Vale Bryan Law

"Can't add my name into the fight while I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here
And I won't be laughing at the lies when I'm gone
And I can't question how or when or why when I'm gone"
-'when i'm gone' by phil ochs

Ciaron O’Reilly has penned a eulogy to Bryan Law who passed away this week. I include an article written by Bryan about Pine Gap. I have chosen this article because I think that the action taken to invade Pine Gap was an important challenge to United States bases on Australian soil and quite an achievement for what Bryan called, with characteristic wit , a ‘small, daggy affinity- group action.’

I remember Bryan from democratic rights struggles in Queensland including:
  1. The street marches (1977-1979), where he was arrested at large anti-uranium demonstration along with 417 others on 22 Oct 1977.
Bench charge sheet entry of Bryan Law’s first political arrest during the Democratic Rights Struggle in Qld 1977 -1979

2. The Free Speech campaign in Brisbane City Mall (1982), and

 3. His role in helping set up the Coalition for Democratic Rights during  the SEQEB dispute (1985)

4. His opposition to the Pine Gap Spy base in central Australia.

5. His non-violent direct actions against US forces stationed in Queensland.

Bryan’s activism traversed many struggles and he will be missed. My condolences to his family, friends and fellow activists.
Ian Curr
2 April 2013]

R.I.P. Bryan Law has passed away, while awaiting ploughshares trial for disarmament of attack helicopter

It is great sadness and shock to hear that Australian anti-war activist Bryan Law has passed away in Rockhamtpon.
Bryan was 58 and had relocated from his home in Cairns to prepare for both Talisman Sabre 2013 U.S./Australian military exercises and his & Graeme Dunstan’s August “Rocky Ploughshares” trial in Rockhampton following the disarmament of a Tiger Attack helicopter during the Talisman Sabre 2011 military exercises.
Video of the Rocky Ploughshares action for which Bryan and Graeme Dunstan were charged
Sympathy and prayer go out to Bryan’s wife Margaret and son Joseph.
I first heard Bryan before I saw him.  I was 17 years old and had been badly beaten up by Queensland police at a banned street march in Brisbane and placed in a cell in the Brisbane watchhouse  All demonstrations were banned for several years 1977-82 by an authoritarian Joh Bjelke Petersen led Queensland state government in response to the anti-uranium mining movement.  The ban was enforced by a corrupt off-the-leash Queensland police force that has now been long exposed.
I was unable to afford the huge bail placed on me and 9 other folks decided to refuse bail from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning before we appeared before a magistrate.  We could not see each other in the other cells but we could yell out to each other.  At one point on the Saturday evening I remember this deep droll voice starting to complain about cigarette burns on the carpet in his cell and how his cell television was playing up.  Of course carpet and television didn’t exist ….. but Bryan was so convincing, he had me sold!
There were thousands who refused to “go along to get along” with the Queensland Bjelke Petersen government and police force during that 1977-82 crackdown. Of the thousands arrested, bashed, raided, framed, harassed, blacklisted during that period, some of us remained “beat up but upbeat” turning towards, exploring and sustaining nonviolent resistance against war and war preparations.  As we turned towards the U.S. traditions of the Catholic Worker and Berrigans, Bryan turned to a deep exploration of Gandhi.
Our paths crossed over the next 30+ years and it was always a delight to hear Bryan reflect, speak and act. Bryan’s laid back Australian demeanour contrasted with my Irish outrage, He was Australia at its best when confronted by injustice – direct, unfazed, courageous.
We were back in the new Brisbane watchhouse together in 1988 for nonviolent resistance to nuclear warship visits – USS New Jersey & HMS Ark Royal.
In response to Australian military involvement in the wars on Iraq & Afghanistan Bryan, Adele Goldie, Jim Dowling and Donna Mulhearn made for the hi tech Australian heart of the beast breaking into Pine Gap.
Vid – Bryan speaking outside Pine Gap
We are a lot poorer as an active anti-war remnant in this dark time without Bryan.
Sympathy and solidarity to Bryan’s wife Margaret, son Joseph and co-defendant Graeme.
This poem “Some” by Fr Dan Berrigan SJ speaks to Bryan’s long fidelity to the nonviolent struggle for peace and justice
Ciaron O’Reilly
 “The poor tell us who we are,
The prophets tell us who we could be,
So we hide the poor,
And kill the prophets.”
Phil Berrigan

Entering the ‘gap’ between what’s right and what’s legal

Around September 2005 I was invited to take part in a small, daggy affinity- group action at the Pine Gap intelligence facility near Alice Springs. The invitation came from Jim Dowling, a Catholic Worker friend of mine.

Along with the invitation came a few pages of eloquence from Father George Zabelka who, in August 1945 was the Catholic chaplain for the 509th Composite Group of the US Airforce on Tinian Island in the Pacific. He blessed the crews of the Enola Gay (Hiroshima) and Bok’s Car (Nagasaki) before they flew to drop the Atomic Bomb on Japanese civilians.

Father George gave a speech to a Pax Christi conference at Notre Dame University in August 1985.

