Why a US activist broke into a military base in Germany
A U.S. peace activist was convicted on December 9, 2021 in the Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany on two charges of trespassing, following a 4.5-hour appeal hearing stemming from two 2018 protests against the U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in Germany’s Büchel air force base.
The Koblenz hearing for John LaForge, 65, of Luck, Wisconsin, was an appeal of two May 31, 2021 trespass convictions in Cochem District Court for “go-in” actions at the base during protests July 15, and August 6, 2018. Koblenz Regional Court Judge _____ van den Bosh — (German judge’s first names are not made public) — ruled that LaForge’s affirmative defense of “crime prevention” was inadmissible and that such a defense would better be heard by a higher court. She ordered the long-time co-director of the nuclear watchdog organization Nukewatch (nukewatchinfo.org) to pay a fine of 600 Euros or about $680.00.
Judge van der Bosh denied motions from defense attorney Anna Busl to allow testimony from three experts regarding the status of nuclear weapons. Retired German judge Bernd Hahnfeld, a former board chair of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, and University of Trier Professor of Computer Science Karl-Hans Bläsius both arrived at court for the hearing.
Judge Hahnfeld planned to explain that the 1970 Nonproliferation Treaty and the 1990 Two-Plus-Four Treaty (on German reunification) both prohibit the stationing of U.S. nuclear weapons in Germany; and Prof. Bläsius would have testified about the growing risk of computer-driven accidental nuclear war. Univ. of Illinois Professor of Law Francis A. Boyle intended to explain via video conference from Champaign, Ill. the criminality of ongoing thermonuclear attack threats known as “deterrence.”
As is the practice in German criminal court, LaForge was able to testify at length and uninterrupted. With a German translator translating for the court, he spoke for 25 minutes (lasting 50 minutes with German interpretation), saying in part, “The ghastly effects of hydrogen bombs are well-known to be massacres caused by the weapons’ uncontrollable, indiscriminate, city-size blast destruction, ferocious mass fires, vastly widespread radiation burns, radiation-related diseases, and genetic damage. Deliberately planning to cause these effects is prohibited by international humanitarian law, the Nuremberg Charter, the Nuremberg Tribunal, and the Nuremberg Principles all of which are binding on Germany and the United States.”
By way of analogy LaForge said, “A fire fighter who breaks a door and rushes into a burning building to save someone is not charged with trespass. But what of a fire not yet burning but one that is planned, rehearsed, premeditated, and intentionally set to ignite with the heat, blast and radiation of a thousand suns? What if the premeditated fire would incinerate a city of 10 million people, or 20 cities — one each for the 20 US hydrogen bombs at Büchel?”
Before the hearing, LaForge said: “I participated in these actions because they are the only way to have the criminal status of nuclear weapons considered by the courts. The public wants these bombs out of Germany. But nuclear weapons’ programs are anti-democratic, controlled by presidential decree that ignore Congress and parliaments. Only a court of law can order them ousted.”
Marion Küpker of Hamburg, an anti-nuclear campaigner with Nonviolent Action to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and coordinator of the international action camps at the base, said, “In the last two years, about 50 court cases involving dozens of nuclear weapons protesters have taken place in Cochem and Koblenz for nonviolent civil disobedience actions at the Büchel air base.”
Büchel air base houses at least 20 U.S. thermonuclear gravity bombs known as B61s – like six other European NATO bases — under a controversial US/NATO program known as “nuclear sharing.” The U.S. Air Force’s 702nd Munitions Support Squadron maintains the U.S. bombs in readiness for German PA 200 Tornado jet fighter/bomber crews.
According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, “The Belgian, Dutch, German, and Italian air forces are assigned nuclear strike missions with U.S. nuclear weapons.”
Küpker said protesters continue their 25-year-long campaign demanding the ouster of the U.S. bombs and a cancellation of US plans to replace the current B61-3s and -4s with a new “B61-12.”
At Nukewatch, LaForge, a co-recipient of the 2004 US Peace and Justice Studies Association’s Social Courage Award, who has served over 54 months in jail and prison for nonviolent protests, helped coordinate delegations of U.S. peace activists to international protest camps at the nuclear weapons base in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Headline photo of the Büchel protest, courtesy of Nukewatch.