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Three nuns and one unholy case /Die drei Nonnen und der böse Fall

Did the the nuns' actions interfered with national defense? / Haben die Aktionen der drei Nonnen die nationale Sicherheit beeinträchtigt?

Vor über einem Jahr, im Juli 2003, wurden drei Dominikaner-Nonnen, Schwester Ardeth Platte, Schwester Jackie Hudson und Schwester Carolyn Gilbert, von einem US-amerikanischen Bezirksgericht zu empfindlichen Gefängnisstrafen verurteilt. (Wir berichteten: "Nonnen wegen Anti-Atomwaffenprotest zu Gefängnis verurteilt".) Ihr Vergehen: Sie waren im Oktober 2002 in ein Atomraketen-Silo in der Nähe von Greeley im Bundesstaat Colorado eingebrochen, hatten mit Hämmern eine Betonwand bearbeitet, gebetet und mit ihrem eigenen Blut Kreuze darauf gemalt. Die Anklage warf den Dominikaner-Nonnen vor, Regierungseigentum böswillig zerstört und die nationale Sicherheit der USA gefährdet zu haben.

Der Fall wurde nun vor einem Berufungsgericht weiterverhandelt. Ein Ergebnis steht noch nicht fest.

Im Folgenden dokumentieren wir - nur in englisch - eine amüsante Kolumne, die am 3. Oktober in der Denver Post erschien und sich mit den Gerichtsverhandlungen befasst.

Three nuns and one unholy case

by Diane Carman*

The judge's question was like a bunker-buster to the heart of the case. After countless hours of pricey federal investigations, two years of litigation and the costly incarceration of three elderly, pacifist Catholic nuns in federal penitentiaries, he wanted to know: Was all this really necessary?

"Couldn't you have nailed them for trespassing, nailed them for the cost of repairing the fence and fined them?" wondered Senior Judge Stephen H. Anderson.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Murphy stood before the three-judge panel in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last week and said, well, yes, that was true.

All this, as well as two years of often unflattering attention from the international media, might have been avoided if they had chosen to portray the women as earnest - if occasionally disobedient - peaceniks, instead of a serious threat to the national defense.

But that is irrelevant, Murphy said.

The trial jury agreed with the government.

Carol Gilbert, Jackie Hudson and Ardeth Platte, Dominican nuns who have devoted the past 20 years to drawing attention to the nation's nuclear arsenal and their belief that it is an instrument of genocide, were convicted in April 2003 of obstructing national defense and damaging government property.

The fact that the missiles still could have been deployed - despite the women rapping ball-peen hammers on the rails outside the silos and the platoon of soldiers training automatic weapons at their heads - was immaterial, Murphy said. There was a principle here.


The attorneys for the nuns argued that the judge failed to give "good-faith instructions" to the jury. Critical information about the definition of "intent to harm the defense" was not provided, they said.

And the criteria for the legal definition of "sabotage" were not met by the nuns' symbolic actions, which included cutting a hole in the chain-link fence surrounding the Minuteman III missile site, spilling their blood on the ground in the shape of peace symbols and praying.

The judges, however, seemed focused on more straightforward logic.

"You contend," Anderson said to Murphy, that the nuns' actions "interfered with national defense" when troops were called out to arrest them. "What if these sisters had some means ... of getting over the fence without cutting it, and simply raised a banner?" If troops were called out to arrest them for that, would they still be charged with interfering with national defense?

No, said Murphy. The hole in the fence and the use of blood to make their point on the site raised the charges from misdemeanor trespassing to felony sabotage in the U.S. attorney's eyes.

(Note to anti-nuke activists everywhere: Next time, try parachuting onto nuclear missile sites. And always use fake blood. Banners optional.)

After the hearing, defense attorneys Clifford J. Barnard, Scott Poland and Sue Tyburski were optimistic.

The judges were well-informed about the case, Barnard said. They obviously had studied the briefs. They seemed open to considering the appeal.

"It's hard to guess what the opinion will be," he said. Impossible is more like it. And there's practically an unwritten rule against such speculation for fear it will jinx the case.

But for anyone who has encountered the charismatic nuns, who pray for their prosecutors and beseech the Almighty to shower his blessings on all the judges who sentence them, there is some small satisfaction in the continuing courtroom drama, if not the prospect of reversal.

Of course, the women would prefer not to be in prison.

"It's not easy," said Annabel Dwyer, a close friend of the nuns.

But through the efforts of an overzealous U.S. attorney general and a grandstanding U.S. attorney, at least their message of self-sacrifice, forbearance, love and peace lives on.

And on, and on, and on.

* Denver Post Columnist. Diane Carman's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

October 03, 2004 Denver Post

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