Thursday, March 6, 2014
Mary Bowser, former slave of the Van Lew family, infiltrated the Confederacy by working as a servant in the household of Jefferson Davis. Bowser was assumed to be illiterate, and as a black woman was below suspicion. Practically invisible, she was able to listen to conversations between Confederate officials and read sensitive documents, gathering information that she handed over to the Union.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams staff writer
February 18, 2014
Injustice in Knoxville - Anti-war trio took part in plowshares
action in 2012 at the Y-12 Highly-Enriched Uranium
Manufacturing nuclear weapons production facility.
An 84-year old nun and two others were just sentenced
to up to five years in jail.
Transform Now Plowshares is an effort by people of faith to transform weapons into real, life-giving alternatives, to build true peace. , Photo via Transform Now Ploughshares,
|A 84-year-old nun and two peace activists who engaged |
in a non-violent demonstration at nuclear weapons
production facility in Tennessee because "our very humanity
rejects the designs of nuclearism, empire and war" were
sentenced to several years behind bars while critics
of the verdict say the true crime of nuclear weapons proliferation
U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar sentenced 84-year-old
Sister Megan Rice, a Catholic nun, to 35 months in prison
and three years probation. Thapar sentenced 58-year-old
Greg Boertje-Obed, an Army veteran who lives at a Catholic
Worker House in Minnesota, and Michael Walli, a 64-year-old
Vietnam veteran who lives at the Dorothy Day Catholic
Worker house in Washington DC, to five years in prison
and three years probation as well.
The trio's crime: a ploughshares action at the Y-12 National
Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The New York
Times has reported that the "plant holds the nation's main
supply of highly enriched uranium, enough for thousands of
While officials called the Oak Ridge, Tenn. facility the "Fort
Knox of uranium" in July 2012 peace activists Rice, Boertje-
Obed and Walli were able to hike two hours in to the Y-12 grounds,
cut through multiple fences, hang peace banners and spray-
paint peace slogans, pour blood, pray, sing and pound the
ground. It took two hours for the three to be arrested.
The trio call themselves the Transform Now Plowshares,
a reference to the Bible's Isaiah 2:4- "They shall beat their
swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they
learn war any more."
At the Oak Ridge facility, they left messages including "Woe
to the empire of blood; The fruit of justice is peace; Work for
peace not for war."
Previously explaining why they did the action, Rice said that
"we had to [do it]- we were doing it because we had to reveal
the truth of the criminality which is there, that's our obligation."
"The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases,
which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the
worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not
exist. For this we give our lives - for the truth about the terrible
existence of these weapons," she added.
Initially accused of a misdemeanor, their charges were upped
to a felony.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Theodore said that the
activists have a history of such actions, saying, "They just
keep doing it ... They are incorrigible," adding, "There has to
be a heavy toll."
The three were convicted of sabotage last May, and in January
when their sentencing hearing began, they were ordered to
pay $53,000 in restitution, but snow forced that hearing to be
suspended until today.
The three have already served over 9 months.
Supporters of the anti-nuclear activists who were inside
the courtroom toldCommon Dreams that while there was some
relief that the sentences weren't as long as federal limits could
have made them, the true crime was left unpunished.
John LaForge of the Wisconsin-based environmental and peace groupNukeWatch told Common Dreams that Judge Thapar gets
to "give the impression that he's being lenient when in fact the
sentences are harsh for what actually happened."
Further, he said the Thapar "erroneously said multiple times
that the defendants didn't show respect for the law." But the
law forbids the production of weapons of mass destruction,
Forge said, so with his ruling the judge "is protecting outlawed
This is a point echoed by Paul Magno, a spokesperson for
Transform Now Ploughshares, who told Common Dreams
that while the group was "a little bit gratified" to see that the '
sentences that came down were not as long as they could
have been, "the wrong people got prosecuted, convicted
and sent to jail."
What wasn't addressed, he continued, was the "grotesque"
violation of nuclear weapons which threaten all of humanity.
Ellen Barfield, another spokesperson from Transform Now
Ploughshares, stressed this point as well, telling Common
Dreams that "the U.S., as well as other nations, agreed to
as of the 1970s to disarm." And not only are they not taking
weapons apart, they "are now turning around and creating new,
more efficient ones," Barfield said.
