play an important regional role.  Having nuclear weapons can reasonably be considered as necessary to avoid efforts to overthrow them.  They may see what happened in Libya compared to the survival of the regime in North Korea.

Coercive sanctions alone will not suffice for the U.S. government to halt Iran’s progress toward producing nuclear weapons and the means to employ them.  Even a military strike would only delay such programs and unleash terrible reactions.  Current sanctions need to be accompanied by reassurances to Iranian leaders that not having nuclear weapons would not open them up to attacks and to efforts to overthrow them.  They are already close to having the capacity to build nuclear weapons, but not close to being able to employ them.  In any case, they will forever be extremely unlikely to use them to initiate a war, attack Israel or risk passing on any capability to external organizations they cannot control.   Such actions, they know, would be utterly self-destructive.

There are realistic reasons the region and the world would be much better off if Iran did not possess nuclear weapons.  Its possession of such weapons may result in other countries in the region developing nuclear weapons, further increasing the risks of nuclear accidents, military attacks, and even wars.  The economic burdens of financing nuclear arms races would further damage the well-being of the peoples in the Middle East.

The U.S. can take steps that will induce the Iranian leaders to stop short of actually constructing nuclear arms, yet having demonstrated that they ultimately have the capability to do so.  Inducements include reassurances that can be made with little risk to the U.S., Israel, or other countries in the region.  They incorporate working to establish a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.  Israel would not be taking any risk by acknowledging its nuclear weapons capacity and collectively working to diminish the need for them.  The U.S. should move toward restoring diplomatic relations with Iran, with the promises that entails.  Opening Iran to more contact and exchanges with Americans can strengthen the position and influence of Iranians who seek domestic reforms.

This path holds out the promise of widespread benefits for the peoples in all countries in the Middle East, including Iran.   There would be enhanced security for everyone.  There would be greater economic benefits for everyone.  In the context of the Arab Spring, improving stability and reducing mutual fears is highly desirable.  With American leadership many other countries would choose this path making it the right way for all.

Louis Kriesberg, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies, and Founding Director of the  Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts at Syracuse University, is co-author of Constructive Conflicts, 5th Ed. 2012.



Words for a No-Bull Presidential Inaugural  

by Winslow Myers

My fellow citizens, I have just sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, but what does that mean? Our earth has become so small, national economies so interdependent, global ecological problems so transcendent of nationality, that it would be an abdication of my leadership responsibilities to pretend otherwise. A new world has dawned, within which the United States must begin to honestly redefine its interests.

After 60-plus years of believing that we have maintained the peace by means of our overwhelming nuclear strength, we are confronted with a series of paradoxes that cannot be resolved merely by increasing that strength. The very meaning of “strength” has totally changed.  Even a small number of our nuclear weapons, or those of any other nation for that matter, cannot be detonated without raising enough dust and soot into the atmosphere to fatally affect world agriculture for a decade.

We must reluctantly admit that our nuclear weapons no longer possess the deterrent effect that was intended by their triadic deployment on land, sea and air. In addition, we must admit that no leader can guarantee that command and control systems, either our own or those of other nuclear powers, can forever restrain their inadvertent or accidental misuse.

It is past time to cooperate with our allies and as much as possible with our adversaries to create nuclear-free zones, to batten down nuclear materials so that they do not fall into the wrong hands, and to aggressively conclude new treaties for graduated reciprocal reductions of nuclear warheads around the world. We know from the Cuban Missile Crisis, now a half-century behind us, exactly where any nuclear confrontation inevitably leads, and how potential misunderstanding can push adversaries into a catastrophe that fails to resolve any conflict of interests.

Nuclear weapons, useless for conducting rational foreign policy, must now take their place in the context of all our other ecological challenges.  Nuclear weapons forever changed our world, and scientific evidence overwhelmingly concludes that the earth is undergoing serious climatic changes that we must plan for rather than further deny. While no one can state with certainty that any given weather event, any storm or tornado or hurricane, is attributable purely to human activity, trends have been established that cannot be ignored.

