Last week, Judge Adalberto Jordan of Miami’s U.S. District Court cited insufficient evidence as the reason for throwing out charges that Greenpeace violated an obscure 1872 maritime law when its activists boarded a ship transporting illegally exported mahogany from Brazil in April 2002. The activists intended to hang a banner from the ship reading: “President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging.”
Following the successful prosecution of the individual activists, the Bush administration decided to go after Greenpeace itself, invoking a 132-year-old statute originally passed to prevent purveyors of ill repute from boarding ships in order to lure crew members ashore to barrooms and brothels. Prior to its invocation by the administration, the antiquated law was last cited on any legal record book in 1890.
Other environmentalists rushed to Greenpeace’s side in the case. “The fact that the Bush administration would dig up an antiquated and utterly inappropriate statute in order to prosecute a non-violent advocacy organization is political intimidation of the highest order,” says David Bookbinder, Washington Legal Director for the Sierra Club. “We wish that the Bush administration would have devoted the time and money spent on this case to instead focusing more on the central issue—stopping the import of illegally harvested timber.”