“Transform Now Plowshares” Try Necessity Defense

Some bits and pieces from here and there:

  • The “necessity defense”: yes, your honor, I broke the law, but I had to do it to prevent a greater harm — American activists have tried to use it to defend their civil disobedience against the militarist government and its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, but rarely do the courts even permit such an argument to be made (activists in other countries have had more success). But in the trial of the Transform Now Plowshares activists in federal court , former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark testified for the defense on the subject.
    • The activists — Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice and Michael Walli — broke into the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant , held a Christian ceremony with a bible and candles, splashed some human blood about, and spray-painted messages like “woe to the empire of blood” and “the fruit of justice is peace” on the walls. The empire, not amused, and embarrassed that an 82-year-old nun made a fool of its nuclear weapons security, has thrown the book at them.
    • Ramsey Clark is an interesting case. You can’t get much more establishment than being the United States Attorney General (under Lyndon Johnson). At that time, he was prosecuting anti-war activists (his office successfully prosecuted Dr. Benjamin Spock for conspiracy to aid and abet draft resistance, for instance). But since then he has become an enthusiastic critic of the American empire — even to the extent of defending, legally and otherwise, such unsavory American enemies as Slobodan Milošević, Lyndon Larouche, Omar Abdel-Rahman, and Saddam Hussein.
    • Clark testified that the use of nuclear weapons represents an imminent — “omnipresent” was his word — threat. The judge was skeptical:

      “Excuse me,” the Judge said. “Are you saying the President intends to use nuclear weapons? Are you in a position to know that? Are you tied in with the President? … does the President have his finger on the button?”

      “Well,” said Clark, “he walks around with it by his side.”

      Then there was this examination of Clark by the defense attorney:

      Quigley: Is it reasonable to believe that what is being refurbished at Y12 are weapons of mass destruction?

      Clark: It’s an established fact.

      Quigley: And reasonable to believe they violate international law?

      Clark: Reasonable. Under the NPT we agreed to eliminate them.

      Quigley: And I believe I just heard today or yesterday that the Boston bomber was indicted for use of a weapon of mass destruction — that is part of our criminal code…

      The Judge stepped in. “A weapon in the hands of a terrorist or a citizen is different than a weapon in the hands of the government. A machine gun, or a tank—is that a fair statement?”

      Clark: It’s fair if you limit it to machine guns or rifles, but weapons of mass destruction — the U.S. is in violation of the intent of the most important treaty we ever signed.

      Quigley: Do you believe the continuing threat of the use of Y12 weapons constitutes a war crime?

      Clark: It is a reasonable and fair statement of belief.

      Quigley: And a soldier can commit war crimes?

      Clark: Yes.

      Quigley: And using, or preparing to use weapons of mass destruction is a war crime.

      Clark: That is reasonable to believe.

      Quigley: The defendants believe the work at Y12 is preparation for genocide, could be carried out by civilians or armed services. But they believe the weapons activities at Y12 are in preparation for genocide and a violation of international law.

      Clark: That is reasonable. Because of the magnitude of the program at this time. One sub, one sub can carry one hundred warheads. Eight submarines, on alert at all times, eight hundred warheads in a position to strike. Think of maps. Eight hundred places in Europe… or on the continent of the Americas. It is criminally insane.

      Quigley: Not homicidal, but omnicidal.

      Clark: The life of the planet is at risk from this one plant here in Tennessee.

      The prosecutor tried to pin Clark down: “A minute ago, you testified that the activities at the Y12 site were unlawful. Are the people who work there criminals?”

      Clark: They are engaged in a criminal enterprise.

      It was interesting to hear of arguments like these being explicitly aired in court. I don’t really expect the judge to address them forthrightly and at their worth, but there is some satisfaction in imagining His Honor trying to figure out just how he’ll sidestep the issue.
  • On I mentioned the chill I felt when I noticed that two Google execs’ new book on the future of the internet had gotten glowing prepublication reviews from folks like Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and a handful of other national security state celebs. Here is an op-ed the book’s authors wrote for the Wall Street Journal. It largely strikes a nonconfrontational freedom-is-good tyranny-is-bad tone, though I thought I saw a little saliva appear at the corners of the authors’ mouths when they wrote this:

    The world’s autocrats will have to spend a great deal of money to build systems capable of monitoring and containing dissident energy. They will need cell towers and servers, large data centers, specialized software, legions of trained personnel and reliable supplies of basic resources like electricity and Internet connectivity. Once such an infrastructure is in place, repressive regimes then will need supercomputers to manage the glut of information.

    The authors look at movements like the Arab Spring, and conclude that they petered out because their grassroots, leaderless, decentralized beginnings never matured: “some sort of centralized authority must emerge if a democratic movement is to have any direction.” Indeed, these grassroots, leaderless, decentralized movements constitute a threat: a “mad consensus” that will require “a great leader” to defy, according to Henry Kissinger, whom they approvingly quote.

    Over at Slate, Mya Frazier suggests that Google has aspirations of statehood. The internet is just such a grassroots, leaderless, decentralized dystopia… a mad consensus in need of a great leader… and Google knows just the company for the job.
  • At The New Yorker, James Surowiecki offers a meditation on the American underground economy. “Ordinary Americans have gone underground, and, as the recovery continues to limp along, they seem to be doing it more and more.”
  • I’m not sure it makes much sense to spend time worrying about Obama’s proposed budget. It’s part wish-list, part advertisement, but not policy. But one of the things it includes is a 94% bump in the federal excise tax on cigarettes. Every pack of cigarettes purchased would have a $1.95 federal excise tax attached to it. While on the one hand, this would be one more reason to quit smoking and to discourage others from taking up the habit, on the other hand it would make tax resistance via smuggling that much more attractive. State cigarette excise tax increases in New York, for example, have grown to the extent that the majority of cigarettes smoked there are smuggled in. As marijuana legalization spreads, expect the smuggling networks that have so successfully supported the marijuana trade over the years to find a new use in combating the cigarette tax.

The judge in the Transform Now Plowshares case decided not to allow the defendants to use the necessity defense, the Nuremberg principles, or anything of that sort.