April 11, 2021
Ramsey Clark: A Remembrance
by Paul Magno
Ramsey Clark passed away last week at the age of 93. His legacy, post-government, was as a dissident lawyer and advocate. Among the many causes he supported and assisted was the Plowshares movement. In fact, even before openly supporting the Plowshares Eight after their initial Plowshares action in September of 1980, Clark had an intriguing relationship with Philip Berrigan at least. He had journeyed from serving as the US Attorney General who authorized the prosecution of Berrigan and other draft board raiders from the Baltimore Four and Catonsville Nine during the Johnson Administration to successfully defending him and the other Harrisburg Conspiracy defendants just a few years later.
He gladly made himself available as often as he was asked in various Plowshares trials over the last 40+ years. In 2013 as I was engaged in support work for the Transform Now Plowshares who had entered the Oak Ridge TN nuclear weapons facility, I was tasked with arranging for him to come to Tennessee for a pretrial hearing that April. We arranged his travel and attendance and the lawyers persuaded Federal District Judge Amul Thapar to conduct a hearing on whether he might testify in the jury trial of the three charged for that disarmament action.
I met Clark at the airport on his arrival in Knoxville the night before the April 23rd hearing and he took the stand that day for what turned out to be approximately an hour and a half. Ralph Hutchison of OREPA, the local organization that has long campaigned against the facility, wrote furiously in his notebook to capture the testimony.
I vividly recall three features of Clark’s testimony, one being his affirmation of the term “omnicide” to characterize the staggering consequences of the commencement of a nuclear attack, a second being his testimony that the US does not possess less destructive capacity in its nuclear arsenal than in 1969, the third being his insistence that the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), in force since 1970, was intended to end the nuclear arms. In addition to questions from defense attorney Bill Quigley, Clark also responded to interjected questions from Judge Thapar and to cross-examination by Assistant US Attorney Jeff Theodore.
Clark maintained that the defendants’ beliefs about the danger of nuclear weapons, including those produced & maintained at Oak Ridge, were entirely reasonable, as was their action at the plant the previous July. As Theodore pressed him on the NPT’s relevance and requirements, Clark maintained that US failure to disarm nuclear weapons violated the treaty’s Article Six obligation. There came a moment when the prosecutor realized that when Clark maintained “we intended” prompt disarmament, he meant the handful of senior government officials, including himself, charged with negotiating that treaty by President Johnson, whereupon he wrapped up his questioning quickly.
Clark’s testimony was received enthusiastically by the Transform Now Plowshares and their supporters as a vindication of the necessity and lawfulness of such actions; alas not so by Judge Thapar, who ruled it irrelevant and thus precluded Ramsey Clark from similar testimony before their trial jury the following month.
Nevertheless, Ramsey Clark honored the Plowshares movement time and again with similar affirmation of the legality and necessity of such action over the years against the “omnipresent” threat represented by nuclear weapons, just a small part of a fifty years’ long commitment to law and justice from perspectives outside of the halls of power he once inhabited as a government official. That service came to an end last Friday when he died peacefully at home surrounded by his family.
Paul Magno is a peace activist in Washington DC and member of the Kings Bay Plowshares Support Group
A Brief Memory of (and Thanks To) Ramsey Clark (December 18, 1927 – April 9, 2021)
Posted on Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action website April 11, 2021 by Leonard Eiger
Early on the morning of November 16, 2010 in front of the U.S. Federal District Courthouse in Tacoma, Washington, a large throng had gathered to vigil before the motions hearing for five Plowshares activists known as the Disarm Now Plowshares. Up the sidewalk I saw one of the defendants, Sr. Anne Montgomery walking toward us with Former US Attorney General William Ramsey Clark.
Clark had come to testify on behalf of the defendants who had been charged with a variety of offenses, while their only intention was to prevent the most ghastly crime possible – a full scale nuclear war.
The former attorney general appeared on behalf of Bill “Bix” Bichsel, SJ, Susan Crane, Lynne Greenwald, Steve Kelly, SJ, and Anne Montgomery, RSCJ, who all faced charges of Conspiracy, Trespass, Destruction of Property on a Naval Installation and Depredation of Government Property for their November 2, 2009 Plowshares action. They had entered the U.S. Navy’s nuclear weapons storage depot at Bangor, Washington to symbolically disarm the nuclear weapons stored there, and expose the illegality of the government’s continuing preparations for nuclear war.
