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Friday, May 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Convictions Upheld for Protesting Priests, Nun

The 1907 Hague Convention does not override federal laws against trespassing and destroying government property, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday, affirming the convictions of two Catholic priests and an 80-year-old nun for breaking into a Naval base.

Marines arrested the Rev. Stephen Kelly, the Rev. William Bichsel, Sister Anne Montgomery, Lynne Greenwald and Susan Crane in 2009 after they cut through two fences and gained access to a secure section of U.S. Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor near Seattle. Longtime nuclear disarmament activists, the group was there to protest the base's purported housing of submarines carrying nuclear Trident missiles. Inside the base, the group spread simulated blood on fences and brandished a banner that read, "Plowshares - Trident Illegal and Immoral."

Charged in Tacoma, Wash., with criminal trespassing and destruction of property, the activists argued for dismissal based on their theory that international law, specifically the 1907 Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex, required it. A jury convicted on all counts.

The same argument fared no better on appeal. A panel of three 9th Circuit judges affirmed the District Court unanimously on Friday in Seattle.

Even if the Hague Convention had "domestic legal effect", it would at best be on equal footing with federal law, the panel found.

"In the end, Congress has decided to protect the property of the United States," wrote U.S. District Judge James Gwin for the panel, sitting by designation from the Northern District of Ohio. "The Hague Convention neither conflicts with nor supersedes those statutes. The district court properly refused to dismiss the indictment."

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