Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Bush Admin. Proposes Retroactive Protections Against War Crimes Prosecutions

Pete Yost, writing in the Associated Press , notes that the Bush administration is trying to get Congressional approval for amendments to the U.S. War Crimes Act that would protect administration figures and CIA interrogators from prosecutions under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. This is clearly in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfield. (2006) that Common Article 3 applies to “detainees” in Guantanemo Bay and elsewhere who were captured in the open-ended, ill-defined “war on terror.” Hmm. Why would they seek such retroactive protection unless they realized that CIA interrogators and administration officials are guilty of war crimes under Common Article 3?

The administration is right to be afraid. Attorney General Gonzalez, back when he was simply White House Chief Counsel, wrote legal minutes to the president and to the Secretary of Defense claiming that the Geneva Conventions were “quaint,” and “outmoded,” and didn’t apply to fighters in Afghanistan or suspected terrorists because such “detainees,” were not soldiers and therefore could not be “prisoners of war.” Now that the Supreme Court has struck down that ludicrous opinion, Gonzalez is vulnerable as an accessory and anyone who gave orders to torture or treat in an inhumane manner, including even Sec. Rumsfeld, VP Cheney, or Pres. Bush, if any of them were involved, is equally vulnerable. Congress would be foolish to make such amendments, which undermine the very purpose of the War Crimes Act.

Since the Constitution itself claims that treaties share with the Constitution equal status as “supreme law of the land,” it also seems highly dubious that any such amendments that sought to shield people from the consequences of violations of the Geneva Conventions would be considered Constitutional.

On a theological note: What are we to make of a president who loudly proclaims his Christian faith, but seeks path after path of avoiding laws against torture? Has no one explained to him that torture is not part of his much ballyhooed “culture of life?”
If you are willing to take a stand against torture, no matter who commits it, against whom, for whatever reason, click here.

August 11, 2006 - Posted by | human rights., torture


  1. Good catch, Michael. I don’t guess that liberal MSM is broadcasting this news far and wide yet. Or, at least, I hadn’t read this yet.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | August 11, 2006

  2. I notice the articles say Bush is working on legislation. What exactly does that mean? Forgive my ignorance, but the executive branch doesn’t legislate – is it common for presidents to help draft legislation?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | August 11, 2006

  3. Presidents (or their staffs) can send draft proposals to Congress that they would like to see become legislation. In fact, when it comes to the budget, every president does this. Congress, of course, is free to completely ignore these Executive proposals which, in this case, I hope they do.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 11, 2006

  4. Actually, the problem isn’t with the Geneva Convention, but the Living Geneva Convention. As with the US Constitution, the meaning is already morphing all over the place according to the immediate term political objectives of the Left. Thus, I fully support president Bush in his effort to make sure that US Government personnel aren’t prosecuted for war crimes for not providing 5* prison facilities to terrorists. I also expect that the Left will continue promoting anarchy and chaos disguised as pacifism.

    Comment by Looney | August 11, 2006

  5. So, Looney, you’d say that waterboarding (making a prisoner think he’s going to drown), forced nudity, threatening a stripped person with attack dogs, sleep deprivation, electric shock, pulling the trigger on an empty revolver, placing substances on a prisoner that you claim are discharges from a woman’s body (not only gross but against prisoner’s religion, making him ritually unclean), defecating on the Qu’ran–all of which have happened at Gitmo–are not violations of the letter of the Geneva Convention’s Common Article 3 with it’s ban on “degrading and inhumane treatment?” Those things would only be violations of a “Living Geneva Convention,” just the inconvenience of not having a 5-star prison?

    That probably also applies to the fact that most of the prisoners have never been charged with a crime, some are children or old people, many were turned in by Afghan villagers or warlords for money with no attempt made to ascertain the truth of claims made by them, and no access to lawyers with Rumsfeld saying that even if found not guilty, they would never be released–all that is just the result of violations of a “Living Geneva Conventions,” huh?

