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Jane Ayers writes: "Federal Magistrate judge Rita Federman last Wednesday allowed the U.S. government to dismiss all trespassing charges against the 'Vandenberg 15,' a group of citizens who in February conducted a civil disobedience action at Vandenberg Air Force Base."

Nonviolent civil resisters caused a disruptive breach of the backcountry security zones at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (photo: Vandenberg Witness)
Nonviolent civil resisters caused a disruptive breach of the backcountry security zones at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (photo: Vandenberg Witness)

Daniel Ellsberg and 14 Nuclear Protesters Are Victorious in Federal Court

By Jane Ayers, Reader Supported News

25 October 12


U.S. government dismisses case before trial begins

ederal Magistrate judge Rita Federman last Wednesday allowed the U.S. government to dismiss all trespassing charges against the "Vandenberg 15," a group of citizens who in February conducted a civil disobedience action at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The group was attempting to stop a testing of the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that later reached a target in the Marshall Islands (without a nuclear warhead). The group was urging the base commander to stop the testing of thermonuclear warhead delivery vehicles and to eliminate land-based missiles in the U.S.

The Vandenberg 15 included prominent leaders of the anti-nuclear movement - Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon nuclear weapons strategist, (who also released the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971); Father Louis Vitale, a Franciscan monk and co-founder of the Nevada Desert Experience; Cindy Sheehan, founder of the Gold Star Families for Peace, whose son, Casey, was killed in the Iraq war; and David Krieger, president of Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), member of Veterans for Peace, etc.

Attorney Matthew Umhofer stated, "Ultimately the government did the right thing to dismiss this case, because they had no real trespassing issues. It is the highest form of patriotism for my clients to petition their government, and they were acting within their rights, and did not trespass as charged. Truly, they are the true patriots, because these nuclear weapons can threaten our national security."

Daniel Ellsberg commented on the need for both presidential candidates to consider "dismantling the Minuteman III missiles, to secure the safety of the world, but also the safety of this country. President Obama should take the step and dismantle by next month."

Currently, the United States has 450 Minuteman III missiles (with thermonuclear warheads) on high-alert in silos in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Ellsberg has emphasized in the past that the danger of having these land-based missiles in the U.S. because of the fragility of the worldwide first-strike warning systems, which under time of crisis could launch the nuclear missiles under a 'use them or lose them' logic, thus causing an accidental nuclear war.

Father Louis Vitale stated, "We are still calling on the immediate stop to the use of the Minuteman III missiles, as they are terrible weapons."

NAPF president David Krieger emphasized, "This is an absolute victory for all people, not just the people who protested, but all people. Nuclear weapons are the enemy of all humanity, as nuclear weapons are the negation of life on this planet. Humans must show we are more intelligent or we could become extinct. The U.S. needs to lead the way, and the true victory will be when all nuclear weapons are abolished."

Carolee Krieger, also one of the Vandenberg 15, clarified, "Daniel Ellsberg has said that if only three hundred nuclear weapons were used worldwide it would cause such smoke and debris in the stratosphere, blocking the sun, that the world would experience famine, starvation. We should use our brains and consider the horrible consequences that could befall us all."

In a phone interview after the court's decision, Ellsberg pointed out, "After the presidential elections, and before the inauguration, Congress will be having discussions about military budgets and nuclear weapons. Secretary of Defense Panetta has stated recently that the first on his list to cut in the military budget [in the event of sequestration] will be the 450 Minuteman III missiles in the U.S. That implies to me that they are not necessary to our national security.

"In addition, General Cartwright, former commander of the Strategic Command (StratCom), who had the Minuteman III missiles under his command, has stated that the U.S. should get rid of these Minuteman III missiles, as their deployment could endanger our country.

"I think President Obama should immediately take a limited step by taking the Minuteman III missiles off deployment, not just off high-alert. He would have his own secretary of defense, and the former head of StratCom, by his side in this decision."

Ellsberg noted that the issue of false arrests, and First Amendment protections, ultimately led the U.S. government to dismiss the case. He emphasized, "Of course, our criticisms of the U.S. government's dangerous and reckless actions to have a rehearsal for a holocaust (by testing these missiles) was the focus of the case. There is just no 'strategic purpose' to have or deploy these land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and I am saying this strongly, as my former job at the Pentagon was to judge 'strategic worth' of nuclear weapons. They should have been dismantled 40-60 years ago, for the safety of the U.S. and the world."

All of the Vandenberg 15 would have faced hefty fines from the courts for their protest, except Father Louis Vitale, who would have faced jail time because of his previous arrests at other nuclear actions, including at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Before becoming a Franciscan monk, Father Vitale flew planes for the Air Force in the 1950s. There is another missile test scheduled for November 14 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, yet none of the Vandenberg 15 have committed to protest this next testing of the missiles.