Later, in the courtroom, Judge Benjamin Settle allowed testimony from Clark, who responded to questions from Disarm Now Plowshares co-defendants. When asked by Anne Montgomery if the plowshares activists were justified to enter the restricted area of the U.S. Naval Base, Clark said that they “had a duty to prevent harm, they were justified, and even required to prevent harm.” Clark was speaking in the context of the Plowshares activists entering the base, in which nuclear weapons are stored, to expose the illegality of the government’s actions in preparing for nuclear war.
When asked by Susan Crane if Trident nuclear warheads are legal, Clark said “No,” and explained that the Supreme Court has ruled that international law is binding under the U.S. Constitution. Nuclear weapons are unlawful under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) because of the agreement of the nuclear powers to eliminate them. Clark was in the Justice Department when the NPT was drafted. “Had we abided by the NPT, we would be a nuclear free world. It’s hard to believe we’ve come to this stage,” Clark said. The U.S. has ignored its obligations under the NPT, and now has enough warheads to destroy the planet.
Clark quoted Hugo Grotius, who wrote in his book “Of The Law of War And Peace” in the 17th century that, “The care to preserve society that is the source of all law.” Essentially, the law is designed to preserve society, and this theme continued to grow over centuries through international treaties (such as the NPT).
“Possession of the bomb is a crime. Just like it’s illegal to have a switchblade or concealed weapon, the nuclear weapons are illegal,” Clark said. He explained that 99 percent of the deaths in the Hiroshima bombing were non-military, and therefore extraordinarily disproportional. Possessing thousands of nuclear weapons, each one many times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, and which do not discriminate between combatants and civilians, is definitely a crime.
Clark concluded that Plowshares activists are opposed to all violence, and particularly nuclear weapons, which are “the ultimate human degradation.”
Among the documents considered by the Judge in the Disarm Now Plowshares case was a motion for dismissal in which the co-defendants concluded that, “Because this case involves unjust and illegal weapons of mass destruction, the use of which is a war crime under US and international law, and defendants actions were taken to protect a greater good and much higher law than the laws they are accused of violating, this case should be dismissed immediately.” Clark spoke to the heart of this issue and elucidated the duty of citizens to act when their government fails to follow the rule of law. The five Disarm Now co-defendants firmly believed that there was sufficient legal doctrine substantiating their invocation of the necessity defense, and that the “Defendants’ actions are just and not at all illegal,” and therefore the case should be immediately dismissed.
As with most other Federal Plowshares trials, the judge dismissed both motions by the defendants to dismiss charges, and the trial went forward. Ultimately, the jury found the defendants “guilty” of trespass, felony damage to federal property, felony injury to property, and felony conspiracy to damage property after a trial in which the defendants were not allowed to mount anything resembling a reasonable defense.
Clark testified on behalf of the Transform Now Plowshares in 2013, and led the defense team for Fr. Philip Berrigan and the Harrisburg Seven in 1971.
As for Clark’s participation in the Disarm Now Plowshares trial, it was a fine example of speaking one’s truth to power, and representing those with little or no voice or power. Clark’s life is an example of an individual who evolved over a full lifetime; an imperfect human being who strived to follow the rule and intent of the law, and to criticize his country when necessary, saying that a citizen’s “highest obligation” was to speak up when his government had violated its own principles and “not point the finger at someone else.”
The New York Times has published a detailed obituary that chronicles Clark’s many legal exploits on behalf of the victims of abuse of power by the US government. Wikipedia also lists a large number of people Clark defended in the years after he left government service.
Thank you, Ramsey, for representing those our nation has abused, neglected and usurped in its quest for power and hegemony.
Here is the letter Ramsey wrote to Judge Lisa Wood regarding the sentencing of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7
June 2, 2020
Honorable Lisa Godbey Wood
U.S. District Court – Southern District of Georgia
801 Gloucester Street, Room 207
Brunswick, GA 31521
Dear Judge Wood:
I am writing to you about the upcoming sentencing of seven individuals known as the Kings Bay Plowshares Seven: Elizabeth McAlister, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Patrick O’Neill, Mark Colville, Carmen Trotta and Rev. Stephen Kelly, S.J.