    It seems to me that this kind of bizarre and cruel treatment–to people whose relatives then have more reason to hate us–would do more to promote anarchy and chaos than any pacifism I might espouse.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 11, 2006

  6. a) I don’t believe that any of those happened at Gitmo. There definitely was some at Abu Ghraib, but this was some rogue soldiers and they deserve to be punished. The officers in charge should be punished too for not maintaining discipline. The mainstream media deserves contempt on this for deliberately making an international scandal when the legal proceedings were already under way. The MSM is pro-terrorism because terrorism increases ratings.

    b) Terrorists aren’t covered under the Geneva Convention. Only the Living Geneva Convention.

    c) The reason we don’t have anarchists today is that they all resurfaced as pacifists.

    Comment by Looney | August 11, 2006

  7. a) We have testimony that such has occurred at Gitmo. The authorization goes all the way back to Rumsfeld and maybe further, which is why this “retroactive legislation” is proposed. Without independent investigation, we won’t know how many of these are true and how many aren’t. But the fact that Dick Cheney specifically defended these kinds of actions in public last year when the McCain legislation against torture was being debated is strongly suggestive that Cheney knew of such actions.

    b) Since there have been no trials, we do not even know how many of those at Gitmo ARE terrorists. A presumption of “guilty until proven innocent” goes against all U.S. legal tradition. We do know that some of those at Gitmo were turned in for bounties in Afghanistan–we have only the word of people motivated by financial gain that said folks did anything.

    c) Oh, brother. That’s as bad as the administration’s investigation of Quakers for opposing the war because everyone knows that “pacifist” equals “terrorist.” Gee, so according to you, Jesus was an “anarchist?” Next week I plan on being responsible for dandruff, too.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 11, 2006

  8. a) I think the testimony you are referring to came from the Daily Kos or some similarly dubious source.
    b) Our legal system is dysfunctional. An OJ Simpson trial for every detainee? Should we fund them with par-per-view?
    c) Sorry to make too many accusations here. I still think that a pacifism that is founded on the notion that someone else needs to turn the other cheek is not really a pacifism. How can you distinguish between opportunistic politics which wants to be pacifist as a tactic to win the next election and true pacifism? What do you think the breakdown is between true pacifists and opportunistic pacifists in the US?

    Comment by Looney | August 11, 2006

  9. Mike,

    The pacifist movement in the US generally embraces one or more philosophical viewpoints which are mutually exclusive with pacifism:

    Rejecting Jesus’s claims as Lord and Savior, but demanding adherence to His teachings on non-violence (Quakers?).
    Buffet style Christianity. (pick what we like, pass over the rest.)
    Rejecting Christianity altogether.

    It is always tough to be consistent. At the moment, the movement is quite noisy and I think it is appropriate to challenge them on the hypocrisy front. Certainly, us fundamentalists are blessed with critiques of our hypocrisy all the time!

    Comment by Looney | August 11, 2006

  10. 1)Let’s be clear. I have never read Daily Kos or any other “political blog” and have really only known what a blog was for less than a year. The testimony I speak of–which DOES need to be tested, but how can that be done without independent investigation?–came from the reports of the International Red Cross (an organization which has won the Nobel Peace Prize more than any other–and which we trusted to investigate the treatment of U.S. prisoners in other nations repeatedly), the EU’s High Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. Some of this testimony was made part of the official record of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

    2)We have 3 alternatives: a) Try them, b) release them for lack of evidence, or c)keep them in prison forever because the president decided on his own they were guilty. C has just been ruled out by the U.S. Supreme Court–and rightly so. Even the Nazis were given trials.

    3) I don’t much what you are talking about. I have never seen a pacifist U.S. politician or candidate–for any office. The last such I know anything about was William Jennings Bryan. Bryan is remembered by most people (when remembered at all) as a fundamentalist who opposed the teaching of evolution in the infamous Scopes Trial in Dayton in 1925. But Bryan’s opposition to evolution was because of ‘social Darwinism,’ now embraced by most fundamentalists, in which the poor are abandoned. He was a candidate for president and he became Sec. of State under Woodrow Wilson. When Wilson broke his campaign promise to keep the U.S. out of WWI, Bryan resigned his post in protest–and that’s the last pacifist politician in America of which I have ANY knowledge.

