Brian Quail’s Anti Trident court speech in full
Brian Quail is a 79-year-old retired Latin teacher. He is currently remanded in custody after being arrested for peacefully protesting against Trident.
He is set to remain incarcerated until his trial on 03/08/2017. Last year he was found not guilty of breach of the peace at Dumbarton Sheriff Court. On that occasion he defended himself. This is his magnificent closing speech.
There is no dispute regarding the facts of this case.
The problem we have is the refusal of the courts to take into consideration the context of the actions taken by me. This unwillingness offends against natural justice.
If I were to obstruct an ordinary vehicle on the road, that would be an offence; if the vehicle were involved in a bank robbery or any other criminal activity, my action would not be an offence but would be considered justifiable.
It is not enough to look at the alleged offence; the intention and purpose of the one committing the action must also be taken into consideration. It is not enough for there to be actus reus, a wrongdoing, there must also be mens rea, that is, malign intent.
I was not committing a lesser crime to prevent a greater, which is not considered a justification in Scots law – I was hindering an ongoing crime – to wit – the deployment of WMD.
I could also add that the transport of radioactive material and high explosives in the same vehicle is contrary to the Radioactive Substances (carriage by Road) (GB) Regulations of 1974 (No. 1735), Section 6h which states “No person shall…carry in a vehicle which is carrying radioactive material any explosive substance within the meaning of the explosives act 1875”
A nuclear weapon consists of 2 to 4 kg of plutonium and highly enriched Uranium, surrounded by approximately 20 kg of high-energy explosives. The joining and separation of the high explosives and plutonium, components can only take place within special bunkers in the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Burghfield in Berkshire.
The International Atomic Energy Authority Safety Series 6 guidelines for the transport of radioactive substances state that radioactive substances should not be carried in the same consignment as other dangerous goods.
Note also that European safety series 6 Directive 89/618 requires that citizens be notified of the movement of nuclear material through their area. This does not happen in the UK. The plain truth is that in ignoring these regulations, the MoD acts as if they were above the law, and the courts connive at this.
The courts refuse to consider the absence of mens rea in the case of peaceful, non-violent direct action taken against Trident. They do so on the a priori assumption that Trident is legal. Perhaps they make this assumption on the basis that whatever the government does must be legal because the government is doing it – in which case the government is considered to be above the law.
Or else they operate on the assumption that the Lord Advocates Referral of 2001 has established that Trident is legal. On this point, I would say that the basic argument of the LAR (which has invalidated such defences as mine in the Scottish courts), presupposes that whether or not international law is to be applied in Scotland is a matter for that nation’s courts. This is in denial of the founding principles of this body of law – that it is international and universal.
The Geneva Conventions Act of 1995 gave the 1949 Geneva Conventions internal domestic effect.
The 1945 London Agreement on War Crimes, which led to the prosecution and conviction of the Nazis, enshrined the principle that no-one, of whatever office or rank, is above the jurisdiction of International Law. All individuals are deemed to be personally responsible for their actions. You cannot plead in your defence that you are merely obeying orders – a consideration all police should ponder deeply.
Therefore, anyone who is in any way involved in the manufacture, transportation, storage, guarding or firing of nuclear weapons, or in the planning or preparation for their use – or supporting their deployment in a court of law – is part of a conspiracy to commit genocide, war crimes, and crimes against peace, and could be liable to prosecution under International Law.
Trident is a WMD, and as such, belongs to a prohibited class of weaponry. It is defined as a WMD by an Act of Parliament.
Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 reserves to the London Parliament;
Control of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
These, the ipsissima verba of the British government, concede that Trident is illegal.
This, therefore, is NOT a case of conscience versus the law; even less was I taking the law into my own hands and trying to impose my own political views on others. It is a case of the law versus the unlawful.
Everyone has the right and duty to say no to illegal state policy.
It is not disobedience but the enforcement of the law to refuse to be an accomplice to the preparation of nuclear war
(Professor of International Law, Princeton, USA, speaking at Nuremberg, 1983)
International law gives due recognition to the right of sovereign states to determine matters of foreign policy and defence.
This is their undoubted right. Yet it is a right to be exercised within the framework of international law. All ethical standards dictate that it should be exercised on the basis of good faith.
