In which an 83-year-old nun is convicted of terrorism, her weapon is white roses, and the jury is not allowed to hear a former Attorney General testify in her defense: It's nukes in America
Do I have that right?
- In which an 83-year-old nun and two others are convicted of crime of violence under terrorism statute [search terrorism]
- their weapons are white roses, Bibles and crime scene tape [search white rose]
- and the jury is not allowed to hear a former Attorney General testify in their defense about Nuremberg and Antiproliferation Treaty legal obligations [search Ramsey Clark]
And they were only trying to save us all.
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Scott Horton interviews Ralph Hutchison
Scott Horton Show
May 14, 2013
Podcast is here
Scott Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. I’m Scott Horton. This is the Scott Horton Show, streaming live from scotthorton.org, noagendastream.com and a bunch of other places from noon to 2 Eastern every weekday. And our next guest on the show today is Ralph Hutchison. He’s from orepa.org – that’s Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. Welcome, Ralph, how are you doing?
Ralph Hutchison: Hi, Scott, I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on.
Horton: Well, you’re welcome. Thanks very much for joining us today. Very important story here, quite underreported, about eight, I believe it is, convicted in what’s called the Y-12 Resisters trial. Can you tell us, first of all, what does Y-12 stand for?
Hutchison: Scott, that’s a good question, because it’s just really what the trial is all about is what happens at the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex in Oak Ridge. The specific answer, what does Y-12 stand for, is nobody seems to know, but it was a code name given to this complex as part of the Manhattan Project in World War II where the United States built the first facility to enrich uranium for use in the first atomic bomb, the Little Boy bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan.
Horton: Okay, and so the Y-12 Resisters, then, what is it that they were convicted of doing? Well, first of all, who are they and what were they convicted of doing?
Hutchison: So, last July 28th, three people, Megan Rice, an 82-year-old nun, [Greg] Boertje-Obed, who was in his late 50s, a house painter from Duluth, Minnesota, and Michael Walli, who, also in his early 60s, is a veteran peace activist, they cut through the fences and entered the Y-12 property and made their way over a pretty steep hill, down the other side, across the road, and they came to an area that had signs posted on it warning them that it was a lethal force zone. It was the ultra-high security area at the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex, and they cut through three fences there, no security observed them or interrupted them, and they made their way to a huge white building which is often called the Fort Knox of highly enriched uranium. It’s the nation’s storehouse for weapons-grade uranium.And on the side of this building, for about 20 minutes they painted some slogans, they poured sacramental blood, they painted “The fruit of justice is peace,” they painted “Plowshares please Isaiah,” they painted “Woe to an empire of blood.” They read from their Bibles, they had some prayer, they lit candles, and they waited to be arrested, and eventually at about 4:30 in the morning a guard arrived to take them into custody. They called it the Transform Now Plowshares Action. It was one in a long line of Plowshares actions going back to 1980 where activists have attempted to carry out what they consider to be the Biblical mandate of the prophet Isaiah, who said, “You shall beat your swords into plowshares.” And they came to Y-12 because it is the very heart of the nuclear weapons complex. Y-12 manufactures the thermonuclear part of all of our nuclear weapons, and there are plans to build a 7.5 billion dollar bomb plant at Y-12. They want to start construction next year. And Megan, Michael and Greg came to call attention to this and to call for transformation from death into life, from building weapons into dismantling weapons.
Horton: First of all, it’s almost unbelievable but that’s how I know it’s true, what you say about the lack of security. These people just waltzed right into a nuclear weapons factory.
Hutchison: Yeah, and there have been a number of investigations and congressional hearings on how that happened, and it happened because cameras malfunction, it happened because the system was set up to fail in that it was so sensitive that it registered every rodent that crossed the 60-foot-wide gravel area that separated the fences. It registered every bird that flew through there. And eventually, you know, if you’re the guard watching for the alarms and the monitors and the flashing lights and it’s going off 60 times a night, finally you just stop checking. You know, the system is designed to lull you into a kind of complacency.
Hutchison: We didn’t know that. I mean, certainly that’s not something that they could have expected or understood going in, but that’s just part of how the system is set up.
Horton: Yeah, they must have been amazed to find out how easy it was to get that far. I mean, that’s just incredible. I mean, you would think. If it was a TV show, you’d be arrested at the gate, right?
Hutchison: That’s right. That’s right. And when you do, when we have done actions at the gate, you are arrested at the gate. You’re arrested when you cross the line or you climb through the fence. I mean, you’re arrested within a matter of seconds. This was the fact that they went in during the night, and, you know, heaven help us if they had been other people with other intentions. But they weren’t. They were nonviolent protesters operating in the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus, and they’re very religious people, and they describe the fact that they got as far as they did as being a miracle.
