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.