    Although some campaigning for Nov. or for ’08 may oppose particular wars, I do not know of any pacifist candidates–and too few from either party willing to do ANYTHING for peace.

    As for me, I am a former soldier who became a pacifist, conscientious objector, and Christian all at the same time while stationed in Heidelberg, Germany in ’83. I have never been a candidate for any office and have never thought that my pacifism (or, as I prefer, my adherence to gospel nonviolence) was a tactic to getting ahead anywhere. In fact, I can think of 2 jobs it might have cost me.

    Gospel nonviolence–or any form of commitment to principled pacifism or active peacemaking is hardly “opportunistic” in America. It almost always costs something. Family members stop speaking to you in some cases. You lose jobs in others. Many Conscientious Objectors are denied CO status and serve time in prison rather than go to war. Pacifists have been the subject of govt. harassment, investigation, and even hauled before the (thankfully, now defunct) House Unamerican Activities Committee. I know public schoolteachers who are passed over for promotion for refusing to teach history and social studies from a perspective that glorifies war. War tax resisters pay huge IRS fines and have cars and homes repossessed, etc.

    The cost is different for different people. Tom Fox, Virginia grocer and longtime Quaker, just recently paid with his life for daring to go unarmed into Iraq and try to make peace as part of Christian Peacemaker Teams. Rachel Corrie was run over (twice!) by an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer paid for with U.S. tax dollars as she nonviolently attempted to stop the demolition of a dentist’s home in Palestine.

    So, just what in God’s name is an “opportunistic pacifist” in America, the land of the gun?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 11, 2006

  11. I cannot speak to any “pacifist movement” in the U.S. because I have never seen any. My blog links several faith-based and other peace groups–most of which are not pacifist.

    I have discussed abortion on this blog all I care to for some time. Suffice it to say that I know Christian pacifists who are “pro-life” and others who are reluctantly “pro-choice” (to use the misleading media labels), but zero who are enthusiastic about abortion.

    I do not care to chase any rabbits about biological evolution at this time.

    This particular post had NOTHING to do with pacifism. Adhering to international human rights is part of the tradition of Just War Theory as any elementary course in Christian ethics will tell you. That’s why so many non-pacifists, including many military lawyers, are so upset about Gitmo and, as the article I referenced at the beginning of the post pointed out, equally upset about attempts to modify the War Crimes Act. Most American soldiers and officers WANT strong rules against torture and other crimes and want strong consequences. They want a bright and clear line, nothing fuzzy, so that in the heat of battle and stress and in response to other’s atrocities, they resist temptations to cross the line. This administration’s policies and actions have brought shame on the U.S. military that most resent. That’s not pacifism–that IS the just war tradition.

    Concerning challenges to the orthodoxy of Christian pacifists, I will not attempt to defend others. Here below is the peace statement of my church, however. Judge for yourself.

    Peace Statement of Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty:

    “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
    Jesus Christ, Luke 6:27-28

    As a community of faith we have covenanted together:
    to work to ensure that Creation is respected, enhanced, and protected;
    to speak out against all forms of oppression to ensure the dignity and worth of all people;
    to accept our responsibility as ministers of reconciliation in the world by helping people to accept one another and God, and;
    to promote peace and justice in all life circumstances.

    As a community of faith we further declare that:
    Peace is the will of God and all war is sin.

    All persons are created in the image of God and owe their first allegiance to God.
    All persons have the responsibility:
    to read and interpret the Scriptures,
    to reflect on their religious experience in order to understand peacemaking for them and the world, and
    to obey God’s will for peace above all human directives, even when obedience requires conscientious objection or civil disobedience.

    As a community of faith we believe that all persons should examine and speak out against individual, corporate, and national participation in the forms of political and economic oppression that cause war and work, even if at some cost to themselves, to discover constructive avenues of peacemaking within these venues, for in doing so we demonstrate our obedience to Jesus Christ.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 11, 2006

  12. While you do all this objecting to the “supposed” inhumane treatment that has yet to be authentically proven, but widely circulated by a media with a bias, try considering what to call those who were beheaded without any delay or chance to seek release. I imagine they would have preferred a “bit” of embarrassment over what they got.
    If that kind of behavior comes to your neighborhood, I imagine you would feel better about a military man or a policeman with a gun to protect you.

    Comment by mom2 | August 11, 2006

  13. Mom, are you saying that two wrongs make a right? “Well, THEY’RE beheading us so it’s okay if we engage in a little lite torture!” That’s not what my momma taught me.

    What Michael and I and other pacifists and peacemakers are advocating – as a starting point – are that we obey our own laws. That we don’t commit war crimes. That we don’t torture as outlined in our own laws.

    Why is this such an unreasonable position?

    I never thought I’d have to defend Not Torturing with US citizens and especially with church folk! I thought it was clear that torture of any sort (aside from being counterproductive) is so far beyond our ideals that it need not be debated.

    Lord, have mercy.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | August 12, 2006

  14. Ahhh, so many things to argue, but so little time!!!

    “Many Conscientious Objectors” – how can there be conscientious objectors in a volunteer army??? I can understand in a conscription scenario. We are also asking considerably less of our soldiers than we did in WW2. Why is the number of conscientious objections inversely related to the number of civilian casualties?

    “and others who are reluctantly “pro-choice” (to use the misleading media labels), but zero who are enthusiastic about abortion.”

    Perhaps there is some room for common agreement? Pro-choice means accepting killing, reluctantly. To get a nursing degree, students are required to witness an abortion at UCSF. I know military people who gloat over killing. This disgusts me. There are others who do it because this is what they must do. It is their belief. Their duty. There are politicians who feel that nasty choices need to be made for the good of the country. Can’t it be this way? Or must we judge their hearts?

    Comment by Looney | August 12, 2006

  15. “That we don’t torture as outlined in our own laws. Why is this such an unreasonable position?”

    Because of who interprets the laws. For example, the Supreme Court cited “International Law” in one of it’s recent rulings to overturn US laws. “International Law” is the law of a few elite western liberals and has considerably fewer adherents than, for example, Sharia Law. It is the law of intellectual sophistry. Not the laws of mankind. Thus, we don’t oppose following US laws, but rather the creative interpretations of the liberal elites.

    This is also why the elites were so infuriated with Bush writing down his understanding of what a law meant – just as most of the other presidents did. Only the liberal elites are empowered to interpret, and what the law appears to say is totally irrelevant!

    Comment by Looney | August 12, 2006

  16. I’ll respond to only one part of this rant. International law was begun in the Middle Ages, began seriously being codified in the 17th C. by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (also famous for advancing Just War Theory and Reformed Theology). Modern Human Rights law as a part of international law, gets its start in the American and French revolutions, but begins to hit its stride with the Nuremberg Trial and subsequent Nuremberg Principles.

    Recent conservative rants to the contrary, it is nothing new for U.S. law to use the “outside source” of international law for guidance in either formulation or interpretation. Remember the Declaration of Independence? A “decent respect for the opinions of [hu]mankind” required the patriots to give a list of reasons for splitting from England.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 12, 2006

  17. Mike, you also have the problem that the peace movement in the US is seething with anger. Frankly, they scare me. I can’t reconcile seething with anger with peaceful intentions.

    You also have the problem that the Gitmo detainees were picked up in Afghanistan. If we are to try them, then it should be in Afghanistan under their laws. The only reason for doing this in the US is for show.

    Comment by Looney | August 12, 2006

  18. The peaceniks in this country are paranoid about Christians and full of anger toward them, while preaching “turn the other cheek” and what “my momma” taught me when it comes to vicious enemies that could care less what we think.

