[Ppnews] Lengthy Prison Terms Grow More Likely for Peace Activists

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 11 18:32:55 EST 2013

Weekend Edition January 11-13, 2013


  Lengthy Prison Terms Grow More Likely for Peace Activists


Michael Walli, Sister Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed knew they were 
risking prison when they staged a daring July, 2012 peace demonstration 
at a Tennessee nuclear facility. Now, their prospects for lengthy 
sentences have increased after government prosecutors added a new charge 
and a U.S. magistrate judge rejected a request for dismissal.

But the three activists say they are willing to sacrifice their freedom 
for their message. "Hopefully, one day, the need to avoid the 
self-destructive practice of preparing for nuclear war will be as common 
knowledge as not putting your hand on a hot stove," Rice says. "If we 
are put in prison, it will just make the message of truth a stark one."

After Walli, Rice, and Boertje-Obed rejected an offer to plead guilty, 
Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern District of Tennessee responded 
in early December by charging them 
with a more serious crime of sabotaging the Y-12 National Security 
Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  A few weeks later, U.S. Magistrate 
Judge C. Clifford Shirley, Jr. denied a request that the charges be 
dismissed. When the trial set for May 7^th occurs, Walli, Rice, and 
Boertje-Obed each face as much as 35 years in prison.

That trial will revisit the pre-dawn events of July 28^th , when Walli, 
Rice, and Boertje-Obed passed through four separate fences, video 
surveillance, and motion detectors to reach the outside of the Highly 
Enriched Uranium Materials Facility. There, the group that takes its 
name of Transform Now Plowshares 
<http://transformnowplowshares.wordpress.com/> from Isaiah 2:4 ("They 
shall hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning 
hooks") stretched crime scene tape across the area and hammered on the 
corner of the building. They also hung banners and spray-painted 
messages on the structure, including "Work for peace, not for war" and 
"Woe to the empire of blood." When guards finally arrived, the activists 
read aloud a statement accusing the facility of being a haven for war 

That accusation also formed the basis of the motion to dismiss 
the resulting criminal charges, but Magistrate Shirley rejected the 
argument. The question of war crimes is "simply irrelevant" to the 
request for dismissal, the judge ruled. But he also expressed his view 
that the creation and maintenance of nuclear weapons is not a criminal 
act. "When weapons are possessed to deter others, the precise intent is 
not to use them. The Court considers the situation to be analogous to 
the junkyard owner who posts a sign saying "mean dog" inside his 
junkyard . . .(t)he junkyard owner posts the sign to deter acts on the 
part of others so that the dog will not have to bite."

Rice, a Roman Catholic nun and longtime peace activist, was dismayed by 
the judge's ruling and his rationale. "It is a scientific fact that the 
planet can be exterminated by what is going on in this nuclear 
industry," she said. "The truth is that nuclear weapons production is a 
war crime, and it is going on right there at the Y-12 facility, but that 
truth is being denied by misinformation and silence."

One of the largest nuclear weapons production and storage facilities in 
the world, Y-12 holds over 400 tons of enriched uranium, enough to arm 
thousands of weapons. The complex also produces and stores components of 
nuclear weaponry and refurbishes and replaces existing warheads. Despite 
the judge's statement, Y-12's legacy goes far beyond deterrence: it 
produced the highly enriched uranium that fueled the nuclear bomb 
dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, killing tens of thousands of civilians.

The group Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance <http://orepa.org/> has 
researched the activities at Y-12 and supported many activists who have 
trespassed on the grounds over the years to protest the facility's work. 
But the extent of the breach achieved by Walli, Rice, and Boertje-Obed 
was unprecedented, triggering a lockdown of the facility and serious 
questions about the protection of the nation's nuclear arsenal. The 
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reported on the incident with the 
headline, "Security at Y-12 Nun Too Good."

The ultimate security risk at Y-12 is to global civilization, the 
activists insist. University of Illinois law professor Francis X. Boyle 
told the court 
that Y-12 is indeed the site of ongoing war crimes and that the 
demonstration on July 28^th was well-justified. The activists' legal 
team argued to the court, "If these people took this action in Iran, the 
U.S. government would praise them. But, in Tennessee, the U.S. 
government prosecutes them."

Walli, Rice, and Boertje-Obed are certainly not receiving the 
government's praise, but others have been energized by their example. "A 
robust movement can begin with a single, courageous action like the one 
at Oak Ridge," wrote Nathan Schneider, editor of the news site Waging 
Nonviolence <http://wagingnonviolence.org/>. Not only did the three 
gray-haired activists risk their lives to make their statement---deadly 
force is authorized to protect Y-12's grounds---but they may be facing 
the equivalent of a life sentence for their protest. "These wonderful 
people are risking jail, maybe for the rest of their lives, in order to 
tell the truth about the potential for global peril," says William 
Quigley, a Loyola University law professor and member of the three 
activists' legal team. (Full disclosure: Quigley is my brother.)

Since Rice is 82 years old, she appears to be at greatest risk for a /de 
facto/ life sentence. (Walli is 63, Boertje-Obed is 57.) It is a 
possibility she is at peace with. Rice traces her concerns about nuclear 
war back to the harrowing stories of suffering told by her uncle, a U.S. 
Marine stationed in Nagasaki after the U.S. bombing in 1945.  When Rice 
returned to the U.S. after spending most of four decades teaching school 
in Nigeria and Ghana, she received the permission of her order, the 
Society of the Holy Child Jesus, to devote herself to peace activism. 
She has since been arrested dozens of times for civil disobedience and 
served a six-month term in federal prison for an action on the grounds 
of the former School of Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Rice hopes that she and Walli and Boertje-Obed will be able to convince 
a Tennessee jury that the true criminal act at Y-12 is the production of 
weapons of mass destruction, not a symbolic gesture by three activists 
armed with flashlights and bolt cutters. There is some hopeful 
precedent. In 2006, an Irish jury acquitted four peace activists who 
used hammers to inflict damage on a U.S. military plane en route to the 
war in Iraq. In 2010, a magistrate in Australia delivered a not guilty 
verdict to activists who trespassed onto an air base.  Other peace 
demonstrators have persuaded juries that their civil disobedience was 
justified by their message.

But Rice realizes that kind of outcome is far from guaranteed, and she 
appreciates the consequences of a lengthy sentence. Rice was close 
friends with Sister Jackie Hudson, who fell fatally ill in 2011 while 
serving a prison term for anti-war civil disobedience. Among the items 
Rice, Walli, and Boertje-Obed carried onto the Y-12 base were white 
roses, a commemoration of The White Rose nonviolent resistance to Adolph 
Hitler in Nazi Germany. The leaders of the White Rose movement were 

"I feel blessed to be able to devote my life to exposing the criminality 
of nuclear weaponry," Rice says. Soon, a Tennessee jury and judge will 
decide whether the rest of that life will be spent behind bars.

/*Fran Quigley* is clinical professor and director of the Health and 
Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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