The Vandenberg 15 – which includes Daniel Ellsberg, Cindy Sheehan, Father Louis Vitale, John Amidon and me – protested the launching of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in the early morning hours of February 25, 2012. As we sought to deliver a message to the Base Commander calling for a cancellation of the test missile launch, we were arrested for trespass. All 15 defendants pleaded innocent to the charge. We had gone to Vandenberg Air Force Base to exercise our first amendment rights to protest an illegal act on the part of the government. The prosecution sought to limit the trial to the narrow issue of trespass, while we sought to put nuclear weapons and US nuclear weapons policy on trial. On the opening morning of the trial, the government moved to dismiss all charges and the Court granted the government’s motion. The case against the Vandenberg 15 was dismissed. It was a small but significant victory for the people. The real victory will come when nuclear weapons are abolished, which will happen when the people awaken to the threat posed by these insane weapons and demand of their leaders to lead the way to a world free of nuclear weapons. This is the statement I had planned to give as my Opening Statement.
Your honor, the protest that occurred at Vandenberg Air Force Base on February 25, 2012 was legal. There was no crime of trespass.
Right and Duty of Citizens to Report a Crime or Suspected Crime
There is a right to speak out in the performance of our duties as citizens. For example, one has a right and a duty to speak out against voter fraud. Or, if one sees a policeman commit a crime or learns that a policeman is about to commit a crime, there is a right and a duty to inform his superior at the police department. If one were arrested for trespass at the county elections office or at the police station when trying to report a crime or suspected crime, one’s right to free speech – protected by the first amendment to our Constitution – would be violated.
Such a violation of first amendment rights would have a chilling effect on other citizens seeking to exercise their rights as citizens under the first amendment.
One of the great gifts given to us by our forefathers is the right to speak out in protest of governmental acts and to petition our government for redress of grievances. In fact, it is both a right and a non-delegable duty. For example, a citizen is not required to go to the city council before reporting a crime to the chief of police.
Your honor, I am not speaking about the defense of necessity, but about the rights, as well as responsibilities, of citizens under the first amendment to the United States Constitution.
The government alleges that it read a “Declaration Advisement Prior to Removal to Non-Barred Persons.” It is a Declaration that I never heard at Vandenberg Air Force Base, nor is it to be heard on all the hours of DVDs that were provided by the government. In this Declaration Advisement are the words, “Individuals without legitimate business on Vandenberg Air Force Base will not be permitted to enter or remain within the geographical confines of this installation.” But those of us who walked toward the kiosk at Vandenberg on the evening of February 25, 2012 did have legitimate business – we were exercising our first amendment rights to report a suspected crime to the Base Commander and to petition the Base Commander to cancel the planned test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
In my own case, I was trying to deliver to the Base Commander, or her subordinate, a booklet written by General George Lee Butler, a former commander-in-chief of the United States Strategic Command. General Butler, who was once in charge of all US strategic nuclear weapons, stated, “Nuclear weapons are the enemy of humanity. Indeed, they’re not weapons at all. They’re some species of biological time bombs whose effects transcend time and space, poisoning the earth and its inhabitants for generations to come.”
This is an important statement for several reasons. First, it was made by a former commander-in-chief of the US Strategic Command. Second, it implies what should be obvious to all – that nuclear weapons are biological time bombs, and thus illegal. Third, it makes clear that nuclear weapons affect not only present generations, but future generations as well – in other words, our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren and so on.
Regarding nuclear deterrence theory, General Butler stated, “Nuclear deterrence was and remains a slippery intellectual construct that translates very poorly into the real world of spontaneous crises, inexplicable motivations, incomplete intelligence and fragile human relationships.” He was saying, in effect, “don’t rely upon nuclear deterrence for protection – it is only a ‘slippery intellectual construct.'”
I hold the same belief that General Butler expressed. I thought that the Base Commander would be more likely to believe this relevant information from General Butler than from me. In fact, on the evening we were arrested at Vandenberg, I handed the booklet to the young airman who handcuffed me without seeking to ascertain the legitimacy of my business at Vandenberg. Despite my telling the airman that I brought the booklet for the Base Commander, he returned it to one of the other members of the public who was there that evening but was not arrested.
