Why I'm going to Jail
Steve Clemens, Spring 2002
In late October, I first heard reports that the U.S. was using cluster bombs in Afghanistan. The report, from Human Rights Watch, also stated that the type used, the CBU-87, was "manufactured by Alliant TechSystems of MN". Immediately, my thoughts were of the reports I had heard years ago about cluster bombs in Laos.
In 1975, I first heard reports from Mennonite Central Committee volunteers about the plight of civilians in Laos who were being blown to bits by the unexploded cluster bombs that were dropped on that nation during a secret bombing campaign during the Vietnam War. Millions of "bombies", the individual bomblets dispensed out of a large cluster bomb unit, had failed to detonate when they hit the ground but remained armed and deadly- de facto landmines, waiting for someone or something to move it or disturb it in some way. Children saw the brightly colored objects and were naturally drawn to them. Farmers struck them while preparing the soil for their crops. Some landed in trees, ponds or lakes, or even buried several feet into the ground. After monsoon rains, new bombies were exposed, ready to destroy whatever moved them. The Mennonites and Quakers were raising funds to purchase specially armored tractors to help plow the ground while keeping local farmers safer.
I had thought that with the recent passage and ratification of the International Land Mine Treaty, these weapons would be clearly and unequivocally banned. For years, hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators regularly gathered at Honeywell and demanded that they cease production of cluster bombs. After Honeywell spun-off its weapons business to Alliant TechSystems, much of the public protest faded.
When I moved to Minneapolis in 1990, another movement was getting started: the Ban the Landmines Campaign. A natural focus for the campaign was Alliant Tech since they continued to manufacture these indiscriminate killers in the 1990's. Handicap International and other international groups encouraged Minnesotans to focus protest on Alliant. After several demonstrations which included civil disobedience and arrests, some with convictions and fines, others having the charges dropped or never brought to trial, The City of Hopkins charged 79 demonstrators with criminal trespass after we blocked the entry doors to the company.
At our trial, we were acquitted on the basis of a claim of right due to International Humanitarian Law which forbids the manufacture, sale, or use of weapons of indiscriminate destruction. In preparation for that trial, I restudied the concepts of International Law I first learned in a course on International Law and Politics I took outside The Hague, Netherlands while in college.
In 2000, the focus shifted from landmines to depleted uranium weapons that Alliant was producing.
Reports coming from Iraq and Kosovo of deaths and illnesses, combined with reports from Gulf War veterans made these issues more urgent. About 40 or so people were arrested for trespass and the charges were reduced to a petty misdemeanor to prevent us from having a jury trial. At the bench trial which ensued, moving testimony was given by several defendants who had traveled to Iraq and John LaForge from the Annathoth Community laid out the nature of Du weapons and International Law. The judge found us guilty and sentenced us to a $25. fine. I informed the judge that I felt a fine was a tax on my conscience and that I would choose to send a $25. donation to Doctors Without Borders for their work with radiation victims instead. Apparently that was acceptable since I have not heard from that court since I sent a copy of my letter to the judge.
Alliant Action, the group organizing weekly and bi-annual non-violent witness at Alliant, had scheduled one of its twice-yearly larger protests at Alliant for the day following Election Day in 2001. I planned to attend but was not going to risk arrest since I had booked an airplane flight for the next day to go to PA to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. Even one’s activist life has to prioritize some things and this was an event I had looked forward to long before the events of Sept. 11th. I was conflicted in that I felt it was my responsibility as a world citizen to incarnate my opposition to the existence and use of cluster bombs.
As 65 of us gathered to begin the witness, I asked to read an excerpt of the Human Rights Watch paper on the use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan. Others shared remarks before we proceeded with signs and “caution” or warning flags, marked “ATK landmines ”, “depleted uranium”, or “cluster bombs” on them. These flags were to be planted near the entrance to Alliant as a symbolic gesture of warning neighbors about what Alliant produces. Those who were risking arrest proceeded beyond the boulevard into Alliant’s parking lot- headed for their main entrance. They were met by the police and Alliant security and told if they did not leave, they would be arrested.
