Saturday, September 30, 2006

If we aren't going to call people "evil"

maybe we can just bring back the concept of "shame". Garrison Keillor (via Pastor Dan):

It's good that Barry Goldwater is dead because this would have killed him. Go back to the Senate of 1964 -- Goldwater, Dirksen, Russell, McCarthy, Javits, Morse, Fulbright -- and you won't find more than 10 votes for it.

None of the men and women who voted for this bill has any right to speak in public about the rule of law anymore, or to take a high moral view of the Third Reich, or to wax poetic about the American Idea. Mark their names. Any institution of higher learning that grants honorary degrees to these people forfeits its honor. Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Burr, Carper, Chambliss, Coburn, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeMint, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Frist, Graham, Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Isakson, Johnson, Kyl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Lieberman, Lott, Lugar, Martinez, McCain, McConnell, Menendez, Murkowski, Nelson of Florida, Nelson of Nebraska, Pryor, Roberts, Rockefeller, Salazar, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Specter, Stabenow, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Thune, Vitter, Voinovich, Warner.

To paraphrase Sir Walter Scott: Mark their names and mark them well. For them, no minstrel raptures swell. High though their titles, proud their name, boundless their wealth as wish can claim, these wretched figures shall go down to the vile dust from whence they sprung, unwept, unhonored and unsung.

Three Republican senators made a show of opposing the bill and after they'd collected all the praise they could get, they quickly folded. Why be a hero when you can be fairly sure that the Court will dispose of this piece of garbage.

If, however, the Court does not, then our country has taken a step toward totalitarianism. If the government can round up someone and never be required to explain why, then it's no longer the United States of America as you and I always understood it. Our enemies have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They have made us become like them.
That last, of course, would be the worst part. But hardly the first time this country has fallen back on power as it's salvation, and certainly not the last. There's the rub, though: how can we not rely on power to save the institution? How can the community not turn back to power as its protection against destruction? Aye, there's the rub indeed.

I got some insight last week into who supports torture when I went down to Dallas to speak at Highland Park Methodist Church. It was spooky. I walked in, was met by two burly security men with walkie-talkies, and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bushes' church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics. I was there on a book tour for "Homegrown Democrat," but they thought it better if I didn't mention it. So I tried to make light of it: I told the audience, "I don't need to talk politics. I have no need even to be interested in politics -- I'm a citizen, I have plenty of money and my grandsons are at least 12 years away from being eligible for military service." And the audience applauded! Those were their sentiments exactly. We've got ours, and who cares?

The Methodists of Dallas can be fairly sure that none of them will be snatched off the streets, flown to Guantanamo, stripped naked, forced to stand for 48 hours in a freezing room with deafening noise, so why should they worry? It's only the Jews who are in danger, and the homosexuals and gypsies. The Christians are doing just fine. If you can't trust a Methodist with absolute power to arrest people and not have to say why, then whom can you trust?
Maybe it isn't that our enemies have succeeded. Maybe making "us" like "them" wasn't that difficult after all. Maybe there wasn't even any change at all.

Terrorists aren't attacking us because they hate us for our freedom. We may believe we have been a benevolent force in the world until George W. Bush came along, but his aggression and blind arrogance and obvious stupidity are just more blatant than before. I didn't realize until today that Paul Bremer was a protege of Henry Kissinger, but suddenly the news that Kissinger has been a Bush advisor for some time, makes sense. When Jimmy Carter ran for President, reassurances were given that people like Zbigniew Brzyenski would not be in the Administration.

Most American administrations since WWII have largely been about rearranging the Titanic's deck chairs. And now we are for torture.

Color me bitter. Color me cynical. But don't color me surprised. Those people in Highland Park have done regular violence against the rest of the world, and profited from it, and benefited from it, and been entirely ignorant of it; and clearly, they like it that way. Highland Park, by the way, is a very wealthy city in Dallas. The two usually go together, don't they? I was just reading Mark, about the rich man and the camel, and the eye of the needle. Everytime I read that I remember how my Sunday School teachers tried to explain that the "eye of the needle" was a narrow gate into Jerusalem that a fully loaded camel couldn't pass through. It was a comforting middle-class lie, a complete fabrication because, 2000 years later, we are still shocked by that story. We still don't like what it means, even though Jesus rounds off the roughest edges with: "For God, nothing is impossible." Still, we want to be comfortable now, as well as receive the promised comforts of the after-life. And if that means torturing several hundred unknown "detainees" far, far away, don't want to see how sausage is made, either, but it sure is good for breakfast.

And since that absolute power will only be used to protect our way of life, to make us comfortable and happy and ensure the gas pumps are always full and always open, and that a shut-down like occurred in Houston last September, never happens again, well....that's probably fine with us.

Some of us, anyway. Some of us will continue to speak up for truth, for compassion, for justice. Just because we don't, doesn't mean it isn't there. Just because we do, doesn't mean we'll ever get it.

I started off talking about the concept of shame. I'm not sure we'd ever get there again. But it would be worth trying to. Because Mr. Keillor is right: at one time, at least, in my lifetime, we were better than this. We've been worse, too; it's all part of our culture. But we've been better. We can be better.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Sen. Patrick Leahy Speaks

to Amy Goodman:

In this case, the particular section I was speaking about at that point was the so-called habeas protection. Now, habeas corpus was first brought in the Magna Carta in the 1200s. It’s been a tenet of our rights as Americans. And what they're saying is that if you’re an alien, even if you’re in the United States legally, a legal alien, may have been here ten years, fifteen years, twenty years legally, if a determination is made by anybody in the executive that you may be a threat, they can hold you indefinitely, they could put you in Guantanamo, not bring any charges, not allow you to have a lawyer, not allow you to ever question what they’ve done, even in cases, as they now acknowledge, where they have large numbers of people in Guantanamo who are there by mistake, that they put you -- say you’re a college professor who has written on Islam or for whatever reason, and they lock you up. You’re not even allowed to question it. You’re not allowed to have a lawyer, not allowed to say, “Wait a minute, you’ve got the wrong person. Or you’ve got -- the one you’re looking for, their name is spelled similar to mine, but it’s not me.” It makes no difference. You have no recourse whatsoever.

