With thousands of U.S. troops poised to overtake Baghdad
with shock, awe and whatever else is necessary to subdue the 5 million Iraqis who live there, the question before the U.S.
District Court in Denver last week was whether three nuns armed with wire cutters, hammers and their own blood constituted
a threat to the national security of the United States of America.
The questions were: Were the nuns trying to sabotage
the mighty U.S. government?
Did they undermine our national defense?
Did they damage the most powerful military on Earth?
Not allowed inside the courtroom was the other issue:
Whether at least in principle the nuns might have a point.
So with worldwide attention focused on them, the women
in blaze-orange prison suits sat before a jury and a smiling judge in a red bow tie and made their case.
Carol Gilbert, 55, Jackie Hudson, 68, and Ardeth Platte,
66, admitted to several facts for the prosecution.
Yes, they said, they did carefully snip through the
chain-link fence on the site of the Minuteman missile silo near Greeley on the morning of Oct. 6, 2002. They chose the date
deliberately because it was the anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan.
Yes, they cut the chain on a gate to enter the property,
but they were careful not to damage the lock. A link on a chain or a fence can easily be fixed, Gilbert said. She'd done it
many times herself back home in Baltimore.
Yes, they did in fact flail away with their household
hammers on the rusty railroad tracks that are installed for transport of weapons on the site.
And, yes, absolutely, they spilled containers of their
own blood into shapes of crosses on the tracks and on the wall of the missile silo.
"I've been tested. I don't have AIDS," Gilbert told
the court. "We brought the blood in baby bottles. "
Then, with the bloody crosses drying in the autumn sun,
the nuns sang a song about the sacred Earth and chanted, "Oh God, teach us how to be peacemakers in a hostile world."
After about 40 minutes of this, several soldiers driving
Humvees crashed through the fence and, with their weapons drawn, surrounded the gray-haired women and handcuffed them.
Oh, there was one other thing in the federal government's
case against the nuns: a rosary. Sister Gilbert had left hers behind.
It's Exhibit Z.
Despite the barrage of objections from the prosecutor
on relevance, the soft-spoken Dominicans took every opportunity to explain their intent on that day.
They are people of conscience, they said. They have
taken vows that require them to bear witness. In their church under their God, poverty, hunger, homelessness and weapons of
mass destruction are an abomination.
"Any nuclear weapon, even by its very existence, is
a crime of genocide," Gilbert said on the witness stand.
"In Germany, when they put the Jews on the trains and
gassed them, it was legal. Nobody was breaking a law. Yet we all wonder how the people of Germany could have allowed Hitler
to do this."
Now, the U.S. has nuclear missiles on high alert, poised
to kill indiscriminately, and the nuns believe it was their duty - under the Nuremberg Principles, international law and the
tenets of their powerful faith - to stand in opposition to them.
"I believed I had to go there to stop a crime against
humanity," Gilbert said. "I knew this little hammer wasn't going to stop the Minuteman missile, but I could say to my God,
'This is not in my name. I'm not responsible."'
The sisters have long been part of Jonah House, a community
founded in 1973 by former Jesuit priest Philip Berrigan.
Berrigan became famous for protesting the Vietnam War
and demonstrating for nuclear disarmament. He spent 11 years in prison for acts of civil disobedience. He died in December.
His widow, Elizabeth McAlister, attended the trial of the nuns.
In their closing arguments, the lawyers for the sisters
reminded jurors that military officers had testified that the women had not jeopardized national defense or harmed the nuclear
missiles at the site.
The prosecutor spoke again of the willful destruction,
the bloody crosses and the affront to law, order and military security.
And diminutive Sister Platte thanked them all - the
jurors, the judge, the prosecutor, even the FBI agents.
She talked about faith, peace and humanity amid war
and death. She talked about trying to live a life that's pure and true and holy.
And then the defense of the three nuns in the blaze
orange prison suits rested.
Some say it was a charade. Some say it was a sacrilege.
Some say it was idealism run amok.
For the sisters, it is what gives their life meaning.
They took a stand for peace. They forced the U.S. government
and the world to pay attention.
This week's verdict won't matter.