Selective prosecution of Greenpeace in the US foiled again

Feature story - 3 August, 2005
A judge in Alaska has overturned a jury verdict and acquitted Greenpeace of failing to register oil spill contingency plans. District Court Judge Kevin Miller declared the evidence did not support the guilty verdicts.

The Arctic Sunrise in Prince William Sound.

"The decision to remove these verdicts from the province of the jury isone that this court does not take lightly," said Miller, who presidedover the jury trial.

If ever there was a trumped-up charge, this was it. The case stemmedfrom a voyage the  Arctic Sunrise made into Alaskan waters in 2004to protest irresponsible forestry practices.

The Arctic Sunrise had, and still has, all of the international environmental standards certificates required.

Stichting Marine Services (SMS) - the operator of the Arctic Sunrise -made a clerical error in not getting state confirmation of an oil spill contingency plan.  Arepresentative of SMS admitted the error, corrected it, and made itclear SMS were ready to accept the consequences.  However, apparently because theship's operator didn't provide a juicy political target, theresponsible party was never prosecuted in favour of a target the stateprosecutor liked better: Greenpeace USA.

The fact that three defendants  who didn't own or operate theArctic Sunrise were forced to stand trial demonstrated just how politically motivated the charges and the case were.  GreenpeaceUSA was working to save the Tongass forest against powerful politicaland commercial interests.  And for that, the authorities wanted Greenpeace to bear thefull brunt of the law. Any law. Even if the State had to stretch tomake it stick.

The decision was the equivalent of fining someone US$ 200,000 forforgetting to have their driver's license in their pocket, when theperson they charged wasn't even driving or in fact required to have adriver's license.  Authoritieswho didn't want their poor environmental record exposed becamehell-bent on punishing us for highlighting environmental destruction.

It's become a chillingly familiar pattern.  Last year, US Attorney General Ashcroft took Greenpeace to court under a century-old law governing "sailor mongering" (prostitution)in an unprecedented legal harassment of a public-interest organisationfor the peaceful actions of its supporters.  In that case, we wereexposing a shipment ofBrazilian mahogany into Miami which was illegal under US law.  Thedestroyers of the Amazon went free, while the Bush Administration putGreenpeace on trial.

And in the news currently are revelations that the FBI has been using anti-terrorism funds and powers to spy on critics of the Bush Administration like Greenpeace, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a raft of other public-interest groups.

Reacting to the Alaskan judge's decision to throw out the chargesagainst Greenpeace, assistant attorney general James Fayette told theAnchorage Daily News:"I've been a prosecutor in Anchorage for 12 years and I've never seenthis. ... I've never heard of it happening."

It's called justice, Mr. Fayette.