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Irish ploughshares: second trial collapses as judge linked to Bush

The second trial of the “`Pitstop Ploughshares Five” dramatically collapsed in Dublin's Four courts last month after counsel for the Defence alleged the presiding judge had met George Bush in Texas in 1995, attended his presidential inauguration in 2001, and was invited by disgraced Senator Tom DeLay to attend the 2005 “coronation”.

The jury were dismissed by the judge after 10 days of evidence that included expert testimony from former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, former US marine and co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against War Jimmy Massey, former RAF group force captain Geoff Oxley, and Voices in the Wilderness co-founder Kathy Kelly. The five accused testified they felt they had a “lawful excuse” to damage the plane as they honestly believed they were saving lives and property in Iraq.

Neutrality challenged

The Pitstop Ploughshares are five Catholic Worker peace activists who decommissioned a US Navy plane at the “civilian” Shannon Airport on the west coast of the traditionally “neutral” Ireland, six weeks before the outbreak of the Iraq war in March 2003. The Irish government has permitted Shannon Airport to become a major logistics hub for the US military's troop and weaponry deployments since 9/11.

The activists, who have been on bail for almost three years now, are former Irish seminarian Damien Moran (26) and Australian national Ciaron O'Reilly (45), both working with homeless alcoholics and drug addicts; Dubliner Deirdre Clancy, a freelance editor and feminist activist; Glasgow Trident Ploughshares pledger and marine biologist, Karen Fallon; and US citizen Nuin Dunlop, a qualified counsellor.

They have been charged with two counts of “criminal damage without a lawful excuse” to a US military logistics plane. The prosecution have alleged the damage to the plane cost US$2.6 million. The maximum sentence they face if found guilty is 10 years in prison.

Hammering on

During the action the five laid a shrine containing images of victims from no-fly zone bombings and the sanctions, a Bible and Koran, and Muslim prayer and Catholic rosary beads. One of the hammers used to disarm the plane was previously used in the 1996 “Seeds of Hope” ploughshares action, when four women were acquitted by a Liverpool jury of doing damage to a Hawk aircraft being sold by the British government to Indonesia in order to commit murder in East Timor.

After their peaceful disarmament, the five spent between four and eleven weeks in jail on remand before accepting stringent release conditions, including signing on daily at their local police station, not going to County Clare (an area of 3,200 sq km) and remaining one mile away from the US embassy in Dublin.

Their initial trial collapsed in March this year after five days of evidence, when Judge Frank O'Donnell discharged the jury and removed himself from the case, upholding allegations from the Defence that his actions could be perceived by a reasonable observer to be biased. During the case the judge disallowed testimony from defence witnesses without hearing it and then ruled out the defendants' legal defence without hearing any further submissions.

Time for a real pardon

The old adage of lightning not striking the same place twice obviously doesn't apply when it comes to Ploughshares trials.

The second judge allocated the case was the grandson of an Irish Independence revolutionary, executed in 1916 for his attempts at overthrowing the British occupation of Ireland. However, when challenged about his Bush connections, Judge Donagh MacDonagh agreed that he had indeed attended the Bush inauguration in 2001 and been invited back in 2004, saying “You are absolutely correct.”

After an application by the Defence, the jury was promptly dismissed and the case collapsed.

The Five have received a presidential pardon from well-known actor Martin Sheen from the West Wing series, a blessing from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and a song dedication from Kris Kristofferson, aptly entitled Don't let the bastards get you down. Before the new retrial date was set, crossparty political representatives including the Greens, Labour, Sinn Fein, and Independents, called for the charges to be dropped.

Celebrations of hope and resistance were held during the past two trials with public meetings, hospitality and music. If you can show solidarity in any way please visit http://www.peaceontrial.com.

Topics: Iraq | Trials