Woodstock resident Tarak Kauff and a fellow member of Veterans For Peace (VFP) Ken Mayers have been arrested in Ireland for walking onto a runway at Shannon Airport with intent to inspect a plane they believed was carrying armed troops enroute to the Middle East. Their act of protest points out the illegality of a neutral country’s airport being used to transport arms as well as calling attention to a war that has caused the deaths of an enormous number of civilians in the Middle East.
Kauff and Mayers were arrested on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, and charged with trespassing and with damaging the airport perimeter fence. They were released 12 days later, after initially being held without bail, but their passports have been seized to ensure they will remain in Ireland until their as yet unscheduled trial. Their next hearing has been set for May 8.
“Shannon is being used for refueling troop planes bound for Middle East wars in which up to one million children have died since 1991,” said Ellen Davidson, Kauff’s partner, who has returned to New York after documenting protests by a delegation of veterans in Ireland last month. “The government says there are no weapons going through the airport, but we know that’s not true. Two of the veterans in our group had flown to and from Iraq with weapons by way of Shannon. We went to public meetings, met with Parliament, and had a protest planned for St. Patrick’s Day, to ‘drive the snakes out’ of Shannon. That morning, we learned a U.S. military plane had landed.”
Mayers and Kauff went out on the tarmac and unfurled a banner reading, “U.S. Veterans say
Respect Irish Neutrality/U.S. War Machine out of Shannon Airport.” They were held in Limerick Prison until an appeal to a higher court secured their release on March 29. Veterans For Peace has been encouraging people to call, write, and visit Irish Embassies and Consulates, the State Department, and elected officials in support of Kauff and Mayers and to protest U.S. military flights through Shannon. “We should be demanding that being forced to stay in Ireland amounts to punishment before being convicted,” states the VFP website. “We should stress that it is damaging to their health, their finances, and their families.”
Davidson said if the two men are allowed to return to the U.S., they have every intention of returning for their trial, which will give them an opportunity to continue to speak to the issue of a war they believe is illegal and immoral. “People have forgotten we’ve been in these wars since 2001,” said Davidson. “They involve killing a lot of civilians and creating great masses of refugees, destroying people’s livelihoods, homes, and countries. As vets, these men have a strong understanding of how wrong these wars are. War is not a useful instrument of policy. Tarak was in the military from 1959 to 1962, and right after he left, members of his unit started going to Vietnam. Even you if haven’t been in combat, the whole process of training is about turning you into a killer, overcoming our natural reluctance to kill other human beings. It stays with you the rest of your life.”
Mayers served 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, reaching the rank of major. According to Davidson, when Mayers “realized war was a criminal enterprise, he started speaking out. He got pushed out of military just before he was able to collect a pension.” Mayers has participated in veterans peace team delegations to Palestine, Okinawa, Jeju Island, South Korea, and Standing Rock. Kauff, who joined several of the same delegations, is currently the managing editor of Peace In Our Times, VFP’s quarterly 24-page newspaper. Davidson, a long-time activist, met Kauff when they were both arrested at the Supreme Court while protesting the detention of prisoners without due process at Guantanamo.
“Maybe Ken and Tarak broke the law,” said Davidson, “but they did it in aid of preventing much more dangerous and damaging crimes. There’s a history in Great Britain and Ireland of being able to present those kinds of defenses and people being acquitted on those grounds. Activists a few years back did more than $1 million of damage to a plane and were acquitted.”
It may take years for the current case to come trial. If Mayers and Kauff are convicted, the maximum penalty is two years, but based on past cases, including that of an Irish woman in her 80s, Davidson doesn’t think they would get more than a month in jail. The men said they were treated well at Limerick Prison, where many prisoners and guards expressed support for their actions. “They said they should keep protesting and raising the issue.”