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Nuke Protesters Fined for Trespass

Activists pledge they'll be back at Peterson

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From the bench, municipal Judge Gary Seckman asked the defendants to consider that there are many people who themselves moral also, who have decided that perhaps we need a [nuclear] deterrent.
  • From the bench, municipal Judge Gary Seckman asked the defendants to consider that there are many people who themselves moral also, who have decided that perhaps we need a [nuclear] deterrent.

Defiantly vowing to do it again, three local peace activists were sentenced last week in Colorado Springs municipal court to pay $500 each in fines for trespassing onto Peterson Air Force Base, an action they claimed was compelled by international law.

The three, Bill Sulzman, Donna Johnson and Peter Sprunger-Froese, will be allowed to pay the fines through community service. Because they are appealing their conviction to a higher court, they received a stay of execution until the appeal has been heard.

The defendants entered Peterson on Aug. 9, 2001, in an attempt to deliver a "citizens arrest warrant" to Gen. Ralph Eberhart, commander in chief of Air Force Space Command, which controls the hundreds of nuclear missiles that are stationed in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming.

Sulzman, Johnson and Sprunger-Froese maintain they were compelled by the Nuremberg Principles established in the wake of Nazi atrocities in World War II, claiming that stockpiling combat-ready nuclear weapons violates international laws and treaties to which the United States is a party, and which supercede all local and U.S. laws.

The three were arrested by security at Peterson base, east of Colorado Springs, after they walked onto the base to deliver the citizen's arrest.

Represented by Denver attorney Sue Tyburski and the renowned criminal defense lawyer Walter Gerash, the trio were subsequently convicted by the municipal court, as the city was found to have jurisdiction at the base.

During the trial, municipal Judge Gary Seckman refused to let the defendants argue the international law defense before the jury, citing as precedent a ruling by a U.S. appeals court in a similar case. The defendants accused Seckman of "gagging" them.

At the sentencing on March 12, they again deplored Seckman's decision.

"One could say that your fingerprints are on the weapons and the plans to use them, and if there were a court to try you, you would be found guilty of war crimes for your actions," Sulzman told the judge.

Seckman appeared to take offense at the allegation. "I recall growing up in the '60s, during the Cuban missile crisis," he said in a commentary from the bench. "It made an impact in my life, also."

Still, the judge said he disagreed with the defendants' philosophy. "I would ask the defendants to consider that there are many people who consider themselves moral also, who have decided that perhaps we need a [nuclear] deterrent," the judge said.

The defendants' disagreement with U.S. defense policy didn't give them the right to trespass, he argued.

Johnson, meanwhile, said her sole regret was that the three didn't succeed in delivering their arrest warrant.

"We will try again," she promised. "No consequences imposed by this court for our effort to uphold international law and speak against the immorality of nuclear weapons will stop us from further acts of civil resistance."

-- Terje Langeland

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