Court Project Sacred Earth & Space Ploughshares
|Sacred Earth & Space Ploughshares
Report by Anabel Dwyer* and Alyn Ware
In August 2003 three Dominican sisters Carol Gilbert (58 years), Jackie Hudson (68 years) and Ardeth Platte (68 years) were sentenced to 30-41 months imprisonment and 3 years of supervised release (during which time they are not allowed to return to their homes) following their conviction for sabotage arising from a Citizens' Weapons Inspection they had conducted at a Minuteman III site in northern Colorado on 6 October 2002. The sisters had lowered 32 feet of chain-link perimeter fence and symbolically marked the silo cover of the missile with six crosses in their own blood. The action was undertaken to expose the fundamental immorality, illegality and criminality of the high-alert threat to use this 335 kiloton nuclear weapon.
The sisters believed the criminality was even more pronounced as the main culprit, the President of the United States, was making plans to illegally attack Iraq on the unfounded grounds that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons less devastating than those ready to be used by the United States themselves.
Sister Gilbert explained that “The timing of our action was critical. We acted as the Bush Administration was moving the country to a pre-emptive war against Iraq. We needed to expose the immorality and illegality of that war, the illegality and immorality of which has been tacitly admitted by the C.I.A. when it confirmed that Iraq had no weapons of Mass Destruction. As a US citizen and as a Dominican Sister I am committed to the truth – Iraq had no such weapons but the US does and we sought only to expose one of those weapons on high alert in Colorado.”
The sisters’ appealed on grounds that 1) the trial court erred by applying an unconstitutionally vague and overbroad definition of "national defense" without legally proscribed limits; 2) the record is devoid of evidence establishing specific intent to commit the crime of sabotage; 3) the Sisters were entitled to a good faith jury instruction when they interposed the defense of good faith; and 4) the charge was overly severe compared to the nature of the protest.
At the appeal, which was heard by the10th Circuit Court of appeals on October 1, 2004, Judge Hartz questioned the prosecution’s charge of sabotage. The prosecutor had admitted that if a farmer had done the same amount of damage because he wanted the fence out of the way for some reason, that that would not be sabotage even if the same level of security forces responded (helicopters, dozens of troops and multiple vehicles). This assertion seemed to trouble the judges. Judge Hartz asked whether ''the fact that this was a protest case is what made it sabotage and only damage done in a protest case can rise to the level of sabotage?”
A decision from the 10th Circuit is expected within 2-3 months. They are currently in federal prisons in Alderson (West Virginia), Victorville (California) and Danbury (Connecticutt) Prison writings of the women are available at www.jonahhouse.org/sacred_earth.htm
* Anabel Dwyer is a board member of the Lawyers’ Committee
on Nuclear Policy and is one of the trial attorneys for the Sacred
Earth and Space Ploughshares defendants.