Levellers

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

Media Roundup on Torture

Torture and related matters are much in the news, now. I wrote further about it on the group blog of Mainstream Baptists. Amnesty International released a press statement on the terrible bill just passed. The Center for Constitutional Rights condemned the defeat of the Specter Amendment that would have insured Habeas Corpus. Ralph Nader writes that the big loser with the defeat of Habeas Corpus is democracy itself.

Richard Beehan focuses on a small part of the bill as an admission by the Bush admin. that war crimes have been committed, at the same time that it tries to give itself legal immunity from prosecution for those war crimes. Ed Kinane, rejecting Hugo Chavez’ contention that Bush is “the devil,” wonders if the real reason for this bill is to set a precedent for the torture of U.S. citizens, too.

In both the L. A. Times and Slate, articles ask whether Abu Ghraib pictures allowed Americans to “get used to” torture. Thus, Americans torturing in the name of “anti-terrorism” and “defending democracy,” has gone from shocking scandal, to controversial policy, to law.

I continue to argue that Christians should be united against this. We aren’t, to our shame, but at least the divisions are not between “liberals” and “conservatives.” Several conservative Christian leaders have come out against all torture including David Gushee of Union University in Tenn. (who made a strong case against torture this summer in, of all places, Christianity Today), Ted Haggard & Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, and even (to my surprise) mega-church guru Rick Warren. Bryan Peters of the blog, The Young Evangelical, rightly says that this is not a liberal vs. conservative issue and is embarrassed that not all evangelicals are speaking out against torture. Meanwhile, Glen Dean, self-styled “Christian Libertarian,” and one of my blogging dialogue partners has not only defended the “harsh interrogation” of terrorist suspects (repeatedly avoiding the fact that these are suspects not found guilty of ANYTHING), but calls those of us opposed stupid, sick and disgusting.

For most of my adult life, I have considered war to be the biggest moral issue (though I have tried not to be “johnny one note”). I believed torture to be a settled moral issue. When practiced, including by Americans, it was done in secret because everyone knew it was both immoral and illegal and, if caught, they would be imprisoned. I never dreamed the day would come when I would have to argue against torture (like arguing that slavery is wrong–didn’t we settle this long ago?). I wonder if people who support torture need psychological and spiritual help more than they need more persuasive moral arguments. This, is clearly the moral issue of our day. Defeating torture, especially legalized torture by Americans, has become my number one moral priority. I feel like I have been transplanted back in time to the days of the Spanish Inquisition. Is this TRULY America 2006? God help us.

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September 30, 2006 Posted by | torture | 2 Comments

A Day of National Shame

Thursday 28 September 2006 will be a day that future U.S. schoolchildren will learn as a day of national shame, one of the lowpoints in the history of our national morality. Why? 1) First, the U.S. Senate joined the House in passing a bill on detaining, interrogating, and prosecuting terrorist suspects. While it rules out direct torture, this bill will allow “harsh interrogation” (read: secret detentions and “torture lite”) by the CIA, it will allow evidence so gathered and hearsay evidence to be used in the military tribunals, it allows the President almost complete unilateral power in deciding who gets interrogated and by what methods, and it denies habeas corpus (the ability to force the govt. to show a judge probable cause for their detention) to all foreign nationals designated as terrorist suspects. As Molly Ivins reminds us, the right of habeas corpus has been a part of our legal tradition since 1215 C.E. when English nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. Congress has just traded that away and Bush is set to set back our legal protections 800 years! (The Bush admin. has pointed to Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in holding suspected traitors during the Civil War, but this argument completely fails to mention that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Lincoln’s actions unconstitutionl in Ex Parte Milligan (1866). It also points to the fact that prisoners of war captured in WWII were held for the duration of the war and had no habeas corpus. That argument is also irrelevant since that was a declared war with recognizable soldiers in uniform and would come to a definable end. The so-called “war on terrorism” is not a real, declared war against another nation. Terrorist suspects are suspected to be guilty of crimes and therefore need to be charged and tried under fair rules or released.) It is likely that this bill will be declared unconstitutional when it reaches the Supreme Court, although this particular Court is now so rightwing that one can never be sure.

In an article in Slate, the question is asked whether the Abu Ghraib photos, so shocking at the time, allowed U.S. citizens to “get used to ” torture and so the inhumane treatment of prisoners by Americans morphed from “scandal” to “declared policy,” to “law.” Thus, we little-by-little come to justify evil in the name of fighting evil–and so destroy from within the democracy we claim to want to save.