I have provided legal assistance to the Plowshares movement since 1980, when the Plowshares Eight demanded that nuclear weapons be abolished. Now, you are about to sentence the Kings Bay Plowshares Seven for actions to draw pubic attention to this same critical issue.
The members of the Kings Bay Plowshares Seven are exemplary in their longstanding service to the poor. And their protests are in line with the respected American tradition of civil disobedience to bring about social justice and peace.
The Seven chose to act at the Naval Base Kings Bay on April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to commemorate his legacy of nonviolent protest to foster equality, peace and fairness in our country. They wanted to stress that U.S. presidents have refused to commit to a pledge of no-first-use of nuclear weapons. President Trump has openly threatened to use nuclear weapons: against North Korea in 2017, and against Iran in 2019. The Seven felt compelled by faith and conscience to warn of this danger.
The Seven were convicted of three felonies and a misdemeanor at their jury trial last October, but their intent was to uphold international laws and treaties that prohibit the development and use of weapons with the capacity for indiscriminate mass destruction. One such measure is the Nonproliferation Treaty, which our government signed during my term as U.S. Attorney General.
The action of the Seven also complied morally and legally with the Nuremberg Principles, which state that individuals have a duty to act to prevent crimes against humanity. As a U.S. Marine veteran who was stationed in Western Europe at the end of WW II and who attended the Nuremberg proceedings, I can attest how crucial it is for individuals and governments to adhere to the lessons of Nuremberg. The seven sincerely believe that they were acting to prevent the greatest crime against humanity from being committed: that of global nuclear annihilation.
As you prepare to sentence the Seven, I respectfully urge you, in light of their faith-based, morally just actions, to sentence them to the time already served. Another factor is the COVID-19 pandemic, which is rife among the prison population. As some of the Seven are elderly, I hope you will not sentence them to prison, where they could be exposed to life-threatening illness.
Thank you very much for considering my appeal on behalf of this nonviolent, peace-loving group of Americans.
Remembering Ramsey Clark
by Art Laffin
Like so many who knew him, I am deeply saddened by the death of Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General and renowned civil and human rights lawyer, but I am also forever grateful for the gift of his life and friendship. Ramsey, 93, died at his NYC home on April 9 surrounded by family members. He is survived by his daughter, Ronda, who was born with multiple disabilities. Ramsey credited her with giving him “enormous empathy for the poor, the deprived and the handicapped, the sense of a need to help.” His beloved wife, Georgia, died in 2010 and his son, Tom, died in 2013.
I don’t know of another lawyer who did more to help people worldwide than Ramsey Clark. He had an unwavering and passionate commitment to social and racial justice and peace in the U.S. and abroad. A fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy and imperialism, he worked relentlessly to end systemic oppression, racism and militarism. Some mainstream media obituaries of Ramsey did not emphasize this fact enough, but instead gave exaggerated emphasis to some of the more controversial cases in which he was involved. I, along with many others, believe that he should be remembered for his untiring work to uphold the human rights of people everywhere, no matter their circumstance, especially victims of injustice and war.
As an assistant U.S. Attorney General, he helped supervise the drafting of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965). During his tenure as U.S. Attorney General (March 1967-January 1969), the Civil Rights Act (popularly known as the Fair Housing Act) was enacted (1968), the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed by the U.S (1968), and he vigorously opposed federal executions. When he left public office, he actively opposed U.S. warmaking, nuclear war preparations and military intervention. In his lifetime, he visited more than 100 countries to report on U.S. intervention throughout the world, including North Vietnam, Grenada, Iran, Libya, Panama, Haiti and Iraq, to name but a few. He worked assiduously to establish peace and social justice throughout the Middle East and Latin America, especially in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and he strongly opposed the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
In 1982 he assisted me in a case I was involved in for a nonviolent action at General Dynamics/Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, CT., in resistance to the Trident nuclear submarine program. The court had granted a pre-trial motion for me to inspect the so-called “damage” at issue–a large laminated photograph of the Trident submarine that I had poured blood on, for which I was charged with a felony. Ramsey and another lawyer and friend, Sr. Sue Ann Shay, accompanied me to the shipyard to view the photo. (Thanks to Ramsey’s help, my felony charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor). Seeing thousands of workers building the Trident submarine, what the Pentagon called the “ultimate first strike weapon,” made a profound impact on Ramsey. Subsequently, I noticed whenever I heard him speak publicly, he often spoke out against what he described as the “omnipresent” threat of nuclear weapons, and specifically against the Trident program.
