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Woman Who Destroyed Computer Denied Anti-Nuclear Defense

October 27, 1987|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

A woman who admitted destroying a sophisticated Air Force navigation computer will not be permitted to argue that she was attempting to prevent the U.S. government from staging an aggressive first-strike attack against the Soviet Union.

U.S. District Judge William J. Rea granted the government's request to exclude all evidence that Katya Komisaruk, 28, was acting to prevent the threat of nuclear war when she attacked the Vandenberg Air Force Base computer and left behind flowers, cookies and a poem.

Komisaruk faces a possible 20 years in prison on charges of destruction of government property and injury to national defense materials in connection with the June 2 incident.

Her attorney, prominent New York civil rights lawyer Leonard Weinglass, argued that Komisaruk should be allowed to argue that she was forced to destroy the computer to avert the threat of its use in an aggressive nuclear attack.

Weinglass presented declarations from a variety of prominent nuclear physicists asserting that the NAVSTAR system's primary value is in enabling the United States to gain "first-strike" nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union by pinpointing with extreme accuracy the location of Soviet missile silos.

Pentagon officials say the NAVSTAR computer is part of a sophisticated, satellite-based navigational system and say assertions that it is designed to provide first-strike capability are "flatly wrong." The particular computer destroyed in the attack had been out of commission for the last 18 months, officials said.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Nora M. Manella said the courts have long held that those charged with crimes cannot mount "necessity" defenses unless they can prove they were personally in imminent danger and had no other means of averting it.

"Defendants' political, moral or religious beliefs, no matter how sincerely held, do not form a legal defense," Manella said, arguing that Komisaruk is attempting to introduce the nuclear war issue "in the hope the jury will be swayed by the sincerity of her beliefs to ignore the law."

"A criminal trial is not a political free-for-all," Manella said.

But Weinglass, part of the defense team in the Chicago Seven case, argued that jurors should be allowed to hear Komisaruk's explanation, since it is her only defense against a potentially substantial prison term.

"This was not a symbolic protest. This was not an attempt to influence policy. What Katya Komisaruk is charged with doing was a direct act which was designed to prevent the imminence of nuclear war," Weinglass said.

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