This goes so much against everything we've ever done. Now, we’ve had some on the other side say, ‘Well, they're trying to give rights to terrorists.’ No, we’re just saying that the United States will follow the rules it has before and will protect rights of people. We’re not giving any new rights. We’re just saying that if, for example, if you picked up the wrong person, you at least have a chance to get somebody independent to make that judgment.
On the irony of American history:

You know, when things like this were done during the Cold War in some of the Iron Curtain countries, I remember all the speeches on the Senate floor, Democrats and Republicans alike saying, “How horrible this is! Thank God we don’t do things like this in America.” I wish they’d go back and listen to some of their speeches at that time.
On the paranoid madness of King George and Dick Cheney, and why this vote was so important:

AMY GOODMAN: Was President Bush on Capitol Hill yesterday?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, yes, indeed. You can always tell, because virtually the whole city comes to a screeching halt with the motorcades, although it’s sort of like that when Dick Cheney comes up to give orders to the Republican Caucus. He comes up with a 15 to 25 vehicle caravan. It’s amazing to watch.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was Bush doing yesterday on Capitol Hill?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, he was just telling them they had to vote this way. They had to vote. They couldn’t hand him a defeat. They had to go with him They had to trust him. It’ll get us past the election. We had offered a -- you know, five years ago, I and others had suggested there is a way to have military tribunals for the detainees, where it would meet all our standards and basic international standards. They rejected that. And now, five weeks before the elections, they say, ‘Oh, yes, we need something like that.’ No, basically what he was saying to them, don’t ask questions, get us past the elections, because if you ask questions, the answers are going to be embarrassing, and it could hurt you in the elections.
On why it's important to be able to "bring the body":

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think Senator Leahy really got it right. I mean, what this bill authorizes is really the authority of an authoritarian despot to the president. I mean, what it gives him is the power, as the senator said, to detain any person anywhere in the world, citizen or non-citizen, whether living in the United States or anywhere else. I mean, what kind of authority is that? No checks and balances. Nothing. Now, if you’re a citizen, you still get your right of habeas corpus. If you’re a non-citizen, as the senator pointed out, you’re completely finished. Picked up, legal permanent resident in the United States, detained forever, no writ of habeas corpus.

It was incredibly shocking. I watched that vote yesterday. I had been in Washington for two or three days trying to line up the votes for Senator Leahy’s amendment that would have restored habeas. We thought we had them. We lost at 51 to 48. I have to tell you, Amy, I just -- I basically broke down at that point. I had been working like a dog on this thing. And there I saw the President come to Capitol Hill and persuade two or three or four of the Republicans who we thought we had to vote to strip habeas corpus from this legislation. It was a shock. I mean, an utter shock.

So you have this ability to detain anyone anywhere in the world. You deny them the writ of habeas corpus. And when they're in detention, you have a right to do all kinds of coercive techniques on them: hooding, stripping, anything really the president says goes, short of what he defines as torture. And then, if you are lucky enough to be tried, and I say “lucky enough,” because, for example, the 460 people the Center represents at Guantanamo may never get trials. In fact, only ten have even been charged. Those people, they’ve been stripped of their right to go to court and test their detention by habeas corpus. They’re just -- they’ve been there five years. Right now, under this legislation, they could be there forever.

Let me tell you, this bill will be struck down and struck down badly. But meanwhile, for two more years or whatever it’s going to take us to litigate it, we’re going to be litigating what was a basic right, as the senator said, since the Magna Carta of 1215, the right of any human being to test their detention in court. It’s one of the saddest days I’ve seen. You’ve called it “groundbreaking,” Amy. It’s really Constitution-breaking. It’s Constitution-shattering. It shatters really basic rights that we've had for a very long time.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, how long have you been a senator?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I’ve been there 32 years. I have to absolutely agree with what I just heard. I mean, this is -- it’s Kafka. But it’s more than that. It’s just a total rollback of everything this country has stood for. I mean, you have 100 people, very privileged, members of the Senate voting this way and with no realization of what it would be like if you were the one who was picked up. Maybe you’re guilty, but quite often, as we’ve seen, purely by accident and then held for years.

You know, I was a prosecutor for eight years. I prosecuted an awful lot of people, sent a lot of people to prison. But I did it arguing that everybody's rights had to be protected, because mistakes are often made. You want to make sure that if you’re prosecuting somebody, you’re prosecuting the right person. Here, they don't care whether mistakes are made or not.

And you have to stand up. I mean, it was a Vermonter -- you go way back in history -- it was a Vermonter who stood up against the Alien and Sedition Act, Matthew Lyon. He was prosecuted on that, put in jail, as a congressman, put in jail. And Vermont showed what they thought of these unconstitutional laws. We in Vermont reelected him, and eventually the laws fell down. There was another Vermonter, Ralph Flanders, who stood up to Joseph McCarthy and his reign of fear and stopped that. I mean, you have to stand. What has happened, here we are, a great powerful good nation, and we’re running scared. We’re willing to set aside all our values and running scared. What an example that is to the rest of the world.


AMY GOODMAN: You gave a very graphic example. You said, “Imagine you’re a law-abiding lawful permanent resident. In your spare time you do charitable fundraising for international relief agencies that lend a hand in disasters.” Take that story from there, the example you used.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: You send money. You don’t care which particular religious group or civic group it is. They’re doing humanitarian work. You send the money. It turns out that one of them is giving money to various Islamic causes that the United States is concerned about. They come to your house. Maybe somebody has called into one of these anonymous tipster lines, saying, “You know, this Amy Goodman. I’m somewhat worried about her, simply because she’s going -- and I think I’ve seen some Muslim-looking people coming to her house.” They come in there, and they say, “We want to talk to you.” They bring you downtown. You’re a legal alien, legal resident here. And you say, “Well, look, I’ve got my rights. I’d like to talk to a lawyer.” They say, “No, no. You don’t have any rights.” “Well, then I’m not going to talk to you.” “Well, then now we’re twice as concerned about you. We’re going to spirit you down to Guantanamo, and we’ll get back to in a few years.” And, I mean, that could actually happen under this. And these are not far-fetched ideas, as the professor knows. He’s seen similar things.

And with that, and I would love to continue this conversation, unfortunately I’ve got to go back to my day job, back to the judiciary. I think this is going to go down as one of those black marks in the Congress. You know, I wasn’t there at the time, but virtually everybody voted for the Tonkin Gulf resolution. When I came to the Senate, you couldn’t find anybody there who thought that was a good idea. They knew it was a terrible mistake. You had members of congress supported the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II. Everybody knows that was a terrible mistake now. That day will come when everybody will look at this and say, “What were we thinking?”
Like the man said: You have to stand up.

