This article was originally published by Reader Supported News.
Federal Magistrate judge Rita Federman last Wednesday allowed the U.S. government to dismiss all trespassing charges against the “Vandenberg 15,” a group of citizens who in February conducted a civil disobedience action at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The group was attempting to stop a testing of the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that later reached a target in the Marshall Islands (without a nuclear warhead). The group was urging the base commander to stop the testing of thermonuclear warhead delivery vehicles and to eliminate land-based missiles in the U.S.
The Vandenberg 15 included prominent leaders of the anti-nuclear movement – Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon nuclear weapons strategist, (who also released the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971); Father Louis Vitale, a Franciscan monk and co-founder of the Nevada Desert Experience; Cindy Sheehan, founder of the Gold Star Families for Peace, whose son, Casey, was killed in the Iraq war; and David Krieger, president of Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), member of Veterans for Peace, etc.
Attorney Matthew Umhofer stated, “Ultimately the government did the right thing to dismiss this case, because they had no real trespassing issues. It is the highest form of patriotism for my clients to petition their government, and they were acting within their rights, and did not trespass as charged. Truly, they are the true patriots, because these nuclear weapons can threaten our national security.”
Daniel Ellsberg commented on the need for both presidential candidates to consider “dismantling the Minuteman III missiles, to secure the safety of the world, but also the safety of this country. President Obama should take the step and dismantle by next month.”
Currently, the United States has 450 Minuteman III missiles (with thermonuclear warheads) on high-alert in silos in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Ellsberg has emphasized in the past that the danger of having these land-based missiles in the U.S. because of the fragility of the worldwide first-strike warning systems, which under time of crisis could launch the nuclear missiles under a ‘use them or lose them’ logic, thus causing an accidental nuclear war.
Father Louis Vitale stated, “We are still calling on the immediate stop to the use of the Minuteman III missiles, as they are terrible weapons.”
NAPF president David Krieger emphasized, “This is an absolute victory for all people, not just the people who protested, but all people. Nuclear weapons are the enemy of all humanity, as nuclear weapons are the negation of life on this planet. Humans must show we are more intelligent or we could become extinct. The U.S. needs to lead the way, and the true victory will be when all nuclear weapons are abolished.”
Carolee Krieger, also one of the Vandenberg 15, clarified, “Daniel Ellsberg has said that if only three hundred nuclear weapons were used worldwide it would cause such smoke and debris in the stratosphere, blocking the sun, that the world would experience famine, starvation. We should use our brains and consider the horrible consequences that could befall us all.”
In a phone interview after the court’s decision, Ellsberg pointed out, “After the presidential elections, and before the inauguration, Congress will be having discussions about military budgets and nuclear weapons. Secretary of Defense Panetta has stated recently that the first on his list to cut in the military budget [in the event of sequestration] will be the 450 Minuteman III missiles in the U.S. That implies to me that they are not necessary to our national security.
“In addition, General Cartwright, former commander of the Strategic Command (StratCom), who had the Minuteman III missiles under his command, has stated that the U.S. should get rid of these Minuteman III missiles, as their deployment could endanger our country.
“I think President Obama should immediately take a limited step by taking the Minuteman III missiles off deployment, not just off high-alert. He would have his own secretary of defense, and the former head of StratCom, by his side in this decision.”
Ellsberg noted that the issue of false arrests, and First Amendment protections, ultimately led the U.S. government to dismiss the case. He emphasized, “Of course, our criticisms of the U.S. government’s dangerous and reckless actions to have a rehearsal for a holocaust (by testing these missiles) was the focus of the case. There is just no ‘strategic purpose’ to have or deploy these land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and I am saying this strongly, as my former job at the Pentagon was to judge ‘strategic worth’ of nuclear weapons. They should have been dismantled 40-60 years ago, for the safety of the U.S. and the world.”
All of the Vandenberg 15 would have faced hefty fines from the courts for their protest, except Father Louis Vitale, who would have faced jail time because of his previous arrests at other nuclear actions, including at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Before becoming a Franciscan monk, Father Vitale flew planes for the Air Force in the 1950s. There is another missile test scheduled for November 14 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, yet none of the Vandenberg 15 have committed to protest this next testing of the missiles.