The Nation: The Berrigans: Conspiracy and Conscience

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Americans could agree with Cornell Economist Douglas Dowd, a Berrigan ally: "It would be quite amusing if it weren't so serious." Is it possible that the Berrigans—who, though lawbreakers and rebels, have always preached non-violence—have now turned to violent and bizarre methods? Or is it possible that the Government has drawn monstrous conclusions from flimsy evidence, perhaps taking protesters' idle speculations with total solemnity? The first could help rekindle the fires of protest that have seemed dimmer lately and also revive lingering fear and hate of radicals. The second could again put in question the Government's responsibility and fairness in dealing with dissent and stir new talk of "repression."

The indictment gave only the bare bones of the Government's case, leaving a host of questions unanswered; it did not even explain why Philip Berrigan was named as a defendant to be prosecuted, and Daniel only as a co-conspirator who would not be tried under this indictment. The grand jury was quite specific about one intriguing point —that the conspirators had aimed to enter an underground tunnel system in Washington that carries heating pipes and blow them up, using "destructive devices consisting of dynamite, 'plastic explosive,' primer cord and detonating devices which had not been registered to them in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record." The little-known, 16-mile labyrinthine tunnel network in Washington is practically a New World version of the sewers of Paris—and potentially equally useful to an American maquisard. The steam ducts radiate from three key boiler plants in Georgetown, on Capitol Hill and near the Pentagon; on a recent recommendation from the FBI, all official maps of the tunnel system have been classified and access to most of the tunnels has been cut off to all but a carefully cleared few.

To satisfy the peculiar requirements of conspiracy statutes,-the grand jury went on to list 22 separate overt acts of conspiracy by the defendants and their coconspirators. Among the alleged acts: a visit to the underground tunnel system "on or about April 1, 1970," by Philip Berrigan and a Baltimore priest defendant, Father Joseph Wenderoth; and a discussion of the tunnel network last September between Wenderoth and an unnamed General Services Administration engineer. In separate counts, the grand jury also accused Philip Berrigan and Marymount Nun Elizabeth McAlister (see box) of illegally smuggling written communications in and out of the federal prison at Lewisburg, Pa., where Philip Berrigan was assigned before his transfer to Danbury.

In one version of the events that led up to last week's indictments, the Berrigan circle—a very loosely organized group that numbers 50 to 100 militants —had been discussing for more than a year various means to dramatize its opposition to the war. One tactic was a continuation of draft-board raids. Another approach was the kidnaping-bombing plan, which some in the circle objected to as violent. Others argued that neither kidnaping nor bombing constituted violence in a moral sense, since no person would be physically harmed. According to this account, because something more serious than burning draft records was involved, the Government decided to step in and stop things before the plot proceeded any

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