From the offices in the Pentagon to the very streets of our towns, we know for certain that military superiority, nuclear or conventional, will not be able to address the unfolding economic and ecological crises that loom over us. The quality of air we breathe in our own country is dependent upon policies that the Chinese adopt to satisfy their energy demands, and vice versa. Authentic security now means cooperating with the Chinese and others to transition toward sources of clean, sustainable energy. Competition for military or territorial advantage on land or sea has become injurious to this transcendent goal.We cannot afford to take the steps that mitigate climate instability and prevent future wars over scarce resources, while also continuing to be resented—and often confronted—in our role as self-appointed world policeman. Therefore, the moment has come to prudently but swiftly transition out of our strategic emphasis upon maintaining an American military presence around the world and into partnerships with other nations. It is infinitely less expensive to supply food, shelter, safe water drinking water, education, medicine, reproductive services and sustainable energy to the entire world than it is for the United States to try to maintain global military superiority. Further, directly addressing human needs is the only long-term structural solution to terrorism.

Our Constitution, written with the best intentions two and a quarter centuries ago, needs, like that of Ecuador, to extend rights not only to people but to the living systems which support our own well-being. In 2008, Ecuadorians approved a new Constitution recognizing the right of nature,“to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” Ecuador’s citizens and leaders accept that their own health depends upon animals that have genuine rights to viable habitats and rivers that have rights to run clean within their banks. We humans cannot be any healthier than the oceans, the soil, the coral reefs, the fish and the plants that make up the common resource that sustains us. Our economic principles cannot avoid taking this reality into account as a fundamental working truth. The ecological wholeness of the earth is the only ultimate “corporation” and the final source of available capital. Any investment that fails to take into account mutual earth-human relations will inevitably become a dead-end net loss for everyone, no matter how much a privileged few seem to benefit in the short-term.

This recognition of interdependence represents an enormous shift in our conventional cultural assumptions about military strategy, economics, and international and domestic politics, but the necessity for this shift has been creeping up on us for a generation. I know full well that for many of my fellow citizens, the concepts of military strength contradicting itself, or of non-human creatures having rights to life and health analogous to our own, will appear to be deeply uncomfortable, even threatening. But my task is not merely to reflect our existing state of mind, it is to help lead us all toward the light as far as we can discern it. This world, and therefore this nation, will be infinitely safer if no one has nuclear weapons than it would be if everyone had them—just as true security for all lies in an authentic ecological stewardship in which all nations participate. We can renew our own special strengths as Americans by realizing that our own self-interest is bound up in what is best for the whole. This will open up new opportunities for world leadership as we search together for creative solutions.

Winslow Myers, the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Board of Beyond War (, a non-profit educational foundation whose mission is to explore, model and promote the means for humanity to live without war.



The Cuban Missile Crisis, Presidential Campaigns and the Greatest Threat We Face

By Robert F. Dodge, MD

This week’s final presidential debate saw both candidates contemplate the greatest threat we face as the world quietly marked the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. During those 12 days, 50 years ago, the world came closer to intentional nuclear annihilation than ever before or since. Yet neither candidate articulated the fact that by their very existence nuclear weapons pose the greatest threat to our survival.

By not mentioning the threat posed by global nuclear stockpiles in excess of 20,000 weapons—of which the U.S. and Russia control over 90 percent—everyone ignored the armed elephant in the room.  We worry that Iran may be able to develop a single weapon at some future date – totally oblivious to the number of times that the world has narrowly averted disaster from accidental and misread information since the 1962 missile crisis. It is a matter of sheer luck that we sit here today terrified of a future nuclear Iran, disregarding the reality that each day is one day closer to intentional or accidental nuclear war. Probability experts conclude that such a catastrophe is more likely every day, not less.

Since we choose to own and maintain these arsenals, it is our democratic duty to contemplate how the world and civilization as we know it would end as a result of nuclear war. This could come from the effects of nuclear famine stemming from the use of a relatively small percentage of global arsenals  causing prompt global climate disruption that cuts food production worldwide and could kill more than a billion people. Alternatively, the effects of a so called “nuclear winter” resulting from a full-scale nuclear attack would even more disastrously end life as we know it.

