Confronting Australian militarism: Christian peacemakers at Pine Gap

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 41, Pentecost 2007

by Brian Law

On 29 May 2007, four committed Christian peacemakers went on trial in the Alice Springs Supreme Court on charges relating to their non-violent action at the Pine Gap military installation in December 2005. Bryan Law, a 53 year-old taxi driver from Cairns, presented the case for civil disobedience against Australia’s war in Iraq.

Members of the Jury, most of you will know a little bit about the theory and practice of non-violence. You’ll have heard of Mohandas Gandhi, and of Martin Luther King Jnr as giant practitioners of an invigorated form of spiritual non-violence in the 20th Century. Fewer of you will have read and heard about Dorothy Day as a founder of the Catholic Worker movement in contemporary USA, and around the world.

During this trial, I’ll be spending some time presenting evidence about spiritual non-violence and its relevance to our lives today – because it’s central, absolutely central, to why and how I carried out the entry into Pine Gap for which I’m now on trial.

Many of you are Christians, at least nominally, and you’ll be aware of the loving non-violent Jesus in the Gospels. Love one another. Love your enemy. I began conscientiously to adopt the principles and practices of what I call Gandhian non-violence in 1981, in Brisbane, while I was studying at Griffith University. For 25 years since, I’ve developed and refined my ability to understand and practise Gandhian non-violence.

The Citizen’s Inspection of Pine Gap by Christians Against ALL Terrorism on 9 December 2005 was in many ways the culmination of all my learning and practice. That is the act for which I and my friends are on trial today.

 I can’t explain why it is so, but since I was 10 years old and US President Kennedy was assassinated, I have had an abiding interest in the politics of peace, of how to achieve international systems of peace. Since I adopted Gandhian non-violence I can document my consistent and persistent involvement in community-based campaigns to transform the machinery of war into equipment for harmonious society.

Our biblical authority is Isaiah 2:4 : The Lord will rule over the nations and settle the disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not raise sword against nation; they will train for war no more.

In secular thinking the process is called Peace Conversion, and in relation to Pine Gap it involves transforming the ownership and use of the base – using it for arms control and not for inflicting terror. It’s an important point to remember that Christians Against ALL Terrorism does not call for Pine Gap to be dismantled, but to be transformed and brought under United Nations control. We say strip it of its present war-fighting and terror-waging role, and make it a force for world peace. I’d like you to remember this point as we proceed through the trial. It’s important.

In secular thinking the process is called Peace Conversion, and in relation to Pine Gap it involves transforming the ownership and use of the base – using it for arms control and not for inflicting terror.

I’d also like you to understand that our actions are not isolated instances of frustration and despair welling up as some kind of futile protest action. I know that some people are driven to such actions, and that it’s a common stereotype of peace activists as being a few sandwiches short of a picnic when it comes to knowledge and judgement. Elements of the media (all of the Murdoch media) portray us that way regularly. In February 2003, when hundreds of thousands of Australians demonstrated against the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Prime Minister John Howard labelled us as ‘the mob’ and dismissed our thinking out of hand. We are better people than John Howard gives us credit for.

There’s no denying that my friends and I can experience immense frustration as we see the violence in our world – we can be frustrated, but we do not despair. We act. We act with a plan. We believe in the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi – to transform hate into love, and war into peace. To act as a force for good in the world. We act as part of a global peace community that is building the resource to end war and promote effective reconciliation and social justice. I can and will demonstrate to you during this trial that non-violence is a most powerful tool for achieving practical results.

Our Citizens’ Inspection of Pine Gap in December 2005 was deliberately, rationally calculated to materially intervene into the war-fighting operation of Pine Gap, under the public gaze. It is in turn part of a wider effective campaign to limit the damage from war in Iraq in the short term, end the war in the Middle East in the medium term, and bring about global disarmament along the way. We can prove how serious and talented we are by showing how our daggy little group of ordinary citizens invaded the inner compound of the most sensitive and best-guarded military base in Australia. After we told them who we were, and when we’d be coming. What we’d be doing – and then doing it. Setting new standards for political honesty in Australia. The authorities didn’t do so well.