Later that same year, Ramsey testified outside the presence of the jury in the Trident Nein trial, in which I was one of the defendants. Tragically, the trial judge deemed Ramsey’s compelling testimony to be irrelevant in our case and thus the jury was prohibited from hearing it. What follows is an excerpt taken from the trial transcript of his testimony regarding the purpose of law, the illegality of nuclear weapons and legal justification for acting to prevent crimes against humanity from occurring.
“I think the very idea of law has–in virtually all cultures where there has been any significant development, has been premised on the idea of protecting life. Perhaps the classical statement for western civilization is by Hugo Grotius, who wrote a major work called The Law of War and Peace in the early 1600’s, and he identifies this care to preserve society as the source of all law…By the steady development of what’s called the law or principles of humanity, we have seen many documents, proclamations, conventions, declarations that relate directly to the legality of nuclear weapons.”
Ramsey went on to cite “the 1868 Declaration of St. Petersburg which at that time began what many would call the modern epic of international prohibition on unlimited use of violence by and among nations.” He continued: “The famous Hague Convention of 1907 with the Hague Resolution under Convention Four developed further the international law, adopted and accepted by virtually all nations that existed at that time; fundamental ideas that control the use of weaponry among nations; the necessity of avoiding injury to civilian populations and the duty to care for them. The Geneva Conventions of 1949, four years after the first use of atomic bombs against life, expanded and reaffirmed the principles set forth in the Hague Convention. Over 130 nations, including ours, are signatories to those conventions, and they are considered to be binding on nations and individual citizens…
The UN Charter I believe, and I think most experts believe, prohibits the use of nuclear weapons. The General Assembly has resolved on many occasions, that nuclear weapons are a violation of the UN Charter, and that the use of nuclear weapons would constitute a crime against humanity and civilization. A prominent resolution to that effect is Nov. 24, 1961…
The Principles of the Nuremberg Charter, the very essence of it is the imposition on the individual of rights and duties not to participate in and to prevent crimes against humanity. There’s another important part of this body of law. It was the U.S. delegate who on Dec. 11, 1946 introduced the resolution in the General Assembly of the UN, making the Nuremberg Principles binding and permanent international law. The human necessity that law prohibits nuclear weapons seems clear. The question is whether nations and individuals will abide by the law; not whether the law exists…
Under Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, international law insofar as it is embodied in treaties to which the U.S. is a party is a supreme law of the land. And as the supreme law of the land, it’s binding on states and municipalities and the federal government itself and on individuals…The Nuremberg principles, as only a part of that law, impose on private individual’s obligations not to participate in acts that involve crimes against humanity, and indeed, to take…action to prevent the commission of crimes against humanity. I think all who observed and participated in the Nuremberg process–I happened to be there as a young marine–believe and want that to be more than the law of victors, but to be the law of nations.”
When asked about the policy of first-use of nuclear weapons and the Trident submarine being a first-strike weapon, he declared that the policy and the Trident are not only in violation of international laws and treaties but are also unconstitutional. Regarding the fact that it is unconstitutional for the president to be given the power to authorize using nuclear weapons, he stated: “first-strike requires immediate individual actions, and it’s a power that could not possibly be delegated because it would be tantamount to a delegation of all power to destroy all life to a single individual, which would be the antithesis of the idea of constitutional government.”
I will always be grateful for the loving support Ramsey offered to the Trident Nein Plowshares and to our support community. On a personal note, I am thankful, too, for Ramsey taking time to meet my parents during the trial and to extend his support to them as well.