This is My Country!

America is not an idea. America is not an ideal. America is a country. The bill just passed by the Senate, is proof of that. What is appalling is not that the Senate would pass it; what is appalling is that anyone thinks it is a good idea.

But: this is not the America I grew up in? This is not "my America"? Of course it is. This is not my idea of America. But my idea of America has never reflected the reality of the country. This is the act of a country. This is what countries do. It's long past time we got past the idea that America is unique, special, extraordinary, or different from any other nation, empire, republic, or democracy that humankind has ever established. It isn't. This isn't the Shining City on the Hill. This isn't the Last Best Hope of Humankind. This isn't the Greatest Country in the World.

This is just another nation in the roster of nations. We are not an idea, an ideal, a hope, a dream, the "other Eden, demi-paradise, [a] fortress built by Nature for herself/Against infection and the hand of war," this is not a "happy breed of men, [a] little world, [a] precious stone set in the silver sea,/Which serves it in the office of a wall/Or as a moat defensive to a house,/Against the envy of less happier lands." Had you ever considered just how deeply our exclusionism and exceptionalism is rooted in our Anglo-Saxon heritage? Truly, we are no different from the rest of the world at all. This law proves it.

This is what nations do. This is how nations behave. This is why Jesus told his accusers: "Give Caesar what is Caesar's, and God what is God's." Because Caesar always demands his cut, and always demands it in the name of peace and tranquility and safety and morality. And it never guarantees or even establishes peace, or tranquility, or safety, and it is never, ever, moral.

But that is what nations do. That is what they are.

I have a fat new book on my desk, a gift of happenstance. It is titled Dissent in America: The Voices that Shaped a Nation. The quotes yesterday were taken from that book. Ever heard of the people I quoted? Not likely, unless you were a history major. Even "Mother" Jones would be an obscure footnote if someone hadn't named a magazine for her. It's the subtitle that intrigues me, there. "Voices that shaped a nation"? By her own admission, Mother Jones didn't accomplish anything for the children she marched to Oyster Bay. And she didn't begin to address the root problem of poverty and low wages that forced the families to put the children to work at the age of 10. Did the lies and the poverty stop because Pennsylvania raised the age for child labor to 14? And we still don't treat the original inhabitants of this country as if they were human beings. Ask Dee Brown. Ask Sherman Alexie.

"Ain't that America," too? Isn't that my country, as well?

Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered for having a dream. But he was vilified for being against the Vietnam War, told by no less an august supporter than the Washington Post editorial page to, in essence, "shut up and preach." He died at a rally seeking economic justice for sanitation workers. What economic justice did they obtain, and how long did they keep it? Who in America today enjoys "economic justice"? I'd love to meet them.

I said this new book was fat. It runs to almost 800 pages, starts in the 17th century and runs to the 21st century. The only thing it lacks is a trenchant analysis, like this:

The temptation to disavow the responsibilities of human freedom or to leave human potentialities undeveloped usually assails the weak, rather than the strong. In the Biblical parable it was the "one talent" man hwo "hid his treasure in the ground." Our nation ought, therefore, not take too much credit for having mastered a temptation which assailed us for several decades. It was a rather unique historical phenomenon that a nation with our potentialities should have been tempted to isolationism and withdrawal from world responsiblities. Various factors contribued to the persuasiveness of the temptation. We were so strong and our continental security seemed so impregnable (on cursory glance at least) that we were encouraged in the illusion that we could live our own life without too much regard for a harassed world. Our sense of superior virtue over the alleged evils of European civilization and our fear of losing our innocency if we braved the tumults of world politics, added spiritual vanity to ignoble prudence as the second cause of our irresponsiblity. We thought we might keep ourselves free of the evils of a warring world and thus preserve a health civilization, amidst the expected doom of a decrepit one. This hope of furnishing the seed-corn for a new beginning persuaded moral idealists to combine with cynical realists in propounding the policy of power without responsibility.
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1952), p. 131.

Niebuhr's point of reference is clearly World War II; but how difficult is it to update this passage to the 21st century? We still rely on our moral superiority but now, rather than retreat from the world, we take the lesson of the same war Niebuhr refers to as a teaching about power, and we exert it ruthlessly. Unable to stay free from a warring world, we now seek to remake it in our own image. Moral idealists like Paul Wolfowitz or George W. Bush combine with cynical realists like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and we have the new policy of power without responsibility, exemplified in Rumsfeld's latest denials of the conclusions of the NIE about Iraq. And our excuse is 9/11, which proved we were not impregnable; just as Iraq is proving we are not strong. But who in public office will admit that last lesson? Donald Rumsfeld jawboned us into war by denouncing "old Europe," and the only change in Niebuhr's analysis is that now we include Middle Eastern civilization in the equation, going so far as to look askance as the cultural treasures of humanity were looted in the first days of the invasion of Baghdad. We have been so irresponsible every step of the way that the battle cry of the Bush critics is "Accountability!" And yet the Congress has passed another law making us as unaccountable for our actions as possible. As Niebuhr says, this temptation usually assails the weak. But looking at the present situation, who but the willfully blind can say that this nation in its relationships with the other nations of the world, is strong?

This is our country. Today, the day after the Congress has approved torture and exempted CIA agents from charges of war crimes and given the President powers no President has ever had in US history; this is still our country. This is what countries do. This is what governments are about. The aggregation and use and abuse of power. And nothing in the system stops it, or ever has, or ever saves us. There is no savior who will do this for us. We only do it ourselves. That's what makes it our country, too, and not just theirs. This is our country.

And what do we do about it? The only thing we can do: we dissent. We lead the children in a march on Oyster Bay, and get ignored by the President, and take the children back home to the poverty they had known, but this time it's worse because the strike has been broken and the mill workers still have to work or starve, and if a few years later one state passes a law raising the minimum working age to 14, we call it a start. And we keep dissenting. Because we see a world that is wrong; or unjust; or unfair; or just so much unlike the kingdom of God we refuse to put up with it, and simply by living in the kingdom we are radical, and dissenting, and a squeaky wheel that must be greased, or a stubborn, demanding widow that even the judge has to listen to, just to make us go away. We get justice anyway we can, in whatever measure we can, and we go back and ask for some more. And when that's not enough, we ask for some more. And we never stop asking, because we never get enough. Because Niebuhr was right: institutions don't exist to deal in justice and fairness and equality: they exist to maintain the survival of the institution, of the group. Which means the situation is never good enough, and has never been better than this, and will only, at best, get marginally better than this.