"The crime of Y 12 continues," Magno added, and said that his
group's resistance will continue as well.
While these types of actions are months or years in the making,
Barfield said, "I can just about guarantee....there will be other
Monday, February 17, 2014
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Bland's eyebrows rose at Stoever's odd request and the packed courthouse tensed for the inevitable ridicule. "Well, I permit it!" Bland said. With that statement, Bland set the tone for the next three hours, as protest songs, jokes about national security and even the elderly reveries of Oblate Fr. Carl Kabat, 80, and Franciscan Fr. Jerome Zawada, 76, were permitted in the Kansas City municipal courtroom.
The eight activists were pleading not guilty to charges of trespassing onto the relocated National Nuclear Security Administration's Kansas City Plant July 13. Since 1949, the plant has produced or acquired "about 85 percent of the components that go into a typical nuclear weapon," according to the Government Accountability Office.
It took a year to move the nearly 3 million-square-foot facility 8 miles, and the relocation alone cost $80 million, according to a plant press release. On July 13, around 80 people gathered outside the plant's new location, including priests, sisters, Catholic Workers and local activists. They came to protest nuclear weapons stockpiling, as well as the environmental destruction and exorbitant cost of the plant's relocation. Twenty-four people were arrested after they walked through a full-sized wooden door (the same door that Stoever ultimately hefted into the courtroom) and onto plant property.
William Birkner, the plant's lieutenant of protective forces, was prosecutor Kendrea White's only witness. When White asked him to explain why he called in the arrest, Birkner pointed to the door that was leaning against the wall near the witness stand. "They actually went through this door and crossed onto the property after they held a prayer session," Birkner testified.
During Birkner's cross-examination, Stoever received permission from Bland to play a 10-minute video of the July 13 protest. Stoever's laptop was connected to a large, flat-screen television, and as the video began, the courtroom was assailed with Louis Armstrong loudly singing: "I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield/Down by the riverside/Ain't gonna study war no more."
People in the gallery glanced at one another in surprise, and when Bland did not tell Stoever to turn off the video, the courtroom filled with whispers, and then outright laughter. In the video, protesters held signs and banners outside of the Kansas City Plant amid dozens of security officers. Armstrong faded out, his voice replaced by the activists' singing and drumming, including a raucous song led by the gruff voice of Kabat.
This time, Bland laughed. Jane Stoever, organizer of the protest and wife of Henry Stoever, was the first to take the witness stand for the defense. Her husband's first question was about the door. Bland smiled as Jane meticulously explained how the door was made. "We got the door from the Habitat for Humanity thrift store, and the Catholic Workers helped make a stand for the door, and the banner was made from my mother's old clothes ..." "Your honor, I'm not sure of the relevance of the door," objected White, cutting off Jane's ruminations.
Jane appeared unfazed, and she apologized to Bland for leaving the door's original banner at home. Stoever continued to ask his wife a multitude of questions, and Jane responded by musing over the history of nuclear weapons and her decades of activism against them.
At one point, as Jane explained the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Stoever pulled a copy of the U.S. Constitution out of his pocket. He couldn't find what Jane was referring to, so Catholic Worker Brian Terrell, husband of one of the defendants, called out from the gallery, "Henry! It's Article VI!" When it was White's turn, she appeared visibly annoyed and immediately asked Jane why she thought getting arrested was more effective than running for City Council.
This question made the gallery, most of them activists themselves, laugh heartily. Kabat, who has spent more than 18 years in prison for civil resistance to nuclear weapons, took the stand. He began talking about his years as a missionary in the Philippines and Brazil, and Bland eventually cut him off with the request, "Can you please try and get to this decade?"
Kabat responded, "Well, I celebrated July 4th out there," in reference to his solitary action at the plant in 2012, in which he cut the perimeter fence in order to let in "all of the Holy One's deer and other animals that once used the former bean field for its habitat." Stoever tried to bring up the 1980 Plowshares action in which Kabat also caused "minor damage" to nuclear nose cones, but Kabat interrupted him to say, "I'm sorry, but it wasn't minor damage."
The courtroom erupted with laughter, yet Kabat seemed confounded. He later told NCR that he had arranged to represent himself, so he couldn't understand why Stoever wouldn't just let him talk. White fixated on one question for Kabat. "Don't you teach your parishioners to obey the rules?" "God's rules," Kabat responded. "Aren't those rules the same as the law?" "Well, I went to school in Mississippi [pre-civil rights] ..."
