Last weekend the Pentagon announced that coalition forces have thus
far dropped 6,000 precision-guided bombs on Iraq in the effort to
rid the world of a regime that the Bush administration claims possesses
weapons of mass destruction. The irony has not been missed
by three Michigan nuns. On Oct. 6, 2002, the Roman Catholic sisters,
Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Marie Hudson, who belong to
the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) Congregation of the Sacred Hearts
in Grand Rapids, became troubled over a first-strike, 300 kiloton
Minuteman-3 nuclear missile on high alert in Colorado, and decided
to do something about it.
The women, who had known for years that peace activism was a part
of their calling, traveled to Colorado to a farmers field near
Greeley and symbolically dismantled the warheads. Platte, at 55 was
the youngest, clothed themselves in hazmat suits with the words Citizens
Weapons Inspection Team written on the back. They accessed the
site easily by cutting through a gate and proceeded to pour four baby
bottles of their own blood on the 20-ton nuclear missile lid, in the
form of six crosses. The women then hammered on the lid of the Minuteman-3
silo with a ball-ping hammer. They then cut down three panels of fencing
to open the site for public inspection. They were able to complete
a liturgy and sing songs and hymns before airforce personnel approached.
by Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II
Ocober 2002, three Roman Catholic nuns from Grand Rapids, Carol
Gilbert (left), Jackie Marie Hudson (right), and Ardeth Platte
(not pictured), found a first-strike 300 Kiloton Minuteman-3 nuclear
missile on high alert in a farmers field near Greeley, Colo.
The women wearing hazmat suits labeled Citizens Weapons
Inspection Team symbolically dismantled the nuclear weapon.
trial began Monday in U.S. District Court in Denver. The Michigan
sisters were charged with destruction of national defense materials,
sabotage and damage of government property. These are charges punishable
by up to 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The nuns believe
their action may stimulate the worldwide antiwar movement. It
stimulates the kind of courage to say that were under the same
laws that Iraq is under, Platte said in a telephone interview
from jail three weeks ago. We want to eliminate all weapons
of mass destruction throughout the world. This is the only way to
live in peace.
Added Hudson, Were calling the publics attention
to the criminal activity of our government.
When the three sisters planned their weapons inspection, they hadnt
known the Bush administration would continue on its war path, or provoke
North Korea to threaten the United States with nuclear force and rally
up a Cold War hostility, which had begun to heal. In that sense,
were in the right place, said Hudson, 68, adding that
she is prepared to celebrate her 50th anniversary as a Dominican sister
in jail if necessary. She said that in jail they had access to the
(conservative) Rocky Mountain News as well as TV world news. But,
as their lawyers reported, there was no good view of the mountains.
The Pentagon has hired a Hollywood film director, George Alison, fresh
from a recent Michael Douglas film, to create a $200,000 set from
which Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, will
narrate the attacks. In contrast, the three Michigan sisters have
a story you probably wont hear in Tinseltown.
The nuns entered the unmanned Minuteman-3 missile site near Greeley.,
at 7:36 a.m. Oct. 6 (the one-year anniversary of the U.S-led Afghanistan
bombing). They hung their banner, Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares
II 2002 , on the left side of the gate. The name of the
group and its actions allude to the biblical prophecies of Isaiah
(2:4) and Micah (4:3) of beat[ing] swords into plowshares.
The prophesy predicts that no nation will lift up sword
against another nation nor will they ever again be trained to
Every Minuteman-3 missile contains three warheads, each of which is
roughly 20 times more destructive than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki by the United States in August 1945, which killed more
than 300,000 people. The radiation of one such exploded bomb would
remain in the environment for 3 million years and contaminate approximately
50 square miles.
One hour after their arrival, as the nuns were praying at the site,
a Humvee all-terrain truck with military personnel drove to the area,
and soon thereafter the women were surrounded by soldiers, police,
OSI, FBI, and a helicopter bomb squad. As the military trucks scanned
the fields and the bomb squads surveyed the silo areas, the nuns
hands were handcuffed behind their backs and they were forced to lie
on the ground on their stomachs.