2) The shame continued as the House of Representatives voted to approve the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, overturning the 1978 FISA law and, more importantly, the 4th Amendment.

In each case, some few Democrats joined a majority of Republicans in these evil moves. Find out how your Representative and Senators voted and be sure to express your outrage in the voting booth in November!

Since President Bush pushed hard for both these shameful anti-human rights laws, there is little chance that he won’t sign them. But maybe we can hope for a miracle: If THOUSANDS OR HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people, especially Christians, flood the White House Comment Line and demand that he veto these bills he has so wanted, we might redeem this day. Call 202-456-6213 and, if you are a Christian, say so. Say so as well if you are a Republican. Our only chance now is for the base to desert the president on this issue. We also must flood media outlets with letters expressing our extreme disapproval.

“I fear for my nation when I remember that God is just.” Thomas Jefferson.

September 29, 2006 Posted by | torture | 2 Comments

Prevent Torture & "Torture-Lite" of Terror Suspects

From the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, I pass on the following message:
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URGENT ACTION September 27 – Today and tomorrow will decide the fate of the U.S. policy on torture and detention. The bill being pushed through Congress is a shocking abdication of everything our religious beliefs stand for. Call your Senators and tell them as a religious person you oppose the compromise on detention and torture. Click here for phone numbers.
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I have been profoundly depressed since the House passed the “compromise” detainee bill yesterday–legislation which formally recognizes the Geneva Conventions, but would still allow “water boarding” (Interrogating someone by making them think you will drown them), and other degrading “torture-lite” practices, still allow secret prisons where no one can tell if real torture is happening or not (with protections for the CIA against prosecution for torture!), and still allows military tribunals where defendants are not able to see all the evidence against them and where evidence obtained by torture is admissable. Habeas corpus is still denied so innocent people could be detained for life in inhumane conditions. If the senate passes this and Bush signs it, what will this say about us as a people?

I believe in sin; I’ve seen too much of it to be naive about human sinfulness. I believe Reinhold Niebuhr was right that groups can act more sinfully than individuals (though, having a low ecclesiology, he failed to see that groups, such as churches, can also help individuals act MORE morally than on their own). I know too much U.S. history to believe that this nation escapes the sinfulness of all nation-states or other Powers. But this really rubbed my face in it.

Naively, I had hoped that we in this nation had learned some things from our past. I thought that confronting the way our democratic beginnings were tied up with the attempted genocide of one “race,” and the chattel slavery of another (a U.S. original sin that also led to the ideology of “race” and the myth of “whiteness”) would have taught us something. I thought the horrors of the Tuskeegee syphilis experiments would have taught us something. I thought confronting our sin of Japanese concentration camps during WWII would have taught us something.

I thought our nation, for all its flaws, was dedicated to defending human rights for everyone, no exceptions, no attempts to classify some as not fully human–no matter their religion, nationality, class, “race,” ethnicity, language group, or how much they want to kill us. It is horrifying to be proved wrong.

What is most horrifying are the huge numbers of “Christians” who, like the Christians who justified slavery, and segregation, child labor, the oppression of Jews, etc. who are supporting this measure (or staying silent out of their support for the “Christian” Pres. Bush, the bill’s champion). Christians for torture. How blasphemous can you get?

I used to wonder how the Quaker John Woolman could be as concerned for what slavery did to the souls of slaveowners as to the bodies of slaves. Now I understand. And weep.

Update: A number of heads of U.S. religious groups have come out against this bill and all torture. As I scan the list, I find only 3 Baptist leaders: Roy Medley, Gen. Sec. of American Baptist Churches, USA; Stan Hastey, Exec. Dir., of the Alliance of Baptists; and William Shaw, Pres. of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. The American Baptists are the only Baptist denominational members of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. So where are the others? The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America has endorsed the campaign. But where are the heads of the SBC, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Progressive National Baptists, the Free Will Baptists, the Baptist General Conference, Conservative Baptist Association, the Seventh Day Baptists? Torture should be a non-issue. There should be no liberal/conservative split here. Richard Land of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission should be as loud against torture as Stan Hastey. We need to hear from the Mainstream Baptist Network, the Roger Williams Fellowship, from prominent pastors, seminary presidents, theologians (a few of them have already spoken), editors of Baptist papers, state conventions/regions, and congregations. If we who serve crucified Lord (a victim of torture and execution) cannot even unite against a clear evil like torture, God will surely reject us for some more faithful people. I don’t mean to leave other denominations out of this: All Christians should be bold against torture. But criticism begins at home: I call all branches and divisions of my own Baptist people to do the right thing–NOW.