Your honor, before my arrest, no one asked me why I was there. No one at Vandenberg sought to ascertain whether my business there was legitimate or not. This was the case for all the individuals arrested that evening at Vandenberg. So, how could Vandenberg personnel have lawfully arrest us when they never sought to inquire about the legitimacy of our business there?
The Government’s Breaches of the Non-Proliferation Treaty
According to the US Constitution, treaties are the supreme law of the land. Article VI, Section 2 of the Constitution states: “This constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” (Emphasis added.)
The United States signed and ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The treaty entered into force in 1970. Therefore, it is part of the “supreme law of the land.” Under Article VI of this treaty, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
Your honor, the United States is in breach of its obligations under Article VI of the NPT. It has not pursued negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the arms race at an early date. It has not pursued negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. And it has not pursued negotiations in good faith on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
The test launching of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) from Vandenberg only underlines our government’s failures to live up to our obligations under the NPT, its breaches of the treaty, and its lack of good faith. Each of the 450 Minuteman III missiles deployed by the US carries a powerful thermonuclear weapon – many times more powerful than the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These missiles are kept on high alert 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They are highly accurate, but also easy to target. In a time of crisis, there is incentive to “use them or lose them.” They are first-strike weapons that could be launched in response to a false warning of attack.
Your honor, all of this is important information for the Base Commander at Vandenberg to understand and for the American people to understand.
Is the launching of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg a criminal act? These missiles carry thermonuclear weapons when they are in their silos on high alert. The test launching of these missiles is a threat to other countries – a reminder that we can attack them with nuclear weapons. Just as murder is a crime, the threat to murder someone is also a crime. In the case of nuclear-armed missiles, the threat is to kill millions of people, perhaps hundreds of millions of people. A US nuclear attack against another country would almost certainly result in a counter-attack against the American people.
The US government is engaging in conduct that bit by bit will lead to nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism, nuclear war and to the destruction of the human race. As a member of the human race, I have a right to defend myself and my family. Do I and my fellow defendants have a right to believe that Minuteman III tests, such as the test launch from Vandenberg on February 25, 2012, put us, our families and our fellow Americans in danger? Or perhaps the question can be put this way: Would a reasonable person, knowing that nuclear weapons are capable of destroying civilization and most complex life, believe there was danger from the continued muscle-flexing behavior of testing nuclear-capable Minuteman III missiles? And further, would a reasonable person take steps to nonviolently alert proper authorities to the risks this conduct creates?
There Was No Trespass
The place of protest must have a reasonable physical proximity to where the protest can be heard. Vandenberg designated a protest area where protesters can only be seen by people in vehicles passing by rapidly.
It is easily observable that the public can access the property that Vandenberg deems to be its exclusive jurisdiction. Members of the public walk and drive on that property routinely, going to the Vandenberg Visitor Center and to the kiosk where cars are stopped.
We went to Vandenberg to peacefully exercise our first amendment rights, speak to the Base Commander or transmit information to her, and warn our fellow citizens of the dangers of such launches of missiles that are ordinarily armed with thermonuclear weapons.
In walking toward the kiosk, seeking to exercise our first amendment rights, we were doing no more than members of the public do every day at Vandenberg.
There was no barrier to our walking on this road toward the kiosk until Air Force personnel formed a human barrier in front of us. If there was a line on the road, it was not clear and it was not a barrier. We stopped when we were told to stop. Then, rather than being asked if we had legitimate business at Vandenberg, we were immediately apprehended and arrested.
Your honor, the Commander and personnel at Vandenberg sought to make us criminals where there was no crime. In fact, if there was a crime, it was a crime on the part of those who would threaten others with the massive annihilation of which nuclear-armed missiles are capable. The defendants had legitimate business at Vandenberg. We were exercising our rights, as well as our responsibilities, as citizens under the first amendment of the United States Constitution.
We were saying to our government that nuclear weapons and their delivery systems are tools of annihilation. We cannot continue treating them as business as usual. We must stop this recklessness and madness before we and those who follow us on this planet, suffer – by accident or design – the terrible consequences of nuclear war.