Horton: Well, yeah, that’s one way to look at it. (laughs)
Horton: Government work would be another, but anyway.
Horton: Well, and so, yeah, hey! Just last week there was, what, seven guys, or was it 17 or what, got the shaft and were replaced and moved around in charge of the nuclear weapons silos in North Dakota. We got, you know, a best case scenario, we’ve got Animal House going on up there where they keep the H-bombs.
Hutchison: Well, and I think, Scott, it points to a very serious issue that we ignore at our peril, that is the fact that the United States does still have about 1700 nuclear weapons. They’re on hair-trigger alert status. They’re in silos. They’re at Air Force bases. They’re on aircraft carriers. They’re in nuclear submarines. And things could go wrong. You know, and we have computer systems controlling them and human beings who have roles to play, all of, at every point, an error could be entered into the system by accident. And I just think we have grown really complacent about this. When the Plowshares people went into Y-12, of course everybody was like, “Oh, oh my God, the security! The security breach!,” and how bad that was, and almost ignored the fact that the weapons themselves, the thing that they went in there to protest, poses a much greater risk to all of us than their actions did. You know, the one similarity is I think they revealed the illusion of security. You can’t make the bomb plant in Oak Ridge secure any more than our nuclear weapons make us secure as a people, because the more nuclear weapons we have, the more other countries want them or feel they need them, and theirs are pointed at us. So, really, our own nuclear weapons undermine the very security they’re supposed to provide for us. It’s an illusion.
Horton: Mmhmm. Well, you know, I don’t know about this, but I bet if you just grab the average nonpolitical man on the street and asked them, he probably thinks that someone took care of getting rid of all those nukes and stuff after the Soviet Union fell apart and the Cold War ended, right?
Hutchison: Well I certainly think people don’t understand any longer how many we have and they don’t understand that they’re on hair trigger alert, they don’t understand that we’ve had near misses, and you know for the last couple of generations, there hasn’t been the kind of cultural recognition of the devastating power of thermonuclear weapons. For older people who practiced duck-and-cover drills and climbed under their desks at school, they get it. And even for people who in the early 1980s, you know, there was a TV movie called The Day After that people watched all over the place and they sent out study guides to be used in schools, and that educated a whole generation to how devastating a nuclear exchange could be, but I don’t think the current generation coming of age now really has a grasp on that. It’s not one of the issues that’s been central to their understanding of what it means to live in today’s world.
Horton: Let’s see here. Oh! Before we get back to the trial, because we’ve got plenty of time here too to talk about the people involved in this disobedience action here, I wanted to ask you if you could comment about the nuclear weapons industry and their lobbyists, because I think people, again, if you just grab the average guy, he would sort of believe that, “Hey, look, you know, we only have as many nukes as the government thinks we really need,” or something like that. He wouldn’t think that lobbyists for companies that make hydrogen bombs have any sway over the actual creation of the policy, but then it does turn out that just like farmers and retired people and Israel and everybody else, they got their gun owners, they’ve got their lobbyists up there making sure that the Congress will continue to produce and refurbish thermonuclear weapons for their own vested interests, not for American national security’s sake at all.
Hutchison: Oh, absolutely. I haven’t tracked this in detail lately, but here in Oak Ridge at Y-12 we’re just in the process of turning over, largely because of the Plowshares action last year, we’re getting a new managing operator of the Y-12 plant, so a new contractor is coming in, and the new contractor is a consortium that includes Lockheed Martin and Bechtel, two big names in defense contracting. And when I looked at this years ago, Lockheed Martin was the single largest campaign contributor to members of the Armed Forces committees in the House and in the Senate. And even now, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, who is helping to bankroll the new bomb plant in Oak Ridge, served on Lockheed Martin’s board of trustees years ago. So it’s a real sweetheart kind of a setup there.
I have been working on nuclear weapons issues for 25 years, more than 25 years, and I firmly believe that the primary driver behind the whole nuclear weapons industry is the money. It’s not the military need. If you imagine how many wars we’ve fought since 1945, when we’ve had nuclear weapons, and some of them haven’t even come out in our favor, like Vietnam, but we didn’t use our nuclear weapons. They’re of limited military use. And even today there’s a big argument going on about whether or not they should do a life extension program on the B61 warhead, and the argument is between the lobbyists about the money. It’s not about the military use, because this is a bomb that mostly is deployed in Europe and NATO countries, and the largest NATO country, Germany, and several of the smaller ones have already asked the United States to get it out of there. They don’t want the B61 in Europe anymore. They think as long as they have it, Russia’s going to have, you know, buildups on the border aiming at them and so they want to take away that incentive for Russia. So they’ve asked us to get rid of the B61, but our government is debating whether or not to spend 10 billion dollars to refurbish the B61 bomb, in which case we’ll have a fancy new bomb without any purpose. But it’s the money. It’s the money that drives things. And it’s crazy.
Horton: Well, you know how the corporate executives rationalize it all, too, which is that, “Hey, you know, yeah, maybe we try to convince them a little bit, but it’s the Congress that’s responsible and it’s up to them to decide, and they know what’s best and they’re the people’s duly elected representatives.” The responsibility isn’t theirs, as hard as they might push, it’s still everybody else’s doing. And then, you know, again, you couldn’t emphasize enough that they’re holding all of humanity hostage for some money. You know, like the species. Ha. It’s incredible that it’s true, but it is.
Hutchison: And it’s, I mean it plays out even locally where the jobs at Y-12 are really good jobs, you know, in Southern Appalachia they have been historically really well-paying jobs for this part of the country, and people rationalize that it’s our bread and butter and if we don’t do this work somebody else will do it. But, you know, a week before we had the trial here last week, we had a hearing to determine whether or not former Attorney General Ramsey Clark could testify at the trial, and the judge listened to him and eventually said, “I’m not going to allow the jury to hear that kind of testimony.” So Ramsey Clark said that the work that’s done at Y-12 violates U.S. agreements under the Nonproliferation Treaty and he called it unlawful, and then the prosecutor said, “Are you saying the people who build these bombs are war criminals?” And Ramsey Clark said, “I’ll say they’re engaged in a criminal activity.” And, I mean, that’s sort of the reality of it. And then Ramsey Clark said, “Everybody who has a part in this is responsible.” There was a discussion about whether to allow the defendants to argue the Nuremberg Code which says, after World War II, after the Jews were obliterated in the Nazi concentration camps, the Nuremberg trials established that every citizen has a responsibility to the law even if the government tells you otherwise. And so these people said, “Well, we went in under our Nuremberg obligation. We see our government is preparing to destroy the planet and innocent civilians would be killed if a nuclear weapon is used, and that violates the laws of war, so it’s a war crime and we want to stop the preparation for a war crime.” But the judge would not allow that testimony to happen, and eventually our prosecutor said everybody has the responsibility, and the judge said, “Well, except the judge doesn’t have responsibility, even though the prosecution can decide whether or not to bring charges, but once they do, I just have to apply the law.” And he tried to duck his responsibility. And of course the lawyer for the defendants asked Ramsey Clark, who had been at the Nuremberg trials, “Were any judges, any German judges put on trial at Nuremberg?” And Ramsey Clark said, “Yes, they were.” "And were any prosecutors put on trial?" “Yes, they were.” So it was clear in the courtroom, there isn’t any place to hide from our responsibility. We pay taxes, we’re supporting the production of weapons of mass destruction by our country which we use on a regular basis to require other countries to do our will, and obviously we threaten other countries, North Korea, in Iran, the whole reason they’re getting their nuclear programs up and running is because they’re afraid of us. They saw what we did in Iraq over the pretend nuclear weapons and they know they’re on the list because we named them part of the Axis of Evil. So, you want to protect yourself and your people, you need nuclear weapons.
Horton: Yeah. Well, and Gaddafi gave up his nuclear equipment and then they stabbed him right in the back just a few years later, just to drive home the point.
Hutchison: Yeah, he might have had second thoughts about that.
Horton: Yeah, he should have been paying closer attention to how that works. Well, you know that Nuremberg thing, I bet you there’s nothing the American political class regrets more than that, you know? “Would you shut up about Nuremberg already,” they say, because of course if any of what they proclaim to be so high and mighty about then were applied to them now, they would all have to be hanged from ropes.
Hutchison: Yeah, but Nuremberg was, I mean it was our doing, and we were probably right back then, it’s just that it chafes a little bit when you apply the same rules to yourself that you apply to other people.
Horton: Yeah. Americans, they hate that Golden Rule, I’ll tell you what. All right, well, so now tell us again, tell us much as you can in the last minutes here about the people that are on trial. What are their names, what are they like, how well do you know them, and how much can you tell us about them? What kind of prison terms are they really facing? Is there some kind of history of any sort of leniency, or are we talking, you know, life in prison for this 80-year-old nun, or how is this going to go?