September 28, 2006 Posted by | torture | 2 Comments

Halliburton Gave Politicians $4million & Received 600% Return Since 2000

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE SEPTEMBER 26, 200610:34 AM
CONTACT: Halliburton Watch Jim Donahue, 213-725-3645Halliburton Gave $4 Million to Politicians and Received 600 Percent Gain on Contracts Since 2000, HalliburtonWatch Says

WASHINGTON – September 26 – Halliburton spent $4.6 million since 2000, buying influence in Washington via campaign donations and lobbying, a HalliburtonWatch analysis reveals.
The board of directors and their spouses personally gave $828,701 to candidates for Congress and the presidency while Halliburton’s political action committees gave $1.2 million, most of it donated to Republicans and political organizations with strong Republican ties, according to the analysis.

The company spent an additional $2.6 million lobbying members of Congress, the White House and federal agencies.

Conclusion: Halliburton’s $4.6 million in political arm- twisting since 2000 has paid-off magnificently as the company’s government contracts ballooned by over 600 percent in value by the end of 2005, mostly because of the war in Iraq. Web: http://www.halliburtonwatch.org/reports/waxman0606.pdf

In 2000, Halliburton was the 20th largest federal contractor, receiving $763 million in federal contracts. By 2005, Halliburton had grown to become the sixth largest federal contractor, receiving nearly $6 billion in federal contracts during that year.

Between March 2003 and June 30, 2006, Halliburton received $18.5 billion in revenue from the federal government for the war in Iraq.

The company has seen its profits in government contracting almost quadruple to $330 million in 2005 compared to $84 million in 2004.

During one quarter in 2005, Halliburton’s war profits skyrocketed by 284 percent. Web: http://www.halliburtonwatch.org/news/earnings072205.html

War contracts, intensified violence in the Middle East and record oil prices helped quadruple the stock price between the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and March 2006. As a result, the board of directors together saw the value of their stock holdings in the company increase by over $100 million. Web: http://www.halliburtonwatch.org/reports/houston2006.pdf

CEO David Lesar holds the largest number of shares of any Halliburton official, owning 844,928 common shares and share options as of March 1, 2006. The shares were worth $17.3 million as the troops first rolled into Baghdad in 2003. Three years later, on April 10, 2006, the shares were worth $66.8 million, for a $49.5 million gain. Lesar sold an additional 631,071 shares during the war at various stock prices for gross amounts totaling between $12.9 million on March 20, 2003, and $49.9 million on March 1, 2006. Web: http://www.halliburtonwatch.org/reports/houston2006.pdf

More Information is available at http://www.halliburtonwatch.org/news/halpolmoney.html.
Email list subscription: http://www.halliburtonwatch.org/ealert.html

September 26, 2006 Posted by | U.S. politics | 7 Comments

A Sign of Peace?

Belief.net has posted a story about Muslims in Florida who have sent $5,000 (and are raising more) in seed money to Palestine to rebuild burned Christian churches. The Muslim group notes that, according to the Qu’ran, churches are to be protected. This is a wonderful example of the Just Peacemaking practice of taking independent transforming initiatives for peace. Now, how can Christian groups reciprocate? Can this start a snowball downhill that will generate numerous interfaith independent initiatives that undermine both non-state terror groups and imperialist military machines? Please God, may it be so. Amen.

September 26, 2006 Posted by | interfaith, Islam, just peacemaking | 11 Comments

Dorothy Cotton: Popular Educator for Radical Democracy

Posted by PicasaOne of the many Baptist women who, if not unsung, is certainly “undersung,” is Dorothy Cotton, civil rights leader, peacemaker, and popular educator. A retired administrator of Cornell University, Cotton currently makes her home in Ithaca, NY. But Cotton was one of few female leaders in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, serving as Education Director from 1960-1968, running the Citizenship Education Program. She was a force to be reckoned with and more than held her own among the inflated male egos of the SCLC.

In his memoir, An Easy Burden, Andrew Young, claims that the feminist movement really began when Dorothy Cotton, who had the only functional car at the time, insisted on driving Young & other SCLC leaders through the dangerous backroads of Alabama & Mississippi to bail out Fannie Lou Hamer and others who had been severely beaten and would likely be killed if not liberated. The male insistence that it was too dangerous for Cotton to come met her iron stubborness and determination and raw guts.

Cotton later was Senior VP of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, where she was a senior trainer in nonviolent direct action.