International law condemns the threat or use of nuclear weapons. Good faith dictates that the obligation to abolish them must be discharged in good faith.
If the law is truly to be the custodian of the rights and liberties of present and future generations, anti-nuclear civil resistance is the right of every citizen, for the nuclear threat, attacking as it does every core concept of human rights, calls for urgent and universal action for its prevention.
If the right to life is a basic human right, and if the protection of children and future generations is a basic human duty, international law must unhesitatingly recognise that nonviolent resistance activities for the prevention of such an international crime are basic to human dignity.
The remedy is a more active international law strengthened by citizen participation. We pressingly need more understanding of international law, more respect for international law, more compliance with international law, more support of international law and more good faith in the observance of international law. Whatever can be done to achieve these is activity which can help meaningfully to preserve humanity, civilisation and the values we cherish. We also pressingly need more citizen involvement in all these issues, for international law needs public support if it is to function effectively. Social motivation is essential to its success
ICJ Judge HE Christopher Weeramantry 2009
In accordance with evidence heard by the Court, it is clear that an explosion caused by the detonation of just one 100 kt warhead would release powerful and prolonged ionising radiation, which could not be contained in space or time, and which would harmfully affect civilians as well as combatants, neutral as well as belligerent states, and future generations as well as people targeted in the present time.
In view of these extraordinarily powerful characteristics and effects, any use of such a warhead would contravene international and humanitarian laws and precepts. In other words, even in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake, the use of a 100 kt nuclear warhead—regardless of whether it was targeted to land accurately on or above a military target—would always fail the tests of controllability, discrimination, civilian immunity, and neutral rights and would thus be unlawful.
In my opinion, any state that aids and abets another country, in the deployment and maintenance of nuclear warheads of 100 kt or comparable explosive power would also be acting unlawfully.
ICJ Judge HE Mohammad Bedjaoui
As the world reels from the terrible carnage in Syria, we see that both sides accuse each other of the war crime of deliberately targeting civilians.
Now, if targeting civilians is a war crime – and it unquestionably is – what can we say about Trident, the world’s most powerful machine for the mass killing of civilians?
By our silence and passivity, we are “art and part” of a conspiracy to commit major war crimes. The terrible truth is that we ourselves are our first nuclear victims – not the people targeted in Moscow or St Petersburg – because we must first stifle any spark of human decency in ourselves before we can agree to nuclear mass murder. We must first murder our souls. We have already signed the nuclear blank cheque and wait in the pious and hypocritical hope that it will not be actually be cashed. It is an intolerable anguish for me to live in a society that has made this Faustian pact. So I act. I do infinitesimally small things because infinitesimally small things are all I can do.
I am not alone in my concern.
Back in December 1997 more than 60 generals and admirals from Britain, America, and all around the world signed a statement, calling for the speedy abolition of all nuclear weapons. The statement was signed by Gen Sir Hugo Beach, Field Marshal Lord Carver, Brigadier Harbottle and Air Commodore Alastair Mackie from Britain. , Field Marshal Lord Carver, Brigadier Harbottle and Air Commodore Alastair Mackie from Britain. Also by generals and admirals from Canada, Denmark, France, Ghana, Greece, India, Japan, Jordan, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal Russia and the United States.
One of the signatories was General Lee Butler, who is not just any retired general. For 33 years he was involved in every aspect of US nuclear weapons planning. He has been in the bomber cockpits, on the submarines and in the missile silos. He was commander in chief, United States Strategic Command, and the commander of Strategic Air Command.
Under President Bush he personally selected thousands of targets in the former Soviet Union for mass destruction. He literally had his finger on the trigger.
Now hear what he says:
(deterrence) was based on a litany of false assumptions, unprovable assertions and logical contradictions. It suspended rational thinking about the ultimate aim of national security to ensure the survival of the state…..the cold War lives on in the minds of those who cannot let go the fears, the beliefs, and the enmities born of the nuclear age. They cling to deterrence, clutch its tattered promise to their breast, shake it wistfully at bygone adversaries and balefully at new or imagined ones. They are gripped still by its awful willingness not simply to tempt the apocalypse, but to prepare its way.
