A federal judge will allow a former U.S. attorney general and civil rights sit-in participant to testify at a Tuesday motions hearing for the three anti-nuclear weapons activists who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in July.
The two witnesses are former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and civil rights sit-in participant Robert Booker.
The three anti-nuclear weapons activists are accused of cutting through three 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.
The protesters—Greg Boertje-Obed, Megan Rice, and Michael Walli—have said the nuclear weapons work at Y-12 is illegal under federal and international law, and their intrusion last summer was reasonable and justified.
The government has disagreed, and U.S. Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley Jr. has said the production, processing, and storage of nuclear weapons at Y-12 does not violate international law.
Clark’s testimony on Tuesday is expected to address “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,” according to a witness notice filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on Wednesday.
Clark was a Justice Department employee from 1963-67 and U.S. attorney general from 1967-69. The witness notice said he played a crucial role in implementing civil rights for all Americans and has had 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.
Booker is a former student government president at Knoxville College. The witness notice said he 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, the notice said
Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli “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.”
On Friday, the government said it had reviewed the proposed testimony of the witnesses for Tuesday’s hearing and a May 7 trial for the protesters, and it asked the court to exclude the testimony.
“After reviewing the proposed testimony of the witnesses, the government submits that it does not appear that the defendants are offering any new relevant facts or evidence, but rather appear to be offering witnesses who will testify to improper legal conclusions,” assistant U.S. attorneys Melissa M. Kirby and Jeffrey E. Theodore said in a government response filed Friday. “To the extent that they are offering no new relevant facts or evidence, such testimony would not appear to be useful to the Court in its review…To the extent that the proposed witnesses are offering legal conclusions, such testimony would be improper, and no weight should be given to the testimony.”
Tuesday’s motion hearing starts at 10:30 a.m.
The May 7 trial starts at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 1A.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar in March.
Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli have proposed calling three witnesses at their May 7 trial: Thomas Gumbleton, a retired Roman Catholic priest and bishop and founding president of Pax Christi USA, the Catholic peace organization; Mary Annette Wright, a retired colonel who served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves for 29 years, and a 16-year diplomat who served in nine U.S. embassies; and doctor Ira Helfand, a past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and current co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
Note: This story was updated at 8:26 a.m.