Hutchison: So there are three, there were three defendants in the trial. Megan Rice was 82 when she did the action. She’s 83 now. Greg was in his late 50s, Greg Boertje-Obed, and Mike Walli was in his early 60s. Megan and Mike are Roman Catholics and take their religion very seriously. Greg Boertje-Obed is a Dutch Reformed Christian and takes that very seriously, although he lives in a Catholic Worker house, and their motivation for doing this action largely was religious. It sprung from how they understand the demands of their faith, which I found, and I think a lot of people who came to the trial who don’t necessarily share those same religious views but nevertheless found their integrity and their depth of commitment to be very compelling. Even if you don’t necessarily share their motivation, you’ve got them in the right place to do this, and they had been found guilty under two separate charges, one of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, the other one carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, so they’re facing 30 years in total in prison.
Now when the time comes for the judge to sentence, he has certain guidelines. He can sentence them with a downward departure, that is reduce their time to some extent, or he can sentence them with an upward departure, which is to go beyond the guidelines, but essentially they look at their criminal history, and for every time you’ve broken the law in the past you get certain points and that increases your standing in the guidelines for how long you’re going to prison. Michael and Greg have done numerous actions in the past, more than six each, so I think they’re looking at a significant amount of time. There was a sort of similar sabotage case at a missile silo in Colorado in the early 2000s and one of the nuns there got 40 months sentence. So I would certainly expect Michael and Greg to get at least that amount of time. Megan on the other hand has not had quite the history. She served in Africa for more than 40 years, so she wasn’t here doing actions. She might get a more lenient sentence because of that and because of her age and because a lot of this seems to be driven by the politics of it, and, you know, a young judge who wants to serve on the Supreme Court someday is not going to cut them any slack, he’s going to be tough on these people, and he’s shown that by, they were out on pretrial release and after they were found guilty he slapped them in jail and is keeping them there until they’re sentenced in September. So we should find out in September ultimately how long they’re going to serve, and that’s where it stands right now.
Horton: Isn’t that something? That’s how you make sure to protect your career is clamp down hard on the little old lady in the nun outfit. You know?
Hutchison: And when they were talking about whether or not they could be released, after they were found guilty, it was determined that their crime is classified as a crime of violence, even though their weapons were white roses and Bibles and, you know, crime scene tape that they strung around it, and nevertheless it was considered a crime of violence. And the statute under which they’re going to be sentenced falls underneath our terrorism statute. So it’s almost like a theater of the absurd when you [...] back from it, that the government has gone to this extraordinary length to try to silence these people, not because the three of them themselves pose any kind of threat whatsoever, that the prosecution even admitted that as the case went on. But the message that they brought poses a great threat to the United States’ nuclear weapons establishment. They’re afraid that people will hear about this and wake up and ask themselves, “Why are we spending billions and billions of dollars on nuclear weapons that we don’t need and can’t use? Why are we building a new bomb plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee?” And if the public wakes up and recognizes that, then this whole sort of house of cards, the illusion of security through nuclear weapons, begins to deteriorate. That’ll cost Lockheed Martin and those people a lot of money, so if they have to sacrifice these three people in prison for the rest of their lives to stop that from happening, they’re happy to do that. As far as I’m concerned, if these people have taken this great risk and made this great sacrifice, my job is to honor them by doing everything I can to get the message out and to sound the alarm to wake people up.
Horton: Yeah. Okay, now, so tell us a little bit about that, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance and your work and how people can join in.
Hutchison: We’ve been tracking nuclear weapon issues here for about 25 years. You can look us up on the web, it’s just orepa.org, O-R-E-P-A dot org. If you misspell it you’ll be listening to some really nice music probably from the opera (laughs). We’re the OREPA site. And we post information about what’s happening in Oak Ridge, and from time to time we post action alerts for timely things that people can do, you know, to try to keep the money from going to the uranium processing facility and things like that. We also have other actions and demonstrations here in Oak Ridge that are always open. We welcome anybody to come and join us for those. I mean, of course like any nonprofit group we rely on contributions to fund our work and we’re always happy to accept those too, and people can find a Donate Now button on the website. But that’s only one way to – I also say to people, if you live in other parts of the country, look around for the groups in your part of the country that are working on these same issues and get involved locally. So I encourage people to do that as well.
Horton: Yeah, that way there’s something to show up to.
Horton: Yeah. All right. Hey, thanks very much for your time. I really appreciate it, Ralph.
Hutchison: Well, Scott, it was great talking to you. Thanks.
Horton: All right, everybody. That is Ralph Hutchison. It’s orepa.org, O-R-E-P-A, for the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, and read his great piece, the best stuff that you can find on the case of the Y-12 Resisters.
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Plus, new thing I learned: The United States Enduring Stockpile