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Greater Good?

Entry 1176, on 2010-03-19 at 22:21:57 (Rating 2, News)

Being acquitted on charges of destruction of government property because the accused believed they were acting to prevent other's suffering is an interesting precedent. It happened here in New Zealand when three protestors who destroyed a plastic cover over a US spy satellite dish were acquitted of the charges by a jury.

It has happened in other countries where protestors have also been let off, or given reduced sentences, after performing actions motivated by what hey believe is achieving the greater good. Damaging spy bases and fighter aircraft is one thing but there is a limit to how far this can be taken. In the US an anti-abortion campaigner was convicted by a judge of murdering an abortion doctor after using a similar defence.

I'm actually quite surprised with this result, although I think that jury trials might be a bit of a lottery in many ways. I think its important that there is freedom to protest against this sort of activity and the fact that it was a US base and our current government is dedicated to closer alignment with the US makes it even more critical.

Maybe it was the fact that the three people all came from "respectable" backgrounds that helped: one was a teacher, another a Dominican friar, and the last a farmer. If they had been students or unemployed I suspect the outcome might have been different!

Its actually quite difficult to see how damaging a spy base dish could lead to direct reduction in suffering of others. The connection is surely rather obscure which makes the acquittal even more bizarre.

In fact, I don't think people should be able to go around breaking the law and not face any consequences. For a start that makes the protest action less meaningful and it also encourages disingenuous use of the excuse of protest by people who just want to carry out an unlawful act.

So I think these people should have been found guilty but only faced a light sentence. That way there would have been less justification for avoiding punishment of future acts of destruction (which might not be so positively motivated) and also the protestors would have made a greater sacrifice for their cause.

A poll on the "Stuff" web site shows most New Zealanders agree: 23% thought the "greater good" defence should be allowed and 77% thought it shouldn't. The total of votes (when I got this data) was 7610.

This isn't really going to make any difference to the US running a secret base in our country with few requirements of accountability. The base is still operating and doing things we know nothing about. Maybe the information it gathers does lead to significant suffering but we would never know.

On the other hand this is a symbolic gesture and one that the conservative government here probably would have liked to have seen punished. The fact that the "Waihopai Three" got off the charges at least is a sign that there are some forms of protest that can succeed even against the greatest country on the planet.


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