And so we dissent. Because this, whatever the status quo is, is just not good enough. And because we can do better.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sympathy for the Devil

Put it another way:

The torture bill is pernicious. That much is true; that much is undeniable. But we should not make the mistake of presuming it more than it is. It is not a Reichstag Fire. It is not. It is pernicious not for its scope, but for its hollowness, its complete legislative emptiness, dressed up in bloody bow. It is pernicious because it is simply a slapdash fiasco of commonplace Republican incompetence paired with commonplace Republican dismissal of law -- it is not going to create more torture than we have now, it simply attempts to legalize it (which it cannot do), give amnesty for it (which will last only as long as the first lawsuit), justify it (which will matter not a bit, in international law) and use it as a "toughness" stick (for election pandering to those sick and hollow voices among us that defend, support, and enjoy the thought that the United States does indeed torture people.) But it does not even solve the problem that the CIA allegedly needed solved -- clear enough rules on torture that their own people do not face war crimes for following Bush orders. They didn't get it. They're still on the hook, because this law cannot grant them closure, there. No law can.
First, this is true. The proposed law is a sham. Nothing illegal is made legal by it. Nothing wrong is made right. Nothing bad is made good. It will fall the first time the Government relies on it in a Motion to Dismiss. The trial court will be bound by Hamdan, the appellate court will be bound by Hamdan, and the Supreme Court will reaffirm Hamdan. And this mockery of the law will pass away. And after all, this is what the law provides for:

Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.
It's actually worse than that. It applies to US citizens, too. No reason it couldn't. Which means, of course, it's so unconstitutional it's ridiculous. It means it's a horror, plain and simple. But is this the first time America has ever mocked the law, or the concept of justice?

Well, there was the Trail of Tears in 1830. The US Senate voted to remove the Indians from their reservations in Georgia, and send them to what is now Oklahoma. Sen. Theodore Freylinghuysen from New Jersey, spoke against Andrew Jackson's bill:

Our ancestors found these people, far removed from the commotions of Europe, exercising all the rights, and enjoying the privileges, of free and independent soverigns of this new world. They were not a wild and lawless horde of banditti, but lived under the restraints of government, patriarchal in its character, and energetic in its influence. They had chiefs, head men, and councils....We successfully and triumphantly contended for the very rights and privileges that our Indian neighbors now implore us to protect and preserve to them. Sir, this though invests the subject under debate with the most singular and momentous interest. We, whom God has exalted to the very summit of prosperity--whose brief career forms the brightest page in history; the wonder and praise of the world; freedom's hope, and her consolation; we, about to turn traitors to our principles and our fame--about to become the oppressors of the feeble, and to cast away our birthright! Sir, I hope for better things....

The Supreme Court in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia ruled against the removal, but a contingent of Cherokee signed a treaty which gave Jackson the authority he needed to force their removal to Indian Territory. Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation:

The instrument in question is not the act of our Nation; we are not parties to its covenants; it has not received the sanction of our people. The makers of it sustain no office nor appointments in our Nation, under the designation of Chiefs, Head men, or any other title, by which they hold, or could acquire, authority to assume the reins of Government, and to make bargains and sale of our rights, our possessions, and our common country. And we are constrained solemnly to declare, that we cannot but contemplate the enforcement of the stipulations of this instrument on us, against our consent, as an act of injustice and oppression, which, we are well persuaded, can never knowingly be countenanced by the Government and people of the United States; nor can we believe it to be the design of thse honorable and highminded individuals, who stand at the head of the Govt., to bind a whole Nation, by the acts of a few unauthorized individuals.
That was the 19th century, and people who were not "European." What of the 20th century, and how we treated "our own"?

In the spring of 1903 I went to Kensington, Pennsyvlania, wehre seventy-five thousand textile workers were on strike. Of this number at least ten thousand were little children. The workers were striking for more pay and shorter hours. Every day little children came into Union Headquarters, some with their hands off, some with the thumb missing, some with their fingers off at the knuckle. They were stooped things, round shouldered and skinny. Many of them were not over ten years of age, the state law prohibited their working before they were twelve years of age.

The law was poorly enforced adn the mothers of these children often swore falsely as to their children's age. In a single block in Kensington, fourteen women, moters of twenty-two children all under twelve, explained it was a question of starvation or perjury. That the fathers had been killed or maimed at the mines.

I asked the newspaper men why they didn't publish the facts about child labor in Pennsylvania. They said they couldn't because the mill owners had stock in the papers.
Mother Jones

Mother Jones marched a group of children to Oyster Bay, New York, to see President Teddy Roosevelt.

I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Sentor....

We marched down to Oyster Bay but the president refused to see us and he would not answer my letters. But our march had done its work. We had drawn the attention of the nation to the crime of child labour. And while the strike of the textile workers in Kensington was lost and the children driven back to work, not long afterwards the Pennsylvania legislature passed a child labor law that sent thousands of children home from the mills, and kept thousands of others from entering the factory until they were fourteen years of age.
At times like this I remember Martin Luther King, Jr., within my lifetime, writing from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama; smuggling out scraps of paper to respond to a newspaper ad by white pastors afraid he was going to upset people. That was a hollow mixture of politics and religion that even Karl Rove has never managed to re-create. And yet King managed to quote Ghandi and Niebuhr and whole sections of the Bible, and compose an argument so clear and coherent it is studied in colleges today. From a jail in Birmingham, Alabama; where he was jailed for having the temerity to ask that he be treated like other people, white people, in America were being treated.

He died for that. And we think Bush is evil because he wants to authorize torture and illegal detentions. What words, then, do we reserve for the people who spit on Dr. King and his followers? Turned fire-hoses on them, set dogs on them, beat them senseless? And not because they were terrorists who had blown up a building, but just because they were in the streets, and asking for justice? His actions, and the actions of so many other brave people, known and unknown, did change the way this country operates, the way our culture treats people. The Democrats in the Senate should do everything in their power to stop this law, but even then, it will only be a symbolic gesture; just as this law is a symbolic gesture.

But these words; well, these could have come from Niebuhr:

We have already devolved into barbarism, by attempting to define boundaries within barbarism that are good and bad, that are moderately barbaric vs. too barbaric, and calling all of it moderation, and praising it in our press, and praising it in our politicians. We are already a broken country, made more broken by men looking for any distraction, any shred of bloody color to help hide the deeper truths of their incompetence and failure.

