Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium
There have been more than 70 Plowshares actions in which peace activists have enacted Isaiah's prophecy. The first took place on September 9, 1980, when Philip and Daniel Berrigan, and six others, hammered on nuclear nose cones at a General Electric plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
In the early morning of December 19, 1999, the fourth Sunday of Advent, four Catholic disarmament activists, now known as `Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium,' disarmed two A-10 Warthogs, at Warfield Air Base in Essex, Maryland. (The A-10 is a warplane that fires depleted uranium, i.e., DU, munitions.)
Philip Berrigan, Susan Crane, Rev. Steve Kelly S.J. and Elizabeth Walz were arrested as they disarmed the warplanes. Bail was set at $75,000 each for Berrigan and Rev. Kelly. When the women appeared in court, a male prisoner charged with first degree homicide, smiled when told his bail was $10,000. Crane's bail was $50,000 and Walz's bail was $15,000. Why does a defendant charged with first degree homicide have their bail set at less than a peace activist?
Attack a village with an A-10 Warthog firing DU and leave a poisoned graveyard - the people dead, plants dying or sterile, the earth eternally toxic.
The A-10 is an aircraft built around a gun - a 30 mm., 7 barrel gatling gun that can spew 3,90f0 rounds a minute. This criminal plane fired 95% of the DU deployed by the U.S. during the Gulf War, leaving behind 300 to 800 tons poisoning humans and the elements in Kuwait and Iraq.
Sanctions (a crime against humanity) and DU (a war crime) have killed 2 million Iraqis since the war's end. Said Dr. Jannan Ghalib while showing Olivia Ward of the Toronto Star a photograph album of malformed babies: "This one, no head. This one, legs fused together. Another, no limbs and tiny buds on the misshapen chest. A face with no eyes, just flaps of skin over empty sockets. Another with a huge water-swollen head and no brain."
DU burns its way through tank armor and oxidizes, throwing radioactive particles as far away as 25 miles. When ingested, these particles cause chemical and radioactive damage to the bronchial tree, to kidneys, liver and bones, causing somatic and genetic trauma. Cancer often results.
Iraq and Yugoslavia are template wars, blueprints for future imperial wars - targeting the total of a society - military, civilians, the unborn, the infrastructure, the ecology, the health and spirit of a people. These wars even overflow against the troops that fight them. 90,000 American Gulf War veterans are now chronically ill. A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study of 251 veterans' families in Mississippi shows that 67% had children with severe illnesses or birth defects.
The end of Advent is a time of reparation and conversion. We mark this day by mourning the civilians killed in America's wars - nine civilians to every soldier and by converting one hellish instrument of their death. They die forgotten and alone - no grateful nation to sorrow their passing - no flags nor official ritual. They are expendable; they are true cannon fodder.
We come to the Maryland Warfield Air National Guard Base to convert the A-10, as Roman Catholic Christians, in obedience to God's prohibition against killing. Also, to embody Isaiah's vision of a disarmed world where hearts are converted to compassion and justice and the weapons are converted to the tools of peace. Finally, to atone for another nuclear war in Iraq, and a third in Yugoslavia. So help us God.
Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge James Smith Jr. effectively sealed the fate of the Plowshares activists when, on March 13, he granted the prosecution's motion for a gag order. The defendants would not be permitted to explain why they disarmed the warplanes, nor to call expert witnesses.
On March 22, when the defense called Doug Rokke, an acknowledged expert on depleted uranium, the judge found his testimony unsuitable. This convinced the defendants that they would not be able to receive a fair trial.
On March 23, the prosecution was permitted to call an expert witness to testify about damage done to the two A-10s. This expert, though, claimed to know nothing about DU.
The defendants elected to stay locked up and did not appear in court. No closing statement was presented by the defense. The four pacifists were convicted of malicious destruction of property. The prosecutor stated the sentencing guidelines: Walz, probation to one month; Crane and Kelly, two to nine months; and Berrigan, six months to one year. The judge, however, meted out the following vindictive sentences. Each defendant was expected to pay restitution of 1/4 of $88,622.11. If they wanted to be released pending appeal, each would have to post a $90,000 cash bail. All were given prison sentences: Walz, 18 months, Crane and Kelly, 27 months, and Berrigan, 30 months.
Philip Berrigan, Crane and Kelly were on federal probation for a previous Plowshares disarmament action, so that will be taken up after they serve their Maryland sentences.
For more information, contact: Jonah House, 1301 Moreland Ave., Baltimore, MD 21216, USA. Tel.: (410) 233-6238 or 4067; Email disarmnow @erols.com