Prominent Colorado defense attorney Walter Gerash has taken on the case of a just-as-famous Catholic priest who refuses to quit protesting nuclear proliferation by the United States.
Gerash said he plans to invoke international law dating back to the principles of the Nuremberg war tribunal following Nazi Germany while defending Carl Kabat, who has spent 14 of the past 20 years in jail for protesting the continuing presence of nuclear war missiles in the United States.
"It's an honor to represent Father Kabat for his efforts to prevent death and destruction of humanity, and it's an honor to represent him pro bono," Gerash said.
In hot water
Kabat, 66 is facing charges of trespassing onto government property and violating the terms of his probation by returning to Colorado to protest the 55th anniversary of the atomic bombing that decimated Hiroshima, Japan.
Kabat and longtime Colorado Springs peace activist Bill Sulzman, 62, were arrested on Aug. 6, when they, along with seven other peace protesters, showed up to wave anti-nuke signs at the Minuteman Missile Silo in Weld County, in northeastern Colorado.
Temporarily living in Colorado Springs and scheduled for a court hearing this week, Kabat is also facing a threat of expulsion from his Oblate Catholic Order in Illinois for leaving his religious community without obtaining permission.
The Oblates -- like the Jesuits and Benedictines -- are missionaries within the Catholic Church. That particular order is dedicated to serving the poor people of the world.
After reading about the arrest in the Aug. 10 edition of the Colorado Springs Independent, Bill Strabala, a retired Colorado journalist, contacted Gerash to ask for help, Strabala said.
Scene of the crime
Gerash has also agreed to represent Sulzman, who is facing less serious charges.
Sulzman said that nearly two hours after he, Kabat and the protesters showed up to protest at the Weld County missile site, a federal SWAT team that included 13 armored vehicles, accompanied by at least four dozen armed soldiers, arrived.
Salzman and Kabat -- who was dressed in his trademark clown outfit and had scaled the security fence -- were arrested for entering the federal government's 25-foot missile-site designated perimeter.
Salzman reported that, compared with past protests, he was particularly roughed up by the police during his arrest.
"The spectacle that I witnessed there was far beyond anything I've experienced," he said.
Preliminary hearings are scheduled in U.S. Magistrate Judge Boyd Bolland's court this Friday, Oct. 20. George Gil, the U.S. attorney assigned to the case, did not return phone calls seeking comment as of press time.
A clown, a hammer, a bomb, and God
Kabat, who reportedly has spent more time in jail for nuclear protesting than any other living American, is the inspiration for a play, titled A Clown, A Hammer, A Bomb, And God.
The one-man play, written by David Kinch, details Kabat's involvement in the Plowshare's Movement, which involved a group of pacifists who literally take the biblical admonition of Isaiah to "turn swords into plowshares" in an attempt to disable U.S. nuclear weapons.
Kabat, along with three other protesters, received stiff prison sentences after they damaged a silo lid at a Minuteman II missile site in Missouri on Good Friday, 1994, which fell that year on April Fool's Day. During that protest, Kabat dressed in a clown's outfit to send the message that "we are fools and clowns for God and humanity's sake."
Kabat had previously spent time in jail for pouring blood on the pillars of the White House and on the Pentagon -- which he says represents the "bloodiest place in the world." Kabat was also arrested for parading without a permit in Plains, Ga., shortly before Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president.
"I'm one little me and I do what I do, what else can I do?" he asked. "Anyone else who's got an answer, fine. As for me, I sing and I dance, and I hope."
"Is that OK?"
Gerash, possibly the highest-profile defense attorney in Colorado, is most famous for successfully representing Jim King, who was accused of murdering bank guards in Denver and of Jorg Peter Schmitz, who was acquitted in the death of Rocky Mountain News columnist Greg Lopez.
He successfully represented the now-deceased singer-songwriter John Denver in a drunken driving case, which ended in a hung jury.
More recently, Gerash represented a wounded Columbine High School teenager. And, he successfully represented Kerry Appel, an activist protesting the conditions of the indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico.
Of Kabat's case, Gerash said, "There's no dispute about the facts; he climbed over a fence peaceably to place wine, bread and a hammer [on the silo] as symbolic of man's creativity and humanity."
Gerash plans to argue that Kabat was protected by the principles set up under the terms of Nuremberg, in which a citizen is protected for protesting weapons of mass destruction and that could be used to commit genocide.
"This is not only an international law issue, but it's a choice of evils and free-speech defense," Gerash said, noting that during his protest, the priest did not hurt anyone.
"There are scores of submarines in the Seven Seas with the same type of [nuclear] missiles," Gerash said. "If that's not enough, we have them in stealth bombers who go around the world. If that's not enough we're [now] preparing billions [of dollars] to do the same thing in space. Is that OK?"
The international law argument has been used in the cases of protesters who were accused of damaging a fence in Berkshire, England, and more recently in Polk County, Iowa.
"I hope this trial raises eyebrows and makes more people committed to saving the planet and starting discussion," Gerash said.