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Mary Kelly Trial
Hung Jury, Re-Trial Possible in October
Report by Deirdre Clancy: Speaking to Mary by phone soon after the trial’s end, I asked her for her reaction to this outcome. “It’s a great victory for Ireland,” she said, quietly, obviously deeply moved. “The people, having heard the evidence, could not find me guilty of a crime.” Not only is it a victory for Ireland and for the peace movement as a whole, but it is also a victory for Mary and her legal team, given the efforts of the prosecution, and indeed the judge, to try to suppress both highly distinguished and experienced defence witnesses and evidence for the defence. As an activist who is banned from County Clare for a similar nonviolent direct action, I have relied on several concerned citizens who took copious notes in court each day, and gave me detailed daily phone updates on the trial proceedings. Given the way in which much of the mainstream media have operated on a “guilty until proven innocent” premise with regard to nonviolent direct action in general, it would seem important to give a full factual account of this trial. One might object that this account has as much of an agenda as coverage in any other media outlet, and this is probably true. The “agenda” is to provide a factual account of how Mary Kelly and her legal team spoke truth to power.
Day one of the trial (Monday, 30th of June) featured Commander Willam Schneider, pilot of the ill-fated plane. Schneider, when questioned by the prosecution, basically testified that having landed the plane, he didn’t give anybody permission to damage it with an axe. He also testified that the plane in question was carrying cargo and passengers rather than weapons, although he wasn’t aware of how many passengers he was actually carrying. The defence barrister Brendan Nix asked Schneiders whether he was aware of the fact that George W. Bush had congratulated not only the U.S. army but also the Air Force and the Coast Guard on their role in the war effort. Schneiders replied that he would not presume to speak for his president. Nix repeated the question, pointing out that he wasn’t being asked to speak for Bush, just whether he was aware of the specific fact of Bush’s message of congratulations. A rather flustered Schneiders eventually answered “Yes”. There was slight controversy over Schneiders’ failure to name one of the plane’s identifying marks when he was asked to list these, the omitted mark being the “City of Dallas” insignia on the plane (which I can reliably inform you is definitely there, and may even have allegedly been the specific target a bang or two some days after Mary Kelly’s action). Schneiders was ushered out of the courtroom by a superior quite soon after the reality of the effects of U.S. foreign policy began to be discussed by the defence, presumably for fear he would be exposed to “un-American” viewpoints. “Only a pawn in their game”, as the bard might say.
Another witness for the prosecution on Day one was the scene of crimes inspector, who it turned out had inserted material in his report that didn’t reflect his first-hand experience of the scene of the “crime” (the crime being the fact that military planes in an illegal war of aggression are landing at Shannon in the first place). The inspector had mentioned damage to a “proximity electronic sensing unit” in his report, and Nix asked the inspector the following question: “If a proximity electronic sensing unit fell out of a tree and landed on you, would you know what it was?” Mr. Scene of Crimes thought for a minute and then replied, “No”. By this time, it was becoming apparent to many in the courtroom that although the prosecution team was deeply anxious to criminalize Mary Kelly, their level of competency was questionable. Perhaps the mistaken assumption that they wouldn’t have to try too hard to win the case was a part of this.
There were then several witnesses from the U.S. military, the Airport Police and the FBO (Fixed Base Operators), who all displayed a deep phobia about uttering the words “yes” and “no”. When asked by the defence whether they knew that a large number of munitions were going through Shannon, for example, an FBO man replied “Well, I don’t know what you mean by a large number”. All answers from the aforementioned witnesses to this question were along these lines.
Further contradictions in the prosecution’s case emerged when Superintendent Kerin testified that several members of the guards had told him that on her arrest, Mary refused to co-operate with the investigation. All of the guards involved in the investigation, among them Garda Liam O’Reilly and Detective Geoghan, denied ever having made such a claim.
Day two was a day in which the jury’s patience was tested by the prosecution. They continually had to leave the courtroom while the prosecution team went away to find evidence that they had forgotten to bring to court. According to plane-spotting activist Tim Hourigan, the jury were “up and down like the Assyrian Empire”. However, the comic highlight of the day has to have been when Commander Shady of the U.S. Navy (yes, that’s his real name, by the way) revealed that as project manager for the fleet of C40s (the ill-fated plane was part of a new fleet), he had performed a damage estimate of the plane via video satellite link from Kansas. Now, to me, the chances of achieving an accurate estimate via a video link are about as good as if they got the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz to do it for them instead. Shady also testified that some of the damage of which Mary was accused wasn’t actually detected until after the plane had got back to Kansas (having presumably clicked its heels three times), which the defense pointed out could mean that this damage was not a result of Mary’s action, but of the action several days later by the Catholic Worker five. The emergency repairs that were intended to make the plane fit to fly to Kansas (for a full-scale repair) involved the radome, the nose landing gear, the link assembly, the metering assembly and temporary patches on the fusilage. Such technical details were sending the jury into a visible state of almost sleep-inducing boredom, until Denis Halliday took the stand and talked at length about the effects of the sanctions, of depleted uranium and of the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure on the country’s inhabitants. Several people in the courtroom were moved to tears by Halliday’s testimony, and the jury was visibly moved also.
