Two Minneapolis Juries Support “International Law” Defense

Two Minneapolis Juries Support “International Law” Defense
By Steve Clemens

Their actions were a week apart in July 2004; the “not guilty” verdicts from their respective juries also came within one week in December.

For nine years, peace activists have held a weekly vigil outside the corporate headquarters of Alliant TechSystems, the largest supplier of ammunition to the US Army. Alliant TechSystems, also known by its corporate logo and stock abbreviation as ATK, has been the primary supplier to the US military of anti-personnel landmines, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium (DU) munitions.

AlliantACTION, the group that has faithfully opposed these indiscriminate weapons of war, designed a notebook of documents entitled “Employee Liabilities of Weapons Manufacturers Under International Law”, and several smaller groups of vigilers attempted to deliver these documents to corporate officials. Along with a cover letter addressed to ATK’s Chairman and CEO, this document spells out how the above three weapons violate International Law which prohibits the manufacture and sale of “indiscriminate” weapons, weapons which cause long-term damage to the natural environment, weapons which are unduly inhumane, and weapons which continue to kill and maim long after a conflict or war has ended. The document also cites four case studies of German manufacturers who were convicted of war crimes by the Nuremberg Tribunals.

Four defendants (John and Marie Braun, Carol Masters, and Steve Clemens) were arrested July 21, 2004 as they approached the entrance to ATK with the documents and requested a meeting with one of four corporate officers. (A fifth defendant, John Maus, died of sudden-onset cancer several months before the trial.) The second group of four activists from the Anathoth Farm Community in rural Luck, Wisconsin (John Heid, Jane Hosking, John LaForge, and Mike Miles) conducted a similar action the following week.

The criminal trespass law in Minnesota contains a provision for a “claim of right” which allows defendants to argue before the court that permission to remain on another’s property is based on another “rule, statute, or law”. In court, both groups of defendants were allowed by Judge Regina Chu and Judge Jack Nordby to present evidence in defense of this claimed right. Citing the US Constitution Article VI, the jury was informed that any treaty signed by the US government is “the supreme law of the land” and that all judges and courts are bound by these laws. The defendants then entered excerpts from The Hague Treaty, The Geneva Accords and Protocols, the “CCW Treaty”, and the Nuremberg Principles as evidence for the jury to consider.

John LaForge testified that his understanding of the Nuremberg Tribunal rulings was intended to prevent these illegal weapons from being manufactured; making the planning of a war using these weapons a war crime. In the other trial, Steve Clemens testified that the Nuremberg Principles prevent manufacturers from “hiding behind property laws” when they are making these indiscriminate weapons. Quoting from Principle VII, Clemens pointed out that “complicity with a war crime” is itself a violation of International Law. Because we know that ATK makes these weapons and because we know how they work and are clearly illegal, we are compelled to take nonviolent action to try to prevent these crimes from taking place, Clemens stated. Both groups of defendants also informed the juries of the vote of the UN Committee on Human Rights which specifically named depleted uranium and cluster bombs as illegal.

This was not the first time that citizen juries have chosen to respect the defense of International Law in the Minneapolis courtrooms. In October 2003, 19 defendants were acquitted of criminal trespass at ATK during the “combat phase” of this present war in Iraq by a six-person jury. In 1997, 79 defendants were also cleared by a jury when they cited International Law in their defense of trespass charges focusing on a protest of ATK’s manufacture of anti-personnel landmines.

Many of the AlliantACTION activists were part of the Honeywell Project, a campaign started in 1968 against ATK’s predecessor, the Honeywell Corporation, for its manufacture of cluster bombs dropped in Indochina by the millions. The campaign against Honeywell resulted in thousands of arrests over more than a decade of public demonstrations. When public pressure built against Honeywell, it finally decided to “spin off’ its weapons production into a new company, Alliant TechSystems.

Every Wednesday morning from 7-8 AM, about 30-40 people, ranging in age from high school students to nuns in their 80’s, to vigil outside ATK’s corporate headquarters in Edina, MN, a wealthy suburb of the Twin Cities. Several times a year, a larger group gathers to hear speakers and to raise their voices in protest. On Memorial Day 2004, more than 300 gathered for a reading of the names of the dead, both Iraqi and US, from this on-going war, lead by members of the local chapter of Veterans For Peace. After the solemn remembrance of the victims of war, the group also heard speeches about International Law and details of the nature of indiscriminate weapons ATK produces. At the conclusion of the rally, more than 60 people moved onto ATK’s property to sit in front of the entrance doors. After no one came to arrest them, the balance of the remaining protest group joined them for a massive sit-in and celebration of citizen activism.

AlliantACTION vows to continue its nonviolent witness, calling for “peace conversion with no loss of jobs.” More information is available at the AlliantACTION link on www.circlevision.org.

Does Hennepin County Harbor War Criminals?

Not Guilty Verdicts by Two Juries in One Week Raises the Question -Does Hennepin County Harbor War Criminals?
By Steve Clemens. Dec. 13, 2004

On December 10 in Hennepin County Court, four nonviolent vigilers were found not guilty by a six person jury. The four Minneapolis residents had been charged with criminal trespass after they had attempted to deliver an AlliantACTION document entitled “Employee Liabilities of Weapons Manufacturers Under International Law” to corporate officers at Alliant TechSystems headquarters in Edina on July 21. The defendants successfully argued that they were compelled to act based on their understanding of International Humanitarian Law and the rulings of the Nuremberg Tribunals.

Alliant TechSystems (ATK) is the US Army’s largest supplier of ammunition and has manufactured antipersonnel landmines, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium weapons. In the two day trial, the four peace activists used a “claim of right” provision in the Minnesota trespass law and then cited numerous provisions in the Hague and Geneva Treaties and subsequent International Laws which prohibit the “manufacture, sale, stockpiling, and/or use” of weapons which are determined to be “indiscriminate” and those which cause long-term damage to the natural environment.

