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Bryan Law: Waihopai Ploughshares Trial - Day 5

Waihopai Ploughshares Trial - Day 5


By Bryan Law of Cairns Peace by Peace

The testimony and cross-examination of the Waihopai defendents is complete. Defence counsel are well pleased so far. Adi Leason enlivened the jury. Peter Murnane educated them. Sam Land loved and honoured them.

On day 4 it had sometimes felt as if Father Peter's testimony was too dense - too replete with facts and information about the horror, the inhumanity of war, and the nature of Waihopai's complicity in crimes against humanity. Day 5 was a new morning. The jury was refreshed. Peter was refreshed, and he spoke tellingly of water-boarding, the horror of rendition, the nature of depleted Uranium (DU) and its medical consequences. He referred to the work of the prominent Australian doctor, Helen Caldicott, and others.

A strong element of this testimony was when Peter spoke about his efforts to campaign against the use of DU, and the complete stone-wall response he'd gotten from all in authority. The US Consul in Auckland, and NZ Parliamentarians, had simply failed to reply to correspondence or take any action. This was despite powerful advocacy by Father Peter, including a five week Lenten vigil in 2007 and the distribution of leaflets at the Good Friday service of the Anglican Cathedral in Auckland - an action subsequently supported by Bishop Randerson.

At the heart of these actions was a reference to "Christ crucified in Iraq", and Jesus' words that "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me". Judge Harrop asked Father Peter to lodge his leaflet as an exhibit, and he did so.

Peter pointed out that the failure of the authorities to respond in any civilised or serious manner was "one of the things which drove me to my actions at Waihopai". And then we were on to the action itself..."When we got to the base that wet, muddy night".

During Adi Leason's testimony there had been a moment of general levity when, after exposing the 40,000 Volt electrified wires, the bolt-cutters had been passed to Peter to cut them. Peter explained in his testimony that he had been the obvious person for this task.

"I was the oldest of the three. I have no family. I'm more expendable." He also explained that he did not think any shock would be fatal. It was a modest display of courage and determination.

After breaching the two outer fences, Peter's job was to set up a simple shrine. Red silk fabric on a foldable cardboard box. An icon of Jesus. A picture of the murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero. He referred to priest, nuns, and lay folk who'd been murdered around the world for preaching justice and liberation. He said "We knew all these victims of the war machine. We took them with us. We prayed, we sang, we worshipped God in praise of life."

The conclusion of Peter's testimony was like a little Homily. He quoted Gandhi's 1932 proclamation that, "Noncooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good". Then he talked about the way that the people of New Zealand - good people - had been kept ignorant of what was done at Waihopai, and in their ignorance were contributing to the war machine and the destruction it caused.

The nub of his argument was that it is the citizen's responsibility to constrain the violence of the state, and that any failure to do so makes us complicit in crimes against humanity. "Everybody", he said, "can do something". He finished with the golden rule to: "Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.

In his cross-examination the prosecutor, Mr Marshall, kept to the pattern that he'd established with Adi Leason.

First he gets the defendants to admit to all the technical "elements" of the offence: acting together, acting intentionally. Knowing they would cause damage, causing damage, having no permission from authority, not owning the base, knowing it was government land. This is always accomplished in less than five minutes as the defendants freely admit those elements.

Then Mr Marshall has to elicit evidence that undermines the potential defences of "Necessity", "Self-Defence", and "Claim of Right". In this he seems to have two bob each way.

First he tries to get the defendants to admit they live in a democracy that functions properly, where the PM and the government act wisely and accountably, and the citizen acts most effectively through a petition and a vote. It's a nice theory.

Then he does the same with the United Nations and International Law. "The International Criminal Court (ICC) is able to act against war crimes, isn't it?" he says. "They've acted against Milosevic of Serbia, haven't they?" "They could restrain the United States, couldn't they?" Conveniently forgetting each time that the US has a veto power in the Security Council, has never been charged with any offence at international law, and has refused to sign up for the legitimacy of the ICC.

Mr Marshall concludes this part of his disquisition by claiming that Iraq now has an elected government, that the UN has subsequently authorised the presence of coalition forces, and that everything is warm and rosy on God's green Earth. Mr Marshall hasn't noticed that the Emperor is naked.

His next strategy is the opposite of his first. He goes all bolshie, and tries to get the defendants to admit that if they were serious about disrupting Waihopai they would have made more strenuous efforts - even to blow the place up, "at the very least, you would have deflated the second dome!"

I don't think he is seriously advocating such action. Rather he is setting the scene for the main thrust of his attack: that the action was not designed to save lives, but to attract publicity. Under NZ law, as under Australian law, it is clearly impermissible to damage property for the sake of publicity.

