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The Waihopai Ploughshares trial
Shortly after the lunch adjournment on the second day of the trial, 2 March, Adi Leason took the stand and commenced giving his testimony. His counsel, Michael Knowles, led Adi through a description of his life as a Christian, and his story as a teacher, community worker and political activist.
Adrian James Leason is 44 years old, married with seven children, presently living in Otaki. He made three of the banners used in the Waihopai Ploughshares action. “USA War on Terror: a Global Disaster”; “400,000 Iraqi Dead Cry NO! to US War on Terror”; “Christians Against ALL Terrorism”. Mr Knowles then took him through those parts of his character and background which led him to making those signs and using them as part of an action to deflate the Waihopai dome.
Adi has been a Christian for 37 years (with a clear recollection of inviting Jesus into his heart aged seven while attending Sunday school). He began teaching in 1987. He married Shelley, and they became active in a community centre, moving into a council high-rise, and working directly with the urban poor. He worked with the Wellington Association of Tenants, and successfully took up campaigns against the sale of public housing, and against an increase in rents.
By this point in his testimony, Adi is referring to “our family” as an organic unit, and he and Shelley have three children. After seven years in the high-rise, Adi’s family travels to Thailand to live and work in a slum community in Bangkok. He is there for 9/11, and for the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.
In possibly his most compelling testimony he spoke of seeing the preparation for war: the spending of billions upon billions of dollars on the machinery of war and the preparation for killing while the community he lived in was suffering the blight of poverty that money could have assisted.
He spoke directly to the jury at this point about preparation for war being like a train coming inexorably down the tracks, towards a school bus which had broken down on the crossing “and even though the citizens of world in their millions, and the media, and the agencies, were yelling out to the train, warning it about the school bus ahead, and asking it to stop… the train sped up and rolled straight over that school bus.”
In 2004, Adi’s family, broke, returns to Aotearoa, and Adi works at conventional teaching jobs again, now with four children and another on the way. They work to buy a farm at Otaki, and see and hear about the unfolding wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through the internet and media. He feels proud that the New Zealand government refuses to commit combat troops to Iraq, but is painfully aware from the work of Nicky Hager about the spy base at Waihopai, and the vital role it plays in war-making. Baghdad is bombed into rubble.
Through this period he is continuing in his life of faith, and getting to know the Catholic Worker community in Aotearoa.
Adi has become deeply concerned by the failure of legitimate protest.
Mike Knowles then starts taking Adi through his understanding of the function and impact of Waihopai spy base. Adi says a lot of his knowledge is based on Nicky Hager’s book Secret Powers.
He spells out the global nature of the Echelon network, and begins to detail incidents of commercial and political espionage that Echelon is responsible for, and that Waihopai was probably involved in. It is when Adi begins to discuss spying on UN Security Council members in 2002 that the prosecution counsel raises his first objection – which is resolved in the defence’s favour – just minutes before the power in central Wellington goes out and court is finished for the day.
The jury was riveted by the testimony they heard, and the love, compassion and integrity of Adi Leason shone through. In court, Adi Leason re-commenced his testimony on Wednesday. His counsel, Mike Knowles, begins by asking him: “When and how you decided the work of Waihopai base was so important to you that you had to address it?”
Adi re-stated the importance in his life of a deep and strong Christian faith. He then went on to tell the story of how his mother became terminally ill, so she moved into Adi’s house at the farm in Otaki, where he (with community nursing assistance) cared for her through the process of dying.
His mother died at home surrounded by family. Weeks later a child was born in the same bed. Around this time he saw a TV interview with an Iraqi grandfather who was holding the body of a dead grandchild, and who, according to this BBC report, had just lost every living member of his family in a US bomb attack.
“That man just looked so desolate,” Adi said. “The bomb that killed his family would have been sent there by ELINT [electronic signals intelligence] collected at bases like Waihopai that were part of the Echelon network”.
“At that time I started to feel a knot in my stomach, and I knew I couldn’t carry on just praying. I mean prayer is great, and our family begins every day with it, but it was becoming clear to me that more was needed.”
“I couldn’t avoid reflecting on various ploughshares actions around the world”. He cited the ANZAC Ploughshares at Griffiss airforce base conducted by Ciaron O’Reilly and Moana Cole (friends of his); the British Seeds of Hope Ploughshares; the Pitstop Ploughshares at Shannon air base; the Christians Against All Terrorism at Pine Gap spy base near Alice Springs.
He described “a growing sense that this was a possible opportunity for me to act on my belief”. Then he described some of the history of legitimate protest against Waihopai over 20 years, all of which failed to achieve anything more than “a total stonewall non-response”.
“In January 2008, Sam (Land), Peter (Murnane) and I started seriously discussing an action to disable Waihopai Base.” Mr Knowles then took Adi through the action itself, which took place on 30 April 2008.
Adi has a laconic wit, and a terrific sense of humour, so his testimony about the disarmament action was loaded with phrases like: “40,000 volts (the electrified security fence) is a significant deterrent.”
“There are certain laws of physics that meant the truck wasn’t getting out of the ditch.” “After we exposed the electric wires, Sam and I gave the bolt-cutters to Peter (older, without a family).”
Despite the humour Adi showed himself to be dead serious about his act of disarmament. At several points the crew had to overcome fear (of discovery, injury and death) in order to proceed with their plan.
In a compelling moment, Adi explained that the thought he kept in his head during the danger and hardship was of his three-year-old daughter. He imagined another three-year-old in Iraq under threat, and asked himself: “Would I do this to save my daughter? Yes, I would.” And so he acted to save the imaginary child across the seas.
So they got into the base undetected. They cut through and deflated the dome undetected. They built a shrine, hung banners and began prayer – all undetected.
Just before they sliced through the dome they prayed together: “We disarm you in the name of Jesus Christ.”
I watched the jury members a fair bit during Adi’s testimony, and there’s no doubt he has their full attention. I can’t tell what’s going on in the mind of a jury member, but I found it difficult at times not to cry during Adi’s testimony.
Bryan’s Waihopai trial blog is at: