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

History Will Not Absolve Us

On Friday, George Hunsinger, one of the finest theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary and the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, wrote an article for the Common Dreams website called “History Will Not Absolve Us.”  It is a reflection on the continued leaks of more and more information about high level involvement in the planning and execution of torture by the Bush admin.  (I was glad that my friend, Dave Gushee, now teaching at McAfee School of Theology (Mercer University) in Atlanta, and founder of Evangelicals for Human Rights asked an excellent question about this to Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at the “Faith and Compassion” dialogue hosted by Messiah College in Grantham, PA last Sunday night and broadcast on CNN. Obama’s answer was excellent, too and got some of the largest applause of the evening.)

Hunsinger claims that history will not absolve this nation of these acts of torture, no matter our claims of ignorance, or fear of terrorism as justification. I agree. More, I think that GOD will also hold us accountable. The churches have not been entirely silent on this issue, but they have been far too quiet.

We are a pluralistic nation, but over 80% of us in this country claim to be Christian. Well over 50% attend church regularly.  Evangelical Protestants, who elevate the authority of Scripture above all else, make up between 40 and 50% of the nation, according to surveys.  But far too many evangelical leaders have tried justifying the torture or covering it up.  White evangelicals are practically the only group left in the country who still support Pres. Bush and hold him up as a “Christian leader.”  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive GOP nominee for president, stood out among the GOP candidates as the only one willing to oppose torture–but after winning the nomination, he spoke out and voted against a bill that would have forbidden the CIA to use such “harsh interrogation” techniques as waterboarding (called in all other times and places “water torture,” used in the Inquisition and prosecuted by the U.S. in previous wars!), and then applauded Bush for vetoing it when it passed despite McCain’s efforts to shipwreck it.  Yet, although he can’t decide whether he’s a Baptist or Episcopalian, McCain claims a deep Christian faith and courts the endorsements of conservative evangelical and fundamentalist preachers (including pro-torturers like Rod Parsely and John Hagee!).

How can any follower of the Crucified One countenance torture?

How can any nation dedicated to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law countenance torture?

U.S. Americans, especially U.S. Christians, have clearly lost their/our way–their/our moral bearings.  History will not absolve us–nor will the Lord of History.

June is Torture Awareness and Abolition Month. The National Religious Coalition Against Torture is urging congregations (parishes, synagogues, temples, meetings, etc.) to highlight the moral issue of torture in sermons and worship throughout June and, specifically, to hang a banner against torture outside their congregation as public witness.  We also need letter campaigns to Congress, the White House, presidential candidates, and the editorial section of newspapers.  We need to join with other congregations in our region in responding to this grave moral concern.  See the NRCAT website for actions, to order “Torture is Wrong” banners, etc.

The guilty (ALL the guilty, no matter what office they occupy!) must face criminal prosecution. But while only some are guilty, all of us are responsible for stopping this and preventing recurrences.

UPDATE: In a related story, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First (formerly known as the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights) took the rare step of asking the U.S. District Court of Appeals in D.C. to reconsider its dismissal of a lawsuit against former Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of those tortured, saying that the dismissal ignored key previous rulings.  See:

April 25, 2008
3:35 PM

CONTACT: ACLU & Human Rights First
Rachel Myers, ACLU, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org
ACLU And HRF Ask Circuit Court To Reconsider Rumsfeld Torture Case
Precedent Used To Dismiss Case Wrongly Ignores Constitution, Groups Say
WASHINGTON, DC – April 25 – The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First (HRF) today filed an unusual motion in federal court in an effort to overturn the dismissal of a lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The March 2005 lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine Iraqi and Afghan former civilian detainees who were tortured while in U.S. military custody and eventually released without being charged with a crime. The lawsuit charged that then-Secretary Rumsfeld was legally responsible for policies and practices leading to the torture and abuse of detainees.


“It is increasingly obvious that responsibility for widespread and systemic abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan lies at the top of the chain of command, but no one has been held accountable,” said Lucas Guttentag, ACLU lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The rule of law and the protections of the Constitution cannot stop at the water’s edge when United States officials adopt policies that violate fundamental rights and core American values.” 

Today’s motion asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to hear the case in the first instance as an “en banc” matter, meaning the entire court would hear the request rather than the standard procedure of assigning the case to a panel of three judges. The motion asks the court to sit “en banc” in order to reconsider its existing decisions that suggest that foreign nationals outside the United States can never bring a claim against government officials for violations of the Constitution. 

In March 2007, Chief Judge Thomas A. Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit even though he described the case as “lamentable” and “appalling” and noted that “the facts alleged in the complaint stand as indictment of the humanity with which the United States treats its detainees.” Still, he concluded that under the governing precedent the case must be dismissed. 

Today’s motion argues that the appellate court decisions on which the district court relied are inconsistent with key U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decisions and should be reconsidered by the court of appeals. 