    Comment by mom2 | August 12, 2006

  19. “you also have the problem that the peace movement in the US is seething with anger.”

    And this is a problem, why? I think you are confusing “pacifist” with “passivist.” “Be ye angry, and sin not,” we are commanded in the bible. Jesus got angry and took action. We are given anger as a good thing, used properly.

    Non-violent Direct Action, a tool used by peacemakers (not just pacifists), recognizes upon anger as a motivating force and a good, if used wisely.

    Anger turned into deadly violence is a bad thing, leading to terrorism, genocide and war. Anger towards positive action to stop oppression or evil is a good thing.

    Are we clear?

    And mom2, the “peaceniks” in this country are composed partially of Christians and, having rubbed elbows with the non-Christian pacifists, I can tell you that there is not anger towards Christianity, there is anger towards hypocritical religiosity – whether muslim or Christian or other – that disposes of the better teachings of those religions in favor of embracing evil. It is a righteous anger that I share.

    Would you not agree with me, mom2, that two wrongs don’t make a right? And that saying so is not a statement made in anger but in truth?

    Methinks y’all are seeing anger where none exists and where it does exist, you’re mistaking it for something bad. Righteous indignation is a good thing.

    Perhaps it’s your consciences pricking you?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | August 12, 2006

  20. “”Many Conscientious Objectors” – how can there be conscientious objectors in a volunteer army?”

    Briefly, because we grow. Especially the young men just out of childhood who’ve been sold on “See the world, be all you can be, it’s FUN!!” military and they get in to the military and see the reality of wanton violence that is part of the military (Join the Navy, travel to interesting places, meet people and kill them!) and for some of them, they grow as humans and as people of faith and realize, this is not a good thing as it’s set up. This is NOT what I was taught in my sunday school class.

    THAT’S one way you have CO’s in the military. It’s not uncommon, although, of course, it is violently discouraged.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | August 12, 2006

  21. I will stick with my original assertion: conscientious objection in a volunteer army with a military-hostile media and intelligensia explaining it’s evils to everyone who joins is silly. The East German’s had conscientious objectors serving in the Army on the Berlin Wall. The way they conscientiously objected was to shoot near, but not at those who were fleeing the tyranny. I respect this kind of CO tremendously. Western CO is fake.

    Regarding the anger, I am almost 50, so I have had enough time to see some history go by. The more the left gets it’s way, the angrier it gets. This is symptomatic of a pathological condition, whereas a righteous anger would be moving in the opposite direction.

    Comment by Looney | August 12, 2006

  22. Since this post was not about pacifism, nor even war, but about torture and other war CRIMES, I am just a little tired of answering attacks that are not even on the subject. Let me try, in the interest of dialogue, any way.

    1) Looney. Just a note, but my name is Michael. I do not use “Mike” or any other diminutive like “Mickey” or “Mikey,” etc. Never have. Nothing against the name or nick-name “Mike,” but with mothers in this country over-using “Michael,” using the full form of my first name was one way of distinguishing myself from the herd of “Mikes” in gradeschool.

    2) Both Looney and mom2 spoke of the hatred or anger of “peaceniks” in the U.S. As Dan says, I don’t always find anger inappropriate. I see a child bombed and it pisses me off–both at the bomber and at any gun-toter who was hiding in the building. War always makes me angry. But, I recognize the danger of becoming that which we hate and so I try to practice disciplines of prayer which help me to love my enemies, abroad and here at home.

    I have seen anger at demonstrations against war. I’ve also seen it on the other side. I’m not sure what this is supposed to prove. I have never heard any conservative rebuke hate-filled comments by pro-war folk. Instead they cheer the like of Ann Coulter and then complain about peace folk being angry?

    Yet, I do think that some peace activists (I do not say pacifists–you two need to get a dictionary, the #s of pacifists in this country are well under 1%) are far too angry and bitter and this will poison their efforts. This is something I say to fellow activists all the time.