The police office in charge told the rest of the crowd that those arrested would be transported to the Edina city jail to be booked and would be released “in about an hour or so and would be asked to report to the court at a later date”. At that point, I knew I could be true to my conscience as well as pay the respect due to my father as well. I stepped forward and started walked peacefully toward Alliant’ s entrance. When stopped after a few yards by an Edina Police Officer and an Alliant Security Officer, I told them I was there pursuant to International Humanitarian Law and that the cluster bombs the company was making was in violation of those laws. They responded with, “You are trespassing on Alliant Tech’ s property. If you do not leave, you will be placed under arrest. Do you understand this?” After responding, “Yes”, I was escorted by the police officer to an awaiting police car, handcuffed, and placed in the car with two others and driven to the Edina Police station.
Upon arrival there, we were greeted warmly by others who had also been arrested. As I was escorted to the open holding cell, it appeared that, at 52, I might be the youngest person arrested that day. (It later turned out that there were several younger people who had been transported to the jail earlier than I had and were already being processed.) It seemed like an honor to be arrested with a group of my elders in the peace movement. After the fingerprinting, photographing, and other booking procedures, friends drove us back to the original rally site to reclaim our cars. I left to return to the staff meeting at Habitat for Humanity, for which I was now over one hour late.
After our arraignment at the end of the month, we were asked to return again for pre-trial procedure and to set a trial date. One of the 16 arrested decided she would plead guilty because of her status as a college student made it difficult for her to schedule to go to trial with us. After her plea, she was sentenced to 8 hours of community service.
The remaining 15 defendants requested that we all be tried together even though we had a right to individual trials. We met together 3-4 times before the trial to go over who wished to say or do what during the trial. We chose to go pro se, or represent ourselves, without the presence of a lawyer. Two defendants were interested in helping select the jury rather than to testify. Others agreed to present an opening or closing statement, and the majority of us decided we would agree to testify as to why we did what we did.
Minnesota law contains a provision in its trespass law that allows a defendant a “claim of right” if he/she has good reason to believe that another law or statue gives us a right to be on the property. Several of us in the group has used this defense successfully (and also without success) in the past. We decided to raise the issue of International Humanitarian Law, Customary Law, and the Laws of War, as an affirmative defense in our case. (The US Constitution says that Treaties entered into by the US are “the Supreme Law of the land” and supersedes local law.)
The Prosecutor, Marsh Hallberg, representing the City of Edina, submitted a pre-trial Motion in Liminie requesting that the Judge forbid testimony or evidence about International Law as irrelevant in this case. On the morning of March 25th, the Monday Christians remember as Holy Week, our trial was scheduled to begin. In a meeting in the Judge’s chambers prior to the start of the trial and the selection of the jury, that morning, this motion was discussed. Judge E. Anne McKinsey stated that she would reserve judgment about allowing International Law in as evidence but would allow us to testify about our beliefs as to why we were there at Alliant. When the prosecutor asked the judge if he could inform the jury about our prior arrests (and convictions) at Alliant as a way to demonstrate our lack of good faith, I told the Judge that some of us had been previously acquitted by a jury of these same charges on the basis of International Law, thus making our claim very reasonable. The Judge chuckled, agreed, and told the Prosecutor he might not want to bring up the issue of our past actions at Alliant!
In selecting a jury from the pool of 16 potential jurors, the two defendants leading the voir doir, Kate McDonald and Barbara Pratt, asked the panel if any had family members who were or are in the military or worked in “defense industries”. The panel was asked if they felt one could be patriotic and protest at the same time and if any had themselves been involved in public protests. However, the most revealing question was “Who do you consider a hero and why?” After the first few to respond answered with their parents or their father, Barb rephrased the question to refer to someone in the public sphere that we might all know. When the responses included President Bush (twice), President Reagan, Oprah, and Billy Graham, it was clear that our jury was unlikely to be made up of “our peers’ . On the brighter side, ML King and Barbara Jordan were cited by the only black juror, helping to balance the fact that her husband, brother, brother-in-law, and father had all been or were presently in the military. After settling on 7, (6 jurors and 1 alternate), the trial finally got underway.
We had previously agreed to stipulate virtually all of the facts of the case so the prosecutor only called one witness, the police office in charge at the scene that day. Sgt. Phil Larsen was very clear that we were completely non-violent and cooperative with him and his other officers. He chose to remain in the courtroom to hear all the testimony that followed. He told me during a break in the trial that he admired us for taking the consequences of our action and he felt it his responsibility to hear what we had to say in our defense since he had arrested us.