I worked with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights struggle in Flint, Michigan. His example and words of nonviolent action, choosing love instead of hate, truth instead of lies, and nonviolence instead of violence stirred me deeply. This brought me face to face with pacifism – active nonviolent resistance to evil. I recall his words after he was jailed in Montgomery, and this blew my mind. He said, “Blood may flow in the streets of Montgomery before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood that flows, and not that of the white man. We must not harm a single hair on the head of our white brothers.”

I struggled. I argued. But yes, there it was on the Sermon on the Mount, very clear: ‘Love your enemies. Return good for evil.’ I went through a crisis of faith. Either accept what Christ said, as impossible and silly as it may seem, or deny him completely.

For the last 1700 years the church has not only been making war respectable: it has been inducing people to believe it is an honourable profession. This is not true. We have been brainwashed. It is a lie.

Pine Gap – what does it do?

Pine Gap is a ground receiving station for space-based intelligence gathering. It’s the most strategically important US base in Australia and enjoys substantial secrecy and protection from Parliamentary oversight.*

From what is known outside the official record , Pine Gap is a vital component of war-fighting in Iraq. It’s monitoring of radar, cell-phone, radio, and long-distance telephone communication enables it to provide targeting information
for US air and ground forces.**

When the US launched it’s “shock and awe” bombardment of Iraq, information from Pine Gap pointed the missiles and “smart weapons” toward Iraqi military targets – towards air-defence radars, towards Iraqi missile silos, and towards command bunkers. Many thousands of civilians died in that initial phase of the Iraq war.***

Now that the US is attacking “insurgents”, information from Pine Gap tracks and monitors telephone communications, identifying and tracking suspects and leading troops, missiles and bombs to the houses and neighbourhoods they live in. Many thousands of civilians continue to be killed as “collateral damage” in these campaigns.

If I asked any one of you, Ought I shoot to death a family or group of families, or a child or group of children because their lives are inconvenient to me?” , you wouldn’t hesitate in saying NO! If I said I was going to go ahead anyway, you would try to stop me, perhaps by intervening yourselves, but almost certainly by calling the authorities and asking them to act.

Yet Pine Gap is a base which has been used to slaughter thousands of families who got in the way of US and Australian foreign policy, who were inconveniently present in urban areas scheduled for saturation bombing, or who are even now in the wrong place when Coalition forces patrol the chaos of Iraq.

There are no authorities to call regarding Pine Gap. The Australian government and the US government support the massacres in Iraq. They use otherwise just laws (public order, trespass) to protect the operation of Pine Gap, to protect the machinery of war and injustice.

Beyond the “minor” war-crimes of tens of thousands of civilian dead in Iraq, [Pine Gap is also a major component of the proposed “missile defence shield”
, or “Star Wars” project as it is often called. This “shield” proposes putting satellite based weapons in space to shoot down any incoming missiles. The US has spent billions developing this system but is still a long way form making it work. Both China and Russia have strongly denounced the project, as threatening a new arms race. Obviously it has the potential to allow the US to wage a first strike Nuclear War, if they were confident of shooting down all enemy missiles.

The new US doctrine of “pre-emptive war”, obviously makes the other nuclear states very wary indeed.

Nuclear proliferation has proceeded apace since 1945, and nuclear weapons are now present in Pakistan, India, China, North Korea (?), Israel, England, France, and Russia, as well as in the USA where they were invented. Iran is said to have an active development program. South Africa has disarmed. The first five states I mention are adjacent to areas of active and intense political conflict. In the event of even limited nuclear warfare, it is likely that millions will die

At a time when Australia MUST have a discussion about providing more uranium for nuclear power and nuclear weapons proliferation, we are encouraged to ignore the presence on our soil of an insidious war-fighting base that is preparing to fight a nuclear war. *****

From 16 November this year the Australian government becomes entitled to give three years notice of termination of the Pine Gap treaty with the US, at any time. The goal of our affinity group at this important time is to build public awareness of the goals and operation of Pine Gap so that the Australian government will terminate its lease

Pine Gap – a history of dissent

The first major protest against Pine Gap was a gathering of 700 women on November 11 1983.

The Alice Springs News reported the story of the “Karen Silkwoods” and their amazing protest . Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this protest is that it was supported indirectly by twelve Labor women Parliamentarians, including then Minister for Education Senator Susan Ryan, in a telexed statement approved by PM Bob Hawke and Foreign Minister Bill Hayden.

In October 1987 some 300 people were arrested at a “Close the Gap” action organised by the Australian Anti-Bases Coalition and the Alice Springs Peace Group. .These protests were aimed at publicising the nature of Pine Gap as a spy base (it had previously been promoted within Australia as a space research base), its links with nuclear weapons systems, and its role in nuclear war-fighting. [

The 1987 resistance at Pine Gap took place in the context of US deployment of Cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles in western Europe. This very unpopular escalation of the the Nuclear threat in Europe created a mass popular peace movement around the world

The next mass action at Pine Gap took place October 7-9 2002, and was largely aimed at the war-fighting role it was about to play in the attack on Iraq by providing intelligence and targeting information. Around 400 people showed up with the usual vibrant displays of costumes and actions, and were met by an equal or larger number of police.