Now I imagine that you’ll hear once or twice from the prosecution that this is all irrelevant to the case in front of you, which is based solely on whether or not we defendants were at a certain place, at a certain time, without a permission slip or authority issued by the appropriate bureaucrat.

What Pine Gap does, they will say, is irrelevant to the charges, and is something which should not be aired in this Court for reasons of national security. Pine Gap should be kept secret, because the government says so. The war in Iraq, they will say, is irrelevant to the charges. This is another issue in which government privilege is said to operate. Theirs the decision to go to war, whatever its purpose or consequence. Ours to bow and scrape.

Well, I can see why they’d think that. Keep things simple. Strip our act of its entire context. Shield government from accountability. There’s nothing too difficult to understand here.

But – you won’t be surprised – I disagree.

The war in Iraq, Australia’s involvement with the war in Iraq, and Australia’s military alliance with the USA which got us into the war in Iraq, are growing emergent catastrophes for all of us. A direct threat to civilians in Australia is the growing likelihood of a bloody terrorist attack in this country. Probably Melbourne or Sydney, but it could be anywhere. Maybe the Gold Coast. Maybe Cairns, where my family and I live. Maybe Alice Springs.

While horrible, this threat pales into insignificance when compared with the slaughter of innocents in Iraq. Ali Allawi, a former Iraqi defence minister, estimates 250,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of the invasion of Iraq and consequent breakdown in civil order. That’s 250,000! My friend and colleague Donna Mulhearn will provide you with eyewitness testimony, as she provided eyewitness testimony to me in 2005 about the impact and effects of this war on Iraqi civilians. Donna was in Baghdad in March 2003, and Falujah in April 2004. She is an eyewitness to US war crimes in Iraq.

The war in Iraq has created the unparalleled production, arming and training of para-militaries, guerrillas, terrorists and gangsters to a severe and pervasive standard. In Iraq, throughout the Middle East and around the world. My son’s grandchildren may still be paying for that.

The war in Iraq is the first war being fought under the 2002 Bush Doctrine, and is indistinguishable from a war of aggression. Wars of aggression are crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity. There is eminent opinion that the invasion of Iraq was illegal in international law.

I believe that all this amounts to a dire emergency in world affairs. Therefore a dire emergency also in my community. An emergency which is unfolding like a train wreck. An emergency about which effective action may still be taken. You will see from the evidence in this trial why Christians Against ALL Terrorism decided to take this kind of action. Action which we will show to be both a proportionate and a reasonable response to the emergency confronting us. This constitutes the defence of ‘necessity’. We felt we had no option.

Since November 2001 various friends and I have formed a local peace group in Cairns, and used every available method of standard political influence.1In February 2003 when activists world-wide collectively achieved a massive display of public majority opposition to the coming invasion, when hundreds of thousands marched in Australia, John Howard called us a mob. He had Rupert Murdoch on his side, so I guess he felt pretty safe election-wise.

We’re still organising today. Letters go unanswered, lies keep coming. I’m connected to the Internet, so I can monitor the global situation. Lies get exposed, but they don’t stop coming. Have you heard the one about ‘the surge is working’?

As citizens, you know for yourselves the condition of our democracy today.

And you must also know by now that the decision by John Howard to join the Coalition of the Killing and invade Iraq is not the legitimate decision of a legitimate government. It is the mad act of a radical usurper. John Howard’s New Order in Australia is fascistic – nationalism and militarism combined, with civil liberties reduced.

Fortunately there are non-violent methods within democracy which are able to correct usurpers like these. Not only is non-violence a tool for waging peace, it’s also a tool for building and re-building democracy. It depends on how many people take it up, and how well organised they are.

We’ll give you plenty of evidence about the open, respectful, truthful and non-violent nature of our action during the course of this trial, as will all the prosecution witnesses. We follow Christ’s direction to love our enemies. We wish more did.

