Opponents Prevail Over Dirty Bombs


the span of five days, separate juries found two groups of anti-
war activists “not-guilty” of trespass last December.
Such verdicts are extremely rare, but four different juries have
now sided with peace activists who refused to leave the premises
of the biggest arms merchant in Minnesota—Alliant Techsystems,
Inc. (ATK)—before getting an appointment. After refusing to
talk with them last July, the company’s managers had them arrested.
Along with an identical acquittal in October 2003, and a similar
one in 1997, the politically-charged trials—all conducted by
different judges in Hennepin County District courts—have vindicated
a total of 106 people. The 1997 group—79 protesters in all—won
a “not guilty” verdict after showing that the outlaw status
of land mines excused what otherwise appeared to be trespassing.

past January and May, three other groups of alleged trespassers
had their charges dropped just prior to trial. Another group of
34 civil resisters arrested March 14 had charges dismissed
on a technicality—a hastily-enacted Edina city ordinance had
not been officially published, i.e., enacted, before it was charged
against the protesters. 

Tech, a $2.4 billion weapons giant headquartered in the Minneapolis
suburb of Edina, is one of the nation’s foremost producers
of “depleted” uranium munitions (DU). The armor-piercing
shells are made of radioactive waste uranium-238 left over after
uranium-235 has been removed for use in reactor fuel and H-bombs.
The misnomer “depleted” is a soothing Pentagon distraction,
since DU is “depleted” only of uranium-235. The shells
are solid radioactive waste and turn into chemically toxic and carcinogenic
dust when they smash and burn through hard targets. 

of the defendants in the December 14 acquittal had visited Iraq
and seen firsthand the consequences of using nuclear waste as a
weapon of war. Jane Hosking, John Heid, and Mike Miles—all
of Anathoth Community Farm, an intentional anti-war community near
Luck, Wisconsin, testified as witnesses to the documented increases
in cancer and leukemia in southern Iraq since the U.S.’s 1991

of tons of the waste uranium shells have been used by the U.S. against
Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo. The U.S. military fired at
least 340 tons of DU into Iraq in 1991 and from 176 to 200 tons
during its March 2003 bombardment; five tons into Bosnia in 1994-1995;
and between 10 and 12 tons into Kosovo in 1999. Estimates of how
much was used in the 2001 bombardment of Afghanistan vary widely,
but the Uranium Medical Research Center (www.umrc. org) claims 2,000
tons. In November 2004, Iraq’s U.S.-picked provisional government
had the nerve to ask the UN for help in cleaning up the uranium
dust spread across the country by U.S. and British forces during
the 1991 and 2003 attacks. The UN declined, saying the U.S. had
not provided it with maps of where its DU was used. 

use of DU created a European uproar in January 2001 when pollution
left from the bombing of Kosovo was found to contain plutonium and
other highly radioactive fission products created inside reactors.
The Pentagon’s Kenneth Bacon had to acknowledge that, “We
discovered some stray elements…in depleted uranium. They consisted
of plutonium, neptunium and americium.” Since then, Italy,
Germany, Norway, Greece, and other NATO allies have called for a
moratorium on the use of DU, hundreds of protests have taken place
across Europe, and numerous civil resistance arrests have taken
place at ATK and other DU manufacturers in the U.S. 

Pentagon calls its DU shells “tank busters.” In fact,
they don’t always work as such because the angle of impact
must be within a small range to avoid ricochets or duds. When they
do make a hit, uranium shells are more properly called “gene
busters,” because the pulverized uranium-238 can be inhaled
or ingested. Inside human bodies, DU attacks the gene pool, bombarding
surrounding tissues and damaging chromosomes in successive generations—for
eons. Uranium-238 is a heavy metal toxin, like lead or mercury,
with a radioactive half-life of 4.5 billion years.

700,000 tons of DU were produced at government-owned uranium enrichment
plants in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Paducah, Kentucky; and Portsmouth,
Ohio. The government gives this waste uranium metal free to weapons
merchants. They then turn around and sell the shells to the government.
Even the small caliber (30mm) shells bring $21.50 a piece, according
to the

Wall Street Journal,

quoting the Air Force. The Air
Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt—sometimes called the “Warthog”—fires
30mm DU shells at a rate of 3,600 shells per minute (or 60 rounds
per second). The war profiteering is almost mind boggling. (ATK
is also the country’s top bullet maker. The company announced
last April that its Lake City, Missouri plant had produced 1.2 billion
bullets for the U.S. Army in a period of 12 months. Over the next
12 it plans to make another 1.5 billion bullets.) 