Also cited and entered as evidence in the trial was the decision by the United Nations Committee on Human Rights which specifically names cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons as being illegal. The U.S. Constitution’s Article VI became evidence with its declaration that treaties signed by our government become “the supreme law of the land” and all judges are bound by it. The Nuremberg Principles are part of the treaty the U.S. signed to become founding members of the United Nations. Defendants testified that the Nuremberg Principles compel us to act if we are aware of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The manufacture of indiscriminate weapons is a war crime as defined by that document.

Although the four residents, John and Marie Braun, Carol Masters, and Steve Clemens, were acquitted on the basis of “reasonable doubt”, the verdict by the citizen jury raises the question of who is responsible for the enforcement of International Law when ATK publicly admits it has manufactured depleted uranium weapons. Prior to 2000, the ATK website boasted about their manufacture of armor-piercing weapons with “depleted uranium penetrators.” However, after the AlliantACTION group publicly raised concerns about the nature of depleted uranium weapons, all references to this controversial weapon were removed from their website and the words “kinetic energy” replaced that of depleted uranium.

Basing their statements to the jury on the testimony of Dr. Karen Parker before the U.N. Subcommittee, the defendants, who represented themselves, testified that depleted uranium clearly fails four tests, any one of which would make the weapon illegal. 1) Weapons must be limited to the field of battle – depleted uranium (DU), when used, aerosolizes into minute dust particles which can carry the radioactive waste for miles (the territorial test). 2) Weapons must not continue to kill long after a war has ended – DU weapons remain radioactive for a half-life of four and one-half billion years and will continue to impact the civilian population forever until cleaned-up (the temporal test). 3) Weapons must not be unduly inhumane – the cancers, birth defects, and genetic damage linked to the inhalation or ingestion of radioactive DU particles clearly impact both combatants and civilians (the humanness test). 4) Finally, weapons may not cause long-term damage to the natural environment – DU particles can contaminate the air, water, and soil indefinitely until it is removed and permanently secured and guarded in a protective storage facility (the environmental test). Since DU weapons miserably fail all four tests, it is clearly outlawed by existing International Law.

Those acquitted in the trial are part of a larger group called AlliantACTION which holds a Wednesday morning vigil on the public property adjacent to ATK’s headquarters at 5050 Lincoln Drive in Edina. These advocates of nonviolent conflict resolution have gathered weekly, rain or shine, freezing weather or heat, for the past nine years. It is a continuation of the movement begun in 1968 against Honeywell’s manufacture of cluster bombs used in the Vietnam War. There are estimates of up to 10 million unexploded bomblets from these cluster bombs still remaining in Laos 30 years later. The defendants testified that each week brings another report of a farmer or a child killed or seriously wounded when one of these “duds’ explode. After years of high-profile protest against Honeywell, the corporation spun off their weapons production to form a new company in the 1990’s, Alliant TechSystems.

Although ATK continues to make cluster bombs (and protestors often cite their opposition to such), much of the recent focus has been concentrated on opposing DU weapons because they have affected not only Iraqi citizens but also U.S. troops who have served in the areas of Iraq where these radioactive weapons have been used. Reports from various sources quoted in the trial estimate that in excess of 300 tons of DU weapons were used in the 1991 war. Present estimates indicate that more than 1,000 tons of DU has been used in the current war, in major population areas including Baghdad rather than being restricted to the desert areas outside of Basrah which were contaminated in the 1991 war.

On Friday, December 10, as these four defendants were being exonerated by their jury, another group of four peacemakers began their jury trial for an identical action against ATK a week later. The four, John Heid, Jane Hosking, Mike Miles, and John LaForge, all members of the Anathoth Farm Community in Luck, Wisconsin argued their defense based on the same claim of right provisions and submitted the text of International Treaties in support of that claim. On Tuesday afternoon, December 14, they too were found “not guilty” by their six person jury. A similar group of 19 protestors were acquitted by another Hennepin County jury in October 2003. Three additional groups of 3-5 activists have trials pending within the next few months. Alliant Action intends to persevere until ATK stops making these weapons and pays for their clean-up or they are hauled into court on the charges of making illegal weapons. Citizens interested in this vital concern for the world community can get more information at the Alliant Action link on www.circlevision.org.

A Victory for Conscience and International Law

A Victory for Conscience and International Law
By Steve Clemens, Dec. 10, 2004

A jury of six women returned a verdict of “not guilty” in the trial of 4 Christian peacemakers in Minneapolis today. John and Marie Braun, Carol Masters, and Steve Clemens were charged with criminal trespass on July 21, 2004 when they attempted to enter the corporate headquarters of Alliant TechSystems in Edina, MN. The four were attempting to deliver a letter and documents to corporate officers concerning “Employee Liabilities of Weapons Manufacturers Under International Law.” After requesting to meet with one of four corporate officers, the four were arrested after they refused to leave the premises without at least an appointment to meet with them at a future date.

If convicted, the defendants could have faced up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. They chose to request a jury trial instead of accepting an offer to plead guilty in exchange for “community service”. Speaking to a jury, they felt, can help spread the word about International Law and the realities of these weapons.

The trial, presided over by Judge Regina M. Chu, focused on a provision in the MN trespass law which provides for “a claim of right”. The defendants successfully argued that it was reasonable for them to be on the property of this weapons manufacturer because of treaties signed by the United States. Quoting Article VI of the US Constitution where International Treaties signed by our government are identified as “the supreme law of the land”, the defendants then offered into evidence excerpts from the Hague and Geneva Conventions, the CCW Treaty, and the Nuremberg Principles. The Judge also permitted inclusion of articles the defendants had read prior to their nonviolent action that influenced their intent that day.

All four defendants testified in a moving fashion, bringing tears to some eyes in the courtroom. The International Law offered into evidence prohibits the manufacture, sale, or use of weapons which are indiscriminate. Those are weapons which continue to kill after a war has ended, those that aren’t limited to the field of battle, those causing unnecessary suffering and are inhumane, and those which cause long-lasting damage to the natural environment. The four testified that Alliant TechSystems is the primary manufacturer of anti-personnel landmines, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium weapons for the US Military. They described the effects of these weapons, showing them to be indiscriminate and thus illegal.

