Susan Crane's Sentencing Statement

October 29, 1997-- Federal District Court, Portland Maine

Thou Shalt Not Kill

On Ash Wednesday our Plowshares community went to Bath Iron Works, boarded a guided missile destroyer, and using our own blood and household hammers began to convert the weapons and navigational system of the ship. We went to enflesh the words of the prophet Isaiah, to beat swords into plowshares. We went on the ship in a spirit of love, and it is with that same spirit that I am here in the courtroom today.

Our witness is about saying no to death; no to nuclear weapons, no to weapons of mass destruction. It's about saying yes to truth and justice, faithfulness and hope, obedience and love, nonviolence over violence in resolving conflict. It's about saying yes to conversion: conversion of weapons and of hearts.

Our witness is about truth; but it was difficult to talk about truth in this courtroom where good is seen as evil, and evil is misnamed as good.

The court looks at our disarmament witness and brands us criminals, says the good that we did was wrong, and the truth doesn't matter. The truth of international law, Nuremberg Principles, the World Court decision, the teachings of our faith, even the commandments aren't relevant.

This same court says that nuclear weapons are good and acceptable. Planning for war -- a whole economy mobilized around warmaking, with its roots in larceny, is defended by this court. Nuclear war will be legal. Indiscriminate destruction of men, women and children, military and civilian, considered legal. Burnt incinerated flesh -- all legal.

In John's Gospel, there is a story of the Good Shepherd who takes care of his sheep, in contrast to the hireling who runs away when danger comes, so that the wolf and the thief are able to harm the flock. All of us in our daily lives -- including our work -- have a choice to treat people entrusted to us with care and compassion -- like a shepherd, or to simply "do our job;" hide behind the rules of the institutions and be merely a hireling.

The German judges who sent innocent people to concentration camps, who presided in closed courtrooms, not allowing the prisoners any defenses, justified themselves by saying, "I'm just doing my job." They were hirelings.

We may not be building concentration camps here today in the US, but we are building flying ovens to incinerate people-- like the missiles for the USS The Sullivans.

You, Judge Carter, have kept the public out of parts of our trial, severely limited public access to other parts of the trial, and did not allow us to use any affirmative defenses. You were just doing your job, and have acted as a hireling.

Yet traditionally a judge insures justice for the widow, orphan, stranger, and the voiceless. A judge at every level of government has a responsibility to uphold international and national law. Justice isn't a neutral word. A Judge isn't neutral. Justice has to do with justice for the poorest, the lowest person, the least. You have distorted the concept of justice so that this court appears like just another face of the Pentagon; your court has defended the greed, the immorality of the defense contractors. This court has defended larceny from the poor.

One of the commandments of our faith is Thou Shalt Not Kill.

Our Plowshares action was about obedience and faithfulness. Obedience to the nonviolent God of love, Obedience to the command "Thou shalt not kill." A suggestion or a command? Absolute, or to be used only when convenient?'

Thou Shalt Not Kill

We are all brothers and sisters -- you, Judge Carter are my brother, and you, Helene, are my sister. There is that of God in each of us, we are each loved by our Creator. How can we plan to kill others who are loved by God? We are told to treat everyone as our loved ones; as our sons and daughters, mothers and father. Yet here in this country we take half of every federal income tax dollar and spend it on the military. The military exists to kill people. That's its mission. Regardless of the deliberate confusion of calling missiles Peacemakers, or calling the war department the defense department, and naming destroyers after priests, the actual job of the military is to kill people and that is what they train to do. But how can we even think of killing someone who is loved by the God who loves us all?

The United States government is making a mad house out of the world. The third world countries, the poor in the US, are being sacrificed so that we can build bigger and better weapons. The government terrorizes the world with weapons, and now we find ourselves being terrorized. The violence has come home. Women and children suffer domestic violence, a section of our country, including many youth, have no hope, and see gang activity and violence as a normal way of existence. There are more and more random killings, more and more bombings, more hand guns in the schools and neighborhoods. But unless the violence in high levels stops, there is little chance the violence at the bottom will stop. Americans, who are the experts in killing others, are finding that we are killing ourselves. We who terrorize the world find that we are terrorized. Martin Luther King called violence an "endless downward spiral of despair and death."

And anyone who disagrees with this sort of violence and terrorism finds themselves in front of this court and in jail. Now you, Judge Carter, in our trial took a clear position in defense of these weapons of mass destruction. But today you have another chance to review international law and the US constitution; to consider the world court decision against nuclear weapons, to remember the roots of your faith, and to defend the poor and powerless of the world.

Thou Shalt Not Kill.

The US government isn't able to restrain itself. The leaders, the judges, the politicians of this country should be helping the people, serving them, guiding them, speaking up for nonviolence. But instead they are helping themselves, pasturing themselves, eating the food, drinking the drink, wearing the clothes that belong to the people. They are ignoring justice; greed is their only guide.

We ask the court to listen to our arguments that are on the side of life, that suggest that there is a way out of the generational violence that we find ourselves in the middle of.

Thou Shalt Not Kill.

This command is a prohibition of killing anyone. Anywhere. The decision of life and death is not one for us creatures to make. Life is a sacred gift. All creation is sacred. The environment must not be poisoned. Also it's not right to kill our elders, to kill children or soldiers in Iraq, to kill people in Iran, or Granada, to kill Mumia Abu Jamal, or anyone else on death row, to kill children in the womb, and it's not a response to God's love to plan to do any of these killings. We all look with sadness and moral outrage at the pictures of the bombed federal building or the Cambodia killing fields. That same outrage needs to extend to military murders in Iraq, or death by slower methods caused by lack of medicine and food in Cuba and Iraq because of a US embargo or because we are using more than our share of the world's resources to maintain our consumer lifestyle.

I am just an ordinary person: parent, school teacher, somewhat active in the community helping out at a soup kitchen. I'm not that different from anyone else. I know that I have broken all of the commandments; yet I keep struggling in the hope of forgiveness. But I still dare to stand tall and say that murder and killing is wrong. It doesn't take a philosopher or theologian, or a morally exemplary person to figure that out.

The commandment forbids the intentional taking of human life. There is nothing that Jesus said or did that allows us to kill another person. And all though the gospels, the nonviolence of Jesus comes through. Our defense has to be nonviolent. We can use nonviolent tactics, we can fight with the weapons allowed to us: the spirit of truth and love. But we are not allowed to murder others.

Our nonviolent conversion action at Bath Iron Works was reasonable and common decency demanded that we act. These weapons have no value, they ought not to exist. They do nothing to enhance human life. Actually, they have a negative value. The resources used to build them is stolen out of the mouths of hungry children. And these weapons offer us false security. We look to them for safety. They are idols, gods of metal, worth no more than dirty rags to be thrown to the bats and moles.

I have written to you, Judge Carter, that I do not plan to pay restitution -- that in good conscience I can't pay to restore the guided missile destroyer -- and I do not plan to allow a probation officer to limit or control my friendships, living arrangements or my conscience.

I imagine that you -- like most people -- want peace. Perhaps you even agree in some way with our nonviolent action. If you agree, you have a chance today to make a statement for disarmament and life... and you might want to let me free today. If you disagree, if you believe that I am a criminal as I stand before you, and deserve punishment, then you should know that I do not have any remorse. I hope that my faith will sustain me to continue saying yes to life and no to death when I am released, regardless of whatever prison time you may give.

Let us remember the covenant: Thou Shalt Not Kill.

Sketches from the trial.