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'Higher Law' Behind Attack on Computer, Activist Says

November 14, 1987|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

Susan (Katya) Komisaruk, the San Francisco peace activist who admittedly took on an Air Force computer with a pair of bolt cutters, told a federal jury Friday that she demolished the computer in deference to a "higher law" than the one she is accused of breaking.

Addressing the jury for the first time in her trial on charges of destroying government property, Komisaruk delivered her own closing argument and urged jurors to look at "the whole truth" in deciding the case.

Wearing a long white linen dress, Komisaruk attempted repeatedly to explain that she attacked the Vandenberg Air Force Base computer to avert the threat of a U.S.-launched nuclear war--evidence that U.S. District Judge William J. Rea has repeatedly ruled has no bearing on the charges.

"I wanted to tell you that that computer was dangerous, but I'm not allowed to," Komisaruk said in a closing statement interrupted almost constantly by objections from the prosecution.

"You see, the prosecution is afraid that if I could tell you the truth, the whole truth, you would see my state of mind," she said.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Nora Manella has successfully argued that Komisaruk's political beliefs about the IBM 3031 computer--which she believed to be a key part of the U.S. military's NAVSTAR global positioning system for nuclear missiles--are not relevant to whether she is guilty of destroying it.

'Very Calculated Decision'

"She made a very carefully calculated decision to break the law," Manella told the jury. "Everyone in the courtroom knows that this computer did not self-destruct and everyone in this courtroom knows who did it."

Komisaruk, she said, "has largely gotten what she has asked for from the system. She sought to make a statement, and she did. She sought to destroy an expensive piece of government equipment, and she did. She sought to generate publicity, and she did. Ladies and gentlemen, now it's time for the system to allocate responsibility."

By her own admission, Komisaruk, 28, broke into the NAVSTAR building at Vandenberg on the night of June 2 and attacked the computer, which Air Force officials say was no longer being used in the NAVSTAR program, with bolt cutters, a hammer and a cordless drill.

She left behind a bouquet of flowers, a box of Mrs. Fields cookies, a note signed, "In Peace, Katya" and a roomful of graffiti proclaiming the defenses she would later raise at trial: "International Law" and "Defense of Necessity."

Komisaruk's lead attorney, New York lawyer Leonard Weinglass, sought to argue that international law prevents the United States from planning a war of aggression, such as the first-strike nuclear attack capability Komisaruk believes the NAVSTAR system affords.

Challenges Definition

The defense has also attempted to argue that Komisaruk is not guilty of destroying government property. "You must decide whether an instrument of mass destruction can ethically be considered property," Komisaruk asserted before Manella interrupted.

Jurors began deliberating late Friday, but a confrontation erupted on the courthouse steps before they could be released for the day at 6 p.m. Dozens of supporters, who have filled the courtroom, were not permitted to re-enter the courthouse, because of the late hour, to hear the jury be dismissed for the day.

Komisaruk joined her supporters on the steps outside, refusing to return without them. The day's deliberations were concluded only after Rea ordered federal marshals to allow the spectators to re-enter.

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