Spotlight reveals Bechtels nuclear tentacles

SAN FRANCISCO — Demonstrators around the country aimed a spotlight at one of the biggest U.S. corporations on Aug. 9, and what it revealed wasn’t a pretty sight.

On the 61st anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki, protesters focused attention on the Bechtel Corporation’s involvement in every aspect of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

The actions, held on the UN’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, also emphasized the devastating impact of nuclear weapons activities on Native American lands.

Protesters who gathered for a morning rally at the company’s downtown San Francisco headquarters listened intently as researchers and activists detailed Bechtel’s nuclear weapons activities and its relation to the corporate giant’s work to advance the Bush administration’s agenda across the globe.

Some 20 demonstrators later held a nonviolent blockade of several of the building’s entrances, briefly fulfilling their stated goal to “Shut down Bechtel.” Seven were arrested, issued citations and released.

As the U.S. leads the world into a new 21st-century arms race, “Bechtel will be in the middle of it all, from the Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico, where nuclear weapons are designed, to the Kwajalein test site in the Pacific, where U.S. strategic missile tests splash down,” Andrew Lichterman told the rally.

Lichterman, program director at Western States Legal Foundation, highlighted Bechtel’s role in helping manage the Kwajalein site, its involvement in so-called missile defense projects, and its civilian role in the “global circuit of investment and profit” that has increasingly devastated the lives of ordinary people around the world.

The corporate giant’s failure to fulfill its $2.8 billion post-invasion contract to rebuild Iraq’s water, electrical and sewage systems is forcing millions of Iraqis to live under desperate conditions, said Antonia Juhasz, visiting scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies. Bechtel’s efforts to push the U.S. right-wing corporate economic agenda throughout the Middle East raises the specter of more wars in defense of their profits, she added.

Morning Star Gali, a member of the Pit River Nation who is active with the Coalition to Protect Sacred Sites, recounted the displacement of Native Americans in the Southwest so uranium could be mined, the deaths of Native American uranium miners from lung cancer, and the spread of open pit tailings throughout the region, resulting in soaring rates of organ cancers and birth defects.

Hiroshima survivor Keiji Tsuchiya’s gripping and detailed account of doing rescue work in the city after the U.S. atomic bombing on Aug. 6 moved many in the crowd to tears.

Protesters shared their thoughts about how to break the cycle of weapons development and war. Sister Stella Goodpasture emphasized the impact all weapons have on the environment. “We need to get the message across about nuclear weapons’ relation to the environment and global warming,” she said.

Others stressed the need for people at home to understand the Iraq war’s impact. Given the Internet’s growing role in helping people go beyond media headlines, said Judith Ross and Nooshin Razani of Military Families Speak Out, perhaps more people in war zones should have access to video cameras to depict what is really happening there.

Stephen McNeil of the American Friends Service Committee and Juhasz both cited the importance of the November midterm elections. Though it won’t solve the problem, said Juhasz, changing control of Congress can make a significant difference since Republicans have been instrumental in renewing the drive for nuclear weapons and energy.

Among many other events across the nation that focused on the role of Bechtel Corp. were actions at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico; the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tenn; the Nevada Test Site near Las Vegas; the Pantex nuclear weapons assembly plant in Texas; and Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, near Pittsburgh.

Marilyn Bechtel is not related in any way to Bechtel Corp.