The prosecutor, a black woman, interrupted: "OK, let me rephrase the question. Should you obey rules?" "If they are wrong, we should disobey them!" Kabat yelled out, and many people in the gallery audibly agreed. "We each have our own conscience to follow," he continued. "If there was a gas chamber across the street, I would say that we should all go right now and destroy it!" "So you would tell everyone to trespass on private property?" "You betcha, if it's a gas chamber!" "But is it OK to disobey the law?"
"It was absolutely right for Rosa Parks not to get up and move to the back of the bus." In exasperation, White asked, "Are you the one deciding the rules?" "Well, yes," responded Kabat. "I have my own conscience and I'm 80 years old." White seemed to visibly give up at this point -- slumping over her notes and facing a wall for the remainder of the trial. She also refused to cross-examine any of the remaining four defendants, including Zawada. "You're not a Johnny-come-lately," Stoever said to Zawada. "In 1988, you came before federal Judge Joseph Stevens three times for resisting the Minuteman II missiles in Missouri."
"Not correct," Zawada replied. "Five times." When Zawada later said, "We must transform our preoccupation with nuclear weapons. ... We need to become people of conscience," he asked him, "You mean by causing destruction to missile silos?" "I would want to propose alternatives to them," Zawada explained. "I just wanted to know if I was going to see you again in a few weeks," Bland said mischievously.
"If you're inviting me, I'll come," Zawada answered, to more laughter. After listening to Stoever's impassioned closing argument, Bland invited the eight defendants to approach the bench. Offhandedly, he pronounced them guilty of trespassing. "I volunteered to take this case because I've done this before with Mr. Stoever and I find it interesting," Bland said, in reference to the activists he sentenced to jail two years ago. "If you're not getting to anyone else, you're getting to me. I think you're educating, because every time I learn something."
The gallery murmured their approval, and the defendants nodded. "I want to do something a little different," Bland continued. "I want to say, I totally understand the argument made about Rosa Parks. I've done a significant amount of research on the civil rights movement, and they all suffered the consequences. ... However, I think the more significant thing is that the world was changed by their actions. I can sit here before you, as a black man, doing justice." Then Bland announced the sentence, shocking the courtroom. "I want each one of you to write a one-page, single-spaced essay on each of the following six topics," Bland said. "Your responses will be attached to the court record, which is a public record. They will exist as long as Kansas City exists. My way will give you a chance to say what you want to say." (See sidebar below.) The defendants were not given a printed copy of the essay questions. It appeared that Bland had come up with the questions during the trial. The courtroom erupted in applause and cheers, and the court clerk said in laughter, "I know you're all excited, but the judge is still on the bench!"
After the trial, people lined up to shake hands with Bland. NCR asked Kabat, who has been sentenced countless times, what he thought about the unusual punishment. "I will not promise anything, sign anything, pay anything," Kabat said. Then he paused, musing, "I will probably write something." A sentence of six essay questions The following are six questions posed on the spot by Presiding Judge Ardie Bland in the Dec. 13 trial against eight nuclear protesters charged with trespassing onto the Kansas City Plant.
Bland found the defendants guilty of the crime, but instead of jail or community service, he sentenced the group to writing a one-page, single-spaced answer to each of the questions.
1. If North Korea, China or one of the Middle Eastern countries dropped a nuclear bomb on a U.S. city tomorrow, would that change your opinion about nuclear weapons?
2. If Germany or Japan had used nuclear weapons first in World War II, do you think that would have changed your opinion?
3. What would you say to those who say, "If we [the U.S.] do not have the big stick, that is, if we get rid of our nuclear weapons, and other countries develop nuclear weapons, then we do not have the opportunity to fight back"?
4. You defendants say you are Christians and one is a Buddhist. Fr. [Carl] Kabat says that you should disobey ungodly laws. How do you respond to someone who believes there is no God? Who is to say what God believes, for example, when Christians used God to justify slavery and the Crusades?
5. How do you respond to those who have a God different from you when they argue that their religion is to crush others into dust? 6. Who determines what "God's law" is, given the history of the USA and the world? -- Compiled from notes taken in the courtroom by NCR and defense attorney Henry Stoever Thanks for your support in 2013. Happy New Year!