John, Carol, Marie, Steve and John on July 21.
–image ©
Does Hennepin County Harbor War Criminals?
December 10, 2004
By Steve Clemens, Defendent

On December 10 in Hennepin County Court, four nonviolent vigilers were found not guilty by a six person jury. The four Minneapolis residents had been charged with criminal trespass after they had attempted to deliver an AlliantACTION document entitled “Employee Liabilities of Weapons Manufacturers Under International Law” to corporate officers at Alliant TechSystems headquarters in Edina on July 21. The defendants successfully argued that they were compelled to act based on their understanding of International Humanitarian Law and the rulings of the Nuremberg Tribunals.

Alliant TechSystems (ATK) is the US Army’s largest supplier of ammunition and has manufactured antipersonnel landmines, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium weapons. In the two day trial, the four peace activists used a “claim of right” provision in the Minnesota trespass law and then cited numerous provisions in the Hague and Geneva Treaties and subsequent International Laws which prohibit the “manufacture, sale, stockpiling, and/or use” of weapons which are determined to be “indiscriminate” and those which cause long-term damage to the natural environment.

Also cited and entered as evidence in the trial was the decision by the United Nations Committee on Human Rights which specifically names cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons as being illegal. The U.S. Constitution’s Article VI became evidence with its declaration that treaties signed by our government become “the supreme law of the land” and all judges are bound by it. The Nuremberg Principles are part of the treaty the U.S. signed to become founding members of the United Nations. Defendants testified that the Nuremberg Principles compel us to act if we are aware of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The manufacture of indiscriminate weapons is a war crime as defined by that document.

Although the four residents, John and Marie Braun, Carol Masters, and Steve Clemens, were acquitted on the basis of “reasonable doubt”, the verdict by the citizen jury raises the question of who is responsible for the enforcement of International Law when ATK publicly admits it has manufactured depleted uranium weapons. Prior to 2000, the ATK website boasted about their manufacture of armor-piercing weapons with “depleted uranium penetrators.” However, after the AlliantACTION group publicly raised concerns about the nature of depleted uranium weapons, all references to this controversial weapon were removed from their website and the words “kinetic energy” replaced that of depleted uranium.

Basing their statements to the jury on the testimony of Dr. Karen Parker before the U.N. Subcommittee, the defendants, who represented themselves, testified that depleted uranium clearly fails four tests, any one of which would make the weapon illegal. 1) Weapons must be limited to the field of battle – depleted uranium (DU), when used, aerosolizes into minute dust particles which can carry the radioactive waste for miles (the territorial test). 2) Weapons must not continue to kill long after a war has ended – DU weapons remain radioactive for a half-life of four and one-half billion years and will continue to impact the civilian population forever until cleaned-up (the temporal test). 3) Weapons must not be unduly inhumane – the cancers, birth defects, and genetic damage linked to the inhalation or ingestion of radioactive DU particles clearly impact both combatants and civilians (the humanness test). 4) Finally, weapons may not cause long-term damage to the natural environment – DU particles can contaminate the air, water, and soil indefinitely until it is removed and permanently secured and guarded in a protective storage facility (the environmental test). Since DU weapons miserably fail all four tests, it is clearly outlawed by existing International Law.

Those acquitted in the trial are part of a larger group called AlliantACTION which holds a Wednesday morning vigil on the public property adjacent to ATK’s headquarters at 5050 Lincoln Drive in Edina. These advocates of nonviolent conflict resolution have gathered weekly, rain or shine, freezing weather or heat, for the past nine years. It is a continuation of the movement begun in 1968 against Honeywell’s manufacture of cluster bombs used in the Vietnam War. There are estimates of up to 10 million unexploded bomblets from these cluster bombs still remaining in Laos 30 years later. The defendants testified that each week brings another report of a farmer or a child killed or seriously wounded when one of these “duds’ explode. After years of high-profile protest against Honeywell, the corporation spun off their weapons production to form a new company in the 1990’s, Alliant TechSystems.

Although ATK continues to make cluster bombs (and protestors often cite their opposition to such), much of the recent focus has been concentrated on opposing DU weapons because they have affected not only Iraqi citizens but also U.S. troops who have served in the areas of Iraq where these radioactive weapons have been used. Reports from various sources quoted in the trial estimate that in excess of 300 tons of DU weapons were used in the 1991 war. Present estimates indicate that more than 1,000 tons of DU has been used in the current war, in major population areas including Baghdad rather than being restricted to the desert areas outside of Basrah which were contaminated in the 1991 war.

On Friday, December 10, as these four defendants were being exonerated by their jury, another group of four peacemakers began their jury trial for an identical action against ATK a week later. The four, John Heid, Jane Hosking, Mike Miles, and John LaForge, all members of the Anathoth Farm Community in Luck, Wisconsin argued their defense based on the same claim of right provisions and submitted the text of International Treaties in support of that claim. On Tuesday afternoon, December 14, they too were found “not guilty” by their six person jury. A similar group of 19 protestors were acquitted by another Hennepin County jury in October 2003. Three additional groups of 3-5 activists have trials pending within the next few months. Alliant Action intends to persevere until ATK stops making these weapons and pays for their clean-up or they are hauled into court on the charges of making illegal weapons.
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