Domebuster in The Press

`Waihopai 3' to face court after attack on spy base

The year 1980 was pivotal for American peace activist Philip Berrigan.

He was no stranger to controversy. Thirteen years before, he was the first Catholic priest in the United States to serve time for civil disobedience six months in jail for a graphic protest against the Vietnam war. He and three others had saturated military service papers with their own blood.

In September 1980, Berrigan's beliefs were undiminished.

With seven others, he entered a factory in Pennsylvania that made cones for nuclear warheads. They attacked the cones with hammers, then poured their blood on official documents before offering prayers for peace.

Their anti-war protest was the first carried out in the name of Ploughshares.
The word is from the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament.
Looking into a distant, peaceful future Isaiah said: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift sword against nation; and there shall be no more training for war."

Berrigan and his associates were charged and imprisoned. They never denied what they had done, but tried to use the biblical reference as justification.

A ploughshare is the cutting edge of a plough. In essence, they were calling for the tools of war to be turned into the tools of peaceful productivity. Isaiah's vision was to be fulfilled not buried in the scriptures.

Since 1980, there have been up to 100 similar Ploughshares' protests around the world.
On January 1, 1991, mainstream New Zealand was introduced to Ploughshares.
In the lead-up to Washington's first war with Iraq, an unknown 22-year-old from Christchurch made headlines when she was arrested in the United States.

Moana Coles and three others had cut their way into the Griffiss military base in New York, hammered on aircraft and the runway, poured blood and spray-painted anti-war slogans.
They were the first to put the acronym ANZUS in front of the Ploughshares name, saying they wanted to create "a new pact for peace".
Coles spent time in jail and eventually was deported.

Now, back in Christchurch, she stands by the action.
"I would argue that our analysis wasn't wrong. The infrastructure of Iraq was destroyed, 50,000 kids died in the bombing of Iraq in 1991, and a further couple of hundred thousand children under the age of five have died since because of the sanctions.

"So this was a war that broke international law, and we would say that as Christians we had an obligation to put our bodies in between those weapons and those who were going to be killed by them. And we have no choice about that if we are serious about our faith."

Silence and inaction are complicity in Coles's eyes.

At least one of the Waihopai Three 68-year-old Peter Murnane from Auckland, himself a Catholic priest supports the notion.

He believes the scripture does imply a duty. "The more I read about Iraq, the awfulness and the size of the crime, the first Iraqi war in 1991, and then the 12 years of sanctions or more, and then the second war, were designed to destroy that country. And any little thing I can say against those who do it, or the weaponry or the intelligence network that is combining to enable those things, anything I can do, I'll do."

Not all Ploughshares activists are religious, but it is Catholics, more than any other Christians, with whom the movement is most closely associated. Within the Catholic Church though, few openly support its activities.

Christchurch's most senior Roman Catholic, Bishop Barry Jones, told The Press not many would condone the wilful destruction of property. "I think they are misguided in the sense that they go too far. You could make a symbolic protest and it could be very effective without breaking any laws at all.

"And lots of people have done that through history. I did it when the Springbok tour was on, and I didn't break any law, and I protested like mad." In some Ploughshares' cases courts have taken a liberal view.

In July 2006, an Irish jury acquitted a group of criminal damage to property. Five activists had broken into Shannon Airport in County Clare, beating on an American supply plane with hammers and pouring their own blood over it.

The airport's use as a "pitstop" for American troops in Iraq was largely unknown in Ireland and the five used the case to highlight what they viewed as complicity in the war machine.
They argued their protest was necessary to prevent worse crimes.

The jury essentially agreed that in the circumstances damaging the plane could not be considered a crime.

However, the April, 2008, action against the Waihopai spy dome may be more complicated. For one thing, it was against an intelligence installation, not a weapon of war. Moana Cole, now also a lawyer and Sam Land's legal representative, accepted that this particular case was different.
"It is quite an unusual Ploughshares' action, and up until now, for those groups who have identified themselves with Ploughshares activists, it's always been against a weapon or a weapons' system," she said.

"What one has to do then is try to explain quite carefully the role of intelligence in modern warfare, which has had increasing prominence in the modern age ... and particularly since 1991 where intelligence bases play a strong part in military alliances."

The Waihopai Three will have to convince the court the moral argument is relevant.
They are charged with causing intentional damage and entering a building with the intent to commit a crime.

Bishop Barry Jones said it was about contravention of a just law. For him, breaking a law to liberate someone from torture was one thing, political protest another.
"The greatest contribution that citizens can make to peace in society is to observe the rule of law. Otherwise, instead of having a peaceful and harmonious and secure society, we have a shambles," he said. "If everyone is free to go around and break the law because they have noble instincts, life is going to be very tricky."

Father Peter Murnane will not be convinced. "We didn't bomb anything, we didn't blow up a family," he said. "In a minor way to break a law, to damage a bit of property is trivial in comparison. Is he (Jones) concerned about the destruction of people, of generations of human beings? It is a matter of proportion. No law is sacrosanct in that sense, no property is sacrosanct."

Peter Murnane, Sam Land and Adrian Leason will appear in the Blenheim District Court for a depositions hearing on Thursday.

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