Salute to a sister of direct action
Tuesday 25 September 2012
Today in Glasgow Sheriff Court, peace protester Barbara Dowling stands accused of committing a criminal offence under the Census Act 1920.
The charge is that she refused to fully complete her form last year in protest at the involvement in Scotland’s census of a British subsidiary of US defence contractor CACI International — to which I’ll return in a moment.
Dowling is no stranger to the courts. A pacifist and Christian, she’s been on trial, fined and imprisoned on many occasions.
She is part of the tradition of direct action anti-war protesters which includes Trident Ploughshares and the peace campers at military bases like Faslane and Greenham Common.
In 2006 she was in court with a number of other women peace activists for actions at Coulport nuclear weapons depot.
When Dowling was specifically charged with painting a bollard at the main entrance, she famously told the court that there were no signs outside the base telling the public what its business was and she felt that people should know the truth.
Ordered to pay the Ministry of Defence compensation of £8.34, she insisted she would not be paying the MoD one penny.
This process of good-humoured but principled direct action followed by fines and non-payment and sometimes imprisonment has been Dowling’s way of campaigning against the immoral and illegal nuclear weapons along our shores.
Earlier this year, along with CND activist Janet Fenton, Dowling was in Dumbarton Sheriff Court for painting “political graffiti” on the walls of the court following a 2010 trial in which they maintained that the court did not uphold international law with respect to the illegality of the Trident nuclear weapon system.
Dowling was given three months in Cornton Vale women’s prison. Fenton got 120 hours of community service.
“I did what the courts refuse to do,” Dowling said then.
“I upheld international law in regard to nuclear weapons. I am not guilty of a crime and I am not co-operating with an unjust punishment.”
Some suggest that Dowling is being singled out, and is being made a political prisoner.
But she is not acting alone — and if the authorities feel singling out a retired occupational therapist is necessary, it is a sign of weakness on their part.
Dowling herself certainly isn’t showing any sign of weakness.
Only last week she was in court in Glasgow, where she was fined £200 for protesting outside the army recruiting office in Queen Street.
“I was objecting to Britain recruiting 16-year-olds into the army,” she says.
“It’s the only country in Europe which does this, in defiance of United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.”
Dowling is on trial today because of the way in which she used her 2011 census form to protest against the £18.5 million contract to CACI Ltd to run the 2011 Scottish census.
CACI Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of CACI International Inc, the US-based defence company which was contracted from 2003 to 2005 by the US army to provide “interrogation services” at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. It provided 50 per cent of the interrogators.
Former prisoners have accused them of torture, sexual abuse and inhumane behaviour, but CACI has blocked lawsuits brought against it by claiming “official immunity.”
A year ago, the US Federal Appeals Court in Virginia dismissed the case brought against CACI by four former Abu Ghraib prisoners.
The US court did so not because it rejected the evidence against CACI but because it held that CACI integration into the US military renders the company immune to this kind of lawsuit.
In Glasgow Sheriff Court today Dowling will welcome the opportunity to bring CACI into the dock beside her.
“All the money CACI Ltd makes — including from the Scottish Census — belongs to CACI International but CACI International remains beyond the reach of Scottish and British law,” she says.
“I believe that the only ethical way open to me to express my outrage at the involvement of CACI in the 2011 Scottish census was by refusing to fully comply by not completing the census form as instructed.
“To simply ignore what I consider to be immoral and unjust would be to close my eyes, to condone it, to willingly comply, to cross over the line and align myself with the perpetrators.”
That’s what you call a principled position.