Elsewhere he writes;
Nuclear war is a raging insatiable beast whose instincts and appetite we pretend to understand, but cannot possibly control…..we have yet to grasp the monstrous effects of these weapons, that the consequences of their use defy reason, transcending time and space, poisoning the earth and deforming its inhabitants. We must achieve a world free of the threat of nuclear weapons. The price already paid is too dear, the risks too great. The task is daunting, but we cannot shrink from it. The opportunity may not come again.
The insurmountable problem is that we have no language adequate to the present actuality.
Casualty numbers are a haze of brain numbing statistics. We can say that one Trident warhead is equal to 8 Hiroshimas. But what on earth does this mean, when we cannot understand even one Hiroshima? The epicentre of a nuclear explosion is hotter than the surface of the sun. We have no experience remotely comparable to that, to help us envisage what that means. Our imagination fails us – and language fails. It is only in the particular and the personal that we can even begin to understand.
Let me try to do just that.
It is 8:15 am. on August 6th, 1945. In Hiroshima. Fukuhara Eiji, aged nine is walking to school when he sees a red dragonfly. He takes his cap off to capture it, reaches out and – everything goes blank. When he wakes up, he is in a world of darkness filled with the screams of the damned. He thinks he has died, and is in Hell. Then he makes out his mother and sisters crawling through the dark. So he reasons;
this can’t be Hell, because my mother is good, she would not be in Hell. But why are their clothes trailing behind them? Only it’s not their clothes, it is their skin….
A doctor bends over a little girl, and with tweezers gently lifts her eyelids. The sockets are empty. Her eyeballs have melted. He turns her to the side and extracts a thick white maggot from her arm. Why does irradiated flesh fester so quickly? I do not know. She is still alive, her little chest heaving like a captured bird.
At a public meeting in Glasgow in 1986, I met Analong Lijon, from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, which had been the scene of US nuclear tests.
There had been 67 nuclear explosions, including the then largest ever, the Bravo “event”, equivalent to 1000 Hiroshimas.
As a little girl, she wondered at “snow” falling from the sky after the explosion on Bikini Island. She gave a searing description of the birth abnormalities seen on the island.
Marshallese women gave birth not to children, but to things we could only describe as octopuses, turtles, and jellyfish, and other things in our experience. We do not have Marshallese words for these kinds of babies, because they were never born before the radiation came. Women on Rongelap, Likiep, Ailuk and other atolls in the Marshall Islands, gave birth to these “monster babies”… one woman on Likiep gave birth to a child with two heads… There is a young girl on Ailuk today with no knees, three toes on each foot and a missing arm. The most common birth defects on Rongelap and nearby islands have been “jellyfish” babies. These babies are born with no bones in their bodies and transparent skin. We an see their brains and hearts beating. Many women die from abnormal pregnancies and those who survive give birth to what looks like purple grapes which they quickly hide away and bury.
She told us how she personally had suffered five miscarriages. Her sister had carried thirteen dead babies. Later, she gave testimony before the UN. Let me quote from her speech on that occasion:
Of my family, these are the survivors: Father. Mother. Brothers Tomi, Freddi. Sister Api. These are the dead: Sisters Lijon, Sari, Mata. Brothers Wili, Kunio, Paul, Apolo.
This is our history:
blindness. thyroid tumours. miscarriages. jellyfish babies. Mental retardation. Sterility. Lung cancer, kidney cancer. liver cancer, sarcoma. lymphoma, leukemia….
I do not weep for my lost babies. Two stillbirths. Three jellyfish – glassy, pulsing discoids that made the nurses sick. I no longer weep for the dead. The dead do not care. We are the people of the Marshall Islands. We are your experiment.
I remember Hiroshima.
As a boy, I saw the windows of the tramcars filled with giant letters made of ticket roll: VJ, VJ, VJ. Victory in Japan. There was universal rejoicing. No more war. Nobody thought of the bodies blasted and burnt in a faraway city, because they weren’t told about them. The bomb was a scientific wonder that would bring universal peace. That’s all they knew.
To the victims then, and to our human targets today, our hearts and our minds are closed. So we are prepared to do this and unimaginably worse, again today. While we talk here in this court in Dumbarton, a young mans sits at a control panel deep under the ocean, waiting for the order to fire. We have already agreed to this.
