On January 17th 2009 six people broke into EDO MBM/ITT in Brighton and caused £189 000 worth of damage to computers, servers, lathes and other equipment. The activists, calling themselves the ‘decommissioners’, took their action in response to the Israeli assault on Gaza which had claimed 1400 lives by the 17th. EDO MBM/ITT manufactures the arming unit for the Israeli F16 bombrack. The six were arrested, along with three people alleged to have supported the action. All nine were charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage. At a month long trial at Hove Crown Court seven of the activists argued that they had a lawful excuse to damage EDO’s property as the company was complicit in war crimes. All seven were acquitted on July 2nd 2010 after the jury gave five unanimous not guilty verdicts and the judge directed that the final two should be acquitted. One activist had been found with no case to answer earlier in the trial due to lack of evidence.
The decommissioning of EDO MBM/ITT completely closed the factory for several days, until the main Israeli assault on Gaza was over. Paul Hills, MBM’s stony faced MD, gave evidence that some of the factory’s production machinery was out of action for up to a month. US contract information shows that ITT was negotiating the sale of further arming units at the time of the action but that the contract fell through.
After the arrests, three decommissioners were remanded in custody. Chris Osmond was released on bail after a week while Elijah Smith remained in custody until the trial. Robert Alford was bailed briefly but ended up back in jail. Sussex police threw an unprecedented level of resources at the case. A team from the Serious Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) was allocated to Operation ‘Potato’, (hastily renamed Operation Adio). The gap between the action and the trial was sixteen months. The police used this time to ramp up the pressure on the defendants, using the judicial process as a means of repression. It soon became clear that Sussex Police were livid that the decommissioners had been granted bail. Restrictive bail conditions were imposed including a ban on decommissioners ‘associating’ with each other, curfews, electronic tags, confiscation of passports and restrictions on movement. Some, but not all, of these conditions were successfully challenged. One particularly vindictive tactic used by SOCU was the harassment and arrest of people who had written statements in support of the decommissioners bail applications. Four such arrests of supporters were made, houses were raided and computers confiscated, no charges were ever laid. Similarly, two of the decommissioners were arrested so that their applications to the court could be scrutinised; no charges were forthcoming but it allowed the police to seize more property and fish for more evidence. Three of the decommissioners were arrested in October 2009 for attending the same demonstration even though there was no proof that they had associated with each other. SOCU also used the decommissioning as an excuse to go on more wide ranging fishing expeditions. A local independent media journalist was arrested because he had received a phone call from one of the defendants (who had also called dozens of other journalists). His computers, cameras and hard drives were seized. The footage, the real purpose of the police’s raid, found on his computer became evidence in a further EDO MBM/ITT related court case. (see www.schnews.org.uk/archive/news6801.php) All of this was a deliberate attempt by Sussex Police to create a climate of fear and paranoia among activists campaigning against EDO MBM/ITT and to limit support for the defendants. It worked, for a short time, but the Smash EDO campaign fought on and gathered momentum, huge demonstrations were held against the factory on Mayday 2009 and on the first anniversary of Israel’s massacre in Gaza. A ‘Support the Decommissoners’ campaign was launched.
Court in the Act
The decommissioners case commenced on May 17th 2010. A hundred supporters turned out on the first day of the case and scores of people attended on most days of the trial. The support campaign geared up providing food for the defendants and their supporters and a constant vigil was held on the court steps (schNEWS video of the first day of the trial – http://schnews.clearerchannel.org/snippet-decoms-day-one.flv). Messages of support poured in from all over the UK and beyond. Jury questions were negotiated between the defence and the prosecution teams and the defence managed to persuade the court to bar serving police from the jury. It’s a good thing they did as the original jury included three policemen, one of whom had previously been involved in prosecuting Smash EDO activists!
The ‘Turkey Shoot’
The jury in the case may not have known anything at all about the situation in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, let alone the historical context of Israel’s assault. During the defence case, the jury were presented with a comprehensive overview of the situation with the aim that, by the end of the case, they were able to put themselves in the shoes of the civilian population of the Gaza strip. The defence’s expert, Mandy Turner of Bradford University’s Department of Peace Studies, gave evidence summarising Israel’s history since its creation in 1948; from the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Syrian Golan in 1967, to the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacre in Beirut, to the crushing of the Palestinian intifadas (uprisings), the 2006 assault on Lebanon, the development of the Dahiya doctrine (the illegal Israel policy of the use of disproportionate force against civilian populations) and the Israeli siege of the Gaza strip. The jury heard evidence about the massacre which began in Gaza on 27th December with F16 attacks on police stations, a jail and government buildings and went on to target schools, hospitals, medics, civilian homes and United Nations (UN) facilities. Turner told how the air force dropped leaflets on civilian areas, ordering them to leave their homes and go to the town centres where they could take aid from UN facilities (see www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Communiques/2009/IDF_warns_Gaza_population_7-Jan-2009.htm). The jury heard how those same UN facilities were deliberately targeted by the Israeli military. Turner told the jury that the entrances and exits to the Gaza strip were sealed and there was no safe place for civilians to take shelter from the incessant aerial bombardment. When asked if she could think of a phrase to describe what happened in Gaza during that month she paused, and then replied softly “it was a turkey shoot”. Several of the defendants gave evidence about how the events unfolding in Gaza had lead them to make the decision to decommission EDO. The jury were played TV news reports from Operation Cast Lead, shown photographs, newspaper cuttings and blogs from the Free Gaza movement, which the defendants had read. The effect was, in essence, to transport the jury back to January 2009 and show them why the defendants felt that they needed to act. One recurrent aspect of the reports heard by the jury was the repeated cries for help from the ‘international community’ by civilians in Gaza, journalists and the UN (for example this audio clip from Jenny Linnell of the International Solidarity Movement – http://palsolidarity.org/2008/12/3740/). One section of the evidence concluded with a video clip of the UN compound in Gaza City, bombed by white phosphorous shells and missiles on January 15th. A Gazan journalist stands in front of the burning building and says angrily “the international community (is)… paying money to bring food to people in the Gaza strip – aid given by the international community for people in Gaza. The Israelis are blowing them up. So from now on I don’t think I will blame the Israelis for this anymore. Because there are laws that you (the international community) have put and Israel is breaking these laws all the time and you are not doing anything. I don’t think I’ll blame the Israelis anymore. I think I will blame the international community if you will not act”. (see the clip at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQWdXZ1_oQY) Caroline Lucas, an ex Member of the European Parliament, now Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, confirmed that no help had been forthcoming from the international community. All attempts to censure Israel, in any more than words, had failed. Sharyn Locke, a volunteer who had arrived in Gaza on the Free Gaza movement’s boat, The Dignity, in 2008, gave evidence about one of the attacks that convinced the defendants to take action – the bombing of Al Quds hospital with F16s and white phosphorous on the 15th January and the attacks on patients being evacuated from the hospital. Locke, who was in the hospital during the attacks, explained how a family was shot at by a sniper on the steps of the hospital and their daughter was shot through the cheek. She described how medical staff evacuated those sheltering in the building and, eventually, the bedridden patients as the roof of the hospital burned. (some of Sharyn’s reports, which were used in the trial are at www.youtube.com/watch?v=kh3FsU2gDCg, and http://talestotell.wordpress.com/2009/01/16/14-mins-only/) The last question put to Sharyn Locke was “what do you think of companies who supply weapons to Israel”. She replied “Every one of them has the blood of the patients who fled Al Quds hospital on their hands”.
The trial of Paul Hills
An oft repeated phrase during the trial was “we are the accusers not the accused”. The cross examination of EDO MBM/ITT’s managing director, Paul Hills, was a make or break point of the trial. Hill’s evidence was scheduled to last for one day by the prosecution, in fact it lasted for over five days. The prosecutor took him through the evidence, photos of a wrecked factory, and Hills detailed what was damaged. The prosecutions case soon became clear: that MBM (the Brighton part of the business) did not supply weapons to Israel. In fact the prosecution tried to paint MBM as a civilian business, omitting police photographs of dummy missiles, thrown out of the window by the decommissioners, from the jury bundles. The defence’s cross examination of Hills began with this opening statement: “I suggest to you, that you have come to this court fully prepared to lie through your teeth”. Hills was then passed an evidence bundle, running to several hundred pages, which he had never seen before. The bundle was the result of painstaking research undertaken by campaigners over the past six years about MBM’s links to Israel. Hills was under oath so he could not speak to his US bosses or the CPS about the defence documents. Hills originally denied that the company was heavily involved in the manufacture of components for the F16 and denied any involvement with the Israeli F16. However, as Hills was asked more and more questions relating to the Israeli F16 it became apparent that he was extremely knowledgeable about the aircraft. Much of the evidence revolved around a package of products which MBM acquired from Lucas Western Gear, an arms company who were in trouble after being fined by the US government for not carrying out safety checks. MBM acquired the intellectual property rights for the VER-2, the bomb rack for the Israeli F16 along with the Ejector Release Unit (ERU) 151, the component inside the VER-2 which propels the missile clear of the plane. They also acquired the rights for the Zero Retention Force Arming Unit (ZRFAU), the trigger unit used in the ERU 151. Under cross examination, Hills confirmed that, soon after these rights had been acquired, MBM, then part of a consortium called Morgan Crucible, acquired a small US company called Artisan based in Parsippany, New Jersey. Hills admitted that one of the functions of Artisan, whose manager, Paul Roba, joined the Brighton company’s board of directors, was to provide a “shop window” for MBM’s products into the US. This ‘shop window’ proved extremely handy as Artisan was able to procure hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of US government contracts for the Zero Retention Force Arming Unit, delivered to Defence Supply Center Columbus, the US army quartermasters and, potentially, forwarded to Israel as part of the US Peace Marble arms transfer programme. MBM needed Artisan to procure these contracts as US government procurement rules favour small US owned businesses. Crucially, the details of the ZRFAU constitute ‘militarily critical technical data’, which can only be handled by individuals certified under the Joint Certification Programme (JCP). The JCP stipulates that registrants must be citizens or residents of the US or Canada. The main point of contention between Hills and the defence was the location of the manufacture of the ZRFAU. Hills maintained that it was manufactured in the US by Artisan and later by ITT. The defence presented evidence suggesting that it is, and was, manufactured in Brighton and accused MBM of running Artisan as a front company. One thing that would suggest this is that EDO’s website said that the ZRFAU was “actively manufactured” in Brighton until Hills ordered the removal of the ZRFAU from the site after the protests began. Another is that, to this day, the contact address given on all US websites for the ZRFAU is MBM in Brighton. When asked why this was Hills said that MBM was the design authority for the ZRFAU, despite his assertion that Artisan had manufactured it since 2000, and that customers would go to MBM in Brighton if, for example, they needed technical advice on fitting the arming unit to a bomb rack. The evidence took a bizarre turn when Hills brought a ZRFAU, the component he maintained his factory had never made, into court to show the jury. He obviously thought better of it as the unit remained firmly in his pocket throughout the cross examination.
As Hills was starting to hope his ordeal was drawing to close the cross examination changed direction – “Mr Hills, can you tell us what beryllium is?” Hills denied any knowledge of beryllium – a weapon of mass destruction. Beryllium, which is a restricted component on the UK military list, is a strategic precious metal used in the arms industry. It is used in the manufacture of warplanes including F16s, in missile guidance systems and to strengthen metal to enhance explosions in, for example, bunker busting tritonal bombs and nuclear weapons. Abnormal quantities of beryllium were found in Gaza after Cast Lead. Campaigners had been particularly suspicious about the beryllium shipment because it was made at a time (September 2007) when General Dynamics (GD) had just been named as a main contractor for a massive proposed sale of guided munitions to Israel (see www.dsca.mil/PressReleases/36-b/2007/Israel_07-32.pdf) to rearm them after they had decimated Lebanon in 2006. It was doubly suspicious as MBM had had a regular delivery of warhead pallets to GD for over a year, described on shipping documents as ‘steel pallets’ or ‘twist/untwist steel’; the addition of beryllium ore to their regular delivery raised suspicions of an illegal export slipped in with their regular legal delivery. The following day, Hills offered the explanation that MBM had been contracted by Raytheon Systems Ltd on the UK to export steel warhead pallets to the US. This explanation did not explain the beryllium, however, and, under cross examination, he offered several conflicting explanations; that the beryllium was a part of the pallet, that it was a ‘component’, and that it was a ‘separator’ used in the packing of the pallet. None of these explanations make sense. The clear implication was that the beryllium export was illegal.
In Judge Bathurst-Norman’s closing speech, Hill’s credibility was questioned. However, the defence did not need to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Hills was lying, only that the defendants had an honest belief that the factory was supplying Israel. Halfway through the cross-examination, to sighs of despair from the prosecution, Hills conceded that a member of the public would come to that conclusion. The defence did challenge EDO MBM/ITT’s credibility, however, they maintained he was lying throughout. Hills was questioned about the 2007 court case taken by the US government against ITT, MBM’s parent company. ITT had been found guilty of exporting military equipment to China and the UK without a license and of setting up front companies to achieve that end. They were fined $100 million, one of the largest fines in US legal history. Hills claimed ignorance about the case.
During his summing up, Judge Bathurst-Norman, who was born in Jaffa, echoed defence counsel in quoting Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. He indicated that the jury may think that one of the defendants could be awarded a “George medal” for the solidarity work he had done in Palestine and he described the situation in Gaza during Cast lead as “hell on earth”. Crucially, he described UK end user certificates as “not worth the paper that they’re written on”. Bathurst Norman has been the subject of enraged Zionist attacks for this summing up (see, for instance, www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/6117164/the-hellish-histrionics-of-hove-propaganda-court.thtml) The Jewish Chronicle helpfully paid for a transcript of the Judge’s summing up. It can be viewed at www.thejc.com/35771/judge-bathurst-norman-full-summing The jury had to decide whether each defendant was motivated by an honest belief that EDO MBM/ITT was aiding and abetting war crimes being carried out by the Israeli military. On Wednesday 31st June, the judge asked the jury whether they had reached any decisions as they had been deliberating for two days, the jury gave five of the decommissioners unanimous not guilty verdicts. After an agonising wait, the judge directed them to acquit the remaining two defendants.
We will be here until you’re not…
With the trial over and done with, defendants held a celebratory march through Brighton (and a big party). On Monday 5th July an all day victory demonstration was held outside EDO MBM/ITT, with Paul Hills looking none too pleased. On 7th July Elijah Smith, who had been in prison since January 2009, was released from Lewes Prison to crowds of supporters and the decommissioners hammers, used to smash EDO, were duly liberated from Brighton Police Station. The Smash EDO campaign is planning to ramp up its actions with a mass ‘siege’ of EDO MBM/ITT planned on October 6th and weekly demonstrations gathering momentum. Caroline Lucas has agreed, at the decommissioners press conference, to press for a public enquiry into MBM. The question everyone is asking is how long can MBM continue in Brighton. If events in Derry are anything to go by the answer is ‘not very long’. Raytheon closed its offices in Derry after campaigners decommissioned its premises in response to the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006 citing a disappointment in the police and the Irish government for failing to protect them as their reason for leaving. It’s impossible to tell what discussions about the future of the factory are being had between Paul Hills and his US bosses, but one thing is clear, direct action against EDO MBM/ITT will not stop until the factory closes down. For more info on the campaign against EDO MBM/ITT see www.smashedo.org.uk and http://decommissioners.co.uk