Jane Ayers is an independent journalist (USA Today, Los Angeles Times, etc.) and director of Jane Ayers Media ( She can be reached at email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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-2 # Buddha 2012-10-26 10:48
As much as I wish there were no nuclear weapons, that Pandora's Box has already been opened and cannot really be closed fully. Calling for no ICBM capability in the USA would mean we have very little nuclear counter-strike deterrant, key in a Mutually Assured Destruction "standoff" which HAS prevented nuclear weapon use since WWII. It would counter-product ively mean higher insecurity and a greater chance of a crippling first strike being made against our nation if a nuclear armed enemy chose to do so (Russia, China, and in the future, who knows?). Instead, our efforts should be made at negotiated multilateral drawdown of ICBM's for all such capable nations. We give them up as everyone else gives them up, and then we mutually verify. Pie-in-the-sky unilateral disarmament is insane, wishing for a non-nuclear safe world that doesn't and never will exist as long as individual nations and nationalism exists.
+1 # Nominae 2012-10-26 23:58
@ Buddha

Part I

As ironically amusing as it is to hear an impassioned defense of ICBM Nukes under the name of "buddha", you are making a very well-reasoned case that is simply a trifle out of date.

As noted in the article, if economic "push comes to shove" Leon Panetta himself will scrap the ICBMs first. This is not because Panetta has become a peace dove, it's because ICBMs are becoming the horse and buggy of NuWeps system delivery.

Panetta is in no way talking about having the U.S. give up First Strike Capability, whether we have an opponent or not.

Panetta is only saying that we could scrap the dinosaur ICBM nuclear weapons delivery systems to save money simply because they are no longer required in a modern nuclear arsenal.

During the cold war, Russia never invested heavily in ICBMs, but instead put her money into the much more reliable nuclear submarine delivery platforms.

We have had, for over forty years, MERVs, or "Muliple Re-Entry Vehicles", which are carried by submarine platforms. There can be, say 5 to 7 of such warheads on one missile. The missile is launched as high into the atmosphere as sub-space, and then the warheads all re-enter heading toward pre-determined targets. (Also known to civilians as "cities")

MERVs are also technology so old as to be obsolete, and the ICMBs are much older than MERVs.

The "holy grail", of course, are space based systems.

To be Cont'd, Part II
0 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-29 06:48
Space based systems are forbidden by international agreements.

Would you like nuclear armed French military satellites over your heads? (I picked an allied country just for the sake of the argument.)

Satellites fall, eventually.

Then what would you use them for? Fight terrorism?
0 # Nominae 2012-11-03 21:22
@ Granny Weatherwax

These are all questions you would need to address to the Pentagon. I am simply describing what the Military / Industrial complex has brought us thus far.

And I'm glad that you are able to take comfort in the knowledge that "Space based systems are forbidden by international agreements", because you know how seriously the U.S. takes international agreements and the entire U.N. in general.

You may then, be equally comforted to know that many drugs are illegal in the U.S. as well.
0 # Nominae 2012-10-27 00:02
@ Buddha

Part II

Therefore, getting rid of ICBMS the world over would be a nice "gesture", but it is only a gentle gesture. Like enacting gun control laws banning flint-lock muskets.

And, no mistake, the old ICBMs really do have the capacity to destroy the world just as effectively as they ever did - it's just that today's weapon systems are *so* much more advanced as to put the old ICBMs into the closet, and to lose nothing but the maintenance costs.

There is no loss of capability or security involved in such a move or Panetta would never dare make the offer,
especially before an election.
+1 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-29 06:41
I agree that the Pandora's box cannot be closed but actually land-based ICBM make little if any sense: they are expensive, they are vulnerable (everyone knows where they are) etc. while the US has tons (literally) of submarine-launc hed ICBM that are much less vulnerable and provide more than adequate deterrent.
A grand total of about 200 to 300 heads would be way more than enough for deterrence needs, compared with the current 5000 odd (already quite less than the peak 31000+ in the late sixties).
+10 # wrodwell 2012-10-26 11:17
It's such good news that sane people still exist in the USA. I thought they were an extinct breed given the ugly political battles being waged with such uncompromising vehemence by right wing ideologues who deny anything that's sensible or scientifically based. Their partner in crime is an ever increasing and repressive security bureaucracy. Our current political discourse is woefully inadequate for addressing the truly great problems the country as well as the world needs to face from now on. At the current rate, if global warming is finally addressed, it will probably be too little, too late. Other major problems that need to be resolved are the harmful effects on our environment caused by lax regulations on the energy industry, especially as it affects our water supply. World-wide overpopulation will also affect the quality of life in the not too distant future. And of great present concern are the ongoing dangers of nuclear energy, the harm generated by genetically engineered foods, repressive and corrupt political/milit ary regimes, the rise of religious fanaticism, and trying to figure out how to replace the permanent loss of millions of manufacturing jobs in the USA. Instead, we focus on abortion issues which should be a subject for personal choice only. I've yet to hear either candidate running for president even mention most of these "elephants in the room" topics. If humans don't address these major concerns soon, we will truly become the "5th Extinction."
+11 # SenorN 2012-10-26 12:31
The most we could possibly hope for is to cut the number and deployment of nuclear weapons to the point where we're no longer threatened by nuclear winter. Obviously, that is critically important for human survival.

It's a shame we developed nuclear weapons, but only in some pie-in-the-sky, Utopian vision are nations ever going to give them up completely when they know other nations may still have them.

On the other hand, I find it incredible that the US, with 8000 nuclear warheads, can threaten other nations because they may be developing ONE!

What Chutzpah!

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