Day three began with the defence asking the Judge Moran to install a new jury, because the previous day, the judge had prejudiced them by falsely stating that Mary had “admitted to a crime”. The judge refused to agree to this request, but did retract his statement, asking the jury to disregard it.
The sage-like Ramsey Clarke (former U.S. Attorney General and longtime peace campaigner) testified for 30 minutes about the adverse effects of U.S. foreign policy, stating facts and figures about the effects of long-term low-intensity conflict in Iraq since 1991. He expressed deep concern about the sanctions, with at least 585,000 young children dead as a direct result of them. He also compared Mary’s action to somebody removing the bullets from a gun that would otherwise be used to kill someone. The prosecuting counsel strenuously questioned the relevance of Clarke’s testimony, and asked him the following question: “If someone broke into your house and did 1.5 million euros worth of damage, how would you feel?” Clarke replied that if his house was capable of complicity in the murder of innocents, he’d be actively offering invitations to people to come and damage it. Clarke was asked the question several times (apparently the prosecutor felt he hadn’t answered it), and gave the same reply each time. I am sure many bizarre questions are asked in courtrooms, but this one strikes me as similar to asking Rosa Parks “If someone sat in your usual seat in the bus, how would you feel?” Removal of context, universalizing of the particular, seems to be a tool used by empire time and again. And, because we all know that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house (to borrow from Audre Lorde), all that a defence can do is to continually push the focus back to the context in which an action occurs.
Michael Birmingham gave a similarly powerful testimony, focusing on the current breakdown of law and order in Iraq, which he is witnessing at first hand in his heroic work for Voices in the Wilderness. The lack of a police force means that many people now own guns. In a speech in Limerick last Friday, for example, Birmingham spoke of an incident in which a nine-year-old street child was raped near his hotel, resulting in the hotel staff getting their guns to the ready to go out to protect the street children nearby, of whom there has been a proliferation since the latest invasion. He also witnessed a man being fatally stabbed, as a group of U.S. soldiers stood a few metres away and failed to intervene.
Toward the end of day three, there were vigorous protestations from the prosecution at the desire of Mary’s legal team to have the jury view a series of videos relevant to Mary’s motivations, among them John Pilger’s documentary on the effects of the sanctions, “Paying the Price”. The prosecution maintained that Pilger wasn’t a proper investigative journalist because he “showed gory details”, which meant he was “too emotional”. The decision on the videos was adjourned until the next day, so that the judge would have a chance to watch the videos at home and make an informed decision.
By the morning of day four, Judge Moran had decided that none of the videos were relevant, especially not the John Pilger one, because it would politicize the trial, was too emotional and would affect the jury (and here was I thinking evidence on both sides was actually supposed to affect a jury’s decision). To add insult to injury, the prosecution also wished to know how Scott Ritter (ex-UN weapons inspector and next scheduled defence witness) was relevant to the case, and Judge Moran was very much inclined to wonder the same, saying he felt that the case was becoming much too political. Finally Judge Moran reluctantly agreed to allow the defence to ask Ritter one or two questions. The sum total of Ritter’s testimony consisted of the following question from Nix and its reply: “Did the U.S. have a mandate to go to war?” Ritter: “Most definitely not.” With that, Ritter was urged to leave the stand, and the defence finished with a “fantastic” (Mary Kelly’s adjective) closing speech from Nix on her behalf. When the judge gave charge, Mary became convinced that she was going to prison. Judge Moran’s slant was clearly in the prosecution’s favour and many in the courtroom were convinced that Mary would be convicted. He did not address the jury as to the influences and state of mind of the defendant, who had been affected by work in severely war-torn areas of the world and upset at having seen the destruction of Iraqi society, the effects of depleted uranium and the death of thousands of children in the Pilger documentary. He ignored the defence testimony, directing the jury not to allow feelings or issues of conscience to influence them in making their decision. This extraordinary instruction, when the whole function of a jury is to act as the conscience of society in matters of law, is perhaps an indication of how profoundly the prosecution’s agenda had been shown up by the strength, clarity and truth of the defence. Despite being effectively told to ignore their own human consciences, the jury couldn’t convict Mary Kelly for her efforts to undercut the U.S. war machine. And this outcome is another small but highly significant dent in that war machine.
When Ramsey Clarke spoke at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick on Wednesday the 2nd of July, he spoke about U.S. weapons capabilities with great knowledge. He warned that the U.S. had the capability to wipe out any country in the world overnight should it wish to do so, speaking of twenty Hiroshimas. A soft-spoken man who is eighty-one and who Shas seen much destruction and sought to resist it, he made a passing statement toward the end of his speech that made me sit up: “I’m still naïve enough to think that the truth will set you free”. Mary Kelly’s court case has, in its own way, been an example of this maxim in action.
Deirdre Clancy, July 4, 2003.