Utterly unoticed by the US media, a remarkable legal decision has just been made in the UK.
Two protesters who broke into an RAF base to sabotage US B-52 bombers by clogging their engines with nuts and bolts were acquitted yesterday after arguing that they were acting to prevent war crimes in Iraq.The two aquitted protestors have an op-ed in The Guardian today in which they explain their successful defense:
Toby Olditch, 38, and Philip Pritchard, 36, both from Oxford, expressed delight and relief after a Bristol crown court jury unanimously found them not guilty of conspiring to cause criminal damage at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on the eve of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
...The court heard that the pair entered the base on March 18 2003, the day before bombing commenced at the start of the Iraq war. They were armed with bottles of red and brown coloured liquid along with bags of nails and staples which would have been poured into the planes' engine bays. The pair were arrested after being spotted by patrolling Ministry of Defence police.
On the face of it we were guilty; our intention to damage B-52 bombers on 18th March 2003 was explicit and not one we ever sought to deny. We knew that the information we were carrying with us when we went into the base gave the prosecution all the evidence necessary to pursue charges.I'm proud that my old country can still produce such verdicts. Tony hasn't succeeded in bending it entirely to a totalitarian sham of democracy after all. What do you think would be the chances of such a verdict here in the U.S.? Or would it have been Gitmo for the two protestors?
However the law makes provision for the fact that a person may do something that would otherwise be criminal while acting to prevent a greater crime or while trying to protect the property of another.
Therein lies the nub of it; the lawful excuse that allowed a jury to acquit having listened to a week of evidence on the consequences to Iraqis of "Shock and Awe" and the indiscriminate nature of cluster munitions and depleted uranium.
We should like to believe that in reaching their decision, the thoughts of the jury went far beyond the bounds of the court, to a country that has been laid waste by an unprovoked war and that in finding us not guilty they were also sending a message of sympathy and support to the millions of people who've been affected by the war in Iraq and in particular by the weapons used.
...Although the verdict is fantastic for us the feelings we come away with are bitter sweet for us as ordinary soldiers and the people of Iraq are still in a war zone due to the recklessness of our government. This might be the closest Britain ever gets to a ruling in a domestic court on the Iraq war.
We would far rather never have found ourselves in a position where taking non-violent direct action is necessary. We will always regret not having been able to stop the use of these weapons. However we hope that by communicating our motivation and the moral and legal justifications for this action we are able to provide some balance to unchecked executive power.