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Peace Activist Guilty of Wrecking Computer

November 17, 1987|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

A San Francisco peace activist was convicted Monday of demolishing a sophisticated Air Force navigational computer that she said was designed to lead the United States into global nuclear war.

Deliberating less than two hours, a federal court jury found Susan (Katya) Komisaruk, a business school graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, guilty of one count of destroying government property in connection with the June 2 incident at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

In a four-day trial that Komisaruk hoped to use as a forum for anti-nuclear issues, the 28-year-old activist attempted to present evidence that she destroyed the million-dollar computer during a midnight break-in to prevent its use by the United States to mount a first-strike nuclear attack.

But government prosecutors successfully blocked the defense, arguing that Komisaruk's motives and the purpose of the computer--which the government claims is no longer part of the NAVSTAR global positioning system--were not relevant to whether Komisaruk actually demolished the equipment.

After the verdict, at least five of the dozens of Komisaruk's supporters--who have filled U.S. District Judge William J. Rea's courtroom during the last week--were forcibly removed from the courtroom by security officers when they stood and attempted to make speeches about the purported dangers of the NAVSTAR system.

Jurors indicated that they did not wish to speak to reporters and were hastily escorted to a waiting van.

"I'm still really shocked at the degree of censorship that went on during this trial. It's sad to think the government trusts its citizens so little that it must shield them from the facts," said Komisaruk, who remains free on bail pending her sentencing Jan. 11. She faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for the conviction.

"The government cannot afford an open debate on the question of a nuclear weapons system," said her attorney, noted civil rights lawyer Leonard Weinglass, who said he will appeal the verdict on the ground that Komisaruk was not permitted to mount a full defense.

"We didn't get a right to have a jury trial in this case," Weinglass said. "We got a right to be present when the government presented its case to 12 people."

But Assistant U.S. Atty. Nora Manella, who prosecuted the case, said the court "bent over backwards" to give Komisaruk a fair trial.

"The problem with her complaint that she wasn't allowed to present her defense was that the (appellate courts) have repeatedly held that the arguments she wished to make, that she is entitled to destroy government property because of her superior morals (or) adherence to a 'higher law,' as she put it, is not a defense to destroying government property," Manella said. "That is the law."

Evidence Excluded

Early in the case, Rea granted the government's motion to exclude all evidence that Komisaruk was justified under international law in destroying the computer by treaties that prevent nations from planning or mounting wars of aggression.

The ruling also precluded Komisaruk from calling experts to testify that the NAVSTAR system could be used to mount such a war.

Government officials say the Vandenberg Air Force Base computer had not been connected to the NAVSTAR system for at least 18 months. Moreover, Manella said, Komisaruk's assertion that the NAVSTAR system would allow the United States to pinpoint missile strikes accurately enough to mount a first-strike attack is "flatly wrong."

The NAVSTAR system, she said, is a satellite navigational system designed to help aircraft and ground troops pinpoint their own locations and was used by aviators Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager in their historic worldwide flight.

"Of course, if you're shooting a missile from a guidance system, the better you know where you are, the more accurate you can be," Manella said.

"But that's kind of like calling a typewriter a weapon of aggression because it can be used to write the attack order. We have here a woman whose zeal exceeded her level of knowledge by a wide margin."

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