Greenpeace opposes illegal mahogany shipments into the US.
In April 2002, several miles off the coast of Florida, two
Greenpeace activists boarded the Jade - a ship carrying wood
illegally exported from the Brazilian Amazon.
The activists made it clear by their appearance, words and
actions that they were engaged in a peaceful effort. The fact that
the activists had "Greenpeace" on their boats and clothing helped
to reassure the crew of the Jade that the people coming on board
were peaceful and safety conscious. When they boarded the ship,
using a ladder hanging from its side, they brought with them a
banner reading, "President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging".
US Government response
But instead of intercepting the contraband and prosecuting the
smugglers, the US government is going after Greenpeace. Making this
the first time in history that the US government has prosecuted an
entire organization for free speech related activities, and they
are trying to do it without a jury trial.
The activists off the coast of Miami were continuing a long US
tradition of protest and civil disobedience. This tradition
stretches back to include the civil rights movement, women's
suffrage and the Boston Tea Party. Plus, they were essentially
acting as whistle-blowers - publicly exposing, and trying to
prevent, the importation of illegally harvested mahogany wood.
Their action was a small, but important, contribution to a
global effort - which helped prompt an agreement, at an
international conference that November, to give mahogany greater
For its work on this issue, Greenpeace received praise from the
European Union, and the government of Brazil... And now a landmark
indictment from the US government.
Charges and what's at stake
- One violation of U.S.C. section 2279, which prohibits persons,
"not being duly authorized by law for the purpose," from "[going]
on board any vessel about to arrive at the place of her
destination, before her actual arrival, and before she has been
- And one count of conspiracy, under 18 U.S.C. section 371, to
commit this offense.
The potential fine, of $10,000 USD per charge, is serious money
for an organization that doesn't accept corporate or government
donations. The organization could also receive up to five years of
Ongoing government monitoring, if sentenced to probation, would
make Greenpeace's role as a watchdog and advocacy group difficult,
to say the least. But it is the legal precedent that could be most
damaging for Greenpeace and other advocacy groups in the US.
A crucial part of what Greenpeace does is the exercise of its
right to free speech in calling attention to environmental
problems. A tactic this protest exemplifies: In an effort to help
save the Amazon, activists engaged in a very public direct
Obviously, a conviction in this case could have a chilling
effect on the ability of Greenpeace, and other groups, to
effectively criticize powerful corporate and government targets on
social and environmental issues.
A trial is scheduled to take place this fall.
briefs and more background (on the Greenpeace USA website).
Miami New Times:
The Greenpeace Effect: "Environmental advocates claim they just
want loggers to play by the rules. But Brazilian mahogany barons,
local lumber lords, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Port of
Miami all want these tree-huggers stopped"
New York Times: Typical
Greenpeace Protest Leads to Unusual Prosecution: "It was a
routine act of civil disobedience until, 15 months after the
incident, federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Greenpeace itself
for authorizing the boarding. The group says the indictment
represents a turning point in the history of American dissent."
"The extraordinary effort made to find and use this obscure law
strongly suggests a campaign of selective prosecution - the
greatest scourge of the First Amendment."
--George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley,
special to the
Los Angeles Times in Arbiter Online
Tell the US Government to prosecute illegal loggers, not