When Nuns Attack 

Former El Paso County jailbirds assail missile silo

While George W. Bush was agitating for war to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, three American nuns decided last month to do some disarmament of their own.

Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson -- all Dominican nuns, who were arrested for a similar action in Colorado Springs two years ago -- went after America's own weapons of mass destruction, located right here in Colorado.

On Oct. 6, the nuns entered the N-8 silo in Weld County, seeking to disable a Minuteman III missile, armed with a W-87 nuclear warhead -- a hydrogen bomb with a destructive power 30 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which killed 140,000 people.

The nuns spent several hours on the site, according to a news release issued on their behalf after they were arrested and jailed. "In an act of disarmament, [they] hammered on the tracks that carry the lid of the silo to its firing position. They then poured their own blood on the tracks and the silo, and took down a section of the fence surrounding the site."

Proof of the case

The three are now being held at the Clear Creek County Jail, in Georgetown, Colo. awaiting trial on federal charges that could bring as much as 30 years in prison.

Though the nuns could not be reached at the jail, their designated spokesman, Bill Sulzman of Colorado Springs, said the nuns acted out of both moral and legal obligations.

"This was an act of disarmament of a weapon of mass destruction, which we've been on record as a country as being all for," Sulzman said.

A federal grand-jury indictment charges the nuns with attempting to "injure, interfere with and obstruct the national defense of the United States," punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and with damaging federal property, punishable by another 10 years.

Dick Weatherbee, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office, declined to discuss the charges in detail.

"My understanding is they went to a missile silo and damaged property at the missile silo," Weatherbee said.

According to Sulzman, the nuns are seeking to assemble an expert defense team and will argue that they were obligated under international laws and treaties -- which supersede domestic U.S. laws -- to do what they did.

Though the subject is controversial, some legal experts argue that international law forbids the stockpiling of nuclear weapons with offensive capabilities. And under precedents established by the Nuremberg war-crimes tribunals, citizens are obligated to intervene against the possible use of such weapons, says Sulzman, who has participated in similar actions himself.

Weatherbee says he doesn't buy the argument.

"Clearly, we don't view that the weapons of mass destruction issue is applicable, because these [missiles] are for national defense," he said.

Shedding blood

Platte and Gilbert, who live in Baltimore, and Hudson, who lives in Poulsbo, Wash., were among five nuns who were arrested two years ago in a similar action at Peterson Air Force Base, during which they hammered on a Navy jet and poured blood on a satellite communications device. In that incident, charges against them were ultimately dropped. Sulzman speculates that the U.S. government didn't want a trial that would generate publicity for the anti-nuclear movement.

The nuns are currently refusing to post bond, partly because bond conditions would restrict them from further disarmament actions, and partly because they want an opportunity to make the international-law argument in court, Sulzman said.

They are seeking to recruit a "top-level" defense team, he said.

An initial hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 16, though the defendants have asked for a delay.

-- Terje Langeland


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