Two of the defendants, Marie Braun and Steve Clemens, testified about their trips to Iraq and the impact that made on them, causing them to take action against these weapons after seeing first-hand the results of their use on the civilian population of Iraq since the 1991 war. They testified that cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons were used in even greater numbers in the war in Iraq that began in March 2003 and continues today.

Carol Masters told the jury about the effects of exposure to depleted uranium to US troops to remind all of us that they are being victimized as well as the Iraqi population. John Braun described the brutal and inhumane effects of landmines, cluster bombs and depleted uranium. He urged the jury to “look at the larger picture” when considering the charges against us.

While we celebrate this legal victory, there is much more work to do. Another group of four conscientious citizens from the Annathoth Community in Luck, WI are presently on trial for the same offense committed the week following the July 21 action. Four more groups of 3-5 people face trials for the same witness in the coming months. But while a modest celebration is in order (six sister citizens understood it today), we must continue to work for the day when Alliant TechSystems chooses or is forced to “beat its depleted uranium ‘swords’ into implements of peace.” For more information about this movement, please go to www.circlevision.org and click on the Alliant Action section.

Closing Argument at ATK 4 trial

Closing Argument
ATK Trial Dec. 10, 2004

Every Wednesday morning one of the vigilers, usually one of the nuns sitting in the back of this courtroom, holds up a sign at the ATK vigil. It reads, “Who Profits? Who Dies?” We have choices to make: Do we want to be a rogue nation or be part of the “community of nations”? Do we want to choose corporate wealth or commonwealth? Do we value Private Profit over Corporate Accountability?

We stipulated the facts in this case so we didn’t waste the time of the Edina Police by having to testify here at this trial.

In the opening arguments from both the Prosecution and the Defense you were told that this case comes down to one issue:
Did the Defendants have a Claim of Right when we came to the entrance of ATK headquarters to deliver the notebook of documents and refused to leave until we could at least get an appointment with one of the corporate officers?

In a few minutes, the Judge will give you her Jury Instructions for your deliberation. In it she defines Claim of Right as: “A good faith claim by the defendants that permission was given to them to be upon the premises by a statute, rule, regulation or other law.”

Judge Chu gives two conditions under which you, the jury, should determine if this is a bona fide (or good and truthful) claim of right:
1. If we, the defendants, believed we had a right to enter and remain on the premises; AND
2. If there were reasonable grounds for this belief, based on our knowledge of a statue, rule, regulation or other law of a federal or state agency.

Let’s focus in on some of these words:
Good Faith
Belief
Reasonable

I trust after hearing our testimony that you have found us to be sincere. I hope after hearing some of our own stories that you can tell that we honestly believe that International Law gives us the claim of right to be at Alliant Techsystems headquarters. We did not discover this “defense” after the fact to use it to justify or excuse our actions. We went to ATK’s entrance with the knowledge of this provision in the law and with conviction that our actions were justifiable under International Law. The question remaining is – is this belief reasonable?

Even though we readily admit we are not EXPERTS on all the nuances of International Law, it is our hope that we have demonstrated to you in our testimony our personal knowledge of both the letter and the spirit of these applicable International Laws. We have studied the wording. We have read the rulings of the United Nations regarding these illegal weapons. We have striven to educate ourselves about these issues. And we have asked ourselves this question: What do we wish the German people would have done when War Crimes were being committed by their governmental, military, and corporate leaders before and during WW II?

Another important word to focus on is INTENT.

We have testified that our intent was to deliver the notebook of documents to corporate officers of ATK, not to seek arrest. We did not have criminal intent; our intent was to take action to help prevent the targeting of civilians by indiscriminate weapons.

Mr. Wood couldn’t argue against the US Constitution when it states that these International Treaties signed by our government are the SUPREME law of the land. Supreme does not mean that it takes a back seat to a private property or a trespass law.

Mr. Wood did not contest that the weapons we have identified are indiscriminate. We have testified how these weapons fail to meet the restrictions placed on weapons allowable during war. They are not limited to the field of battle. The do not stop killing and injuring after the war has ended. The cancers, birth defects, and other dramatic consequences to human health show that these weapons fail the “humanness test”. And the long-term damage to the environment caused by the radioactive waste or unexploded cluster bombs will discourage or prevent citizens from being able to farm in these areas without severe risks.

We testified that these indiscriminate weapons are manufactured and sold by ATK. This company is seeking to make a profit off these weapons that the world community has denounced. We testified that the Nuremberg Principles remind us that we cannot hide behind local or national laws as an excuse to overlook the commission of what they call “War Crimes” and “Crimes against Humanity”. We dare not be “complicit” when these crimes are being committed. Until or unless local or national prosecutors are willing to enforce “the Supreme law of the land”, it is incumbent on those of us with knowledge of International Law to take nonviolent action to help bring this to public attention about the principles and value of these laws. The Red Cross calls on “national courts and public opinion” to help with the implementation of the laws of war.

Property rights should not override the right of the international community to be protected from these indiscriminate weapons. Property rights are not more important than stopping war crimes and crimes against humanity as defined by the Nuremberg Tribunals. The United States helped develop these rules, we cannot exempt ourselves from them when they are not convenient. Would we really argue about property rights if citizens “trespassed” at Auschwitz and tried to prevent the crimes committed there? To remain silent in the face of these crimes would be negligence.

Point nine of the stipulation, the agreement between the state and the defendants states: “The defendants remained nonviolent and courteous throughout this encounter with Alliant representatives and the Edina Police. To compare our actions to annoying and intrusive phone or door-to-door solicitors is both degrading and insulting to the deeply held moral convictions of these defendants. To compare concern about weapons which cause thousands of deaths and countless injuries and diseases to someone attempting to sell another consumer product or service debases the genuine concern we have expressed for the victims of these weapons. Mr. Wood told John Braun his “claim of right” was just an excuse for criminal conduct”, he is the one who is trivializing this case. This case is about very serious concerns.

We, the defendants, are a hope-filled people. We hope that the goodness of the American people can overcome our fears and help us re-join the world community.

Please, take some time. Read the exhibits presented. Read the judge’s instructions. We trust you to make the right decision. We have spoken. Now it is your turn to add your voices on behalf of the voiceless civilian victims of war and corporate greed. We can’t hide behind “Minnesota nice.” We can’t afford to act like “good Germans” and say we didn’t know what they were doing.