During the Carter administration, Cotton was the Southeastern Regional Director, of ACTION, the government’s agency for volunteer programs, from 1978-1981. She was Director of Student Activities, Cornell University, from 1982-1991. She now works as a motivational speaker. She has been awarded many honorary doctorates for her social justice and peace work.

One of the fringe benefits I reap from long involvement in peace and justice work is that I get to meet so many amazing people. Cotton and I are both members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and in 2004, she was one of the speakers at the celebration of the FOR’s 90th anniversary (founded in 1914). I was there and privileged to meet her. I encouraged her then to take the time to write a memoir because new generations need to be inspired by her amazing story.

September 26, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, heroes, human rights., nonviolence | 1 Comment

JPT Practice # 6 Foster Just & Sustainable Economic Development

Patterns of economic hardship and exploitation can lead to “resource wars,” and poor people become desperate and are thus vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist fanatics (or power-mad government demagogues) offering cheap and easy solutions through violence. Fair trade, development that works with rather than against healthy eco-systems, these things are not only just in themselves, but win “hearts and minds” that can otherwise be seduced into violence.

“Development” generally describes a process of material and social progress, usually involving wider involvement in the global economy. It is most needed in those nations of the global South where majorities of the people live in abject poverty (50% of the world still lives on less than $2 per day), lacking adequate food, shelter, medical care, and clean water. Evidence suggests this poverty most affects women & children. “Just” development doesn’t simply increase the number of wealthy persons in a nation or its Gross Domestic Product, but works to eliminate poverty for as many people as possible, seeking an adequate minimum standard of living for all.

“Sustainable,” has two senses: 1) Referring to a development pattern which can be maintained by local people on their own steam and subject to their own control. 2) Referring to the need for development plans to include protecting the environmnet and natural resources for future generations. This second dimension recognizes the need for significant changes among wealthy nations, too, since the world literally cannot afford the amounts of energy consumed by the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

See further: Oxfam International, Worldwatch Institute; Bread for the World; The Micah Challenge; The One Campaign

September 26, 2006 Posted by | just peacemaking | Comments Off on JPT Practice # 6 Foster Just & Sustainable Economic Development

Eyes on the Prize Returns!

From the Texas in Africa blog, comes this good news. I hope it leads soon to the availability of DVDS. Schedule viewings with your church youth group. It’s that important.

Eyes on the Prize is coming back to PBS! This is so exciting – the film is the best documentary on the civil rights movement anybody’s made. It’s also been tied up in copyright suits forever, making it impossible to purchase a DVD of the film. Definitely check it out if you get the chance – the first part airs for three consecutive Mondays, starting next week, October 2.
posted by texasinafrica at 9/25/2006 12:47:00 PM

September 25, 2006 Posted by | human rights., race | 2 Comments

Bush’s Denomination Urges End to Iraq War

As reported in Ekklesia, the bishops of the United Methodist Church, Pres. Bush’s denomination, have been part of the Declare Peace Campaign and urge U.S. troops out of Iraq. The article is slightly misleading since it makes it seem like this is a new stand. The UMC leadership was against the invasion from the beginning and was part of the many church groups (every major U.S. denomination except the Southern Baptist Convention!) who wrote Bush in advance against the war. (I drafted the open letter from the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America on 02 August 2002. The BPFNA has taken several further actions since.)

Although Bush brags about his Christianity and having been saved (including from alcaholism and drug abuse) at a Methodist revival, he has consistently ignored the social teachings of his denomination. He does not reflect the beliefs of most United Methodists. (I have Methodist family members who take Bush’s misrepresentation of the UMC personally, just as Baptists were rather thoroughly embarrassed by Bill Clinton’s lax sexual morals.)

Still, this new prominence of faith-based opposition to Bush’s policies in Iraq and elsewhere might lead, I hope, to an end to the fusion of nationalism and Christianity in the pews.

Update: Here is a timeline of all the UMC actions against the Iraq war. Hat tip and thanks to Marty on the Homefront.

September 25, 2006 Posted by | Iraq, peace | 5 Comments

Update: Nobel Laureates on Peacemaking

On Monday 18 September 2006, I reported on this year’s PeaceJam with 10 Nobel Laureates. Now, my friend, Fr. John Dear, S.J. , relates his experience at PeaceJam and gives some inspiring and profound quotes from the Nobel Peace Laureates. Check them out and become inspired to continue the struggle for peace and justice.

September 24, 2006 Posted by | peace | Comments Off on Update: Nobel Laureates on Peacemaking