I don’t care if you’re right, left, or a squish, this is a travesty.
Last year, 10 elderly peace activists cut through a chain link fence surrounding the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. They didn’t attempt to steal or destroy any nuclear materials. They did what any well meaning, peaceful anti-war activist would do; they hung signs, sang songs, and hammered off small pieces of the ultra-thick concrete wall surrounding the facility.
In the predawn hours of July 28, 2012, Rice, Boertje-Obed and Walli walked under the cover of darkness through the woods and up a hillside, approaching a chain-link fence surrounding the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Armed with flashlights and a bolt cutter, they cut their way through the fence, fully expecting to be arrested on the spot.
Instead, they walked nearly a mile, cutting through four fences in all, breaching what was supposed to be the most tightly secured uranium processing and storage facility in the country.
“When we got to the very high security fence where there’s a lethal force authorized … I thought, maybe we should turn around,” Boertje-Obed told CNN’s David Mattingly.
But they didn’t. Hours later, the three activists were finally confronted by a guard after hoisting banners, spray-painting messages and splattering human blood on a building that houses highly enriched uranium.
They have said they wanted call attention to the dangers of nuclear weapons, but their actions triggered a very different concern:
If three older peaceniks can easily trespass onto what was once considered the “Fort Knox” for highly enriched uranium, just how safe are the nation’s nuclear weapons material from terrorists?
They fully expected to be arrested and prosecuted for their crime. That’s the point of civil disobedience and these aging lefties didn’t try to avoid responsibility for breaking the law. Three of the activists — including an 83-year old nun — were convicted of two felonies relating to their activities. They could each receive 30 years in prison.
The judge set a September sentencing date — and then refused to release them pending sentencing because he believed it would be too “lenient.”
Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, who were convicted Wednesday of two felony charges related to the July 28, 2012 break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, are currently jailed in Knox County.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Theodore and defense attorneys Chris Irwin, William Quigley and Francis Lloyd, as well as Bobby Hutson, the “eblow counsel” for Boertje-Obed (who is representing himself).
As with the case at this week’s trial, today’s courtroom was crowded with supporters of the three peace activists, known collectively as the Transform Now Plowshares.
Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed were in the courtroom, wearing tan prison jumpsuits with “Federal Prisoner” on the back. Their hands and legs were chained to restrict their movements, but they smiled and gestured to their friends, supporters and family members in the gallery.
Thapar also has yet to rule on a motion filed earlier by defense attorneys, seeking to have the most serious charge (now conviction) dismissed. The “Rule 29″ motion was filed after the federal prosecutors completed their case, and the defense argued that the government failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove the Y-12 protesters had “intent” to interfere with, obstruct or disrupt the national defense when they broke into the Oak Ridge plant. During the trial, Y-12 officials testified that the plant was shut down for 15 days following last summer’s break-in.
Y-12′s federal manager, Steve Erhart, also testified that an incoming truck shipment of nuclear weapons parts or related materials had to be put on hold because of security concerns created by the protesters’ break-in.
Of course, the alarm bells set off in Washington as a result of 10 scruffy leftists penetrating the security at Y-12 set in motion a series of hearings on Capitol Hill as well as independent security reviews at all US nuclear sites. Presumably, such a shocking lapse in security can’t happen again.
But what to do with an 83-year old nun and her equally befuddled friends? You might expect the punishment to fit the crime and 30 years in the slammer for showing up the US army seems a bit out of whack. What kind of threat are these people to national security? Their whole lives are about peaceful activism. You can disagree with what they are advocating but still admire their dedication to principles and their perception of what their faith tells them.
The protestors got as far as they did because of lax security at the facility, not because they were stealthily trying to wreak havoc or endanger the public. If they had been arrested while cutting through the first fence — as they should have been if the facility had an adequate security plan –they would have been charged with trespassing and given a stiff fine and a stern talking to by the judge. Instead, they had the dumb luck of making it all the way to a storage facility for weapons grade nuclear material. Laurel and Hardy would have had a hard time coming up with a more unlikely set of circumstances.
Leniency is exactly what these people should expect. And the judge who is keeping them in jail needs to get a grip on reality.