to its own promotional materials, ATK has made over 18 million DU
shells—16 million 30mm and 2 million 120mm “anti-tank”
rounds. The uranium “penetrators,” as the company calls
them, are “pyrophoric”—they burn through tank armor
and self- sharpen as they punch through. (Tungsten also works to
smash through tank armor, but its importation is expensive.) 


six-person jury in the case— and in similar trials December
10, 2004, and October 18, 2003—decided that the defendants’
argument was reasonable even if technically “mistaken.”
As the judge told the jury, “If defendants acted in good faith
under claim of right, even if reasonably mistaken as to this right,
you must find the defendants not guilty.” 

uranium munitions can’t be squared with the Geneva Conventions,
which require protection of civilians and which forbid long-term
environmental destruction; and DU also violates the 1907 Hague Regulations’
prohibition of poisoned weapons. 

of the uranium pollution found in Bosnia and Kosovo, governments
and NGOs around the world have pressed for independent studies of
DU’s effects and have recommended a halt to its use until its
dangers are better understood. International efforts to rid the
world of uranium weapons appear the strongest in Europe. The legal
victories in Minnesota will put the U.S. anti-DU movement on the
map with other international campaigns. 

October 2003 trial ended in acquittal just as an international uranium
weapons conference in Hamburg, Germany (www.uraniumweaponsconference.de)
was wrapping up its work. Two-hundred delegates from 23 countries
resolved that the U.S. and the UK must: (1) provide medical treatment
and compensation to DU-contaminated troops and civilians; (2) clean-up
and decontaminate DU- targeted areas in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan,
and Iraq; and (3) join in efforts to prohibit the manufacture, sale,
stockpiling, or use of DU. 

UN Environment Program has recommended, “Continued monitoring
is clearly needed and the local [Kosovo] population should be informed
about DU issues.” The UN Sub-Commission On Prevention of Discrimination
and Protection of Minorities has resolved that “states…need
to curb the production and spread of weapons of mass destruction
and indiscriminate effect, in particular… weaponry containing
depleted uranium….” 

European Parliament, in its “resolution on the consequences
of using depleted uranium munitions,” called upon member states
that are also in NATO “to propose that a moratorium be placed
on the use of depleted uranium weapons….” The resolution
also called for “measures to provide assistance to civilian
victims and to protect the environment” in Bosnia and Kosovo. 

Minneapolis, activists explained to the jury that after World War
II the laws of war changed in two ways. First, prior to the Holocaust,
acts of mass destruction were outlawed, but prosecutions were possible
only after-the-fact. At Nuremberg, German judges, military officers,
and private industrialists were tried and the “planning and
preparation” of illegal warfare was criminalized. Nuremberg’s
purpose in punishing “inchoate crimes” or crimes-in-the-making—
by outlawing production of weapons that can’t be used legally—was
to insure that ordinary citizens can act to prevent wartime atrocities. 

the Nuremberg Tribunal held individuals responsible for their actions
even if they were fulfilling government contracts or just “following
orders.” The prosecution, led by a U.S. Supreme Court justice,
demanded then that if mass destruction is made legal by the state,
then the state must be disobeyed. 

Nuremberg Tribunal declared, “International law, as such, binds
every citizen, just as does ordinary municipal law. The fact that
a person acts pursuant to his government or of a superior does not
relieve him from responsibility under international law provided
a moral choice was in fact available.” 

cumulative effect of Nurem- berg, the Geneva Conventions, and the
Hague Regulations is that citizens are rightfully allowed to interfere
with the government’s criminal acts. In Minnesota law, juries
don’t have to agree with this analysis. They only have to find
that it is legally reasonable.  

we explained in our closing argument at trial, “In a nutshell,
the law says: It is forbidden to use poison or poisoned weapons;
to use weapons that do severe, long-term damage to the environment;
to use weapons that cannot distinguish between civilians and soldiers,
or to use materials or devices that are similar to gas; the planning
or preparation of wars that would violate binding treaties is itself
a crime; individuals are personally responsible for their participation
in these crimes—which is to say that we must all avoid such
participation; finally, binding treaties and agreements are officially
elevated to the position of ‘the Supreme Law of the Land’
by the Constitu- tion of the United States.” 

date, four juries have recognized the citizen’s right to nonviolent
obstinacy in the face of official wrongdoing. In the case of refusing
to leave ATK’s “dirty bomb” headquarters until we
were granted a meeting, we attempted an act of crime prevention. 

only did we win our case, but government prosecutors can now consider
bringing charges against the real criminals.

John M. LaForge
lives at the Anathoth Community Farm where he works on the staff of
Nukewatch, a peace and environmental action group based in Wisconsin
( nukewatch@lakeland.ws) .