Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2021
Nukewatch co-director John LaForge was convicted of trespassing and damage to property May 31 in Cochem, Germany. The charges stemmed from two 2018 nuclear weapons protest actions directed against the US nuclear bombs deployed at the Büchel Air Force Base in the southwest state of Rhineland-Pfalz. The trial was only the second for a US citizen in a 25-year-long campaign against “nuclear sharing” between the United States and Germany at Büchel. Over 90 similar trials have resulted from recent protests at the base, but only residents of Germany or The Netherlands have been prosecuted.
Dennis DuVall, formerly of Prescott, Arizona became the first US citizen convicted of the same charges in May 2020, although the long-time member of Veterans for Peace now lives in Germany.
LaForge, 65, was given a penalty of 600 euros ($727) or 50 days of either community service or jail. The bench trial conducted by Cochem District Court Judge Alexander Fleckenstein took place in LaForge’s absence. LaForge will appeal the conviction.
In the protest on July 15, 2018, LaForge and 17 others entered the base through five openings cut in the base’s chain link perimeter fence in broad daylight on a Sunday morning. In a subsequent action August 6, the anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima, LaForge and Susan Crane of the Redwood City, California Catholic Worker also entered the base unhindered, in daytime, and even climbed to the top of one of the bunkers reportedly holding some of the 20 US hydrogen bombs on base. Charges were not brought against Crane.
About his May 31st guilty verdict LaForge said, “The court refused to consider federal and international laws that forbid preparations for mass destruction. It is grimly ironic that my defense relies on the Nuremberg Charter and Principles which were created in Germany by the WW II allies, with US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson as chief prosecutor leading the charge. Nuremberg law declares that planning and preparing indiscriminate attacks is criminal before the fact. Our actions were taken to prevent the illegal preparations for massacres using US nuclear weapons that take place at the base.”
In the May 31 trial, Attorney Busl read John’s written testimony and introduced several supporting documents including formal declarations by international law expert Anabel Dwyer of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and by retired German judges Bernd Hahnfeld and Ulf Panzer. Judge Fleckenstein said international law was irrelevant to the charges and was better suited for consideration by higher courts.
After similar convictions in the campaign against the “sharing” of US nuclear weapons in Germany, gravity bombs known as B61s, appeals to higher courts have not been successful. Germany’s highest judicial body, the Constitutional Court has ruled that addressing the question of whether deployment is lawful “is not in the public interest.”
In view of the court system’s refusal to consider international treaty law as a defense to the protest charges, several resisters intend to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. The ECHR can hear cases of unfair trials under certain circumstances, and the resisters argue that refusing to consider their international law defense constitutes trial court unfairness or judicial bias.
Nukewatch, and the German group Nonviolent Action Abolish Nuclear Weapons (GAAA) coordinated three delegations of US peace activists — in 2017, 2018, and 2019 — to the annual peace encampments near the Büchel Air Base. The delegations participated in vigils, blockades, and “go-in” actions together with resisters from Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, France, and the UK.
Scores of similar actions have taken place at the base over the last 25 years, and over 90 court trials in Cochem have resulted from the long-running campaign which demands: 1) removal of the US H-bombs, 2) cancellation of their replacement with the new bomb, and 3) German ratification of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.