Pacifists Get Jail Term for Making Country Safer

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Well, this is stupid.

Recently I noted that on February 18, a hearing would be held to determine what punishment should be inflicted on three anti-nuclear activists, one of them an 84-year-old nun, who had the bad manners to break into the Y-12 compound for a protest and thereby showed that the government had left 100 tons of enriched uranium totally unsecured. See "Government Bravely Prosecutes Nun for Embarrassing It" (Feb. 10, 2014). Disappointingly, the judge gave them three to five years in prison, not the ticker-tape parade they should be getting.

Sister Megan Rice, who turned 84 last month (and who was 82 at the time of her daring commando raid on our nuclear stockpile) got 35 months in prison. Granted, she did not ask for leniency. In fact, she asked for no leniency. "Please have no leniency on me," she said to Judge Amul Thapar. "To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest honor you could give me." She wasn't using reverse psychology, either. But just because she is willing to be a martyr doesn't mean she should be made one. They had already been ordered to pay restitution and had spent some time in jail, and in my view that was plenty.

The 30-year potential sentence they faced was a result of the government's ridiculous decision to charge them with sabotage under a 1918 statute that has virtually never been used. 18 U.S.C. § 2155. Here's what somebody claimed to think applied in this case:

Whoever, with intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States, willfully injures, destroys, contaminates or infects, or attempts to so injure, destroy, contaminate or infect any national-defense material, national-defense premises, or national-defense utilities, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both….

I guess you could say that they "injured" "national-defense premises" when they cut a hole in some fences and then painted on a building. You could also reasonably say they didn't, because it is kind of stupid to interpret "injury" in this context as any damage, no matter how minor. Just a thought, but shouldn't "national-defense premises" worthy of the name be able to survive a nun attack without serious "injury"? It's like that Monty Python routine where the gangsters try to run their protection racket at an army base. "Nice tank you've got here … be a shame if anything happened to it." Please!

More clearly, there is no way these people intended to affect "the national defense of the United States" in any way other than by trying to convince the United States not to use nuclear weapons for that purpose. That can't possibly be what this law is for, and doesn't using it that way violate the First Amendment? Had they actually intended to injure the national defense, of course—like if they were terrorists or enemy agents—they could easily have done that, because of the government's negligence. But they didn't.

And they sure didn't "interfere" with anybody working at the compound, even the security guards. They couldn't have, because they couldn't find any.

The most nonsensical thing about the charge is that as a result of their actions, the nation is (hopefully) safer than it was. Obviously, anybody who wanted some bomb-grade uranium and had some explosives could have walked in and gotten it. The government claims it has fixed that now, of course. Let's hope it has, and that prosecuting a nun is not the best response it could come up with.