No members of the Labour Party showed up. The only politicians present were from the Greens and Democrats.

This action continued the themes of nonviolence, national and international networking, and seeking closure of the base. Its new features were the effective use of the internet, and an abandonment of the technique of mass arrests. The 2002 actions were subject to just 17 arrests and achieved national coverage in the Australian media.

Our little affinity group is expecting to undertake civil disobedience at Pine Gap. We believe that Pine Gap, and therefore the laws protecting it, is unjust in its operation.

We will break the minor law to pursue justice and the greater good.

A few days ago Dr Mark Hayes reminded me again of Dr King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, which I read once more and contemplated.

One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

Many of you will ask, “Why must you practise civil disobedience? Isn’t it enough that we live in a democracy where we can change government policy through the ballot box?”

Dr King’s letter deals with the issue of waiting for negotiations which never come, or which are conducted in bad faith. Remember that Australian parliamentarians from all parties have been denied essential information about the operation of Pine Gap. Our elected representatives are not allowed to know what the base does.

Secondly, Australians now (from November 16 2005) have an opportunity to terminate the electronic spying of Pine Gap and to end our complicity with the massacre of innocents that it represents. Those following Christ are called upon to love our enemies. How can we accept the murder of innocents? How long do we accept the slaughter of innocents before rising up to say “enough!”?

I’ve been arrested many times for civil disobedience, and the only explanation I can offer for my actions is the dictate of my conscience. In the presence of injustice, how can I not act? I am not able to stand aside just because it’s difficult, or unpopular, or it makes me look like a crank.

There’s some self- interest in it. If I allow injustice to thrive, I will inevitably become its victim. More importantly I’m 51 years old and I’ve learned what Dr King learned, and what Christ taught – that oppression disfigures and de-humanises both the oppressed and the oppressor.

I love humanity. I’ve seen enough of the wonder and power of human love and creativity to rejoice in the miracle of God’s creation. I know that love is the fertiliser for human growth, and that justice protects the flow of love while keeping down the weeds. I weep at the despair and injustice presently in the world, and I am called upon to act. How can I not?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a remarkably good life with my beautiful, powerful wife and beloved son. I get to live in a lovely house, tend my garden, and work for justice in my local community. I get my share (probably more than my share) of consumer durables, and I love the modern electronics. If it weren’t for this rotten conscience I could stay here forever and enjoy a quiet life.

I believe with all my heart that these are critical times. In front of us lies the choice between a militarist security state, and a liberal democracy. Parliament has failed us. Neither the ALP nor the Coalition will help us. It’s time to make a stand.

Bryan Law

* Indeed in 1999, when the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties
asked (twice) for a detailed briefing on Pine Gap, and an inspection of the facility, they were (twice) refused on the basis of “need to know”. Apparently our parliamentary representatives don’t “need to know” the operational nature of the facility they’re approving a treaty for. Report 26 of the Joint Standing Committee concerns Pine Gap, and Part 2 of that report details the government’s refusal to provide any visit, or any detailed information about the operation of this facility.

**The following appeared IN SMH 23rd August 2002:
*Michael McKinley, a strategic analyst at the Australian National University in Canberra, said yesterday that the US had been boosting its satellite capability since the 1991 Gulf War, including the level of information feeding into Pine Gap.

“What you are looking at with Pine Gap is a lot of signals intercepts and photo reconnaissance,” he said.”Certainly in relation to identifying specific targets, Pine Gap is important. The Pine Gap contribution is very much more significant than any sending of Australian soldiers

***On October 29, 2004 British medical Journal THE LANCET published the report of the first survey done by John Hopkins University (US).The report claimed that by this stage over 100,000 civilians had died in Iraq as a result of the invasion. The report claimed that the biggest contributor to these deaths was allied aerial bombing.

****Information Clearing House is a news website containing daily reports on the situation in Iraq from a variety of the world’s media. As this booklet is being written,(October 2007), last night’s stories include one of 15 civilians killed by US helicopter gunfire in Sadr City including at least two toddlers (Reuters TV report). Sadly such slaughter hardly warrants a second glance as anyone following the war soon accepts mass murder by “our side” as the norm.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE STAR WARS PROJECT SEE: Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power In Space WEBSITE

2 thoughts on “Vale Bryan Law

  1. Bernie Neville says:

    My thoughts are with his wife and son on this very sad day I first met Bryan Law in 1985 at the time of The SEQEB strike , a man who had the courage of his convictions and a lot more.

  2. Last night NITV ran the documentary “The whole world is watching” about the land rights protests at the 1982 Commonwealth games. Most of the interviews were done during a land rights conference at Griffith Uni in July 1982. Bryan organised that conference.

    The conference was Bryan’s idea and he, almost single handedly and in the face of strong opposition from right wing, ALP and CPA students, manipulated cajoled and stacked the student union to fund the conference including airfares and accommodation for Aboriginal leaders around the country. The conference was the only opportunity for national Aboriginal leaders to meet and plan before the games.

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