Friday, January 27, 2023

- Catholic Pacifists disarmed depleted-uranium-firing A-10 "Warthog" in Maryland.


   The last piece on Phil which I sent out triggered some memories which I have included below.

 Hi Max! 

     I was there and remember the march from Jonah House to the church.  I would disagree with one comment you made, that the poverty and desolation along that march was about the same today.  I think the poverty, wealth inequality and desolation is much worse today than when Phil died.  When I lived on Mount Street a few blocks from Viva House, it was considered "the ghetto".  Let me just say, looking back, it was paradise 50 years ago, compared to conditions today.  Shocking that neighborhoods are left to rot.         

--- Lynn Robinson


   I gave one of the eulogies at Phil’s funeral mass.  Amy Goodman recorded it in its entirety the next day.  She was with us when Phil died and she and Gwen DuBois recited the Hebrew Kaddish prayer that night.  Extremely inspiring!

   A copy of my eulogy is in our book, The Long Loneliness in Baltimore.  If you want to include it with your other articles, please feel free to use it.    Thanks, Brendan Walsh, Viva House Catholic Worker

I am working on getting Brendan’s eulogy, and hope to send it out.

  I am continuing my remembrances of the life of Phil Berrigan.  While I was in the Peace Corps in Botswana reading the International Herald Tribune, I came across a story on the Plowshares Eight being arrested at a General Electric plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania on September 9, 1980.  And this group protesting nuclear weapons included Dan and Phil Berrigan.  I was impressed that these Catholic radicals were not tamed by the US Empire.  

  What I did not know was that I would get a job with Nuclear Free America in Baltimore in 1983.  And in 1984, my first political arrest was planned in Baltimore’s Jonah House, and those of us risking arrest at the White House included Phil and Dan’s brother Jim.  That arrest is a story for another day.

  But I would be with Phil in all of his other Plowshares disarmament actions.  And on December 19, 1999, Phil’s wife Elizabeth McAlister and I transported the four members of the Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium to the scene of the crime.  This would be Phil’s last Plowshares. Rev. Steve Kelly, a co-conspirator in this action, remains underground as I write this message. He also participated in a disarmament action as part of the Kings Bay Plowshares in Georgia in 2018.  While he has completed his jail sentence, there is the matter of supervised release that he must adhere to in Georgia.  Steve is the ultimate resister, and decided not to cooperate with the authorities in Georgia.   

  What I probably remember the most of the trial which took place in Towson, Maryland was the cross examination of the mechanic who took care of the Warthog aircraft which was disarmed that chilly night in December 1999.  He was quite angry on the witness stand as these intruders damaged a plane which he treated like his mother.  Judge Jim Smith, not unlike other judges, would not allow the jury to hear why the group selected this plane.  The group admitted they were there, and that they did symbolic disarmament.  But what was their motive?  The jurors were not allowed to hear a basic element of most trials.  Maybe if that mechanic found out that depleted uranium was used illegally by the US military against noncombatants and caused long-lasting damage, he might have had a different opinion of his mother.

Kagiso, Max   

- Catholic Pacifists disarmed depleted-uranium-firing A-10 "Warthog" in Maryland.

By Patrick O'Neill

On March 23, Baltimore County Judge James T. Smith, Jr. sentenced four Catholic pacifists for damaging two A-10 anti-tank warplanes last December to protest the United States' use of depleted uranium in recent wars against Iraq and Yugoslavia.

The severity of the sentences - far in excess to those recommended by prosecutor Mickey Norman - shocked the more than 100 supporters who attended the trial, which began four days earlier. Elizabeth Walz, 33 (whose guidelines were 0 to 1 month) was given 18 months in prison; Susan Crane, 56, and Fr. Stephen Kelly S.J., 50 (whose guidelines were 2 to 9 months) were each sentenced to 27 months; and Philip Berrigan (whose guidelines were 6 to 12 months) received a 30 month sentence. The judge also ordered the defendants to share in paying $88,622.11 in restitution for the damage. The large damage total justified stiff sentences, Smith said. The judge imposed a cash bail of $90,000 each, "to be paid by the defendants only" in the event the four seek appeals.

"He went very, very far outside the guidelines in a very, very vindictive fashion," Elizabeth McAlister, Berrigan's wife, told a reporter from The Baltimore Sun. Jonah House community member, Sister Carol Gilbert, O.P., also interviewed by The Sun, said, "I think the judge's prejudices are coming through. These people were not allowed a defense."

Calling themselves "Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium," the four peace activists disarmed the "Warthog" aircraft at the Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River, Maryland last December 19. Following Isaiah's injunction to beat swords into plowshares, the resisters hammered and poured blood on the A-10s' Gatling guns, used to fire armor-piercing depleted uranium against Iraq and Yugoslavia.

