Saturday, February 22, 2014

147.7 - Hero Award: Transform Now Plowshares

Hero Award: Transform Now Plowshares

Now for one of our occasional features, the Hero Award, given to people who just do the right thing. In this particular case, it's a rather big "right thing."

In the predawn hours of July 28, 2012, three nonviolent activists - Catholic nun Megan Rice, 82, Vietnam veteran and Catholic layman Michael Walli, 63, and house painter Gregory Boertje-Obed, 56 - hiked a wooded ridge outside the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They cut through four fences and splashed human blood and spray-painted biblical messages on the exterior of the building that warehouses an estimated 400 tons of highly-enriched uranium - enough for 10,000 nuclear bombs.

The three activists, who call themselves “Transform Now Plowshares,” were convicted last May of intending to harm national security under a statute supposedly intended to address terrorism. On February 18, they were sentenced to between three and over 5 years in prison on top of the 8-plus months they have already been imprisoned awaiting sentencing. The prison terms will be followed by three years of supervised release. There was also a demand they pay $53,000 in restitution, apparently to cover the cost of repairing the fence and cleaning the paint.

The judge, District Court Judge Amul Thapar, made some effort to be understanding. For example, he denied the government's demand that the trio be sentenced to far longer terms and he praised the trio’s conscience and good works while allowing each to make a statement and even lead the attendees in a brief song.

However, he could not refrain from a condescending lecture which revealed a deep ignorance of the tradition and role of radical nonviolent activism and radical nonviolent protest. For example, he said that perhaps the threat of significant jail time “will lead people back to the political process I fear they’ve given up on” and that “If all that energy and passion was devoted to changing the laws, perhaps real change would’ve occurred by today” - as if such legal efforts had not been going on "with all that energy and passion" since the dawn of the nuclear age.

In their final statements, the three said in different ways that the maintenance of a stockpile of immoral and costly weapons that violate international laws against weapons of mass destruction - and face facts, people, nukes are the only weapons that really, truly fit that description - that maintenance of such a stockpile is a greater crime than any of which they were accused. Which is undoubtedly true.

The government says these three are criminals, no different from terrorists and saboteurs. I say they are heroes.

Footnote: The trio’s intrusion shut down operations at the site for two weeks, prompted four congressional hearings, and exposed a glitch-ridden security system that cost $150 million a year to operate. Babcock + Wilcox, the private contractor managing the site, was docked $12.2 million in fees and lost a 10-year contract worth $23 billion to manage both Y-12 and another nuclear weapons facility in Amarillo, Texas. WSI Oak Ridge, which provided the security guards at the site, lost its subcontract.

So the government could have said "Hey, gee, thanks for exposing all these security flaws" and called them whisleblowers - but then again, if it did that, the Obama administration would have wanted them to be put away for even longer.


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