Mary Lou Ott gave the opening statement for the defense. She tried to look each juror in eye as she told them it was not our goal to get arrested for the sake of getting arrested. If it was, she said, “I could have parked my car in front of a fire hydrant and I wouldn’t have to go through all this.” She asked the jurors to listen with their hearts as well as their heads. She went on to remind the jurors that many of the defendants have been vigiling at Alliant for 5 years, rain or snow.
Marguerite Corcoran was the first to take the witness stand. She believes that life is sacred and must be protected. Most times she’d prefer to let the “experts” decide things but after seeing video footage of Nazi atrocities some years ago, the refrain kept echoing in her head: “And the German people knew what was happening.” She, like virtually all of us, have written, called, and visited with our elected representatives; but she felt the obligation as a citizen and a Christian to speak out against indiscriminate weapons. Her intent was not to break the law but rather to ask ATK to not make these weapons. She talked about meeting victims of landmines. On cross-examination, Marsh only asked her if she knowingly “crossed the line”, that her action was deliberate. It clearly was.
Pepperwolf shared about her role as a teacher and school librarian. She works with kids and teaches them how to solve their problems and disputes “with words” rather than with hitting or weapons She talked about a book she recently shared with her students about “what if our world were a village of 100 people”. How many would be Americans, how many would go hungry or not have clean drinking water. If there is enough food produced to go around, her students asked, “why are so many people going hungry?” It is necessary for her to protest a company (Alliant) that profits from violent solutions.
Char Madigan, one of 5 nuns of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet on trial, discussed how economic violence continues to exploit people. She insisted that “money-wealth needs to be replaced with common-wealth” so all God’s people can be fed, housed, treated with dignity. She stressed that she had not only a right, but also an obligation to be at Alliant. Property rights must never protect violations of International Law.
Rita McDonald, another CSJ nun , talked about our role as whistle-blowers. Kathleen Rouna followed with a plea to end the degradation of our environment that was occurring because of the weapons containing depleted uranium that Alliant produced and the US has used in the Gulf War and in Kosovo. She reminded the jury of her concerns for ALL life, not just human life that is at risk.
Tom Bottelene told the jury that Alliant’s corporate logo and their abbreviation for the stock exchange is ATK. “It sounds like attack- that is kind of arrogant on their behalf.” He then tried to enter evidence about the weapons Alliant TechSystems makes. However, the Prosecutor objected and the Judge sustained the objection, allowing Tom to testify only to what “he believed” that they made. Even though Tom’s “evidence” was taken from Alliant’s own web page, and they boast about what product they make, The Judge would not allow the jury to consider that evidence. He was also prevented from discussing the fact that the US Government, earlier in 1994, had sued Alliant Tech for violations of the Anti-T rust Act by engaging in price-fixing with the only other company in the world that manufactures the type of cluster bomb most frequently used by the US. When Tom asked that Article VI from the US Constitution be entered into evidence, the Judge once again sided with the prosecution and would not allow it.
Tom was able to talk briefly about cluster bombs, landmines, and the OICW, the new combat weapon Alliant is developing for the Army that would allow its user to “shoot around corners” without knowing who or what was behind them. Tom looked Sgt. Larsen right in the eye when he said, “We know all these weapons that are produced eventually find there way to be sold on the black market. We’d hate to see these weapons get into the hands of criminals to be used against our police.” (After leaving the witness stand and taking a brief recess, Sgt. Larsen came up to Tom and asked for a copy of the documents about this weapon that the Judge would not allow Tom to read and enter into evidence.) Tom also showed how Alliant sells its weapons in more than 40 countries around the world, profiting by selling to countries on both sides of on-going international conflicts, including countries in the Middle East, both Pakistan and India, and hot spots in Central and South America.
Sister Rita Steinhagen talked about her travels to Central America during the US funded Contra War in Nicaragua , seeing and meeting with victims of weapons which couldn’t discriminate between combatants and civilians- and then saw some of these weapons in a museum there that were clearly stamped, “Made in the USA”. Silence implies consent and she will not be silent. This cannot continue to happen “in our name”. If only Alliant could learn to put this creative genius, which is now put to use making weapons, to use making items that could benefit humanity. Mary Ellen Halverson followed by talking about the role of the corporate whistle-blower, warning the greater community of corruption and what is wrong at the heart of some of these large corporations. She mentioned the growing scandals surrounding Enron, Global Crossings, Monsanto, and other corporate giants and stated that, like Paul Revere, we have to sound out the alarm. We have knowledge of the harm that Alliant’ s products are doing all over the world. We have the responsibility to ‘blow the whistle’ on them.
I was next on the witness stand. After giving some brief biographical info about being a husband, parent, working for Habitat, and being part of the Community of St. Martin and taking the Vow of Nonviolence annually, I briefly described living at Koinonia Partners and having the opportunity to meet some of those victimized by US militarism. I mentioned my interest in landmines after having met Chou Ly and Sovath and described briefly the Walk In Peace Program of Jubilee Partners.
I described my summer semester abroad in Europe while enrolled at Wheaton College, highlighting the course on International Law and Politics outside The Hague, and visits to Geneva and the concentration camp outside Munich at Dachau. My interest in International Law was fed by my anti-war activism, including reading a book by Telford Taylor, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials on how the US was guilty of war crimes by its indiscriminate bombing in Indochina. I talked a little about the Nuremberg Principles and how they became the basis for the Charter of the United Nations. The trial at Nuremberg established the responsibility for citizens to speak and act against policies of their own governments that lead to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
My testimony continued with an account of November 7 and how I informed the group about the use of ATK cluster bombs in Afghanistan within the last month. I then described how the CBU-87 cluster bomb works- its 202 bomblets within the 1,000# canister, the 3-fold function of the weapon: able to pierce 5” of steel armor, start fires, and the 300 metal fragments which rip apart human flesh as its “anti-personnel” component. I showed a picture of the bright, yellow colored bomblet that attracts children because it could be mistaken for a toy. I reminded the jury of how the US had previously dropped food parcels, also yellow in color, the weeks before. I told the jury about the “failure rate” of these weapons (between 5-30% fail to detonate as designed and become de facto landmines, waiting for someone or something to touch them).
Realizing I could not enter the actual wording of International Law or treaties that the US has signed, I described the role of the Red Cross and its responsibilities to promote International Humanitarian Law. It is significant that this body called for a moratorium on cluster bombs 14 months prior to our November demonstration to be followed by discussions to make explicit their complete ban. More than 50 other human rights and other NGO’ s have endorsed such a moratorium. My testimony was getting too long for the jury to comprehend so I closed with two pleas to warn the public about these weapons. The first was from a UN Subcommittee which stated we have a DUTY as world citizens to publicize the use of illegal weapons, based on a ruling of the International Court of Justice relative to the use of sea mines. The second was a call from the CEO of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund stating that “countries must feel the force of public opinion” regarding the manufacture and use of cluster bombs.
In preparing for my testimony, I was greatly aided by reading some of the excellent work done on indiscriminate weapons and International Law by Karen Parker and Virgil Wiebe.
Mary Lou Ott then took the stand as the final defendant to testify. With a long history of active witness for social justice and peacemaking, she concentrated on how she and her husband Gene tried to raise their children to embrace the discipline of nonviolence. She saw faces of angry white protestors objecting to the integration of public schools on the TV screen in the 60’s and realized she didn’t want to have that kind of anger control her life. She committed herself to work for change. When her sons became old enough to be drafted for war, she made it clear that “I didn’t want my boys to kill another mother’s son.”
With that testimony, the defense rested. Marsh Hallberg led off with the closing argument for the prosecution. He stated we had no claim of right and said that jurors should not confuse motive with intent. “These are really good people. I’ d like to have them as my neighbors. I’d like to work in a food line with them. I’d like to go to church with them.” But, the question isn’t whether the defendants are good people or not. He said he didn’t’ have a clue as to what Alliant manufacturers. This trial isn’t the proper forum for an international debate. The defendants can bring up these issues at the UN or other places. The defendants think if they act in good conscience there shouldn’t’ t be consequences. Our country will be in chaos if all of us just act on our conscience. They crossed the line to vent their frustration. They wanted a public forum and media attention. They desired greater attention to their cause. They have the right to a trial. We have to balance the freedom of expression with our rights in our society. It took a lot of time and energy away from our police department and cost the taxpayers more than $5,000. for this action. “I’m asking you to enforce the law.”
