Drop the charges against 'Pine Gap Four'

Friday, February 15, 2008

In December 2005, four activists (Christians Against All Terrorism) were arrested while carrying out a citizen's inspection of the US Pine Gap war base, near Alice Springs. They carried out a simple "trespass" action and had permission from the traditional Aboriginal owners.

Donna Mulhearn, one of the four, who had previously visited Iraq as a human shield, said afterwards: "How on earth can a hotch-potch group of unfunded, untrained, unarmed (and in my case, unfit) Christian pacifists break into one of America and Australia's most significant military bases and, in relative ease, causing the base to be shut down for several hours? … For heaven's sake we even told them we were coming!"

In mid-2007, Jim Dowling, Adele Goldie, Bryan Law and Donna Mulhearn were found guilty at a jury trial in Alice Springs under the Defence Undertakings Act, 1952 (the first to be prosecuted under this act in more than 50 years).

The prosecution demanded jail time claiming their actions "struck at the heart of the national security and national interest". The judge, recognising the peaceful nature of their actions, handed down a fine. The activists were also fined $10,000 for a hole in the wire fence.

The Crown prosecutor's case revealed that parliament is denied the right of scrutiny over what the US defense department does inside Pine Gap, and he failed to call the US head of Pine Gap to give evidence on the role of the base in prosecuting the Iraq War.

Not content with having already wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on six taxpayer funded QCs from Sydney in the Alice Springs case, the prosecutor's office is now appealing the so-called leniency of the sentence before the Darwin Supreme Court starting February 20.

Why not put the big money legal fees and judicial costs about to be spent in Darwin Supreme Court towards ending the war in Iraq? Reliable sources say more than 1 million civilians have already died since former PM John Howard committed Australia to the Iraq war in 2003.

Australia's complicity in these deaths is exacerbated by permitting the US to control and run Pine Gap, a facility that is integral to missile guidance in Iraq and elsewhere.

Law says the appeal presents the activists with "an opportunity to advocate for judicial recognition in Australia of the nature and special circumstances of civil disobedience crimes, and the kind of sentencing regime which ought to be applied to same in a civilized democracy".

But clearly, the right to carry out non-violent civil disobedience and free speech are being challenged in this case. The new Attorney General, Robert McClelland, risks tainting his office with the previous government's actions if this case proceeds to the appeal level.

As I write the four offenders are in Berimah prison, serving time in lieu of the payment of fines imposed by the Alice Springs Court. Now, they face another court for the same offence.

[Abridged from an open letter sent on February 15 to Attorney General Robert McClelland.]