Ramsey, testified in numerous other plowshares cases in recent years, including the Disarm Now and Transform Now Plowshares cases. (see: https://disarmnowplowshares.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/former-us-attorney-general-testifies-for-plowshares-activists/ and https://transformnowplowshares.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/ramsey-clark-on-nuclear-weapons-and-update-on-charges/. Due to repressive rulings by trial judges, plowshares juries never heard Ramsey’s testimony about the illegality of nuclear weapons. Fortunately, Ramsey lived to see the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons enter into legal force on January 22, 2021, thereby officially making such weapons illegal under international law.
In 1991, Ramsey was willing to testify at another trial for members and friends of the Atlantic Life Community who carried out a witness at the White House to avert the U.S. bombing of Iraq. I was among those attending the Holy Innocents Faith and Resistance Retreat who went over the White House fence with ten other peacemakers to resist President George H. W. Bush’s call to war against Iraq. During our December 30, 1990 action, several people poured red dye and human blood into the fountain on the north lawn to symbolize the “fountain of blood” that would result in the Persian Gulf from Bush’s bombing of Iraq. Shortly before the jury trial was to commence, the judge requested who our witnesses would be and if we had additional evidence to present. Ramsey had just returned from Iraq with a videographer to document first-hand the massive death and destruction caused by U.S. bombing. We wanted Ramsey to testify about the unspeakable U.S. war crimes that were committed in Iraq. Upon hearing that Ramsey would be called as a witness, the trial judge stated that he clerked for Ramsey when he was U.S. Attorney General, but did not see this as grounds for recusing himself from the case. We also told the court that we had obtained video footage of the action and wanted to show this to the jury, as one of our group was being selectively prosecuted for a felony charge. We wanted to present this evidence to the jury as it demonstrated that we all acted together and should be given the same charges. The prosecution asked for a recess to view the video and then declared that our charges were being dismissed and that a new indictment would be brought against us. To our surprise, the case was never further prosecuted.
Almost twenty years later, Ramsey spoke at the December 28, 2010 Holy Innocents Faith and Resistance Retreat in WDC, organized by Jonah House and the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, where he spoke about the almost 20 year-long uninterrupted criminal and immoral war the U.S. has waged against the Iraqi people.
Throughout his career Ramsey provided pro bono legal assistance to numerous activists, including prisoners of conscience, human rights workers, war resisters and Catholic Workers who were facing legal jeopardy. In a 2011 case involving the arrest of 38 peacemakers at the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, home of the 174th Attack Wing of drones located outside of Syracuse, NY, a DeWitt trial judge allowed Ramsey to testify on behalf of those arrested for protesting killer drones. The trial judge, who overruled a previous decision that would have kept Clark from testifying, decided that Clark’s knowledge of international law would be relevant in the case.
On May 10, 2020, I had a 20-minute-long phone conversation with Ramsey, where we spoke about many things, including mutual friends who have since gone home to God–Dan and Phil Berrigan, Sr. Anne Montgomery and Elmer Maas. I thanked him for his steadfast support of me and the many plowshares friends, peacemakers and other resisters he has assisted. I then gave him an update about the KBP7, including his longtime friend Liz McAlister, who would be sentenced the following month. He then expressed his willingness to help them in whatever way he could. On June 2, 2020, he sent a letter in support of the KBP7 to Judge Wood for her consideration before their sentencing. (see Ramsey Clark’s Letter to Judge Wood posted on this page)
There are two videos about Ramsey that I highly recommend viewing. One is a notable speech he gave in 1998 at Rev. James Lawson’s church in Los Angeles. In the speech, Ramsey referenced Dr. King’s declaration that “the greatest purveyor of violence on earth is my own government,” and spoke about how this reality rings true today. He stated: “We call ourselves the world’s greatest democracy, but we are absolutely a plutocracy. Wealth governs this country. Wealth uses military violence to control the rest of the world…If we don’t control our violence, if we don’t control the effect of the symbol of our glorification of violence on our children and on the rest of the planet, then the human species is going to be the first to destroy itself completely.”
Also please see Citizen Clark, the excellent film by Joe Stillman which details how, for the past fifty years, Ramsey challenged the abuses of U.S. power and championed numerous causes that have affected humanity. see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QHfEKQroTA
Deo Gratias for Ramsey Clark! Ramsey Clark–PRESENTE!