But this fight will not be the end, just as it was not the beginning. There will be plenty of other politicians willing to give the Devil his due. There will still be uncountably many among the press for whom matters of God and law come secondary to the tally of who may benefit politically from a rousing defense of the indefensible. There will still be those among us for whom torture is considered good form, when done against an enemy, and for whom the laws of the country that have survived this long cannot possibly survive another day, not now, at long last, when faced with the one and only one thing law cannot survive -- the petty scorn of those charged to defend it.

In our incompetence, we have done worse things, and we have killed more than a mere handful of people, and we have carved up lives with viciousness in a vain attempt to find a policy the Bush administration could find themselves even the slightest bit capable of implementing without catastrophe. Compared to the failures of this hollow group of foolish men, even torture is not the worst that we have done. This bill will not make a thin reed of difference.
WE have done worse. But the Democrats, as the NYT editorial points out, have done worse by fearing the campaign ads of the GOP. Except it isn't entirely that, either. It isn't entirely moral cowardice; it's political calculus. This is what politics is: weighing the options, choosing the path of least resistance. It is that path everyone follow, even though Christians believe the broad and easy path is the path to death. Christians are called to oppose evil, and to take the narrow path. But the narrow path means we are not responsible for the world, and are not in charge of the world. we are also called to make a difference, to be where it matters. We can see the splinter in their eye; but what of the log in our own? On what do we depend? Our politicians? Or our God?

"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness."
--Reinhold Niebuhr

Niebuhr spent his life engaged in the struggle against institutional evil, even as he recognized such evil was inevitable. And yet, according to his daughter, he ended his days in sorrow at the thought of living under a Republican Administration. The same Republican Administration we look back to with some nostalgia: the Eisenhower presidency. Everything looks like the end and a defeat from someone's perspective. What we have to do, is ask what it looks like from God's perspective. Niebuhr was a fine theologian; but perhaps not quite enough of a mystic to ask that perspective of himself. There is a certain amount of mysticism necessary in human existence, especially in religious life. A certain ability to believe beyond what you see and know with your five senses; to believe there are other sense, just as real and "sensible" as the five we empircally rely on, and just as accurate a guide to what is true. The Greeks codified reality as chaos and logos, reason and unreason, order and disorder. The Hebrews went a different way. For the Greeks, creation arose from the roiling sea of chaos by the imposition of order through logos; and only by constant effort could order be maintained, but eventually even reason would be exhausted, and chaos would return unquenched and ultimately undefeatable.

Judaism and Christianity teach a different truth, and this is ultimately the strength of the dissident: of the lone US Senator speaking for people of another nation; of the woman speaking for other mother's children; of the man in jail convinced he cannot waver in his effort to bring about justice for others, if not for himself. That strength is the belief in the good, the just, the true. Mick Jaggers' song is so eloquent not because it is about the romantic character of Milton's Satan, but because it is so true: evil does not come from outside us. We need little urging to make it real. But we can just as easily be urged to good. Jaggers' Satan is a mirror; but it is not the only mirror we have. And this is not the only chance we have to make things right, to oppose chaos, to repel evil.

All of the quotes above could, with the slightest of changes, apply to the debate today. And none of them mention "evil." Neither do we have to. The world is already as broken as it gets. We don't need to point out the degrees of brokenness, to set aside one sinner as worse than the others. The world is also the kingdom of God, if we will see it; if we will live in it.

That is also the nature of the game.

Please, pretty please

Trent Lott said in the Senate yesterday:

"Are we gonna ask 'em please, pretty please? When they let on like some of the technigues have been used are such horrible things...being threatened by a dog? Come on! Have they never delivered laundry to someone's house and had a dog come after them?"

Did he mean like this?

Funny he didn't use that analogy, huh?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"I shouted out, 'Who Killed the Kennedys?'

"When after all/it was you and me."--Sympathy for the Devil, Mick Jagger

Pastor Dan has this quote up from the Rude Pundit:

Last night, on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann was right: we are led by moral cowards. But, to take it further, more evil has been committed by fearful people than by brave ones. Ask the Bosnians.

We have to accept that, whatever their intentions, whatever reasons they might have had for their actions, the ones that they give mighty speeches about before handpicked crowds and the ones that they only whisper in private to their reflections in the mirror, we are now being led by people who are doing evil. This doesn't mean that others around the world are not doing evil. Just because al-Qaeda members commit evil deeds doesn't mean that Donald Rumsfeld does not. A man who murdered someone in a drive-by shooting is not excused because he is put into a jail cell next to a serial killer.

If we dare accept to our horror and infinite shame that we have allowed ourselves to be represented by people who do evil, even in the name of good, then we can either be complicit - we can go about our daily lives while the stench of the concentration camp pollutes the air of the town - or we can reject evil.
Which prompted me to make this reply:

The Niebuhrian/Reformed Christian in me wants to raise a raspberry here.

NOW we are lead by people doing evil? And this is different from before just exactly HOW, pray tell?

Need I start with Columbus and come forward just in American history? Need I catalog the imperialist wars of the 19th century? No, just read Howells and Twain. It's not that I disagree, you understand, but part of me wants to say: when, O Rude One, did you wake up? And do you imagine your strong words are finally the ones we need to arouse us from our stupor and walk out of the darkness cast by Cheney and the neo-cons into the light being shone by....

....well, by whom, exactly?

Yes, the actions of our leadership are reprehensible, inexcusable, all but unforgivable (is there anything a Christian cannot forgive? Hmmmmm.....) But this is news? This is unique, rare, unknown before in our 200+ years as a nation? No. It isn't.

And expecting this language to finally be the "wake up call," the "silver bullet," the Perry Mason moment when the guilty party breaks down and unequivocally confesses to the murder (which is evil, too, let us not forget. Or are we going to establish a sliding scale of evil, where some is worse than others? How Would Jesus Judge?)...well, it just doesn't happen in real life.

I agree. Our leaders are evil. In fact, in my theology, that's a given. What do we do about it, is the question. Labelling them doesn't galvanize me. Heaping more critiques on them, doesn't galvanize me. Berating them, doesn't convince me we've never been here before, and with the right laws we'll never be here again. These are the conditions that prevail. If we're going to invoke the theological language of evil, then let's recognize this is not the kingdom of heaven. And labelling leadership as evil, as if that were unusual, new, or different, doesn't bring the kingdom any closer.