“We are asking the court to reconsider its decision. We seek accountability for senior American officials who ordered and allowed torture and cruelty overseas,” said Deborah Colson of Human Rights First. “Especially in light of recent revelations about the involvement of high-level officials, reliance on the judicial process is a critical safeguard against abuse of power.” 

The original lawsuit charges that the Constitution and international law clearly prohibit torture and require commanders to prevent such actions when they know or should have known of abuses. In addition to direct orders and authorizations, then-Secretary Rumsfeld and other high ranking officials who were named as defendants in the lawsuit knew of the torture and abuse at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan and failed to act. Recently, President Bush admitted to ABC News that he knew his top national security advisers, including Rumsfeld, had discussed and approved specific details of the CIA’s use of torture. 

Rear Admiral John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, and Brigadier General James Cullen, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeal, are of counsel to HRF. In addition to Guttentag, Colson, Hutson, and Cullen, attorneys on the case are Steven Shapiro, Cecillia Wang, Jennifer Chang, Mónica Ramírez, Omar Jadwat, Amrit Singh, Steven Watt, and Hina Shamsi of the ACLU; Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area; Michael Posner and Sahr Muhammed Ally of Human Rights First; Bill Lann Lee of Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C.; Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP; David Rudovksy of Kairys, Rudovsky, Epstein & Messing LLP; and Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University School of Law. 

Today’s motion is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/detention/35034lgl20080425.html  

Judge Hogan’s decision is online at: www.aclu.org/pdfs/safefree/ali_v_rumsfeld_memoorder_granting_motiontodismiss.pdf 

More information about the case against former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/detention.html and www.humanrightsfirst.org/us_law/etn/lawsuit/index.asp

April 26, 2008 Posted by | human rights., torture | Comments Off on History Will Not Absolve Us

Race and Gender Faultlines

The faultlines in U.S. politics over race and gender are becoming extremely obvious.  But this is hardly new.  This country, including it’s great promise, was built on the genocide and stolen land of Native peoples and the chattel slavery of Africans–and almost every civilization throughout history has oppressed women.

As a white, male, Southerner, I continue to grieve at the way the Powers That Be use race and gender to exploit not only women and racial minorities, but also poor whites.  Poor and lower-middle class whites continue to allow racism to be used to harm our own best interests.  Slavery didn’t help poor whites–because free labor beats cheap labor every time! So how did rich white slaveowners convince thousands of poor whites in the South to fight and kill and die so that other people could continue to own human beings as property??

After the Civil War, during the Gilded Age of Robber Barons (our current economic inequality is reaching those levels), the Populist movement rose up fight money power with people power, led by Tom Watson, a Southern white who tried to forge a multi-racial coalition to overcome economic exploitation. Racism was used to break up the coalition and, by the end, Watson himself had become a racist demagogue who supported the worst of the Jim Crow segregation laws.

In the North, they used race and ethnicity to set Irish against Italian against Pole–and all of them against African-Americans, while the rich laughed all the way to the bank.

The first women’s movement came from the involvement of white women in the work to abolish slavery–and women’s rights were championed by black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass. But when the only version of the 15th Amendment (banning restrictions on voting based on race) which would pass enfranchised only black males, a schism appeared between the movements for racial and gender equality. Hurtful things were said on both sides.

This reappeared during the Civil Rights movement and the 2nd Wave Feminist movement:  Remember Stokely Carmichael’s infamous comment that the only role for women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was “prone!”

Race affects even the healthcare debate: Bill Clinton has rightly mentioned several times that we came closest to getting universal healthcare under Harry Truman’s post-WWII presidency. That’s the time period when Canada and most of Europe adopted universal healthcare and was a perfect time for us to do so as well. Truman had campaigned on completing Roosevelt’s New Deal. Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. Healthcare expenses were a much lower percentage of the economy. But it was blocked by Southern legislators, despite the fact that the South would have benefitted most and contributed the least to the plan in taxes. Why? Southern legislators feared that universal healthcare would force them to integrate their hospitals! (They were probably right.  Southern hospitals were finally integrated after the 1965 passage of the Medicare and Medicaid Bills–which were nearly blocked by Southern Senate filibusters!)

And no one should be surprised at the Black/Latino split in the U.S. (though it is not as wide as white media pundits make it out). In many places following the Civil Rights movement, white power brokers would allow one “minority position” in city councils or business boards, etc. so that Brown presence meant no Black presence and vice versa.  White politicians would and still do condemn a black owned business, wipe it out, and rebuild with a white company–and hire all Latino workers to build the new construction.

This election could end tragically with divisions along race and gender lines.  The Powers of repression, economic exploitation, ecological degradation, and military imperialism could get their way by exploiting our fears and resentments.  Or we could refuse to let that happen this time.

Regardless, we clearly need more national conversations–real dialogues–on race and gender matters. They will not always be comfortable, especially for white males. We have benefitted from our race and gender even when we have not asked to–and when we are struggling ourselves it can feel as if we are blamed for what others have done in our names.

