By KIERAN FINNANE
The defences which the Peace Pilgrims have tried to raise in relation to entering the Pine Gap prohibited area have been ruled out by Justice John Reeves.
Left: Military base at Pine Gap, photo by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff.
The defences, under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, were that they were not criminally responsible for their conduct because it was in response to a sudden or extraordinary emergency, and that the conduct was in defence of themselves and others.
The sudden or extraordinary emergency, they said, was the escalating incidence of drone strikes for which Pine Gap provides the targeting information. And disrupting this activity, they said, would help prevent the loss of innocent lives.
However, following Justice Reeves’ ruling, none of the evidence the Pilgrims gave in relation to these defences can be considered by the jury. (The reasons for his ruling will be published later.)
Rather, following directions from Justice Reeves tomorrow, the jury will have to decide simply whether the Crown has proven beyond reasonable doubt that the five entered the prohibited area and intended to do so, that the area is prohibited under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 and that the defendants were aware of that or reckless with respect to it.
The defendant Andrew Paine also faces one count of having a photographic device in the prohibited area.
In closing, Michael McHugh SC for the Crown said lawful, peaceful protest was a hallmark of our democracy, but there are limits, civil disobedience notwithstanding, giving as an example the Suffragettes. (This did not seem to help his argument, as the Suffragettes’ civil disobedience ultimately won the day – who now thinks they were wrong to do what they did?)
With respect to the facts, he said the Crown case is straightforward and much of it in any case has been admitted by the defendants.
In his closing address, Mr Paine spoke of the freedom that comes from doing what you believe is right and living a life you can be proud of, even when what you do is inconvenient, unpopular and can have serious consequences.
He accepted that the jury had to make their decision based on the facts but, he said, the facts about Pine Gap, usually hidden away, were what he and his co-accused had tried to shine a light on.
Franz Dowling spoke of 15 people killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan shortly after the Pilgrims’ action: only one was the intended target. His only regret was that the Pilgrims hadn’t succeeded in disrupting activities at the base to prevent this happening. He apologised to those innocents who lost their lives.
Tim Webb asked when those responsible for the killing of innocent civilians will be brought to justice. He spoke of the five not being allowed to run their defences and asked the jury to reach a fair and complete informed decision based on the facts.
Jim Dowling said that nobody could make the jury find the five guilty of a crime. He said if they considered that the crimes lie elsewhere they should find the five not guilty.
Mr McHugh noted this comment and said that no doubt Justice Reeves would direct the jury in relation to it.
Margaret Pestorius was last to her feet. She had put on her wedding dress, to draw into the court a sense of her late husband, Bryan Law, one of the Pine Gap Four found guilty and later acquitted on appeal of entering the Pine Gap prohibited area in 2005.
She has followed her conscience and will pay the price for it, she said. Her husband would have been proud of her, and their son will be proud of her.
She spoke of the cycle of grief, silence, denial and war and asked the jury to also reflect on this cycle. There’s a crack in everything, she said, and a crack can allow light in.
Below: The five Peace Pilgrims earlier this week when Margaret Pestorius was also wearing her wedding dress. The others are from left Franz Dowling, Jim Dowling, Andrew Paine and Timothy Webb. Photo by Cate Adams.