Bush takes Greenpeace to court

Feature story - 12 May, 2004
Question: What do the following have in common?A tall blondeA 55 year old teenage runawayA top Miami lawyerA Brazilian legislatorThe US Attorney general, John AshcroftA former Clinton aideA death threat19th century brothelsOh... and a lot of trees

What do these have in common? A grave threat to civil liberties: a US lawsuit against Greenpeace calling us sailormongerers for protecting the Amazon.

Answer: Greenpeace

Throughout the 33-year history of Greenpeace the most unexpected people have come together to protect the environment and used non- violent direct action to highlight environmental crimes and injustice.

But this collection is perhaps one of the most extraordinary. What they do in the coming weeks could have significant implications not only for the future of Greenpeace in the US, but also for civil disobedience and the right to freedom of speech for all in America and even beyond.

Next week, on May 17th, Greenpeace USA will be under threat of being declared a criminal organisation at the behest of the US Attorney General, under an obscure law that has been invoked only twice in its 130 years on the statute books - the last time was more than 100 years ago.

Individual activists have been prosecuted in the past for carrying out action in support of Greenpeace campaigns worldwide - it is not unusual, and those individuals are prepared to take the consequences of their actions.

In April 2002, six Greenpeace activists did just that. After two of them boarded a commercial ship, the APL Jade, which was bringing illegal mahogany into the port of Miami, Florida, they pleaded guilty, were fined and sentenced to "time served" - the weekend they all spent in jail. The judicial process had run its course.

Or so we thought. 15 months later Greenpeace USA headquarters in Washington was served notice that the US Attorney General's office would be prosecuting the entire organisation for the action - the first time in history that the US Government has prosecuted an advocacy group for a free-speech related activity.

In a matter of a few weeks, US law could be used in an unprecedented way to declare Greenpeace USA a criminal organisation, as a result of acting to protect Brazilian mahogany - a species now declared at risk according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It is worth noting here that at the time of the CITES declaration, many governments congratulated Greenpeace for the years of campaign work to protect the species. Now one government is prosecuting us for doing the same thing.

While Greenpeace sits in the dock in Miami, the loggers, shippers and traders of that illegal mahogany have cashed in and laughed at the law. Illegally logged wood is still going to the US and other countries around the world, the criminal underworld is still operating in the heart of the Amazon, those trying to protect the world's greatest rainforest are still operating under threat of death and sometimes dying, and countries like the US are still failing to live up to their promise under CITES to protect mahogany.

But this case is not just about Greenpeace and the Amazon. On trial is also the fundamental and cherished right to freedom of speech and civil disobedience. Many leaders and other advocacy groups in the US have recognised the great risk to civil liberties this prosecution presents and are supporting Greenpeace. They include former US Vice President Al Gore, the civil rights leader Julian Bond and the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Sierra Club.

If you want to know more then check out http://www.greenpeaceusa.org/trial

But, back to the original question. Who are all these characters?

Hilary Hosta Hilary Hosta is a young woman from California who spent a weekend in jail and was subsequently convicted with the other five Greenpeace supporters of taking action against the APL Jade - the ship bringing the illegal logged mahogany into the Port of Miami, Florida. Rose Young Rose Young is an Italian American who has worked for Greenpeace for most of her adult life after running away from home in her teenage years. Now a grandmother of five and mother of three, she has been at the heart of some of Greenpeace's most successful campaigns worldwide. Jane Moscowitz Jane Moscowitz is one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Miami, Florida. Environmental prosecutions are not normally on her case book, but this is not a normal case... Hamilton Casara Hamilton Casara is a member of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies and former President of IBAMA, the environmental enforcement agency of Brazil. He has first hand knowledge of the value of Greenpeace's environmental work in Brazil and beyond: "We are grateful to Greenpeace for helping us preserve the forests, it is very important to defend democratic principles." Evil incarnate John Ashcroft is the man at the top of the US Department of Justice, who believe Greenpeace USA should be declared criminal for alerting the authorities to a crime that was about to happen on US soil. He is ultimately responsible for risking all our rights to freedom of speech through this prosecution. David Halperin David Halperin is a lawyer and former White House aide for Bill Clinton. Today he is representing Greenpeace USA in court to ensure that the real criminals are brought to before the courts, not an environmental organisation that is upholding the rights of freedom of speech and protest while working to protect the Amazon. Paulo Adario Paulo Adario has worked for Greenpeace in the heart of the Amazon for many years. He has seen the consequences of the illegal and unsustainable trade in mahogany and other wood first hand, witnessed the use of violence and slavery that is endemic in the logging industry, known environmental activists who have been murdered as they tried to protect the greatest rainforest in the world and is himself under threat of death for his work. Evil incarnate "Sailormongering" was the conduct that an 1872 US law was aimed at preventing, the practice of tavern and brothel owners waylaying ships heading into port and enticing their crews ashore, stealing their money and rendering the ship unable to function. It has been used twice in 130 years. This is the law under which Greenpeace USA has been indicted. The Amazon The Amazon rainforest is the lungs of the world. It has almost unimaginable biodiversity, is home to tens of millions of people and a vital component in the fight against global warming. And still it is being systematically stripped by money hungry, corrupt logging companies ready to use any means necessary. If we do not continue to act to protect it, it will be lost forever.

All of these folks will be in Miami in the lead up to and during the trial, with the exception of John Ashcroft, the monkey, and the 19th century prostitute. Sadly, Ashcroft is not required to give evidence about why the Bush Administration feels the need to outlaw Greenpeace, nor will he be able to answer why the Bush Administration feels the need to allow the real criminals to go unpunished and the Amazon to continue to be plundered.

Take action!

Tell Bush to prosecute illegal loggers, not peaceful protestors.

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Greenpeace depends on your contributions even more when we're under attack from the US government. In order to ensure that we remain an independent voice for the planet, we don't accept corporate or government funds: we rely on the small donations of millions of supporters. Greenpeace exists because this fragile earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs action. Please help by becoming a supporter today.