    In my perception, mom2, the media have been cheerleaders for the war, not against it. However, I saw studies recently that explored how two individuals can see the same news reports and draw opposite conclusions–with even brain analyses of why. That being the case, I won’t argue with you about the bias of the media. I don’t know how we would objectively measure it and I doubt I could convince you.

    Conscientious Objectors refer to those who object to military service–whether or not there is a draft. It is true that there must be a draft for someone to register as or apply for CO status. Except, as Dan noted, for those already in the military. This was my case.

    I come from a military family: 4 generations on one side and 3 on another. My mother is buried in a military cemetary near Dallas. My father retired from the Navy as a Chief Petty Officer and then served 10 more years in the reserves. Some of my siblings are in the military. My huge teenage rebellion was to choose to enlist in the U.S. Army instead of the Navy.(I get seasick easily and have claustrophobia.) But 23 years ago, while stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, I was converted to Christianity and to nonviolence at the same time. So, I applied for a discharge as a CO and, after some hassle for several months, it was granted.

    No one has to tell me what sacrifices military folk go through–unlike Dick Cheney with 5 deferments and other chickenhawks. Unlike COs, these high-ranking civilians had no problem with the war of their generation–as long as someone else fought it. That is STILL their stance. I find it contemptible. Every time I meet someone who cheerleads for the war, I give them an enlistment card. (I never get any takers.)

    I also know the sacrifices that many peacemakers make. In 1984, I went unarmed into a war zone–part of the early Witness for Peace actions in Nicaragua attempting to keep the contras (terrorists trained and equipped with U.S. tax dollars) from attacking defenseless villages. It was one of the few brave things I’ve ever done. But others have REPEATEDLY put themselves in harm’s way nonviolently for peace–some at the cost of their lives. Soldiers are not the only people who are brave. I’ve also met with Veterans for Peace and similar groups who have served armed in uniform and THEN unarmed for peace–while the chickenhawks just keep the blood flowing.

    Support the troops? Well, let’s see, it wasn’t any peace activist who cut combat pay and hardship pay for our troops while giving billions in no-bid contracts to their civilian friends the war profiteers. It wasn’t me or any pacifist who cut VA benefits or who argue that reservists don’t qualify–and then continue to use reservists as front line troops. I’m not the one who skimped on battle armor for the troops while making sure that the civilian contractors (read: “mercenaries”) have state of the art equipment and quadruple the pay.

    Supporting the troops might be never sending them in harm’s way for a lie, never giving them mixed signals on war crimes, never setting them up to be a new generation of homeless vets when this nasty piece of business is over.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 12, 2006

  23. I will salute you for what you did in Nicaragua, but …

    “Since this post was not about pacifism, nor even war, but about torture and other war CRIMES”

    Baseless, wild-eyed accusations that every madman should celebrate.

    Comment by Looney | August 12, 2006

  24. It is a crime according to OUR laws to bomb civilians. It is a crime, according to our laws, to torture prisoners.

    There are laws in place, and evidence that those laws have been violated as Michael has clearly demonstrated. It is not wild-eyed accusations, but evidence-supported accusations. There’s a difference.

    It seems you’d prefer to ignore the evidence (you haven’t countered anything that Michael has said with counter-evidence, you’ve just attacked his sources) and assume that we’re doing nothing wrong than face the evidence and talk about facts.

    This is what we need to do as adults in our beloved nation. It would be unpatriotic and insane to support crimes blindly just because it’s the US that’s possibly committing the crimes.

    Wouldn’t you agree?

    So, if you doubt the facts that Michael or I have presented, feel free to counter with other evidence. If not, then recognize that you’re just making unsupported statements, for what they’re worth.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | August 12, 2006

  25. […] not properly prisoners of war and thus do not fall under the protection of the Geneva Convention, which is quaint and subject to interpretation […]

    Pingback by Torture & Eucharist « thomstark.net | November 5, 2009

  26. […] not properly prisoners of war and thus do not fall under the protection of the Geneva Convention, which is quaint and subject to interpretation […]

    Pingback by Thom Stark » Torture & Eucharist | November 6, 2009

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