KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark testified on behalf of three people who allegedly broke into an Oak Ridge weapons plant last summer.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported Clark said at a pretrial hearing on Tuesday that ongoing production of nuclear weapons at the Y-12 plant could be considered unlawful because it violates some tenets of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The treaty was signed in 1968, during the time Clark headed the Department of Justice.
Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, known as the Transform Now Plowshares, are scheduled to go to trial May 7. They face multiple felony counts, including sabotage, for cutting through chain link fences and defacing the outside of the plant's storage facility for bomb-grade uranium.
Clark, now 85, testified as the protesters' lawyers sought to establish justification as a defense. They hope to be allowed to argue their clients' actions were for the greater good and were necessary to prevent the imminent harm of nuclear weapons.
Clark said such a claim was reasonable.
"These weapons are a threat to life on this planet," he said.
U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar asked Clark if he could differentiate between protesters who break the law, believing they have a higher calling, and people who choose to ignore statutes they don't like, such as paying taxes or smoking marijuana where that is not allowed.
Clark acknowledged it is possible for an action to be both morally admirable, but in violation of federal laws.
A civil rights activist had been scheduled to testify at the hearing, but Robert Booker left court because attorneys wanted to go over his testimony. Booker is the former executive director of the Beck Cultural Exchange. He was involved in the 1960s sit-ins that led to desegregating lunch counters and movie theaters in Knoxville.
His testimony was expected to show how civil disobedience can spark positive change.
"I don't need to get my story straight," Booker told the newspaper in a telephone interview. "I lived it."
Thapar indicated he would rule within a week on the issues presented at the hearing.