And you must also know by now that the decision by John Howard to join the Coalition of the Killing and invade Iraq is not the legitimate decision of a legitimate government. It is the mad act of a radical usurper. John Howard’s New Order in Australia is fascistic – nationalism and militarism combined, with civil liberties reduced.

Where I disagree with the prosecution is that I believe I had a lawful justification for being there, which constitutes a legal excuse to the charges laid against me.

I was compelled to take some action out of necessity to avoid or ameliorate the imminent dire consequences (loss of life/others and property) arising out of the extraordinary emergency created by Australian participation in the war in Iraq. Under all the circumstances, the best action I could organise to take was the Citizen’s inspection of Pine Gap on 9 December 2005. I say that it’s a rational and reasonable way to achieve withdrawal and disarmament – as part of a coherent and effective peace movement which is hard at work all around the world right now.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury – this is your chance to think deeply and speak clearly. If you agree that the atrocities that were committed and are still being committed in Iraq represent the kind of heinous and demonic war crimes that I see them as, and that under those circumstances our response to it is a reasonable and proportionate response calculated to end the emergency, you must vote Not Guilty.

You’ll not only acquit us from serious criminal charges, but you’ll send a message around the world about what’s right and just in the year of Our Lord 2007.

It’s right and just that citizens of good conscience take whatever action is available to them to bring this stupid, bloody and criminal war to a speedy end.

Action at Pine Gap

Four Australian Christians faced serious charges as a result of their non-violent prayerful protest at the Pine Gap military installation. Pine Gap is Australia’s most important contribution to the military intelligence waging the war in Iraq. Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock consented to charges under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act of 1952, which is being invoked for the first time. After committal hearings in Alice Springs the four – Jim Dowling, Donna Mulhearn, Adele Goldie and Brian Law – were committed to trial in the Northern Territory Court in May 2007.

The charges arise from an action in December 2005 when a group of six people calling themselves Christians Against All Terrorism notified the then Minister of Defence, Robert Hill, of their intention to inspect the Pine Gap base for terrorist activity as they believed it was being used to provide targeting information for terrorist bombing in Iraq. After walking to the remote site for five hours, Adele Goldie and Jim Dowling entered the base and hung their banner on a security fence. It read ‘What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the earth,’ a quote from the Book of Genesis. They then climbed onto the roof of a building to take photos, before kneeling and praying for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were then arrested.

An hour later Brian Law and Donna Mulhearn, dressed in white overalls inscribed with the words ‘Citizens Inspection Team’, walked through the outer restricted area right up to the high security fence and started cutting through the wire before being stopped. Both prayed, placed a crucifix against the fence and were arrested. The final two members, Sean O’Reilly and Jessica Morrison, were arrested after protesting legally with banners outside the base. Their charges have since been dropped.

Group member Donna Mulhearn, who has twice been to Iraq as a peacemaker working among street kids and also acted as a ‘human shield’ when the U.S. first started bombing Baghdad, said ‘the government and military are obviously highly embarrassed by the ability of a small group of unarmed, untrained, unfunded Christian pacifists to so easily break their security, despite telling them we were coming. It’s even more fascinating that the government chose Easter weekend to make the decision to charge us under a draconian law never used before which carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison. This is the time all Christians remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We were arrested for non-violent peacemaking at the heart of the war machine. We were trying to expose the criminal role of Pine Gap in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.’

Jim Dowling, who lives in a Catholic Worker community in Queensland with his wife and six children, has been resisting Australia’s involvement in war for three decades through creative non-violence and prayer. He said that non-violent resistance was the most effective tool in speaking to a government which does not listen to Christ’s message and wants to wage war. He said that he had always been inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Phillip and Daniel Berrigan and other Catholic Workers who took the gospel of Jesus seriously when it comes to peacemaking and social justice. ‘Now Australia is at war again. It is immoral. Christians have no choice but to resist.’

1 All is documented on www.cairnspeacebypeace.org

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