New Zealand Peace protesters win acquittal on charges of damaging U.S. spy base

Protesters in 2008 punctured a cover at the Waihopai satellite station in New Zealand. Photo: New Zealand Herald

In New Zealand, three peace activists have been found not guilty of breaking into and damaging a spy base used in the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. In April 2008, the three activists entered the Waihopai facility and deflated a plastic dome used to cover a satellite dish.

After the verdict, one of the three acquitted activists, Dominican friar Peter Murnane, said they acted to help mitigate the human suffering caused by the Iraq war.

Peter Murnane: “We attacked property in a pretty moderate way to save enormous life and to draw attention to the enormous crimes against humanity that the base is guilty of sharing in.”

Three peace protesters have been found not guilty of an attack on a top-secret South Island spy base, despite freely admitting causing damage put at $1 million.

Otaki schoolteacher Adrian Leason, Auckland Catholic priest Peter Murnane and Hokianga farmer Sam Land were cleared by a Wellington District Court jury yesterday evening of burglary and wilful damage.

The charges stemmed from the April 2008 raid on the Government Communications Security Bureau facility at Waihopai, near Blenheim.

The jury took only two hours to reach its verdict after an eight-day trial.

Prosecutors accused the three men of cutting their way through fences into the base, then using sickles to slash a plastic cover protecting a receiver dish.

Although the men admitted the attack, they said their actions were driven by a belief that the dish, for receiving and sending satellite communications, caused human suffering.

"That belief doesn't have to be correct," said Mr Leason's lawyer, Michael Knowles.

At the end of the trial, the three men said they were privileged to have helped "uncover the true nature" of the spy base.

Mr Leason said their actions in disabling the base, even if it was only for a short time, stopped the flow of information, which had ultimately helped to save lives in Iraq.

"We wanted ... to challenge these warfaring behaviours and I think we have done this. We have shown New Zealanders there is a US spy base in our midst."

Mr Leason said the group was delighted the case was finally over.

"The jury listened to our story and they listened to the evidence and they came to the decision that clearly, the laws that are there to protect people are more important than the laws that are there to protect plastic domes.

"The point that really has been made is that 12 jurors - 12 regular, ordinary Kiwis - have got very, very serious concerns about the activities of the base.

"Now if 12 ordinary Kiwis have very serious concerns about the base, maybe all Kiwis should have concerns about what this ultra-secret, unaccounted-for spy base is up to."

Mr Leason, who works in a primary school, said he would "absolutely" be bringing the issue up in the classroom.

"It's not just teaching ABC and 1, 2, 3 ... it's about nurturing human beings and helping them develop attitudes of compassion."

Father Murnane said that, out of respect for the rule of law, the trio had not tried to avoid the consequences of their actions, "although we do believe we are ultimately accountable to a higher authority".

Auckland criminal defence lawyer Gary Gotlieb said although the verdict might have come as a surprise to many, the jury's decision was also a reflection of what many in the public would have thought - that although the men had wilfully damaged the property, they did not have criminal intent.

"One might have thought that might have been stretching the bow a wee bit. But the jury heard and saw them, and obviously believed they were people of integrity and accepted what they said."


Report by Richard Miller, New Zealand Herald