Char Madigan closed for the defense: “Our deepest hope is that you will understand that our intent was to obey a greater law. Our intent is to protect citizens. It is the intention of the law to protect the common good. Our claim of right is reasonable, not arbitrary. We’ve named the International Laws, the Nuremberg Principles, the weapons that are made and are indiscriminate. We didn’t make up the Nuremberg Principles. We didn’t make up the Geneva Accords. We need to stop the madness. The jury is part of our system of checks and balances and it is our hope that you will find us not guilty of trespass.
Mr. Hallberg had the final say: This is a domestic trespass case. This court is the wrong forum for the issues these defendants care about. The Judge instructed the jury and sent them out. After about 1 1/2hours, the jury was excused for the night and was scheduled to continue deliberations the following day. We were called back to the courtroom after the jury reached their verdict the next morning, having met for about 45 minutes. When they filed into the room, we knew the news was not good for us: none of the jurors would look at us and several had frowns on their faces.
After all 15 of the guilty verdicts were read, the jury was dismissed. Although the prosecutor requested that sentencing be delayed, noting that a number of the defendants had prior arrest records, we asked the judge to sentence us right away. Because one defendant was on probation for a previous nonviolent offense at Alliant, and 3 others were not able to be present in the courtroom that morning, only 11 of us were sentenced by the judge: 90 days in jail plus a mandatory $300. fine. 80 of the 90 days and the fine were stayed or suspended if the defendants were not arrested and convicted of trespass, breach of the peace, or disorderly conduct for the next year. The judge then said the remaining 10 days would be served by doing unsupervised Community Service of our own determination.
At that point I stood and told the Judge that I objected. I have committed my whole life to serving others. My job is working with Habitat for Humanity. What we did at Alliant Tech was a service to the world community. And, for me, service is something that comes from the heart, not because one is compelled to do it. I asked the Judge if she would consider sentencing me to jail instead of the Community Service. After a brief pause to think it over, the Judge agreed to amend the sentence to all of us to include the option of a jail sentence if we chose not to agree to do Community Service. However, she asked us to make our choice right then, at the time of sentencing. Due to present guidelines at the Hennepin County “Workhouse”, a 10-day sentence is served by a 7-day incarceration. Judge McKinsey said that we would have 120 days to inform the court by letter that we had completed the Community Service, or, if we had decided not to comply with that sentence, to inform the court of the date you would surrender to begin the jail sentence.
Char Madigan was the first to choose incarceration over Community Service. Like many of the defendants, her whole life has been in service to her faith and other people. Rita Steinhagen and Rita Foster made it a trio of nuns who would go to jail. Other defendants requested that “community education” be considered as Community Service and the Judge agreed. Some defendants will use this as an opportunity to continue to educate others about the realities of these weapons and Alliant’s choice of profits over people. When it came my turn, I told the Judge that I couldn’t make the decision I wanted to make, to choose jail over Community Service, without first consulting my wife and my sons- but she should expect to receive a letter from me stating that I would self-surrender for jail at a time our family could agree upon. Several other defendants are considering which choice best fits them. Despite some different choices in sentencing, we remain committed to one another and to converting the work of Alliant Tech to something that is life-affirming rather than serving death.
At this point, it appears that at least 4 of us will report to the Hennepin County Workhouse for our sentence on May 20th. My initial concern about that date was mistaken- I had thought it would fall on the week of my youngest son’ s final exams. Since I enjoy studying with him as he prepares for them, I was afraid that my choosing to go to jail that week might send a discouraging signal to him. However, after checking the calendar, I would be released in time to help him study. So, I will join those 3 Sisters in reporting that day so we can stand in solidarity together, even though we will be locked in separate jails. And for those who wonder about my commitment of service, I have already scheduled to use up 2 ½ weeks of my vacation this summer by going to work as a volunteer at Holden Village, a Lutheran Retreat Center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington with my son Zach, two weeks after I get out of jail.
The support and love we have received from our friends and community all through this process has made this a truly blessed Holy Week experience for us.