Perhaps we need to start with something closer to home; something less abstract than "them," and more concrete, like: 'us.' Otherwise, we might as well declare a “war on terror.”

To which I would add, to explain the title here: this is the power game of the world. "Evil" is a very seductive term, one we have largely banished from our vocabulary, so much so that people like Juan Cole can seriously call it "theological" language. It is too powerful. Now, when we drag it out, we feel like it's the H-bomb of terms, the war-ender, the peace-bringer, because it will at last solve all conflicts. Convince the unsure that our opponents are "evil," and we win, hands down.

But that's precisely how Bush has sold his "War on Terror."

Pleased to meet you; hope you guess my name.

That may be the world's game. It's not the game of Christianity. Are we called as Christians to oppose evil? Absolutely. How we do that, is the question. And we don't do it by slapping on labels, or looking for the ultimate negative, the magic word that will motivate people to do as we want done. That isn't, to put it plainly, the way your love your enemies.

C'mon baby; tell me what's my name.

I am reminded, again, of the desert father who heard the monks complaining of the sin of another monk. And surely sin is evil. But he left the group, and returned with a large sack on his back, a small one hung before his eyes; and explained the large sack was his sins, the small one the sins of his brother monk. Ashamed, they all went away to repent, and pray.

Evil must be opposed. But how do Christians draw the line between what is evil, and what is not? How do we draw that line at all, without becoming judges? And then it's a problem of judge not, lest ye be judged.

C'mon honey! Tell me, what's my name.

I know Pastor Dan doesn't mean it the way I'm taking it. But we don't want to go there. We simply, really, don't.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

These are the days when anything goes....

Looks like it's gonna be awhile before the Iraqis stand up:

JUAN COLE: Parliamentary leaders meet, but in the Green Zone, which is to say behind concrete barriers and behind Marine guards. In this summer, Grand Ayatollah Sistani complained bitterly that 60% of them were out of the country. It was just safer to be in London. He said you can't run a legislature like that. And so, the meetings of parliament often have a hundred parliamentarians missing. That’s par for the course.

And they do meet. They do try to hammer out agreements, but they don't have much power. They don't have the ability to give commands and have them obeyed, for the most part. Some of them are party leaders or militia leaders in their own right, and they have a little more power. But apparently they're losing control of the grassroots. There was fighting in the city of Diwania not so long ago by Mahdi Army militiamen against the local Shiite government. Moqtada al-Sadr’s people say he didn’t order it. That was something that the local leader decided to get into. Well, it means he's not in control of the Mahdi Army in Diwania. And I think that's typical now. Iraq is becoming more and more fractured.
Fracturing? Well, yeah:

...Kurdistan increasingly is not operating under Iraqi law. They give out their own visas. They invite foreign companies to come and do prospecting without telling Baghdad. They recently have decided they're not going to fly the Iraqi flag anymore. I mean, you have an independent country here that has its own army. It says the federal troops may never step foot on Kurdish soil. So Iraq has become, for the Kurds, a mere fig leaf. They are doing whatever they want to do, and they don't want to anger Iran and Turkey to the extent of provoking hostilities, so they don't declare independence, but they are operating as though they are independent in all but name.
And, again, there is that question of justice:

JUAN COLE: Well, the term “Islamofascism” is a form of bigotry. It is an attempt to tie a great religious tradition, to which a very substantial portion of humanity belongs, and has belonged through the last millennium, to a Western secular political tendency, the fascist movement of the 1930s, which, by the way, wasn't influential in the Middle East among the Middle Eastern masses, and the intellectuals in Cairo denounced it. And it's just horrible to tie Islam and the Koran and the ideals of the Islamic religion, to try to tie them to Hitler and Mussolini. You know, if somebody were to do this to Christianity or Judaism, there would be an enormous outcry, but it's alright to do it to Muslims.
And what's justice got to do with it? Why can't we just ask these people to be reasonable?

In the Arab world, the first value people are looking for is local independence, and they judge everything that happens by how it affects their local independence. It's kind of an analogy to people who are concerned about state’s rights in the United States, so they don't want the federal government being in their business in a big way. Well, for the Arab world and for the Middle East generally, the United States is like the federal government. I mean, it is a presence in everybody's lives. It shapes people's policies; it shapes their lives, their culture and so forth.

And so, from their point of view, there was never any question, for the most part, in the Arab world, outside Iraq, that the American presence in Iraq would be bad for people. The opinion polls all showed this. And they felt, you know -- they had had a long experience with European powers coming in and ruling them, the French in Algeria and the British in Egypt, and so forth. And it always seemed to them a bad deal. So they had no question that the Iraq misadventure would go bad, and so they're not surprised at all that it has.

And from their point of view, the Lebanon war was an act of naked, unbridled Israeli unprovoked aggression on the whole country of Lebanon. It wasn't, as the western press depicts it, you know, the natural reaction of the Israelis to their soldiers being attacked and kidnapped.
And it's not just for the Middle East:

AMY GOODMAN: A lot was made of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez talking about President Bush as a devil. Can you talk about President Bush's language over time?

JUAN COLE: Well, my argument is that Bush started this, with his use of the phrase “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address, and I think it's shameful. I think that we are a secular country. Our law does not -- in fact, our law forbids the government from favoring any particular religion or for favoring religion over secular people. And the use of the word "evil" or "devil," these are theological terms. Personally, I don't believe in a personal Satan, and I resent my elected officials dragging me into a discourse about the world, in which whole countries are made satanic.

And what does that mean? It means you can't talk to them. They're evil. You can't sit down with them and negotiate. It takes diplomacy off the table. And once you take diplomacy off the table, what's left? Ultimatums and war. So this absolutist language, this theological language drags the secular republic into being a warmongering theological state, just in the essence of it. And Bush, when he starts calling other countries and leaders “evil,” well, aren’t they going to do the same thing to him? The immaturity and the clownishness of Hugo Chavez's comments were widely commented on, but nobody in the American mainstream press seems to think that Bush was being immature and clownish in talking about Iran as part of an axis of evil.
I don't agree, by the way, that "evil" is a strictly theological term, or that such terms are forbidden in public discourse or by public officials. But the problem of demonizing a nation is obvious. And justice, as a fundamental, has to take into account how actions affect all parties, not just the nation that likes to throw accusations around.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Much Ado About (Almost) Nothing

Piecing together a few idle bits about the new law the Three Amigos recently caved in on (is there any other way to put it?), and listening to this fairly neutral review of the provisions of the law on NPR the other morning, here is my prediction:

If this thing becomes law (and no, it shouldn't; and even if it does, does that help the GOP?), it will be immediately used in court by the government on Motions to Dismiss in all the cases pending by detainees at Gitmo.