In the Bikini Islands atomic tests in the 60s, dolphins escorted the ships into the lagoon.
They stayed behind, curiosity stirred by the underwater activity. The nuclear explosion blew a column of boiling water 6000 feet into the air, before dissolving into a mushroom cloud of radioactive gas and spray. The dolphins were vapourised. A paradigm to contemplate. It is not suicidal folly that impels society to co-operate with the death machine. It is loyalty, sociability, and intelligence hideously misplaced. Exploited by a system indifferent to their humanity, the people frolic and play as they follow the ship of extinction.
And here are more images: Albatrosses, their feathers on fire. Blinded, hideously contorted birds crashing into things. Pigs dressed in clothing to measure the effect of burns on protected and unprotected skin. Monkeys placed in tubes round the test site. Troops with no protective clothing – given sunglasses and told to turn their back on the explosion. Animals and humans alike. Guinea pigs. Victims to our nuclear idolatry.
We must never forget. We have already committed this, the ultimate war crime – twice.
And because we live in denial about this we are prepared to do it again. Why not? If it was right the first two times why not a third?
No one has explained to the people of Hiroshima, or to Lijon Eknilang or me – why she and her fellow islanders had to suffer the agony of giving birth to children with major birth defects, or born dead, so that the United Kingdom could have a nuclear arsenal, our imperial status symbol, our so-called “deterrent”.
Lijon came here seeking justice and recognition of the crimes committed against herself and many, many others:
The aborigines of Australia who suffered radiation sickness and death through uranium mining and the nuclear tests at Maralinga and Montebello; the test victims of the USSR in Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan and Novaya Zemlya in the arctic; the test victims of the USA – the Shoshone peoples of Nevada, whose land is permanently contaminated. The British servicemen used as human guinea pigs in tests at Christmas Island; and all the many unnamed and unnumbered victims of our nuclear idolatry. These people have suffered a terrible injustice, and the crimes committed against them cry to heaven for justice.
A report published by the IPPNW (the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) back in 1991 entitled “Radioactive Heaven and Earth” estimated that nuclear weapons tests would result in 430,000 deaths by the year 2000.
These victims demand justice.
The law does not belong to the rulers, to the state, or to judges. It is instituted for the protection of ordinary people against arbitrary power and violence. Apart from individual personal moral conviction, we have nothing else, no common bond we might share to save us from sinking into mere barbarism and brute power – other than the law.
Why then does the law not hear the voice of Lijon and of many thousands like her?
And when I, or others, try to speak on their behalf, why do the courts not listen?
The nuclear victims cry to the courts for justice – and we gave them nuclear justification.
They look for wisdom – and we gave them sophistry.
They seek compassion – and we gave them casuistry.
They look for the protection of the law – and we give them nuclear apologetics.
One final story, a parable from the American Jesuit philosopher, Antony De Mello.
Once an eagle’s egg was placed in a nest box in a poultry yard. The egg hatched, and young bird grew up with the rest of the poultry. He scratched in the dirt and ate the scraps thrown to him by the chicken farmer, He grew and grew, and lived happy enough. Finally, death came to him, as it does to all of us. As he lay dying, he looked up and saw these magnificent creatures soaring and wheeling high in the sky. Amazed, he asked one of the hens; “What is that?” She replied. “Why, those are eagles, Don’t you know, that’s what you are?
With respects, I ask your honour to consider the message of this parable.
You could, like an eagle, rise above the dirt of political postures and conventional atomic apologetics, and deliver belated justice to our nuclear victims. There is a precedent for the law making a courageous moral stand in advance of the government of the day. In 1778 the Sheriff of Perthshire liberated a Jamaican slave called Joseph Knight, ruling that slavery was not recognised by the law of Scotland and was inconsistent with its principles (in Knight v Wedderburn. Morrison’s Dictionary 14545).
His decision was upheld on appeal where Lord Kames stated that.
we sit here to enforce right, not to enforce wrong
I am indebted for this information to the research done by Lord Murray, Lord Advocate of Scotland from 1974 to 1979. Yet slavery was not abolished by Parliament till in 1833. The law anticipated Parliament then. Why cannot the law have the courage and integrity to uphold basic justice against the government of the day now in 2017, as it did then in 1778?