During his opening statement, prosecutor Norman said the four had taken hammers to property that didn't belong to them, something you couldn't do "unless of course there is a legally justifiable reason. The defendants might believe there is a moral justification, but this is a court of law. There wasn't a legal justification ... " And so it went - moral justification overruled by laws that protect weapons of mass destruction.

Throughout the trial the four defendants, and their attorneys, Jonathan Katz, former U.S Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Anabel Dwyer, attempted to tell the jury about the illegality of the United States' use of depleted uranium on civilian populations. They attempted to show that their actions were justified under international law and necessity, but Judge Smith refused to allow the defendants to put on any meaningful defense of their actions. He had granted Norman's pretrial motion in limine, which prohibited "the defense from introducing evidence and/or propounding argument concerning depleted uranium."

When Crane, the only defendant to testify, took the witness stand, she was constantly interrupted by the prosecutor's objections. Crane was eventually brought to tears by the severity of the court's restriction of her testimony.

The prosecutor also objected to testimony by Doug Rokke, an expert in the use and harmful effects of depleted uranium weapons. Rokke, a professor at Jacksonville State University, Major in the U.S. Army Reserve, and himself a victim of exposure to depleted uranium, was only allowed to give his name and academic credentials. All questions related to depleted uranium and the A-10 Warthogs were disallowed.

In response to the gag order, the defendants brought their resistance to Judge Smith's oppressive courtroom, prompting an incredible moment of solidarity between the accused and their supporters. The show of defiance may have also sealed the fates of the four.

Immediately following Rokke's limited testimony, the four stood at the defense table and turned their backs on Judge Smith as Crane read a statement decrying the injustice of the trial.

"We cannot put on a defense about the dangers of depleted uranium and our rights and duties under international law," Crane said. The judge ordered her to be silent, but Crane persisted.

"We have been denied our right to testify about these topics. We have been denied our expert witnesses. Therefore, we can't go forward. We will not participate in what amounts to a legal gag order."

Earlier in the day Crane had refused to answer the prosecutor's question about who drove the van that left the four activists off outside the base gates in the predawn hours of December 19. As the four defendants now stood with their backs to the bench, a woman in the gallery stood and yelled to the judge, "I drove the van." Seconds later, others joined in shouting, "I drove the van." Soon, more than 100 spectators were openly proclaiming conspiratorial ties to the four as a red-faced Smith screamed for order. When Crane was finished, Fr. Kelly began reading aloud the day's scripture passage from Jeremiah.

Smith, a jurist who was once honored by his peers as Catholic lawyer of the year, ordered bailiffs to clear the courtroom of everyone except reporters. After a recess, only Berrigan returned to the courtroom to tell the judge that the four intended no disrespect for Smith or prosecutor Norman, but they would no longer participate in an unjust trial.

"The courts of this country are identified with the Pentagon and the Government," Berrigan said outside the presence of the jury, "and there's no way that nonviolent resistance can get a serious hearing in this country." After Berrigan's comments, the judge recessed proceedings for the day. He refused to allow the three lawyers to be released from the case, but he said the defendants had a Constitutional right to boycott the remainder of the trial.

On the final day of the trial none of the defendants were in the courtroom when Norman made his closing arguments. The jury deliberated more than four hours before reaching guilty verdicts on the charges of malicious destruction of property and conspiracy. Crane had also been charged with assault because a guard said he felt threatened by her hammer, but the jury could not reach a verdict on the charge and it was dropped. (Charges of sabotage and conspiracy to commit sabotage had been dismissed a week before trial on a defense motion.) The guilty verdicts could also result in federal probation violations being lodged against Berrigan, Crane, and Kelly from previous Plowshare actions.

In a statement released after the trial, Rokke said: "Everyone should consider if they want thousands and thousands of radioactive heavy metal poison bullets in their own backyard. If not, then it should not be left anywhere in the world where children may be exposed! The response to this crime against God and humanity is simple: 1. All individuals who may have inhaled, ingested, or had wound contamination must receive medical care. 2. All depleted uranium penetrator fragments, contaminated equipment, and oxide contamination must be removed and disposed of properly. 3. The use of depleted uranium munitions must be banned."

Walz, a Catholic Worker from Philadelphia, asked the judge that she be permitted to serve her sentence in the Baltimore County Detention Center, where she awaited trial and "where I may be of most service to the women around me." Smith granted her request. Berrigan, Crane and Kelly were quickly moved into the state prison system.

Donations can be sent to Max Obuszewski, Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 431 Notre Dame Lane, Apt. 206, Baltimore, MD 21212.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


No comments: