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<nettime> Sloop John A[shcroft]: DoJ exhumes antique law to fight greenp
t byfield on Sat, 15 May 2004 13:41:35 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Sloop John A[shcroft]: DoJ exhumes antique law to fight greenpeace

every so often you hear some pietism to the effect that 'piracy' offers 
a rich historical vein to, uh, dredge for alternative understandings of, 
say, territoriality. indeed: and now the US dept of justice is searching
the same terrain for sources of inspiration. 


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U.S. Takes Greenpeace to Court in Unusual Trial
Thu May 13,12:42 PM
By Michael Christie

MIAMI (Reuters) - Greenpeace, charged with the obscure crime of
"sailor mongering" that was last prosecuted 114 years ago, goes on
trial on Monday in the first U.S. criminal prosecution of an advocacy
group for civil disobedience.

The environmental group is accused of sailor mongering because it
boarded a freighter in April 2002 that was carrying illegally felled
Amazon mahogany to Miami. It says the prosecution is revenge for its
criticism of the environmental policies of President Bush (news - web
sites), whom it calls the "Toxic Texan."

Sailor mongering was rife in the 19th century when brothels sent
prostitutes laden with booze onto ships as they made their way to
harbor. The idea was to get the sailors so drunk they could be whisked
to shore and held in bondage, and a law was passed against it in
1872. It has only been used in a court of law twice, the last time in

Greenpeace says the decision by the U.S. Attorney's Office to
prosecute the organization rather than just the activists who boarded
the APL Jade freighter is a sea change in policy, and a conviction
would throttle free speech everywhere.

It would also be a sharp blow against Brazilian efforts to halt the
trade in a hardwood so precious it is known as "green gold." It yields
fatter profit margins than cocaine and is blamed for the destruction
of vast swathes of the Amazon.

"Illegal logging goes on and they're bringing it to Miami and making
loads of money, and we're going to trial," said Sara Holden of
Greenpeace International.

The case is unprecedented, not just because of the bizarre nature of
the crime.

Six Greenpeace activists were charged after the 2002 protest in choppy
waters off Miami, pleaded guilty and sentenced to time served -- the
weekend they spent in jail.

But U.S. prosecutors were not satisfied, and 15 months later came up
with a grand jury indictment of the entire organization for sailor


U.S. prosecutors argue Greenpeace did something like that when two
"climbers" clambered aboard the Jade to hang a sign demanding,
"President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging."

If convicted, Greenpeace could be placed on probation, and pay a
$10,000 fine.

As significant as the prosecution itself, are the implications, free
speech campaigners say.

Not once since the Boston Tea Party have U.S. authorities criminally
prosecuted a group for political expression.

"It's ominous," said attorney Maria Kayanan of law firm Podhurst
Orseck, which worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on a
"friend of court" brief to back a Greenpeace demand that the
government reveal who ordered the prosecution.

"It will be very chilling because advocacy groups whose members chose
to engage in acts of protest which happen to violate the law will be
loathe to act at all."

Greenpeace hopes to focus on mahogany during the trial, which will
begin on Monday with jury selection in the U.S. District Court in
Miami, under Judge Adalberto Jordan.

In one line of defense, its attorneys will argue that the activists
were highlighting a crime, and giving Washington an opportunity to
live up to its commitment to protect mahogany as a signatory to global
treaties listing the wood as endangered.

Greenpeace Amazon campaigner Paulo Adario said a mahogany tree could
be bought in the Amazon for $30. Once turned into dining tables and
chairs for sale in New York or London, that same tree could be worth
as much as $120,000.

Along the way, Amazon Indians are driven from their villages,
officials bribed and activists assassinated.

Country-sized chunks of rain forest fall to chainsaws as other loggers
take advantage of the roads the mahogany hunters carve to get at less
valuable woods that would not otherwise have been worth trying to

"Mahogany is a red wood, it's red like blood, it's red like shame,"
Adario said by phone from the Amazon port of Manaus. "The
U.S. government should help us to change at least the shameful color
of mahogany (but) they are prosecuting us."


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