I was one of the 22 people who defended themselves in a 2 day court hearing in Hemel Hempstead Magistrates court on 17th and 19th June. Our "crime" was blockading the main gate of Northwood Military Base, the HQ of UK military operations, for 3 hours on the 19th January this year. We were charged with "Obstructing the Highway without legal authority or reasonable excuse". Although it was a magistrate's court a judge presided. We all constructed our own defence, some using legal argument, some speaking from the heart, and most of us both. Everyone spoke powerfully and with integrity.
We defend ourselves in court.
My defence was that I was acting with lawful authority-International Law. Any attack on Iraq was considered by many international lawyers to be in breach of UN resolutions. And I had very reasonable excuse. I was part of the Sheffield delegation to Iraq in November 2000 and gave evidence of the research conducted by Profesor Janan Hussan of Basra University about the effects of Depleted Uranium (DU) used in the 1991 Iraq war on massively increased cancer and birth abnormalities in children in Basra. I submitted photographs of young Iraqi people taken during our visit. My reasonable excuse was my belief that any immanent attack on Iraq would result in civilian casualties and if DU was used, would lead to indiscriminate death and suffering for many ordinary Iraqi people, especially children, for decades into the future. I also presented as evidence a sheaf of letters to my MP including the question "would DU be used in any attack on Iraq?" and a sheaf of replies from the Foreign Office avoiding a direct answer. Ie I had exhausted normal democratic channels. Non violent direct action to disrupt the planning for war was a responsible action in face of the knowledge I had on the devastating effects of war on ordinary Iraqi people.
My last card - I am employed by a National Park to engage young people in environmental education programmes about sustainable development and citizenship. I was acting as a Global Citizen – I considered the effect of war on Iraqi people outweighed any inconvenience caused to local Northwood residents getting about their Sunday afternoon business. My particular appeal to the judge, a man of my age, was that "I am sure we all want our children to grow up with integrity, to have hope for the future based on justice and tolerance. My hope is that young people will want to play a part towards creating that future. I believe if we want our children to grow up with integrity we need to act with integrity too. I felt it was my moral responsibility, particularly with my knowledge and experience, to actively take part in non violent civil disobedience to act to prevent this immoral and illegal war."
Is the judge biased or what?
The judge surprised us all by entering into political debate with me. "Didn’t we bomb Iraq in 1991 because they we’re invading Kuwait?" "Don’t you think those young people you’ve shown me photographs of would rather live under a democracy than under that tyrant Saddam Hussein?" After getting over the shock – of recognising what seems an extraordinarily naïve standpoint –it was a wonderful opener for a response. I'd love to have another go at an articulate response, but I do remember saying that the bottom line for democracy was the right to life. If the US and UK were that interested in democracy for young Iraqis they would have put an end to their draconian sanction regime and after the war protected hospitals rather than the ministry for oil. I somehow got in the crucial need for justice for Palestine if there was to be any peace and democracy in the Middle East.
The judge listened to all our defences, adjourned for 30 minutes to consider the evidence, returned, and read out a ten page reason for finding us all guilty! No surprises here. £90 fine plus £30 costs each.
What did we achieve?
Press and TV coverage in the South- just at the time when the legality of this war is being challenged. A sense of personal integrity in speaking out in intimidating circumstances and experiential knowledge that we need not be cowed by authority in all its most pompous guises. A sense of solidarity with peace protestors all over the world and confirmation that our sample of the British Legal system is as reactionary as they come.
What are we going to do?
One of us is thinking of appealing, some others are refusing to pay the fine and go through bailiff, further court cases and perhaps imprisonment. I don't want to do this-. For me the court case took enough time, costs and emotional energy – and was worth it- but now I want to keep energy for current issues. I have to pay the fine by the end of this week or risk the bailiffs.
An appeal was launched to make this a collective anti-war effort rather than just a personal burden. Thanks to Green Party members and friends for donations-£45 so far. (appeal ended Friday 11th July - any surplus put to the White Ribbon fund to take Tony Blair and Jack Straw to the International Court for War Crimes).
by Heather Hunt, for more information please contact Heather.Hunt@care4free.net