Platte, who has carried out six peaceful weapons inspections so far,
said she knew it wouldnt be difficult to access the site. At
almost every site Ive ever been to, weve had to wait for
the military to come. One time we went to a nuclear bunker in Michigan,
and waited for 45 minutes. Like the other sisters, Platte was
born and raised in Michigan. She served on the Saginaw City Council
from 1973 until 1985. She taught civil resistance in Michigan and
spent several months in jail after participating in non-violent protests
on the Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscaba, Mich. She and Sister Gilbert
are part of the Jonah House Community in Baltimore, Md. Jackie Hudson
is a member of Ground Zero in Poulsbo, Wash.
by Bill Sulzman
Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Marie Hudson (left to right),
after they were released from jail on Sept. 16, 2000.
three pacifists selected the site in Colorado because it was located
on a hill, so people could see their inspection from Highway 14, from
road 113, and from a farmers house some hundred yards away.
Platte said that one must think of the gigantic leap from a commercial
airliner crashing into the World Trade to the thousandfold mass murder
of nuclear holocaust. These weapons kill millions of people,
and besides those 500 Minutemen-3, we still have thousands of other
nuclear weapons in this country, Platte said.
The nuns and their legal team argue that if the United States threatens
to or uses any weapon of mass destruction, it is every bit as illegal
and criminal. A legal adviser in the case, Annabel Dwyer, said she
believes that the nonviolent exposure, inspection and disarmament
of one nuclear weapon at a time was the only reasonable and
possible way for our great democracy to live within the rule of law.
Dwyer is an adjunct Cooley Law School professor and East Lansing resident.
The Denver-based attorney representing Hudson, Walter L. Gerash, added:
These type of weapons wipe out an entire city. They cannot distinguish
civilian from military targets. Threat or use of the Minuteman-3 is
a war crime. In his motion to drop the charges, he argued that
the threat of imminent attack on Iraq by the current U.S. administration,
without a formal declaration of war, was a war crime in violation
of the U.S. Code, the laws of war, the United Nations Charter of 1945,
and the International Court of Justices Opinion on the illegality
threatening to use nuclear force.
In 1994 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted resolution
49/75 K, asking the International Court of Justice to define under
what circumstances the threat or use of nuclear weapons should be
permitted. The Court of Justices advisory opinion, issued in
1996, stated that such a threat was illegal under any circumstances
based on the United Nations Charter, Article 2, which prohibits
threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or
political independence of any State.
In the view of President Bush, the United States reserves the right
to attack any nation it perceives to be a threat or potential threat.
The United States alone reserves the right to determine this risk
and dictate the remedy, and the president retains the sole discretion
to decide whether to go to war.
In the wake of events since the invasion of Afghanistan, international
law experts have called upon Bush and British Prime Minister Tony
Blair to comply with these legal obligations. In a letter published
by the British Guardian newspaper March 7, a group of 16 law professors
said that war in Iraq would be illegal. The U.N. charter outlaws
the use of force with only two exceptions: individual or collective
self-defense in response to an armed attack and action authorized
by the Security Council as a collective response to a threat to the
peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. There are currently
no grounds for a claim to use such force in self-defense. The doctrine
of pre-emptive self-defense against an attack that might arise at
some hypothetical future time has no basis in international law. Neither
Security Council resolution 1441 nor any prior resolution authorizes
the proposed use of force in the present circumstances.
The Michigan pacifist nuns argue that the estimated 150 active Minuteman-3
missile silos dotting the borders of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska
call for acting on the principles of the 1945 Nuremberg Charter, which
requires individuals to take affirmative action against government
policies violating the principles of international law. Remember,
the Nazis were also charged with preemptive war, attorney Gerash
said. The nuns actions of symbolic disarmament, he said, were
not only legal but also morally imperative under the Nuremberg Principles.
The Nuremberg Tribunal, which dealt with German war crimes after World
War II, determined that to initiate a war of aggression ...
is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international
In 2002, the Bush administration refused to allow the United States
to be subject to the jurisdiction of the newly created International
Criminal Court in the Hague (Netherlands), as if knowingly attempting
to protect itself from a Nuremberg-style war crimes trial that might
result from military actions such as the preemptive invasion of Iraq.
Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II
nuns symbolically dismantled the nuclear weapon, pouring their
blood in form of six crosses on the missile silo lid. They cut
the fence around the silo to open the site up to public inspection.
defense team has presented an affidavit by retired U.S. Navy Rear
Admiral Eugene J. Carroll, who has closely studied weapons systems
during his 25 years of active duty. Carroll has testified that if
a mere one half of the existing Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles
and U.S. MX missiles, and one sixth of the submarine launched nuclear
missiles were used, they would destroy the majority of Russias
strategic forces and produce an estimated 43 million deaths within
Carroll explained that because the entire Minuteman-3 system is maintained
on operational high alert, ready for launch with no advance warning
to an adversary, it constitutes a destabilizing threat rather than
acting as a deterrent for nuclear war. Added Carroll: This posture
remains in effect despite the end of the Cold War nine years ago.