Which is partly* how the Hamdan case got to the Supreme Court. On a Motion to Dismiss filed pursuant to the Detainee Treatment Act. Which is where this entire brouhaha got started. Which means it will probably have an even shorter shelf life than the law that prompted it.

What goes around.....

*Re-reading the Hamdan decision on the motion to dismiss, I realized the Administration and Congress are on very shaky ground with attempts to mess with habeas jurisdiction. The Court didn't take it all that seriously in Hamdan, because it didn't have to. But if this new law passes, I'll be very surprised if the Court doesn't fillet the Yoo position on Presidential power and the GOP position on habeas corpus. So this law may end up doing some good after all, as it may finally put those issues squarely before the Court.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Who is the Greatest?

I wrote this post late Saturday night, and finished it off very early Sunday morning. Then I went to church, and heard this gospel reading: Mark 9:30-37.

As Pastor Dan points out, to become a child is to become worthless. As late as the 13th century, it's to be the last person picked to be saved in the raging fire. That's the least among us. Children were an expense, especially in an agrarian society where the peasants Jesus talked to lived a subsistence existence, and children represented nothing but a drain on resources. This is still true today, but in Western society we have so many resources (well, those who can read this blog regularly do), that we have an abundance to share with our children. But one more mouth to feed until the child is big enough to shoulder the burdens of the family, or go off and start another one, is simply a burden, and nothing more. Perhaps not to the parents, but Jesus didn't say "Become the child of your parents again." He said, "Be received like a child." Like a worthless person, in other words, one incapable of returning the offerings and support given to you. The last. The least.

One other thing, though. Jesus says whoever would be first, must be last. Jesus institutes a constant race to the bottom, a relentless re-ordering of society which, if it were put into effect society wide, would create a constant churning as all those who were first immediately became last, and all those last immediately became first. And 'round and 'round it would go, in a never-ending movement in which no one could claim the superior position, because to do so would mean immediately you were dethroned; and to fall down to the bottom of the ladder, would mean immediately you were lifted up to the top. And at last, we would attain a true measure of equity, and equality, among everyone.

Call it, perhaps, even, justice.

Be reasonable! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!

If ever there was an object lesson on why justice, not reason, is the universal basis of conversation between cultures, this would be it:

A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the "centrality" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. Rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, it concludes that the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.
Emphasis added.

And what is driving these cells?
Previous drafts [of the NIE] described actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, and some policy makers argued that the intelligence estimate should be more focused on specific steps to mitigate the terror threat. It is unclear whether the final draft of the intelligence estimate criticizes individual policies of the United States, but intelligence officials involved in preparing the document said its conclusions were not softened or massaged for political purposes.
Father Jake sets me thinking about this, not from the point of view of international geopolitics or even American foreign policy, but from the perspective of a Christian. He raises another voice on the Pope's recent, controversial lecture. But he arouses the post-modern in me, the one who is far less sanguine about reason than some of my clerical peers.

Reason, Father Jake wants to assure us, and Pope Benedict wants to assure us, is universal, and is the common ground upon which we can meet. I must demur. Reason is a construct, at least in Western culture, of an Hellenistic ideal. Yes, it is the logos. But if it is the creative force of the universe, it is because it imposed order on chaos, and without its constant efforts, chaos will prevail; indeed, some day the logos will weaken, and chaos will reclaim what was its possession at the beginning. That is hardly a Christian view of Creation; but it is part and parcel of the Hellenistic idea and ideal of reason, as ineradicable from it as the accent marks of koine Greek. Reason is salvation to the Greeks only by an act of will. Salvation, for Christians, is an act of God, a gift of grace; and creation is not sustained by our will, but by the Creator who made it possible. And Creation was not an act of God's reason, or even an imposition of God's will (that would imply an object acted upon); it was simply an act of God. Reason is an important part of Christianity; but reason is Hellenistic; faith, perhaps better "trust," is Hebraic.

Starting as an imposition on disorder, reason in Western history quickly became the fundamental tool of empire, of oppression, of absolute (or near as possible) control. The eminently reasonable Socrates and Plato exerted their power over young boys, and gave themselves fine reasons for doing so. It is this, many New Testament scholars now believe, that Paul condemned in his references to what we, 20 centuries later, call "homosexuality." It was reason that established and maintained the Pax Romana. It was reason that wiped out the natives in this country. "Manifest Destiny" and "White man's burden" were reasoned attempts to justify the imbalanced exertion of power. It "won" the American West. It established the colonies of Western Europe, the Empire of Britain that girdled the globe. It was reason that justified those empires and colonies, because the people of those countries were self-evidently "unreasonable." Ignorant, backward, savage, they deserved the oppression and rule imposed upon them by superior force of arms. In the end, of course, they were so unreasonable the empire and the colonies could not be maintained.

Reason as a universal good? It is ironic, of course, that in the course of Pope Benedict's lecture, no mention is made of the reasoning of the Muslims which preserved the writings of Aristotle for, as it turned out, Aquinas, who used them to discern the natural law which is still the backbone of Catholic doctrine. No mention, either, of the Muslim mathematicians who gave us the concept of "zero." No mention of the Muslim philosophers, all as reasonable as any we rely on in Western philosophical history. Perhaps there simply was not enough time to mention that, too. That is a reasonable conjecture, isn't it?

Reason has always been identified with power. Those with the power, always claim to be reasonable. And their one standard for conversation, is that you reason as they do. If you do not, you are the one who is unreasonable. Children, women, "barbarians," "savages;" the distinctions go back to the Greeks who taught us to think this way in the first place. Reason always allows us to dismiss those who we claim do not think as we do, who are not "reasonable," and from there we can always justify doing what we wish to do, invoking the name of reason as our shield and our excuse and our warrant.

As Micah said: "What does the Lord require of you, but to be reasonable, to be merciful within the limits of reason, and to talk humbly with your God, becaus eit is reasonable to respect the one thing in the universe more powerful than you." At least, that's how we seem to have reinterpreted it over the centuries. "Be reasonable," we Christians tell the world. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand!" And it's a perfectly reasonable place, this kingdom of heaven. After all, it gave us reason first, so we could see how unreasonable the rest of the world is, and so bring the light of reason to them.

