Civil Liberties tried and tested

Star Wars activists and journalists walk free

Feature story - 15 April, 2002
Four Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists who faced felony charges following a peaceful protest against the US Star Wars missile programme last July have walked free from court with varying probationary periods and one sentence of time served.

Star Wars 17 walking into court in downtown Los Angeles.

Fifteen international activists and the two journalists originally faced double felony charges and up to six years in jail, but the felony charges were dropped in January when all 17 pled guilty to a misdemeanour offence of conspiracy to trespass.

Mike Townsley, Greenpeace disarmament campaigner said, "We are pleased this case is now over. But the threats posed by Star Wars are not."

"The process of nuclear escalation has already begun, the US Administration is now threatening limited nuclear strikes and planning to arm Star Wars interceptor missiles with nuclear warheads, blowing apart the myth of a defensive shield - this is an offensive weapon. If the US continues with this programme it can only lead to a re-ignition of the arms race and a return to the 'cold war'."

Henk Haazen (New Zealand) received 3 years probation, Brent Maness (USA) received 2 years probation, Dan Rudie (USA) received 1 years probation, Guy Levacher (Canada) received 18 months probation, Steve Morgan (UK freelance journalist) received 1 year probation & Jorge Torres (Spain freelance journalist) received time served for three days already spent in jail.

Nine of the Star Wars activists were sentenced in January, and two more last Friday, April 12th - all received one years' probation. The 17 defendants came from the USA, UK, Germany, India, Sweden, New Zealand/(the Netherlands), Canada, Spain & Australia.

Statements from the defendants

Henk Haazen - New Zealand:

Your Honour, Thanks for the opportunity to say a few words, I have enjoyed this court as much as it is possible under the circumstances…. and have a lot of respect for the style in which it is run, at the same time I will be very happy when this is over, as it has messed up my life a bit for the last 9 months.

However, the reasons why we did our protest action at Vandenberg are still there, and I feel as strongly about the need to campaign against the Star Wars missile defence system now as I did on 14 July. September 11th showed that you can never guarantee a 100% secure defence system that totally isolates or defends a big democratic country like the US from outside attacks.

The Star Wars missile shield system proposes to build a protective umbrella over the US, by doing so it is forcing other nations into a new nuclear weapons race that nobody can afford both in terms of money and resources, and because of the destabilising effect it has on the current nuclear weapons status quo.

The money spend on this program would be better spend on improving life and the living environment for this planet and building bridges of friendship to neighbouring countries.I think that you can compare the situation, to a being a wealthy person living in a poorer neighbourhood.

Living as a wealthy person in a poor area you can choose not to have much to do with the neighbourhood, build a big wall around the property, put guards, dogs and locked gates on it, and try to defend and protect your property like that. This is expensive, builds up resentment and a negative reaction from your neighbours.

Alternatively you can talk to your neighbours get a bit involved with them in a nice way and help out here and there. In short become good neighbours with them, even if they come from a different culture or race and have a different outlook on life, religion etc.

Making friends with you neighbours is a much more effective way to ensure a quiet night's sleep.

For me our protest on the 14th of July was to draw public attention to the fact that the US is in the process of isolating itself and building a wall around itself, ignoring protest from most major world governments at the same time.

I'm from NZ and felt that it was necessary to come to the US and together with my American friends play an active role in the peaceful anti-nuclear protest at Vandenberg, so that our voice could be heard by the people of this country, as this is the place were most of the changes need to be made.

Your honour thanks you for your time.

Guy Levacher - Canada:

Your Honour, This has been my experience since July 14th 2001. I was arrested by the FBI, chained and shackled. I spent 6 days in maximum security in a state penitentiary with hardcore criminals, drug traffickers and murderers.

Travel restrictions were imposed upon me for 4 months, limiting me to the Los Angeles area, prohibiting me from returning to my country, to be with my family and to provide financial and emotional support. I was unable to be at my wife's' side while her mother was dying of cancer. I was unable to pursue my law studies, for which I had worked so hard.

I was a nine month sentence for having exercised my basic human right to protest peacefully. As I stand before you today, I ask that you allow me to return home to continue my legal studies as I await the arrival of my first child.

Thank you.

Brent Maness - USA:

As a citizen of the United States it is my duty to oppose the policies of our government that are contrary to my political and ideological beliefs, this civic responsibility is one I refuse to take lightly. I believe that civil disobedience is an effective and appropriate method of voicing one's opposition to the injustice and violence perpetuated against living beings and the Earth. I respect the rule of law, but feel that in extreme instances even legitimate law should be broken to prevent a greater evil. The rulings at Nuremberg found that it is intolerable for an individual to acquiesce when he is aware that his government is in violation of international law. I believed, and still believe, that it was my responsibility as a citizen of the United States to do everything possible to prevent a violation of the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty. With that said, I am prepared to accept any punishment that the court deems fitting for the crime that I have committed.

I took part in the aforementioned action because I believe that by testing the Missile Defence System the U.S. is in violation of an international law that takes precedence over U.S. national law. The development of the Star Wars program, the consequent U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty and other misguided and unfortunate actions taken by the Bush Administration have already begun to exacerbate international instability and create a new nuclear arms race. This is apparent as the Bush administration embraces the cold-war era policy of "mutually assured destruction" as the best means of preventing nuclear war and speaks of using tactical nuclear weapons in a first strike against the so called "axis of evil".

I fear the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been forsaken for the ignorance that often accompanies fear and hatred. Now it is more important than ever that our nation exercise caution and prudence when making policy decisions. I believe that it will prove beneficial for U.S. economic and security interests to stop Star Wars and re-examine the policy decisions, both here and abroad, that have led us to our current state of war and reciprocal violence.

Dan Rudie - USA:

I do not take breaking the law lightly and while I do admit my guilt in this case, my convictions are important enough to me to accept the risks involved in taking direct action and the consequences of those actions. I respect the law and will respect any probation this court decides, as I have done for the last nine months.

Steve Morgan - UK (Journalist):

Your Honour, if it may please the court, I would like to make a brief statement. I am a professional freelance photographer and have been for over 20 years of my working life. During this time I have taken pictures of wars, famines, civil strife and environmental destruction. During my documentation of such powerful events I have also recorded the struggles of peoples and individuals for their own personal dignity and the triumph of hope and the human spirit over great odds.

In a world view increasingly shaped by corporate advertising and government spin the actions of individuals striving to be heard above the clamour of big business and political self interest, I believe, deserves to be given a hearing.

I do not believe there is such a thing as objective photojournalism. We all have our own unique view of the world and as such will attempt to describe and make sense of it in such terms. As a photojournalist my interpretation of events is shaped by my personal views and not by the persons or organisations who commission the assignments. I would shoot the same pictures whether I was assigned by the Washington Post , the London Times or indeed Greenpeace.

As the Magnum photographer Robert Capa once famously remarked "if your pictures aren't good enough - you're not close enough" - which, your Honour, had I chosen to ignore this particular piece of advice, I probably wouldn't have found myself standing here today in your courtroom.