The three protesters who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in July want to call a retired bishop, a doctor, a former U.S. attorney general, a civil rights leader, and a retired military officer and diplomat as witnesses in a Tuesday hearing and May 7 trial in Knoxville.
The proposed witnesses include former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, civil rights sit-in participant Robert Booker, doctor Ira Helfand, retired Col. Mary Annette Wright, and retired U.S. Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton.
The three protesters—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael Walli—also want six hours, and not 1.5, to question prospective jurors for their May 7 trial in U.S. District Court.
The trio is accused of cutting through fences in the high-security Protected Area at Y-12 on July 28 and splashing human blood and spray-painting messages on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, where most of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium is stored.
Their attorneys argue that the security breach has generated immense publicity, and many people in the region “derive their livelihood from the operations at Y-12 and elsewhere on the Oak Ridge Reservation,” according to a motion filed Wednesday.
“To the extent that the defendants’ conduct alleged in this case is perceived to be critical of the participation of individuals at Y-12 and elsewhere on the ORR over several decades in the development and ongoing maintenance of nuclear weaponry, this is very controversial in this geographic region,” the motion said. “This controversy has the potential to cause many potential jurors to have hostility toward the defendants before evidence is presented and heard.”
The witnesses who could testify said Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli were able to expose security vulnerabilities at Y-12, and they suggested that the security breach was part of a good-faith struggle for human survival.
“Nuclear weapons are wrong and evil,” Gumbleton said in a court declaration filed Wednesday. “Resisting such evil is not simply a matter of being responsible citizens. It is a matter of safeguarding and deepening our spiritual well-being.”
Here is more information on the witnesses proposed for Tuesday’s hearing:
Ramsey Clark—former Justice Department employee (1963-67) and U.S. Attorney General (1967-69)
A witness notice said Clark played a crucial role in implementing civil rights for all Americans and has a long and distinguished career in the practice of human rights and humanitarian law. He has also helped ensure fair trials for those accused of or peaceably resisting violations of well-established and fundamental laws of war, the notice said.
“The specific issue Mr. Clark will address to the court is whether the U.S. and defendants knew or had reason to have a bona fide belief that our survival depends upon our acting in good-faith and through existing rules and protections of law to end the grave ecocidal and genocidal harms and dangers inherent in and from the continuing production of thermonuclear warheads for ongoing threat or detonation at Y-12,” it said.
Robert Booker—former student government president at Knoxville College
The witness notice said Booker worked with the sit-in effort to desegregate lunch counters and theaters in downtown Knoxville. He was arrested for trying to buy a ticket at a Gay Street theater in 1961. A judge ruled that the lunch counter sit-ins were a form of direct civil disobedience and eligible for what is known as the necessity defense.
“Defendants assert they engaged in symbolic non-violent protest in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, lunch counter sit-ins, and Henry David Thoreau,” the notice said. “Mr. Booker’s testimony would assist the jury as to defendants’ intent.”
Here is more information on those who could be called to testify as expert witnesses in the May 7 trial:
Thomas Gumbleton—retired Roman Catholic priest and bishop (1956-2006) and founding president of Pax Christi USA, the Catholic peace organization
A court declaration said Gumbleton remains active in peacemaking and other social justice activities. He said Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli were prayerfully engaged in symbolic nuclear disarmament, an action “entirely consistent with the peace tradition of our faith.”
Gumbleton said nuclear weapons have been repeatedly condemned, and their use is a crime against God and humanity and was ruled out by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
“People of faith and people of ethics must resist evil,” Gumbleton said. “We cannot remain silent. We must resist and say ‘no’ in whatever way we can to nuclear war, to the arms race which stockpiles and refurbishes nuclear weapons, to the testing of nuclear weapons, and to any step in the process by which the evil is prepared and continued.”
Mary Annette Wright—retired colonel who served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves for 29 years, and a 16-year diplomat who served in U.S. embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan, and Mongolia
In her declaration, Wright said she resigned from the U.S. State Department in March 2003 because she opposed the war on Iraq. She has served with military units in the Netherlands; Germany; Panama; at Fort McClellan, Ala.; the Presidio of San Francisco, Calif.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. She said she has supervised security staff and is well-versed in the protection of facilities and classified materials held in U.S. government facilities.
“It is my opinion, as a security expert, that the actions of the defendants did not injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States but instead pointed out the alarming lack of security at a nuclear facility that could have been exploited by those who actually want to do harm to our country,” she said. “While the defendants are opposed to nuclear weapons, their peaceful, non-violent actions have done a service to the United States for identifying security vulnerabilities in our national nuclear security program, vulnerabilities that hopefully will be eliminated because of the actions of the defendants.”
Ira Helfand—longtime emergency room physician and current internal medicine doctor at an urgent care center in Springfield, Mass.; past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility; and current co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Helfand said he has written extensively about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war, and his testimony would concern the known and intended effects of the thermonuclear warheads produced at Y-12.
“In short, these warheads are useless and shock the conscience of us all,” Helfand said.
Tuesday’s hearing starts at 10:30 a.m.
The May 7 trial starts at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 1A.
Note: This story was updated at 8:50 a.m. April 19.