There are no “winners” in this case until all of us can work together to eliminate indiscriminate weapons from our world. We can start in our own back yard, in Edina, MN.

-Steve Clemens, Defendant

My Vote in 2004

My Vote in 2004
By Steve Clemens. October 2004

I agree with Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder when he wrote in 1976 that voting is probably the least significant political act in we should engage ourselves as Christians. More important than voting are acts of mercy, protesting in the streets, and working for real, substantive change.

During the primary season, I supported the Democratic candidacy of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, despite the fact that he never received more than 7% of the vote state-wide. (Incidentally, he did win our local caucus vote with close to 50% of the vote with 7 other challengers). Dennis called on people to vote their hopes, not their fears. To vote for what we dream for, not for what we are against. However, in the end, as a loyal mainstream party member, he endorsed the party nominee, albeit with not a lot of enthusiasm, calling for his supporters to “work within the system [party] for change.”

For me, there are several primary issues in the selection of a President: the present reality of empire coupled with an imperialistic theology which identifies America as “special, chosen, a beacon on the hill, light for the nations”, the growing and obscene gap between the rich and the poor both here in the US and around the world, our present (and historic) habit of choosing force [or threats of force] over international cooperation and community, our endangered political freedoms and the right [and duty] of dissent, and our stewardship of the environment. Hanging over virtually all of these issues is the domination of corporate interests and the inordinate role of money in our electoral process.

We have been told by some in our nation that at the center of this election are key moral issues. I agree. I just disagree on what are those issues. Abortion should be considered as a public policy issue because how we treat the most vulnerable is important. However, the question of when life becomes human is not readily answered in the political arena and, unfortunately, many of those hollering the loudest against abortion have not supported either effective birth control programs or adequately funded programs for needy children. I support a policy [advocated locally by State Senator John Marty] which calls for governmental support for both adoption and birth control education/supplies as a way of decreasing the number [and need?] of abortions.

The threat to the institution of marriage that gay or lesbian couples present is raised as another key moral issue. Homosexual partners in loving, supportive, and committed relationships are most certainly preferable to promiscuous and exploitative sexual behavior. Heterosexual divorce is a greater threat to the “traditional marriage” yet the second marriage [after a failed marriage] of some of my friends is clear evidence to me that most of we humans are created to thrive in committed and loving relationships. I am convinced that many of my gay and lesbian and bisexual friends were born with that minority sexual orientation and, as such, are especially loved by our creator who has a special compassion for the poor and the oppressed and excluded. For me, not only permitting but encouraging committed relationships for homosexuals is a Christian political position. My marriage is in no way threatened by the ability of others to marry.

Prayer in schools, public statues of the Ten Commandments, and keeping “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are also trumpeted as moral issues in the body politic but are like the two above more “wedge” issues to further divide us as a people and are more likely used to distract us from the real political choices we should be addressing. Incidentally, I don’t want politicians deciding what prayers are said in schools and I worry more about enforcing the “liberty and justice for all” before worrying about “under God” in the Pledge. I can’t recite the Pledge anyway since I’ve already “pledged allegiance” to the Kingdom of God.

The real issues

Our present wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and “against terrorism” are but symptoms and manifestations of the reality that our nation has become a world-dominating empire. Coupled with the enormous economic power of multi-national corporations, the US is actively seeking hegemony over the entire globe [not to mention the incredibly serious present attempts to militarize and dominate space as well under the bi-partisan Star Wars program]. It must be said clearly- The war against Iraq was illegal [according to the Charter of the UN] and was based on lies and fear-mongering. While our attacks on the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan had more international support, our failure to spend any significant effort to re-build that nation is both dishonest and criminal.

“Terrorism” is a political term bandied about to discredit one group against another. When cities are fire-bombed [as in WW II] or vaporized by nuclear bombs, when villages are attacked by “contras” or other “paramilitary” groups we call “freedom fighters”, those on the receiving end experience the acts as terrorism. Acts like the tragedy of 9/11 are criminal and those involved should be apprehended and brought to trial. But so should political leaders who order the bombing of civilian areas, oversee a policy of “disappearances”, and target victims primarily on the basis of religion, race, or ethnicity.

But what about leaders who standby while millions die of preventable disease (malaria) when just a few hours-worth of the present US military budget (now over $1 billion/day) could eradicate it? Is that not a form of ‘terrorism” to the families who watch their children die? War and the threat and preparations for it are, and must be, predominating moral issues in the political realm. As President Eisenhower reminded us, "Every gun made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed...."

When our national identity becomes confused with a theology of being “chosen” by God, we are at the brink of blasphemy. There is no Biblical basis for a “new Israel” and to proclaim that we are “a city on a hill” (to quote President Reagan) is in fact to confuse the Kingdom of God with a nation whose history is ripe with genocide (Native Americans), slavery (African-Americans), rape and plunder (the theft of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California from Mexico), genocide again (Philippine Islands), mass murder (fire bombing of Dresden, Tokyo, and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), devastation of the environment (Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam), and it continues with the use of depleted uranium munitions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq (twice).

If we are a “chosen people”, when do we get exiled to Babylon for these sins against God and humanity? Manifest Destiny was a smoke-screen for the idolatry and avarice it masked. The hypocrisy and hubris of our policy and position that the US can have weapons of mass destruction but other nations cannot makes clear that our nation labors under the presumption that we are divinely-ordained. Our nation sells more weapons to other nations than all other nations in the world combined! Somehow that picture does not mesh well with the Biblical vision of the lion laying down with the lamb.

Our empire mentality has blinded us to what is clearly evident to peoples around the world. Having 5% of the world’s population, we consider it our birthright to consume way in excess of our share of the world’s resources. We’ve substituted “dominion” for “stewardship” and now are facing [or, if Republicans, still in denial about] global warming, pollution, extinction of species, … . We cannot trust “the market” to regulate itself. The market system is part of the fallen powers of domination and it is foolish (and idolatrous) to look to it for our salvation. Short-term profits have become our god and, in the process, have raped and plundered our environment and what used to be called “the commons”.

There appears to me that there are only slight differences between President Bush and Senator Kerry. Both have indicated that they will not challenge the policy of empire- Kerry just wants it to have a little more dressing of approval from the international community. Both have called for increases in military might at a time when the US outspends all other nations in the world combined! And to do this, social programs must be cut. Education, healthcare, social security, international humanitarian aid are all sacrificed on the altar of Mars.

Yes, some Democrats seem to pick and choose among new weapon systems while Republicans want even more than the Pentagon requests. Most of the weapon systems have nothing to do with “defense” – they are offensive weapons. Study after study has shown that investments in weapon systems always produce fewer jobs than investments in almost every other sector of the economy. The Pentagon has so much money that it presently can’t account for more than $1.2 trillion it has received in the past several decades. We’ve moved beyond acting out of fear and greed to outright foolishness yet neither major candidate nor political party is willing to say “the emperor has no clothes”.

Biblically, how one treats the poor is probably the key issue in evaluating the government. Not only is this a major theme of the Hebrew prophets, but Jesus talks more about economic issues than any other. The rapidly increasing chasm between the wealthy and those without in our society call us to confront again Jesus’ parable of “the rich man and Lazarus”. Our political process has become fatally corrupted by the undue influence wielded by corporate and other wealthy interests. Who is willing and able to speak on behalf of the poor? While Christians will have honest disagreements about taxes and other fiscal policy, the question must be asked as to whether the poor are being “left behind”?

Care for the natural environment is predominately a moral issue. God created our world and called it “tov” – very, very good. Our charge to be good stewards, care-takers of this gift, should not be traded like Esau’s birthright for a “mess of pottage”. It is a crime against the creator not to pursue renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, and geo-thermal when all of us are endangered by global warming and other climate-changing threats. Fuel efficiency standards for vehicles is a moral issue, of much greater significance in my perspective than whether or not to allow a sculpture or monument to the Ten Commandments on public (secular) property.

I don’t see either major political party sharing these concerns or addressing these issues. Our present political system of “winner takes all” makes voting for a minor party ineffective [at least in the short-term]. Yet I can’t in good conscience vote for either Kerry/Edwards or Bush/Cheney. I’d much rather vote what I’m for rather than what I’m against – although I don’t totally discount “voting against” the present administration as a way to signal to the rest of the world community that I totally reject unilateralism and the pre-emptive war policies presently invoked by the President. Ralph Nader has been fairly consistent in addressing many of the concerns I’ve raised and his call for all of us to take “citizenship” seriously goes beyond just saying “no” to the present structure. Yet his unwillingness to be subject to the discipline of a party platform smacks too much of American individualism rather than corporate accountability.

So how do I vote? Prayerfully. Confessionaly. And then continue to work within the political arena to raise the moral issues which must be addressed. I’m not proud that I live in a nation which has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. I’m saddened that with such great medical knowledge and equipment our infant mortality rate and other health measures show us to be behind more than a dozen other nations. Despite our economic wealth, the percentage of international aid given by our government to other needier nations is well below many others.

Instead of being feared for our military might, I want to live in a nation respected for its devotion to human rights and compassion. Instead of consuming a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources, I want to be a citizen of a nation providing leadership in protecting and conserving the environment. Let’s find a way to heal the divisions in our land and work together on these issues of moral value.

Statement to Alliant TechSystems - July 21, 2004


Why we are here

We are members of the group of protestors that gathers every Wednesday in front of Alliant TechSystems headquarters. As US citizens, people of faith and conscience, and as folk who care for the environment, we believe that we have a responsibility to non-violently voice our opposition to what ATK represents: making a profit over the manufacture and sale of weapons which indiscriminately kill civilians and contaminate the environment.

Alliant TechSystem manufactured cluster bombs that have been used in both wars against Iraq as well as in the wars in the Balkans and Afghanistan. ATK’s predecessor, Honeywell, made and sold millions of cluster bombs which continue to kill civilians in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The International Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, and numerous other NGOs and governments have called for at least a moratorium on the manufacture, sale, deployment, and use of these weapons.

ATK-manufactured depleted uranium munitions were used in the Balkans and Iraq. Tons of radioactive waste remains in those countries and will remain poisonous for billions of years until cleaned up. The United Nations Subcommittee on Human Rights has declared that DU weapons are illegal under International Law and has voted to ban them.

International Law is clear that weapons which are indiscriminate are prohibited, making the manufacture, sale, and use of such weapons illegal. (Hague Convention of 1907, Geneva Accords- Protocol I, and the CCW Treaty [banning and limiting the use of “certain conventional weapons”] are a few of the many “laws of war” that make cluster bombs, anti-personnel landmines, and DU munitions illegal)

We call on all employees of ATK to refuse any work manufacturing, promoting, and/or selling anti-personnel landmines, depleted uranium munitions, and cluster bombs. We call on ATK executives to convert their business to the manufacture of items which have peaceful applications and help preserve and protect our environment.

We urge you to read the documentation about these International Laws that we are attempting to present to ATK representatives this morning. You may find such documentation at the Alliant Action link on the web page: www.circlevision.org

In peace,

(signed by Marie Braun, John Braun, Steve Clemens, Carol Masters, and John Maus)



7/21/04

The “Gift” of International Law

The “Gift” of International Law
Commemoration Service at ATK, Memorial Day 2004

We have learned in our high school civics classes and are told time and again by our political leaders that the United States of America was founded on a set of beliefs that proclaim a basic right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. As a people we both celebrate and champion the rights and freedoms we enjoy. But when the federal government was being formed, when our Constitution was being written, those who proposed this new government insisted that we are also part of a community of nations around the world. In Article VI of the US Constitution our government states that any treaties made by our nation with other nations become “the supreme law of the land”.

Ever since the nature of military weaponry became more dangerous, there have been efforts put forth to place limits on the scope and nature of warfare. This began in the US during its Civil War where a transition from the musket to a bored rifle and the introduction to a Gattling machine gun greatly increased the number of casualties. Around the turn of the 20th Century, nations met in The Hague, Netherlands to discuss together how to mitigate the horrendous effects of “modern warfare”. In 1907, these nations adopted rules of warfare which have been called The Hague Conventions. The nations who signed this treaty agreed to prohibit the use of certain weapons, especially those employing poison and weapons which caused unnecessary suffering. It clearly stated that the means of injuring an enemy were limited by law. The US Government signed these treaties.