So what will we do about the greatest threat we face? Polls show that the people have decided. A majority of Americans and indeed citizens around the world say they want all nuclear weapons abolished.  Society pays the price and faces the risk every day of these massive stockpiles and the bloated military budgets that support them and the wars we fight. And part of the price we pay comes from the competition for precious resources both natural and financial fueling the very conflict around the world that leads to war in the first place.

So how will we address this greatest threat? It is not enough to eliminate these stockpiles alone. As President Kennedy said, “mankind must put an end to war — or war will put an end to us.”  We have the international institutions and diplomatic skills, models and best practices today to resolve conflict without war. What is needed is the collective will and leadership to take this stand.  The future of the planet depends on it. The choice is ours.



Local Governments and National Security Policy 

By Lawrence S. Wittner

Can local governments influence national security policy?  Congress has the power to appropriate funds for military purposes and to declare war.  But local governments sometimes have something to say about this – especially when national policy has significant effects upon them.

In recent years, as Congress has poured trillions of dollars into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and into an escalating Pentagon budget, well over half of U.S. federal discretionary spending has been devoted to funding the U.S. military.  Meanwhile, federal spending on domestic programs has been sharply curtailed, leaving many cities, counties, and states hard-pressed to cover the costs of education, housing, health care, parks, and other social services.

This squeeze upon localities has led to a gathering revolt.  Dozens of local jurisdictions have passed resolutions that call for ending the U.S. military role in Iraq and Afghanistan, reducing the Pentagon budget, and funding domestic programs.  Among the cities passing these “move-the-money” resolutions are Hartford, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Portland (ME), Takoma Park, Binghamton, Portland (OR), Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Richmond (CA), and Philadelphia.  In June 2011, the U.S. Conference of Mayors weighed in with a resolution that called upon the President and Congress to “bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy.”

The latest of these campaigns concluded this fall in Albany County, New York.  In this jurisdiction of 304,000 people, housing the capital of New York State, local activists proposed that the County Legislature adopt a proclamation that called upon Congress to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, reduce U.S. military spending significantly, and use the savings to fund vital public programs at home.  Twenty-nine local organizations endorsed this Peace Dividend Proclamation, including the Albany County Central Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), Upper Hudson Peace Action, the Commission on Peace and Justice of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, Women Against War, the Labor Religion Coalition of New York State, Veterans for Peace, the Interfaith Alliance, and United University Professions.

With Albany County legislator Doug Bullock tenaciously circulating the proclamation and constituents pressing their legislators to sign the measure, it gradually picked up support.  On October 9, with 22 of the 39 county legislators having signed the proclamation, it was formally adopted.  The following day, the Albany County clerk mailed off copies to President Obama, the entire New York State congressional delegation, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state legislature, and all departments in the county.

This kind of pressure by localities to change U.S. national security policy is not unique.  During the early 1980s, as the Reagan administration engaged in a vast buildup of U.S. nuclear weaponry and the nuclear arms race surged forward, cities, towns, and states rallied behind a proposal for a Nuclear Freeze.  This measure, drawn up by defense analyst Randy Forsberg and promoted by peace groups, called for a Soviet-American agreement to halt the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons.  By November 1983, it had been endorsed by more than 370 city councils, 71 county councils, and by one or both houses of 23 state legislatures.  The Nuclear Freeze campaign was ferociously resisted by the Reagan administration and a supporting resolution — after passage by the House of Representatives — was blocked by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.  Nevertheless, in the following years, the Reagan administration and its successors reversed U.S. national security policy and implemented the basic ideas of the Nuclear Freeze campaign.

Will the more recent upsurge of protest by localities against U.S. national security policy continue and, ultimately, lead to the federal government “moving the money” from war to peace?   That will probably depend in large part on what efforts local activists make in the future — and perhaps also on the outcome of elections for President and Congress this November.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner ( is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany.  His latest book is “Working for Peace and Justice:  Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual” (University of Tennessee Press).


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