Healing has to begin somewhere. Let it begin in each of homes, churches, and communities.

April 26, 2008 Posted by | family, prejudice, race, sexism, U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Did the FBI Cover-Up Torture by the CIA and Defense Dept?

The following is a transcript of Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL)’s exchange with FBI Director Robert Mueller during Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.  Mueller’s evasive responses seem to indicate that when FBI agents came to Mueller with evidence of CIA and Defense Dept. interrogators using torture, Mueller forbade them to participate, but did not investigate the allegations, allowing other agencies to torture as they saw fit!

Robert Wexler: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Director, in January of 2006, the New York Times reported that the NSA wireless wiretapping program had produced thousands of leads each month that the FBI had to track down, but that no Al-Qaeda networks were discovered. During a July 17, 2007 briefing, FBI deputy director John Pistole indicated that the FBI was not aware of any Al-Qaeda sleeper cells operating in the United States. In August of 2007 Congress passed the Protect America Act, giving the intelligence community greater access to electronic communications coming into and out of the United States. I have two questions in this regard.

RW: Has the FBI found any sleeper cells yet? One…

RW: Two. Has the NSA’s wireless wiretapping programs either before the Protect America Act or after led to the prosecution and conviction of any terrorists in the United States?

Robert Mueller: Well, as to your first question as to whether we have found affiliates or, as you would call them, cells of Al-Qaeda in the United States, yes we have. Again, I cannot get into it in public session, but I would say yes we have. With regard to the relationship of a particular case or individual to the terrorist surveillance program, again that is something that would have to be covered in a closed session.

RW: Alright, Mr. Director. An LA Times article from October, 2007 quotes one senior federal enforcement official as saying quote “the CIA determined they were going to torture people, and we made the decision not to be involved” end quote. The article goes on to say that some FBI officials went to you and that you quote “pulled many of the agents back from playing even a supporting role in the investigations to avoid exposing them to legal jeopardy” end quote.

RW: My question Mr. Director, I congratulate you for pulling the FBI agents back, but why did you not take more substantial steps to stop the interrogation techniques that your own FBI agents were telling you were illegal? Why did you not initiate criminal investigations when your agents told you the CIA and the Department of Defense were engaging in illegal interrogation techniques, and rather than simply pulling your agents out, shouldn’t you have directed them to prevent any illegal interrogations from taking place?

RM: I can go so far sir as to tell you that a protocol in the FBI is not to use coercion in any of our interrogations or our questioning and we have abided by our protocol.

RW: I appreciate that. What is the protocol say when the FBI knows that the CIA is engaging or the Department of Defense is engaging in an illegal technique? What does the protocol say in that circumstance?

RM: We would bring it up to appropriate authorities and determine whether the techniques were legal or illegal.

RW: Did you bring it up to appropriate authorities?

RM: All I can tell you is that we followed our own protocols.

RW: So you can’t tell us whether you brought it; when your own FBI agents came to you and said the CIA is doing something illegal which caused you to say don’t you get involved; you can’t tell us whether you then went  to whatever authority?

RM: I’ll tell you we followed our own protocols.

RW: And what was the result?

RM: We followed our own protocols. We followed our protocols. We did not use coercion. We did not participate in any instance where coercion was used to my knowledge.

RW: Did the CIA use techniques that were illegal?

RM: I can’t comment on what has been done by another agency and under what authorities the other agency may have taken actions.

RW: Why can’t you comment on the actions of another agency?

RM: I leave that up to the other agency to answer questions with regard to the actions taken by that agency and the legal authorities that may apply to them.

RW: Are you the chief legal law enforcement agency in the United States?

RM: I am the Director of the FBI.

RW: And you do not have authority with respect to any other governmental agency in the United States? Is that what you’re saying?

RM: My authority is given to me to investigate. Yes we do.

RW: Did somebody take away that authority with respect to the CIA?

RM: Nobody has taken away the authority. I can tell you what our protocol was, and how we followed that protocol.

RW: Did anybody take away the authority with respect to the Department of Defense?

RM: I’m not certain what you mean.

RW: Your authority to investigate an illegal torture technique.

RM: There has to be a legal basis for us to investigate, and generally that legal basis is given to us by the Department of Justice. Any interpretations of the laws given to us by the Department of Justice….
(talking over each other)

RW:  But apparently your own agents made a determination that the actions by the CIA and the Department of Defense were illegal, so much so that you authorized, ordered, your agents not to participate. But that’s it.

RM: I’ve told you what our protocol was, and I’ve indicated that we’ve adhered to our protocol throughout.

RW: My time is up. Thank you very much Mr. Director.

WHY ISN’T THIS FRONT PAGE NEWS IN EVERY PAPER IN THE U. S.?  We should call for Mueller’s resignation and get an FBI Director that will investigate ALL claims of torture! (Of course, without a Justice Dept. willing to prosecute. . .)

April 26, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments