Pine Gap Four trial commences

Issue 

On May 30, the crown prosecutors opened their argument in the trial of Bryan Law, Jim Dowling, Adele Goldie and Donna Mulhearn from Christians Against All Terrorism (CAAT) in the Alice Springs courthouse. The "Pine Gap Four" were charged under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952.

In December 2005, after notifying the government of their intentions, camping in front of the Pine Gap facility gates and informing the authorities that they would conduct a citizens' inspection of the base for evidence of terrorist-related activity, the four activists walked unchallenged into the base. Then, after taking some photos of themselves on a roof, they walked out again.

Their action was a result of PM John Howard's refusal to listen to the majority of Australians, who did not consent to the invasion of Iraq, and aimed to focus public attention on the secrecy surrounding the role of Pine Gap. The activists did not attempt to sabotage or disrupt its operations.

Two days before the trial began, crown prosecutor Hilton Dembo QC had applied for a change to the defendants' bail conditions so they would remain in the courtroom for 45 minutes after the court adjourned, then go to their residences by the shortest available route and remain there, as well as being prohibited from going within two kilometres of Pine Gap. On May 29, Justice Sally Thomas rejected the stringent bail conditions, commenting that what was being proposed was "essentially home detention … it seems to be too extreme".

When the trial began, Dembo took pains to remind the jurors of their duty to discharge the law as it is written. "This trial will not develop into a platform for political debate", he said. He then warned the jury: "Imagine if everyone took the law into their own hands. Imagine the chaos! For example, what if we walked past a shoe shop and liked a pair of shoes and we all break in to steal the shoes … You can't just say, "Bugger it, I'm going to do it anyway'."

Mulhearn commented outside the courthouse that if Dembo was referring to a pre-emptive strike being illegal, he should pass that on to the Bush administration.

Commenting on the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act, Dembo said the Crown must simply prove that the defendants entered Pine Gap without a permit. He did not mention the clause at the end of the act, which states that subsection (2) does not apply if the person has "lawful authority or excuse for the relevant conduct".

On May 31, the Crown's Mr Maurice QC claimed "public interest immunity" on the basis of "national security". The jury was then asked to leave while a legal argument began around the concept of "public interest immunity". Details of the argument were placed under a suppression order.

That evening, peace campaigner Dr Helen Caldicott addressed a well-attended public meeting in Alice Springs, during which she summed up Pine Gap as "a heinous installation that has orchestrated killing around the world".

A colourful parade of supporters has marched each day from the Todd Street Mall to the Alice Springs courthouse, and vigils and speak-outs in support of the Pine Gap Four have been held during the last week in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Newcastle.

The trial continues next week. For updates, visit http://www.pinegap6.org. To join the CAAT supporters elist, send an email to pinegap4supporters-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.