Peace on earth

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 36, Lent 2006
By Jim Dowling

Today we were part of a miracle.

A number of months ago I first proposed the idea of exposing the terrorist nature of the Pine Gap ‘intelligence’ installation by attempting to enter it and perhaps climb on one of the structures. Pine Gap is Australia’s most important contribution to the killing spree in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing much of the targeting information for the bombing raids etc which have resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 civilians in the last 3 years.

Eventually a group formed for the Pine Gap action calling ourselves Christians Against ALL Terrorism. Bryan Law introduced enormous energy and made the group viable. He notified police and Senator Robert Hill we were coming and even told them the planned date of our action: December 8th. We were full of enthusiasm, but still it was a firm belief of most participants that only a miracle would enable us to succeed, given that Pine Gap is the most secure military establishment in Australia. Today that miracle took place.

Pine Gap is Australia’s most important contribution to the killing spree in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing much of the targeting information for the bombing raids etc which have resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 civilians in the last 3 years.

On Wednesday morning we sought out Pat Hayes, the traditional Arrente caretaker for the Pine Gap area and asked his permission to walk on his land in order to expose the violence of the base which occupied part of that land. No permission had ever been sought or given for Pine Gap to be used by the military. However Pat graciously gave us permission to enter the area.

Late at night on Thursday 8 December, four of us, Donna Mulhearn and Brian Law in one group and Adele Goldie and myself in the other started the walk to the base from two different directions. We walked for five hours and three hours respectively. At 4.00 am Adele and I came close to the first 3-metre high security fence. As we lay on the ground perhaps 500 metres from the fence, security vehicles drove nearby with their floodlights panning the area. We thought they must have known of our presence and were searching for us. At least twice we thought they must have seen us and our attempt to enter the base was over. Later we realised their surveillance was routine, and they had miraculously not seen us.

After two vehicles had gone Adele and I made the last 100 meter dash through the open floodlit area to the outer security fence. As Adele hung our banner – WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? YOUR BROTHER’S BLOOD CRIES OUT TO ME FROM THE EARTH: Gen 4 – on the fence, I placed Jessica’s beautiful barbed wire crucifix against it. Then I cut through the fence. We climbed through and I cut the second fence about ten metres away. Again we climbed through and realised all the power of the greatest empire in history could not stop two untrained, unfunded, unarmed Christian pacifists from entering one of their most important and secure bases – even after we had told them we were coming.

I looked around at the huge white domes and radar dishes around us. It was obviously not possible to climb onto one of the white domes as I had sometimes fantasised. Adele headed for a tower next to a building and climbed on to the roof. I followed. Once on the roof we placed photos, leaflets, and other information on the roof and gave thanks to God. Shortly after we watched as a security guard on a bicycle rode around. We still had not been seen. But the guard then rode around to the back of the building and must have noticed the banner on the fence. Meanwhile Adele and I took photos of one another with a huge white dome behind us. The security guard came back in sight and quickly climbed a tower which supported the radar dish directly in front of us. Amazingly (although by this time nothing would surprise us), he must have looked around for a minute before seeing us. I waved, and he scrambled back down.

Within a minute there were a number of federal security guards and police assembled below us. My response to the first one who asked us to come down was to inform him that we had come to inspect the base for terrorist activity and would come down when we had something in writing from the Commander saying we would not be stopped from doing so. A second guard angrily yelled at me that he was coming up to drag me off the roof. I responded that I would certainly not be surprised by violence as I was aware the base had been directly involved in the slaughter of thousands in terrorist attacks.

Of course it is easy to be brave when you are ‘king of the castle’. But shortly a number of guards and police were on the roof. The first one said, ‘Get on your knees’. ‘That’s a good idea’, I replied. I knelt down and prayed that he would withdraw his co-operation from the violence of Pine Gap. Unfortunately, when praying it was impossible to hear the instructions that were being given to me. This made the original guard who threatened us rather annoyed. Amazingly he used a new compliance technique with which I am becoming familiar – the old ‘push the head into the ground and push your knee into the head’ technique. Luckily, unlike the concrete floor last time, the metal roof we were on had a little give and I only suffered a bruised cheek instead of a bloody face. After being escorted from the roof and into a wagon we were driven to the front of the base, searched numerous times and driven to the watch house.

About an hour after Adele and I, Bryan and Donna had completed their amazing walk in daylight. Bryan has health conditions which made the walk extremely difficult, and any chance of running impossible. So they slowly walked the last stretch to the security fence, Donna dressed in black and Brian in his bright white ‘Citizens Inspection Team’ overalls. What followed seemed like another miracle. A security van drove towards them. They waved and the vehicle drove on! They reached the first security fence, unchallenged by the numerous police and guards now behind it until Bryan started to cut the fence with bolt cutters. Then the security forces realised Bryan was the ‘enemy’ and called out. Bryan kept cutting until a security guard put his hand on his gun, and perhaps not coincidentally Bryan decided he had done enough inspecting for the moment.

Bryan and Donna were ‘captured’ by Ken who had talked to us two days before. Ken had totally lost his jovial sense of humour as Bryan was rolled roughly in the dirt. Donna and Bryan did not think it was the time to remind Ken of how we had all laughed together about his advice that trying to break into the base in white overalls was probably not very helpful for us. Later in the watch house we joked about how next time we should try it handcuffed and carrying tracking devices to give them a fairer chance of catching us!

The arrests were not over however. Sean O’Reilly and Jessica Morrison had driven to the front of the base and were holding a banner in what they thought was a non-arrestable action (Jessica had a plane to Melbourne booked in 5 hours time, and Sean was due to catch one the next day). They were not expecting the anger of the federal police. We had been to the front of the base twice to picket and pray. Each time they had happily assured us of our right to be there. Now they were intent on revenge and decided to confiscate our cameras and any interesting documents. When Sean politely asked them what law allowed them to do this, he was arrested and charged with hindering police. No receipt was given for anything taken and as yet nothing has been returned. Later that day it was Jessica’s turn. She was followed by the federal police all morning until she came to the watch house to visit her friends. She was immediately arrested and told she would be charged with being an accessory. Happily, after an hour or so and much distress, Jessica’s charges were dropped and she was released.

One of the most important messages from our entry into Pine Gap is that our security does not lie in bigger and better bombs, bigger and better targeting or surveillance systems. Our security lies in building better relationships. In the words on my Catholic Worker T-shirt, The Only Solution is Love.

The four who walked into Pine Gap were charged with: destroying or damaging Commonwealth property; trespassing on Commonwealth land; unlawfully entering a prohibited area; unlawfully damaging property. Sean was charged with obstructing commonwealth police (since dismissed).

Later we were told the ‘unlawfully enter a prohibited area’ charge needs to be approved by the Attorney General, and we await such confirmation. This is the 1952 law Defence Minister Hill threatened us with. It carries a maximum of seven years jail. No one has ever been charged under this law in Australia before. The NT Director of Public Prosecutions flew down to personally handle our first court appearance. So they are obviously taking our little miracle quite seriously.

One of the most important messages from our entry into Pine Gap is that our security does not lie in bigger and better bombs, bigger and better targeting or surveillance systems. Our security lies in building better relationships. In the words on my Catholic Worker T-shirt, The Only Solution is Love.

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