When the sisters of the Dominican Order entered the Colorado site,
they said they could literally hear the bomb ticking. All of
the equipment was in operation as we were on the site, said
Hudson. They heard the motors and the air conditioning, which were
illustrations that this particular site was on high alert.
Platte, Gilbert and Hudson belong to a worldwide disarmament group
that was founded in 1980. More than 150 individuals have participated
in roughly 70 plowshare activities and related disarmament actions.
On several occasions, activists were stopped by security and arrested
at weapons sites before being able to complete their intended disarmament
action. Plowshare actions have occurred in the United States, Australia,
Germany, Holland, Sweden, and England. The pacifists enter military
bases and weapons facilities and symbolically disarm components of
U.S. first-strike nuclear weapons systems: the MX, Perishing II, Cruise,
Minuteman ICBMs, Trident II missiles, Trident submarines, B-52
bombers, P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircrafts, battleships with nuclear
armament, and combat aircrafts such as the F-18 bomber.
On Sept. 9, 2000, Platte, Gilbert and Hudson entered Petersen Air
Force Base in Colorado Springs, where 150,000 visitors were attending
The Spring 2000 Department of Defense and Open House and Air
Show. They proceeded to hammer and pour their own blood on a
Milstar Communications satellite and an F-18 (Hornet) fighter plane,
a model used extensively in Iraq. The sisters were arrested,
jailed and charged with federal criminal mischief, obstructing government
operations and two counts of conspiracy. The commander of El Paso
County Jail stated: I have heard reports from supervisors that
the ward has never been quieter. There are special prayer groups going
on. But I have a problem with nuns being in my jail. Their charges
were all unexpectedly dropped, and the sisters were released from
jail a week later.
Aerospace engineer Robert C. Aldridge, who resigned from his position
as nuclear weapons designer in 1973 due to the aggressive trend
in nuclear weaponry, said that the Minuteman-3 still played
a critical role in Washingtons foreign policy. In the START-2
Treaty for nuclear disarmament, the United States originally agreed
to remove all but one warhead from each of the 500 missiles, yet this
treaty was discarded in May 2002. Aldridge said, instead, the Bush
administration ordered its national laboratories to perform a $45
million feasibility study on earth-penetrating nuclear weapons, potentially
leading to state-of-the-art improvements for the Minuteman, and new
deadly missions. Although the U.S. had never announced a nuclear
first strike policy, except perhaps recently in very cautious terms
regarding Iraq, it has most certainly aspired to a disarming and unanswerable
first strike capability.
Among other experts, Francis A. Boyle, a renown University of Illinois
law professor and author of the 2002 publication The Criminality
of Nuclear Deterrence, testified in the Colorado District Court
that the sisters didnt violate any alleged national defense
interests , since the Minuteman-3 can never legally be used, according
to international laws of war.. He said that the fact that the Minuteman-3
existed and was on high alert reflected the stubborn refusal
of the United States to abide by its own fundamental laws of war and
to proceed with negotiations for nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.
Hudson said that several weeks ago the Canadian Group, Rooting Out
Evil (a group that includes international parliamentarians, scientists,
academics, and religious and union leaders), was similarly inspired
when they informed the Pentagon of their intent to inspect the Edgewood
Chemical Biological Center in Maryland in search of illegal U.S. weapons
of mass destruction. The group encourages people to be involved by
becoming honorary weapons inspectors.
When I asked Hudson how she felt about Michigans flourishing
peace movement the fact that nine city councils in Michigan
have passed antiwar resolutions and that thousands of residents have
rallied against the war in the past few weeks she replied,
thats wonderful! Hudson, who has a brother and many
nieces and nephews in Midland, added: I have never in my lifetime
seen so many mass gatherings of people demanding no war. On
Feb 15, 12 million people around the world rallied against the war
in Iraq. I believe were in a historic moment, where we
could come to the point of saying that war is no longer a solution.
The sisters legal team expected U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn
to reject all of their pretrial motions. William Taylor, chief of
major crimes for the U.S. Attorneys Office, told The Denver
Post on Monday that the government is taking a dim view of such civil
disobedience. According to a Reuters press report, the nuns waved
and smiled just before the judge ordered the courtroom cleared to
make room for the prospective jurors.