Selective prosecution of Greenpeace in the US foiled again

Feature story - August 18, 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 is one that this court does not take lightly," said Miller, who presided over the jury trial.

If ever there was a trumped-up charge, this was it. The case stemmed from a voyage the  Arctic Sunrise made into Alaskan waters in 2004 to 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.  A representative of SMS admitted the error, corrected it, and made it clear SMS were ready to accept the consequences.  However, apparently because the ship's operator didn't provide a juicy political target, the responsible party was never prosecuted in favour of a target the state prosecutor liked better: Greenpeace USA.

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

The decision was the equivalent of fining someone US$ 200,000 for forgetting to have their driver's license in their pocket, when the person they charged wasn't even driving or in fact required to have a driver's license.  Authorities who didn't want their poor environmental record exposed became hell-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 organisation for the peaceful actions of its supporters.  In that case, we were exposing a shipment of Brazilian mahogany into Miami which was illegal under US law.  The destroyers of the Amazon went free, while the Bush Administration put Greenpeace 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 charges against Greenpeace, assistant attorney general James Fayette told the Anchorage Daily News: "I've been a prosecutor in Anchorage for 12 years and I've never seen this. ... I've never heard of it happening."

It's called justice, Mr. Fayette.