It is inconceivable that the Common Law of Scotland tolerates the threat of mass murder as a permissible tactic in war.
Even if there were no Geneva and Hague Conventions, Nuremberg Principles or any other of the vast corpus of International humanitarian law. I am happy to base my case on the Common Law of Scotland.
There is a curious serendipity in this seemingly unimportant trial taking place here today. In a few weeks, the assembled nations of the world meeting at the UN Assembly in New York will forge an international treaty banning all nuclear weapons. The UK, and the other nuclear-armed states will oppose this. But the overwhelming majority, more than 120 states, will support this momentous treaty.
Biological weapons have been banned since 1972, Chemical weapons since 1993. Land mines were banned in 1997 and cluster bombs in 2008. It’s now time to add nuclear weapons to this list.
Let me finish on a personal note. Several years ago I had heart surgery – a double by-pass.
This was at the time when Trident warheads were first being sent up to Scotland from Burghfield in Berkshire.
The good folk of Faslane Peace Camp, John Ainslie the administrator of SCND, and I used to regularly follow these convoys and hold them up whenever we could safely do so.
I had noticed that every time I saw them and heard the particular roar of the Foden carriers, I would get intense chest pains. This got worse and worse until finally, things came to a head on one occasion when we stopped the convoy at the roundabout up from the North Gate of Faslane. The lead vehicle was stopped and I ran up to support the action. The pains grew more and more intense. I collapsed on the road in agony. People crowded round and someone said “We’ll need to take him to the hospital”.
I said “No leave me here”.
The pains were unbearable, like tiger’s claws in my chest. I thought;
This is it. I am dying. Why am I dying here, on the road beside a vehicle carrying nuclear bombs?
I looked up at a patch of blue in the sky, and it reminded me of my youngest daughter Catherine, who has particularly lovely blue eyes. Then I thought, No, it’s not just the blue eyes of my children, but the green eyes, and the brown eyes, and the grey eyes of all the children of the world – and their mothers and fathers too – that are the target of our bombs. Our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, whom we are prepared to burn and blast.
And I knew the answer to my question Why here. It is love that drives me. Love is not an emotional or sentimental feeling.
active love is a harsh and fearful thing.
So I am not a peace protestor, I am – though I don’t look it – a lover.
The American philosopher, Dr Cornel West said,
Justice is what love looks like in public.
This is a court of Justice, and you, my honour, administer Justice, and if Justice is what love looks like in public, then you and I should share the same goal.
De minimis non curat lex – the law does not concern itself with trifles. This legal maxim is being stretched to its ultimate absurdity today. I am on trial because I peacefully and nonviolently held up a convoy. The court simply ignores the fact that the convoy was carrying the most powerful machine in the world for the mass killing of human beings, Trident. A blind eye is turned on the Hydrogen bombs in the convoy, to the real and present illegal weapons of mass destruction.
Christopher Weeramantry, Vice-President of the International Court of Justice from 1991 to 2000 described nuclear weapons as “the ultimate Evil”.
Will your honour today in this court in Dumbarton, rule that the ultimate evil is legal?
I implore your honour to remember the wise words of Lord Kames in Knight v Wedderburn in 1778, I quoted earlier,
we sit here to enforce right, not to enforce wrong.
Please stop defending Trident against me, and defend me – and humanity – against Trident.
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Awesome speech, and one that should be shouted from the rooftops.
A very moving defence, based not on Trident perceived as a defence against “The Enemy”, but on the consequences of its use for the survival of the human race on our small, blue planet.
A fatally selective speech. The horrors it describes actually prove the need to address the horrors it does not mention, and that any court speech on this subject that chooses not to mention them is incomplete. Namely: * the described nuclear horrors happening to us when a murderous nuclear attack is made on us by a hostile power this armed, * the nature of a “nuclear blackmail” situation, because it includes that possibility, * the criminality of all socially unfair behaviours, all personally nasty treacherous or intolerant or peer pressuring behaviours ever, all derision and exclusion, big and small, because… Read more »
I can see both sides of the debate with regards to nuclear weapons. However, I think he should have the right to protest and didn’t like the fact he was jailed for his beliefs. I think he does make a good eloquent case but, as you say, there are reasonable arguments on the other side.
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