After the disastrous effects of two world wars, nations once again met, this time in Geneva, Switzerland to continue to work at the problem of how these recent wars were fought. In Geneva, special attention was directed at the issue of the killing and injuring of civilians- non-combatants who suffered during a war because of deliberate actions taken by their or other nations. New language was adopted for these treaties, called The Geneva Conventions, again limiting what military forces were permitted or prohibited from doing during a war. New regulations mandated treatment of “Prisoners of War” as well as proscribing or prohibiting weapons which were “indiscriminate”, meaning that they killed “innocent” civilians as well as opposing military forces. It was the understanding of the nations which were involved in developing these treaties that both individuals as well as nations should be held accountable for violations of “Humanitarian Law” or The Laws of War. The US Government signed these treaties.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the US Government and its Allies of France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, convened a trial in Nuremberg, Germany to investigate and punish “war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity”. The prosecution, led by The Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Robert Jackson, accused and convicted military, political, and corporate leaders under the Nazi regime. The Agreement For the Establishment of an International Military Tribunal for War Criminals in Europe became another treaty signed by the US Government. At the end of the trials at Nuremburg, 7 Principles, called The Nuremburg Principles, were adopted and became part of the Treaty establishing the United Nations. The US not only signed the treaty but was a major force in crafting these Principles and Charter for the UN. Principle 7 of the Nuremberg Principles states that “Complicity in a … war crime or a crime against humanity … is a crime under international law.”

Later Protocols or additions to the Geneva Conventions were written and adopted into law further limiting what weapons could be used in war. Specific mention was made to prohibit weapons which might cause “long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.” Again language was included to mandate distinguishing “between the civilian population and combatants”. This treaty was adopted in 1977. In 1980, an additional treaty, called The CCW because it prohibited or restricted the use of “certain conventional weapons” continued the march of international law in rejected the use of weapons which were “indiscriminate”, “caused superfluous or unnecessary suffering”, and/or caused widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment. The stated goal of the treaty was to “putting an end to the production, stockpiling and proliferation of such weapons.” More recent United Nations organizations, including the UN Commission on Human Rights, have adopted a specific ban on depleted uranium weapons and cluster bombs among other “indiscriminate” weapons.
As a member of the UN and as a signatory to these treaties, these International Humanitarian Law provisions are to be treated as “the Supreme Law of the Land” as stated in our constitution.

International Law is clear that not only the use of these weapons but also the “manufacture and sale” of such weapons is a violation of the laws of war. The conviction of “war criminals” at Nuremberg included some of the corporate executives of German factories making weapons. Many of us here today have called on our political and military leaders to renounce these indiscriminate weapons. We are here today to remind the corporation officials that they too are in violation of International Humanitarian Law.

The State of Minnesota has written into its Criminal Trespass Law a provision for individuals to make a good faith “claim of right” to be on the property of another. The US Constitution tells us that these treaties we have signed “trump” or are “supreme” over local laws. The Nuremberg Principles remind us that “complicity” with this illegal manufacture and sale of these weapons is a crime as well.

I am grateful for the “gift” of International Law which helps call us back to be part of the community of nations. These laws are designed to help us overcome our blind patriotism and call us to accountability. I commend all of you here today that are protesting the existence of these weapons and who want to break the “silence” that protects them and those who make them.

Steve Clemens
May 31, 2004

Rejecting A Politics of Hate, Greed, and Fear.

Rejecting a Politics of Hate, Greed, and Fear
Steve Clemens, April 4, 2004

It is no mistake that it is called “culture wars”. There is a “take no prisoners” mentality in our politics – ironic in a country that has one of the highest imprisonment rates in the world! It is a war where the object is not a negotiated settlement but a push for only “unconditional surrender”. And, most unfortunately, it is a Civil War in that it pits brother against brother, family against family, region against region- yet there is very little that is civil about it.

The political dust storm about “gay marriage”: is the concept of “marriage” between traditional heterosexual marriage really threatened and under attack? Do we really need to “defend marriage”? Haven’t Hollywood “celebrities” done enough to make light of this institution without trying to place the blame on gay/lesbian couples who seek the stability and recognition of a loving, committed relationship, trying to break the stereotypical image of promiscuity so often linked to homosexuality? Is this an issue which demands we change a Constitution which is designed to protect rights rather than to limit them?

In the abortion issue: can one be opposed to the idea of ending a developing life while striving to allow women in desperate situations a choice in consultation with a medical professional? While it is admirable for people to speak up on behalf of those who can’t, isn’t it ironic that so many of the voices “speaking” on behalf of the “unborn” remain silent when those who are already born live in poverty and hopelessness? Isn’t it ironic that many of the voices shout on behalf of the “unborn” are the first to “cast a stone” when the subject is capital punishment? Is one really “pro-life” when supporting the most powerful death-machine in military might that the world has ever known?

Why do we search in other countries for “weapons of mass destruction” while we continue to build and justify our own possession and threatened use of such?

We do have much to fear. When one nation with only 5% of the world’s population wants to continue a “lifestyle” which consumes at least 25% of the world’s resources, one must wonder how long this can continue before the masses rise up and demand a change? The exporting of our “culture” through TV, movies, and music has a way of putting the consumption disparities “in your face”.

Yet does our politics – the way we choose to organize our life together as a people, as a nation - need to be polarizing and based on fear and sometimes on hate? Are the divisions created to distract us from the growing chasm between the rich and poor in our own society (not to mention between us and the rest of the world, especially those in the southern hemisphere)?

Can we take time to stop the shouting and sloganeering to really listen to each other? Can we take time to explore why we feel afraid? Why we feel alienated from each other? Can we explore what our hopes and dreams are about?

Someone handed me a “business card” yesterday which read, “Vote ABB”. In smaller letters at the bottom it read, “Anybody but Bush”. Really? Hitler?, Saddam?, Fred Phelps? I can think of hundreds I wouldn’t support but why support anyone just to avoid someone else? Why not find a candidate who calls us to a vision of who we can be rather than who we are not?

When I travel abroad, I don’t want to have to apologize for being an American. I don’t want to secretly wish my passport read “Canadian”.

The Sabbath, Jubilee, and Reflections on Work

The Sabbath, Jubilee, and Reflections on Work
Steve Clemens, March 2004

A recent call from my father shocked me. I shouldn’t have been shocked as I realized for a long time that while we share some similar values in our lives and faith, there are many ways we have chosen to part company, hopefully without judging the other’s values. Clearly the latter includes our politics yet more significantly it has also increasingly included our theology. The recent conversation centered on my “lack of a job” and my seeming acceptance of that status while Christine stepped forward to serve as the “breadwinner” for the household. I suspect that some of the discomfort my dad felt about the situation was the practical issue of how he was to respond to the questions of friends and relatives when they asked him “what is Steve doing nowadays?” In the past the answer could be given the “he is building houses with Habitat for Humanity” or “he is working with poor black families in South Georgia”.

So much of who I am has often been (for me as well) wrapped up in what “work” I did. Too often the “work” was only reflected in who signed the paycheck rather than what I thought my life was really about. Even during my 12 years working for Habitat, I frequently took time off from the workweek to participate in peace vigils or demonstrations, other activities related to my faith community or acts of justice, and even framed some of the work I was doing for Habitat so that I could include protecting the environment as a rationale for some of the donations I accepted and passed on to others. “What do you do?” was always easier to answer by saying “Habitat” as a short, polite response. Even the years at Koinonia Partners allowed the shortcut response to be “I live in an intentional Christian community in southwest Georgia.” When one doesn’t have a “job”, it is harder to come up with a shortcut answer beyond “I’m taking a Sabbatical Year”.

The decision to leave my employment took several years to make as I grew increasingly disenchanted with the direction the local affiliate took. As the emphasis grew on increasing the production number of houses, I had less and less opportunity to get to know the homebuying families or the myriad of volunteers. More and more the need was stressed to produce reports showing the increase in the value of inkind donations with large corporate donations clearly supplanting the “widow’s mite”-type of donations from individuals. It became harder to reconcile spending my time seeking donations from some of the same corporate entities that my faith and values called me to demonstrate against. My trip to Iraq plus the looming of a war gave me the impetus to take the leap and quit my job. The Biblical concept of a “sabbatical” neatly fit into the newly-created void.

Was this just another case of midlife crisis? If by midlife crisis one means re-examining what one does with who one hopes to be and trying other jobs to see if there is a better fit with ones values, it certainly could be that. I never have felt a call to a specific “vocation” other than to be a responsible “citizen” in both my politics and my faith: taking seriously what it means to be a citizen in the midst of one of the world’s great [sic] empires as well as a citizen of “the Kingdom (or reign) of God. For me, whatever “work” I do should be able to support and nurture the values I hold in both of these spheres.


It was a rabbi from Philadelphia, Arthur Waskow, who helped me remember what I’ve learned about the Sabbath. A workshop on “Free Time, Free People” at Sojourners 30th Anniversary Celebration in the summer of 2001 encouraged me to reassess my priorities and lifestyle. With much of my time and energy invested in my job at Habitat, I seemed to have less time for family, friends, and “enjoying life”. I have seldom lacked for money (due in part to a large inheritance passed on from my parents as well as a fairly frugal lifestyle also learned from my family of origin and reinforced by my 15 years at Koinonia.

When YHWH, the “breath of life” created our world, the scriptures said it was very good, creation reflected the abundance of God. In the midst of this work, the Biblical storyteller informs us that God “rested”, took a Sabbath- a time to rest, relax, reflect, and enjoy. This Sabbath principle is carried on in the Hebrew tradition as not only the 7th day but also the 7th year. After 7 sabbatical years, and addition year, a Jubilee Year follows. It is also a time to allow the land to remain fallow and “unproductive” as well as a time to restore the land to its original occupants as a mechanism of a radical economic redistribution which included forgiving debts and freeing slaves. 2003 served for me as a sabbatical year, 2004 is my time of Jubilee.

I must confess it is hard to lie fallow and remain unproductive in our society. How do you explain such to most people who have both engrained the “Protestant Work Ethic” and the spirit of Capitalism yet remain profoundly ignorant of the Biblical call to unproductiveness?

Remembering Bob Redd

Remembering Bob Redd
By Steve Clemens 2/29/04

What would lead my wife and me to take our 3-year old toddler and our infant son to Death Row? Why did my wife go to the Goodwill store to buy bracelets to wear to the prison? What led us to drive 2 ½ hours several times a year for nearly 10 years and to do research in an Atlanta library for hours on an old murder case from the 1970’s? The answer to all the above is Bob Redd.

After attending a Fellowship of Reconciliation conference at Berea College in 1980 and being convicted by Will Campbell to follow “one of the few direct commands by Jesus in the Bible” (to visit those in prison), I sat with Murphy Davis and her infant daughter, Hannah, on the long bus ride back to Georgia. I asked Murphy how I should go about this new challenge. She told me that when she got back to Atlanta, she’d send me the name of someone on Death Row to whom I could write. The name she sent to me at my Koinonia address was Bob Redd. So I began to write and received letters in return. After a few months, I was told Bob was being moved to a newly constructed prison in Jackson where all Death Row prisoners would now be [ware]housed.

I discovered that as the result of a lawsuit, prisoners who had not received a visit from a family member over a period of time could add other non-relatives to their visiting list. Bob had written and asked if I was willing to drive up to Jackson on a Saturday to meet and visit with him. It must be said that I was more than a little nervous and apprehensive as I walked down the long corridor, climbed the stairs, emptied my pockets, and walked through the metal detector after signing in and handing over my car keys, driver’s license, and license plate number. I was even more nervous after they called Bob’s name and proceeded to lock me in a long narrow room divided with a metal screen down the center, lengthwise. I supposed Bob would be brought to the other side and we’d talk through the protective barrier. But the door was unlocked on my side and a short white man dressed in white pants and a white denim shirt entered before the door was relocked with just the two of us inside. Hopefully, this was the man who had written those friendly letters - the same man I discovered later who had brutally beaten another man to death with a tire iron!

That first visit lasted about an hour. I learned that Bob had married and had fathered five sons. Tearfully, Bob told me that they had never come to visit him at the prison. His ex-wife was also now in jail and his mother was in poor health and was rarely able to visit because of the stress the visits caused her weak heart. I discovered that the flowerily handwriting on the letters I had received was not Bob’s. Bob had never learned to read or write. (His trial records included the fact that his IQ was in the range that classified him as “mentally retarded” but that fact was never brought up in his trial by his defense lawyer.). Bob told me that the inmate in the adjoining cell read him my letters and then wrote what Bob had asked him to write in response.

After visiting with Bob over several years, he asked if I would bring my wife, Christine, with me to visit him. She came along and we saw how pleased Bob was that she had made the effort. After our son Micah was born in 1983, Bob pleaded with me to bring him as well so he could meet him. After all, Bob’s sons had never come to see him and that really hurt him. It was not an easy decision to bring one’s only child for a visit on Death Row. But we saw how much it would mean to Bob and we hesitantly decided to take a chance. On our way home after the visit, Christine and I both cried, overwhelmed at the love and joy Bob bestowed on that infant. Needless to say, when Zach was born, both boys had to travel with us on our journeys to the prison at Jackson.

The prison didn’t make visits with children very easy. We were not allowed to take any food or toys into the visiting room. Even cloth diapers couldn’t come in because of the sharp metal diaper pins so we purchased disposable diapers just for our visits. Fortunately Christine was breastfeeding the infant so food didn’t become an issue. It was Bob who asked Christine to wear bracelets when she came and told us to bring kerchiefs as well. Both were somehow allowed into the visiting room and Bob twirled and knotted the kerchiefs into a ball to play “catch” with the boys. The bracelets quickly became spinning tops or were rolled the length of the room for the boys to chase- to their, and Bob’s, delight. Bob taught us that a person capable of a drunken, murderous attack was also the same person capable of love and tenderness. It was a humbling lesson I’ll never forget.

Bob was scared on Death Row. He told me he was afraid of others on his cell block, especially the “black inmates”. [It took me several years before I found out who wrote his letters to me for him. It was Marcus, an African-American who was his “best friend”. In Bob’s mind, Marcus wasn’t a “threat”, he was just Marcus!] To cope with his fears, Bob developed a habit of swallowing metal objects – Coke cans, bed springs, needles … in order to be sent to the hospital, thus “escaping” Death Row. With his limited mental capacity, it was his way of trying to deal with the pressures of his confinement. In the winter of 1990, I received word from Marcus that Bob was once again in the hospital and it “didn’t look good.” After a few days, I was told that Bob’s infection had taken his life.

Christine and I had met Bob’s mother, Louise, several times at her trailer home. I joined her, a few family members, and a volunteer lawyer from New Jersey who had kept Bob alive over the years with appeals as we laid Bob to rest. Ironically, the State of Georgia passed legislation within six months of Bob’s death which would have spared his life: no more would the state execute prisoners who were “mentally retarded”.

Visiting Bob was a blessing to me. He challenged my stereotypes and forced me to see his humanity and dignity. My sons remember Bob as a gentle man who played with them and exuded joy at their existence. Thank you, Bob, for being Christ to me and my family. May you rest in God’s peace.

Conscientious Objection and Jury Duty.

Conscientious Objection and Jury Duty
By Steve Clemens 2/29/04

When I registered for the military draft in 1968, the US war on the people of Vietnam was approaching its most brutal phase. Although my college (Wheaton College) had mandated that all male students be enrolled in ROTC, it wasn’t until I stared over the barrel of my rifle on the target range that I realized the target I was aiming at was not as it appeared: the circular target in front of me morphed in my mind to the figure of the “Viet Cong”. My father’s voice echoed in the back of my mind, “Never point your gun at anything you don’t intend to kill.” Setting the gun down, I knew that Jesus’ call to “love my enemies” required me to register as a conscientious objector.

In the 1980’s, I received a summons to report for jury duty in Sumter County, GA. This was somewhat surprising as the practice for many years in that county was to automatically disqualify members of the Koinonia community from serving as jurors. The judicial officials routinely decided that Koinonia folk weren’t the kind of people they wanted to decide the fate of those accused of violating the law. Having experienced city and county jails and federal prison as a result of nonviolent witness against the Vietnam War and our manufacture of nuclear weapons, I knew first-hand that our penal system was racist and dehumanizing. I had experienced that the “corrections” system not only did not “correct”, it was a dysfunctional place that had created more embittered alumni once someone graduated from those concertina-wired warehouses we call jail or prison.

Recalling my Mennonite-Anabaptist heritage as well as the history of the Early Church, I was skeptical of participating in a system which could condemn others to a place I knew to be alienating and inhumane. I decided that my desire to follow the way of Jesus had led me to be a “conscientious objector” to jury duty. When I was included in the jury pool for my first potential trial, the Judge asked if there was anyone who could not serve in an impartial manner. I raised my hand and stood in the midst of 40 or so other potential jurors. “Unless I am given assurance that a jail or prison sentence will not be considered as a result of this case, I will not find the defendant guilty. I have served time in our prison system and have found it to be profoundly dehumanizing and as a Christian I cannot agree to convict anyone to jail until or unless the systems of jails and prisons are changed and prisoners are treated in a way that respects their humanity,” I stated.

Needless to say, I was not chosen for that jury. I assumed that the prosecutor would excuse me from service for the balance of the week but he did not want to let me “off the hook”. So, I was able to confess my convictions before my fellow citizens twice more that week. Hopefully my testimony to the call of Christ did not fall on hard soil. Hopefully some of the other potential jurors were able to reflect on our responsibility to withdraw consent from this wicked system.

I have not been called again to serve on a jury but I have continued to find myself hauled before judges and juries and into jail because of my desire to follow the call of Jesus to be a peacemaker. Relating to new-found friends “inside” has been easier knowing that I’ve refused to send others there.