For the past several years, a group of protesters has gathered every Wednesday outside the headquarters of Alliant Techsystems in Eden Prarie. On October 2 of last year – the 140th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth – four activists were arrested for trying to enter Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and charged with trespassing. On Friday, April 23 of this year, they had their day in court.
The four who were arrested – Sister Katie McDonald, Roger Cuthbertson, Geri Eikaas and Steve Clemens – were trying to set up a meeting with ATK’s then-CEO Dan Murphy to present him with materials on the liability of companies for the production of weapons of mass destruction. Clemens (who blogs at Mennonista) said in an opening statement “We are not guilty of trespass. We claim the right and duty to warn Alliant’s representatives about the illegality of these weapons. We claim the right and duty to enter Alliant’s property for the purpose of fulfilling International Law. We will cite the ruling of the War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany at the end of World War II which imposes a duty on citizens to speak and act to prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
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Clemens and the others said they had a “claim of right” when they walked into ATK’s headquarters under Minnesota’s trespassing statute. The four activists said they wanted to warn the CEO of ATK of the liability of companies in war crimes, citing the prosecution of the Krupp family at the Nuremberg Trials. Sister Katie McDonald and Roger Cuthbertson said that citizens have a duty to warn companies and individuals about these things if governments or other powers fail to do so. Gustav Krupp was the head of the weapons manufacturing giant Friedrich Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp. Krupp was indicted, but not prosecuted due to poor health. His son Alfried was convicted of crimes against humanity in a separate trial.
Invitations to attend the hearing were sent to the arresting officer, Lt. Tracy Luke of the Eden Prarie Police Department and to Mark DeYoung, the current CEO of ATK. While Luke attended the hearing, DeYoung did not. Clemens promised both of them in the invitations that they would not be called to testify.
ATK has been targeted by activists for years for its manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. Specifically, it is the largest supplier of depleted uranium munitions to the Defense Department. The munitions have been linked to “Gulf War Syndrome” among U.S. veterans and a significant increase in cancer rates in Iraq. It also produces cluster bombs (Senator Amy Klobuchar has backed limits on their use) and anti-personel land mines.
Land mines and cluster bombs are banned by the Ottawa Treaty (1997) and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008), respectively. The US has not signed either one. Depleted uranium munitions were banned by the United Nations in 1996. The European Parliament voted to ban the weapons on 2003.
Sister Katie McDonald – one of the four McDonald sisters, the subject of the documentary “Four Sisters for Peace” – asked ATK to stop making weapons of war and to start making weapons of peace. “A peace conversion,” she called it. Roger Cuthbertson, who testified on his 71st birthday, expressed no regret for what he did on October 2nd. The retired geography teacher said he had been protesting Honeywell since the 1970s when it made clusterbombs that were dropped on Vietnam.
Hennepin County judge Peter Cahill was in charge of the case, and while trespassing cases are usually sent to a jury trial, Judge Cahill decided to continue the case until dismissal six months from now, on the condition that the four activists not be arrested during those six months. Cahill also imposed a symbolic $1 on each of them for court costs or one hour of community service as an alternative. Should they take the latter option, the judge suggested they devote time to helping Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul. “My sister, my older sister who has now passed, had polio and was in a wheelchair or on crutches for pretty much her whole life,” the judge said. “She was helped, and other children who were disabled were helped by the Children’s Hospital…Given your emphasis today about the terrible effects [ATK’s products have] on children, I hope you will consider devoting some of your time to our children.”