None of the defendants went along with Mr Marshall's strategy.

In responding to Mr Marshall's assertion that the US could be adequately dealt with by international law Peter Murnane said, "Yes, but we were also aware of the enormous power of the US to veto and bribe. We were concerned to act urgently in defence of life". He also said the Waihopai actions were to serve as inspiration for others, with the implication that a growing movement of citizens taking direct action would have the kind of effect Mr Marshall wants - one of closing down the war crimes altogether.

After the morning adjournment the youngest defendant, Sam Land, entered the witness box. In some ways Sam couldn't be more different from Peter Murnane. 2m tall and lanky, in his mid-20s with a pony tail and gumboots, Sam is both an old-time farmer with a miniscule carbon footprint (his family still use horses to till the soil), and a modern globalist with world-wide perspective. His similarity with Peter is as a sober man of deep faith.

Like many citizens he was disturbed by the war against Iraq, and the events that were unfolding.

Sam gave evidence that he sailed to Tonga and Fiji as part of undertanding that part of his family's heritage, and that during this journey he also went to Australia and visited the desert town of Alice Springs where he met a group of Christians Against ALL Terrorism on trial for conducting a citizens' inspection of Pine Gap (a US spy base in that country).

Disclosure: I was one of those on trial. (Meeting Sam Land in October 2006 was one of the highlights of that drawn out process.)

Sam said that he learned a lot in Alice Springs, some of it ugly, and some inspiring. He saw a photograph of a father holding the maimed dead body of his child and crying in desolation (tendered as an exhibit). He learned more about what was being done in our name, and he learned that, "it is possible as a citizen to stand up against powers that are corrupt, and that everyone has that power to stand up". He learned from Ciaron O'Reilly that the Pitstop Ploughshares in Dublin had been acquitted by a jury because that jury accepted the disarmament action was justified.

While in Alice Springs he had been arrested for protest action (praying outside the Pine Gap base) and charged with, "failing to cease to loiter".

After returning to the farm at Hokianga Sam had begun to research more into New Zealand's connection with the war, and had got to the point that as he rode and worked the land he was aware of the great bounty and natural beauty of this land. He imagined that folk across the sea had the same love of their land, and that in Iraq those people were being bombed, and their land destroyed, by an unscrupulous and brutal military machine. He felt that, were the situation reversed, those people would try and help him.

He joined the Anti-Bases Campaign, learned what they had learned, and realised that 20 years of legitimate protest had proved futile.

"I took offence to NZ being complicit in US wars without any knowledge of it. Had we been asked, I'm pretty confident we would have said no! But we weren't asked. The PM who authorised the base (Lange) said later that he hadn't known what it did." He kept studying and pondering.

"I got to the point where I could not go about my daily life without thinking that I had to do something."

"To do nothing is to be complicit. I had a right and a duty to do something".

Under the influence of his Catholism and the Catholic Worker house in Christchurch - and with knowledge of the ploughshares actions based on Isaiah's prophecy, he joined with Peter Murnane and Adi Leason to carry out the Waihopai Ploughshares action.

Again we heard the story of that night. The rain, the mud, the comedy and the miracles, where three well-meaning amatuers succesfully subverted the so-called omnipotent powers of the state to break into and disable the Waihopai base.

I find it significant that the youngest defendant best answered the cross-examination by the Crown with simple statements from the heart.

"I believe the war in Iraq is illegal".

"I'm not sure how democratic the government in Iraq is".

"If the UN could solve the problem, I have to ask why haven't they?"

"I would say that eventually International Law can be made to work, but it can take some time, and by that time a lot of people have died and suffered".

"We believe that every day sees a war crime committed in Iraq".

"Symbolism is important, but the over-riding intention was to disrupt the flow of intelligence".

"We believe that at any time information collected is deadly, so even a short delay will save lives".

And so this part of the trial reached its conclusion. Judge Harrop let the jury go at 4.15 pm, telling them that Monday at least will be taken up with legal argument, and the Court will be closed. He hopes the public part of the trial will resume at 10.00 am on Tuesday 16 March. So do I.

Right now I'm on the Interisland ferry to Picton, and travelling down to Christchurch. The physical beauty of this country is awe-inspiring and, like Sam Land I find it hard to reconcile with the way empire exploits and dominates such beauty for the immoral purposes of war.

I feel privileged to be here, and to be at the trial among the beautiful souls of Aotearoa's Christian communities. I feel very strongly that God is with us, and especially that God is with Adi, Peter and Sam in their time of trial and triumph.

The trial continues.

***

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