Sunday 14th of July 2024

No Jail for Pine Gap Four

[Media Release] Four Christian pacifists are celebrating after being spared prison sentences in the Northern Territory Supreme Court today.

The Pine Gap Four, found guilty of breaching the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952, have been handed minor fines.

The public gallery erupted into song, applause, cheers and hugs and the feeling of victory and vindication was in the air.

Justice Sally Thomas noted their good behaviour and co-operation in the sentencing decision.

"All four were very genuine in the cause they sought to espouse," said Justice Thomas, "however their actions - no matter for what cause - cannot justify the breaking of the law."

Jim Dowling has been fined $1250, Bryan Law fined $1000, Donna Mulhearn fined $450 and Adele Goldie fined $550. They have also been asked to contribute $2500 each towards cost of fence repair.

Justice Thomas noted that Pine Gap has a significant history of protest and trespass, with past trespassers being fined. "It's a big step up to talk about a jail sentence," she said in court on Thursday. "A prison sentence is one of last resort."

Justice Sally Thomas had allowed the defendants to present evidence throughout the 11 day trial including their beliefs about Pine Gap's role in the war in Iraq which resulted in civilian deaths and suffering. She later instructed the jury to disregard that evidence and any sympathies they might have for the defendant's beliefs.

When Bryan Law of Cairns, Jim Dowling and Adele Goldie of Brisbane and Donna Mulhearn of Sydney entered Pine Gap's 'Prohibited Area' to conduct a Citizens' Inspection on December 9th 2005, they were well aware of the potential consequences. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock took their actions seriously enough to charge the group under the 55 year old untested Defence (Special Undertakings) Act.

The consequences however are far greater than fines and criminal convictions. The Pine Gap Four conducted their inspection to disrupt the machinery of war and to draw Australia's attention to the missile guidance system in its heart.

Following sentencing today Mr Law said "We have still won. For me it's not about trespass, it's a moral issue.

"Our action was and is calculated to effectively intervene into the war-fighting operation of Pine Gap, under the public gaze, as part of an effective campaign to limit the damage from war in Iraq in the short term, and bring about global disarmament in the medium term.

"What's moral is not always legal, and what is immoral is not always illegal. If there is a minor law that has to be broken in the pursuit of moral faith then I will break it."

Through tears Ms Mulhearn explained "I thought it was the least I could do given the magnitude of the crime I was trying to prevent. I was trying to fulfil the promise I had made to the people of Iraq to do something to stop the war.

"What I did was an attempt to transform a military base into something open and honest."

In the final moments of the trial, Ms Mulhearn pointed to the stained hiking boots she was wearing. She had worn them in an Iraqi marketplace, in the aftermath of a US bomb.

"Now, in this court room, there is blood on my boots. Blood of a human being because of the targeting decisions made in Pine Gap," she said.

Mr Dowling told the jury "We went to that base to resist what is essentially a war crime ˆ the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians."

Ms Goldie also noted Pine Gap's role in crimes against humanity.

"My action to try to prevent crimes of such tremendous gravity is lawful," she said, referring to the Nuremberg Principles.

During cross-examination Ms Mulhearn questioned the Deputy Chief of Pine Gap, Mr Michael Burgess, about the severity of the charges. She asked Mr Burgess about the demonstrations of 1987 during which hundreds of people entered the declared 'Prohibited Area'.

"Are you aware how many of them were charged under this act?" she asked Mr Burgess.

"I believe none of them," Mr Burgess replied.

The shroud of secrecy surrounding Pine Gap was maintained during the trial. Justice Thomas ruled in favour of the Commonwealth's submission for public interest immunity at the start of the case. The ruling stated: "Information as to operations of the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap except as may be disclosed by the prosecution brief is not relevant to any issue in this case."

Defendant Jim Dowling asked in response: "So they're allowed to give the information they want without us getting a chance to query that?" Justice Thomas concurred.

The Pine Gap Four had already successfully challenged a suppression order made in a secret court in Darwin in 2006 in relation to ASIO's involvement in their arrest.

The question of parliamentary privilege was raised when the defendants flagged their intention to tender a Joint Standing Committee Report from 1999** as part of their case. Ms Mulhearn had spoken against the Commonwealth's submission, claiming it was against the "vibe" of the act.

"As an unrepresented defendant I think I'm allowed to quote from 'The Castle', Your Honour," she said. "I think it's the 'vibe' ˆ that wasn't the vibe of this legislation at all."

Although the report is on the public record, Justice Thomas ruled it inadmissible due to section 16 (3) of the Parliamentary Privileges Act of 1688. Ms Mulhearn expressed grave concerns that this could result in an unfair trial.

In a surreal move described by one defendant as "more Alice in Wonderland tactics", prosecuting counsel asked that a model of Pine Gap base be forfeit to the Commonwealth on the basis that it contravened the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 section 2 ("A person is guilty of an offence if the person obtains, collects, uses.. a photograph, sketch, plan, model.. [of] a prohibited area. Maximum penalty: seven years."). The model had been brought to the courthouse on June 5 th to clarify a point of evidence. It was constructed prior to the Citizens' Inspection of the base, using Google Earth photographs for reference.

The defendants had planned to use sections 10.3, 10.4 and 10.5 of the Criminal Code (necessity, defence of others etc.) to legally justify their actions, but these were ruled inadmissible by Justice Thomas on Tuesday. Nine barristers and lawyers were present for the prosecution case, while the Pine Gap Four represented themselves.

The trial has been closely followed by the international legal community, concerned that the Attorney General's intervention and the use of an archaic act reflect poorly on freedom of speech and political expression in Australia.

Statement on behalf of the Pine Gap 4:

We want to thank all our supporters in Alice Springs, across Australia and throughout the world.

We renew our commitment to non-violent resistance, which is a powerful way that ordinary people can make a difference in the world.

We encourage others to take their next step in rising up against war. Join your local peace group, or if you can, support actions challenging the US-Australian war games - Operation Talisman Sabre - that will start next week in Queensland.

"The choice now is not between violence and non-violence" said Dr Martin Luther King, "the choice is between non-violence and non-existence".