That is not Hebraic thinking. It is not the thinking of Abraham, or Moses, or David, or the Prophets; or of Jesus, or Paul. It is the thinking of our Hellenistic culture. It is the thinking we praise as "reason."

Premeditated murder is an act of reason, not of passion. That is why we reserve our severest punishment for what we consider the severest of crimes. A murder of passion is less heinous to us than an act that perverts the ends of reason.

But war is an act of reason too. The Administration spent months and strained the very purpose of government, to come up with reasons to invade Iraq. 9/11 was an act of reason. It was planned, calculated, deliberated, and deliberate. Acts of terrorism are acts of reason. They are not carried out by passion, but by reasoned deliberation in response not to unreasonable persons and actions, but injustice.

It is not reason that will save us. It is justice.

Especially in the context of Christianity, it is odd, even jarring, to hear people talk of the primacy of reason. But it is not because reason is the antonym of faith. It is not. Nor is doubt the antonym of faith, or emotion the antonym of reason. These are all parts of the human experience but they are not even points on a line, degrees on a spectrum, beads on a string.

When someone dies, it is not reason that comforts the family. When a child is born, it is not reason that first rejoices. When someone takes comfort in God, or refuge, or strength it is not because it is the reasonable thing to do. Christianity fundamentally provides something other than reason, offers something other than logos, or else it is simply a philosophical club.

Reason tells us we must be guided by sola scriptura. Reasons tells us we must follow tradition. Reason tells us homosexuals can be full members of the church. Reason tells us they cannot. Reason tells us we must follow the leadings of the Spirit. Reason tells us we must follow the dictates of reason.

Reason tells us we must take arms against our enemies and make war, for they make war on us. Reason tells us justice is too expensive, makes us too vulnerable, puts too much at risk.

No, reason is no better or more sure a guide than anything else. Even in John Rawls' superbly reasoned Theory of Justice, reason must be set aside in favor of imagination. Rawls' has us imagine an initial condition in which we don't know what we have, relative to anyone else. Reason then says fairness should rule, so none have more than we do, so none have an advantage over us. But reason is not the logic of Aristotle here, or the wise faculty of Aquinas discerning natural law; it is merely a means of calculation. Rawls' hypothetical is not even a seeking after justice. It is simply the uncertainty of selfishness, which uncertainty, behind Rawls' Veil of Ignorance, is certainly reasonable.

But so is taking advantage, if you have it. What blocks us from doing that is not reason: it is justice.

Justice asks: who sinned first? And: how have I erred? What have I done to contribute to this? In equity, it is called the doctrine of clean hands, and it is an absolute bar to seeking an equitable remedy. If you come to equity complicit in the wrong you complain of, equity will not hear your plea. That is a fundamental of justice: if you would seek its protection, you must comply with its strictures. Justice says: the first must be last, the last first. In that condition, consistently supplied, the first and the last are constantly trading places. In that constant churning, no one has advantage.

Justice looks at the situation in Iraq now and asks us all: what have you done? Justice shames us, not reason. Reason says more troops, more force, the application of more will, the projection of even more power, and all will be as expected, the outcome will be secured. Justice asks: at what price?

In the context of the day, it is quite reasonable for certain peoples to be joined in an "anti-Western agenda," and the further application of reason will not answer their concerns. It is reason which builds the cluster bombs and cruise missiles and bombers and tanks which destroy their villages and blight their lives. It was cold, calculating reason which led Israel to invade Lebanon and systematically destroy almost every building south of Beirut, bomb a refinery and trigger a major environmental crisis it has not even acknowledged. The only reaction to such "reasonable" behavior is the reasonable response of violence to meet violence. It is reason which fuels this cycle and keeps it turning. It is only justice that puts a spanner in the works, that puts a stick in the spokes and attempts to halt the wheel.

The attainment of justice, the commitment to justice, is a gift of the Spirit, in Christian teachings. The civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King is remembered today largely for his speeches. But it was the commitment to justice that prevailed, not Dr. King's eloquence. It was the commitment to peace and to using justice to undo injustice that led people to march in places like Selma, and endure dogs and fire hoses without protest, without rancor, without anger and the quite reasonable response of responding to violence with violence. It was the patience and resolve and suffering of the marchers in Selma that convinced America of the injustice of Bull Connor and of the apartheid system that was American law. It was the realization of just how unjust we are, and it was a Christian commitment to justice that made those marches effective. Not all the marchers were Christian, but the movement, Dr. King's movement, took its direction from Christ. And just as it did in South Africa, justice prevailed over injustice.

It is justice we must fight with; not reason. Reason did not move Nelson Mandela to endure years in prison and still come out a peaceful man. Reason did not move Dr. King to declare he had a dream; or to oppose Vietnam; or to seek fair pay for sanitation workers in Atlanta. Reason did not make him put his life at risk; seeking justice did. Reason brought us Vietnam. Reason brought us into Iraq. Reason keeps us there. And no one wants to talk about the problem, which is injustice. No one wants to recognize our complicity, which is the first demand of justice. No one wants to take responsibility for our actions, which is the first principle of justice.

It is not reason which will lead us to converse with Islam, which will bring Christians to the table with Muslims. It is justice. It is recognizing that to receive justice, we must do justice. It is not reason that will solve the problems roiling The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It is justice. It is recognizing that to receive justice, we must do justice. And that requires a great deal more of us than reason does. Reason, after all, allows us to say that our position is the starting point; that you must reason as we do, or you are being unreasonable. Justice demands that everyone wash their hands first, and all come before it as equals. Justice requires we humble ourselves, and seek common ground in our humanity, in our existence. Later, we can justify what is done with our reasons.

But first, we must be strong enough, and have faith enough, to be vulnerable. First, we must seek justice.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

All flesh is grass

This is who Congress wants to keep out of our court system:

And this is why:

It's hard to picture Haji Nasrat Khan as an international terrorist. For a start, the grey-bearded Afghan can barely walk, shuffling along on a three-wheeled walking frame. His sight is terrible - he squints through milky eyes that sometimes roll towards the heavens - while his helpers have to shout to make themselves heard. And as for his age - nobody knows for sure, not even Nasrat himself. "I think I am 78, or maybe 79," he ventures uncertainly, pausing over a cup of green tea.

Yet for three and a half years the US government deemed this elderly, infirm man an "enemy combatant", so dangerous to America's security that he was imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.

Arrested in early 2003, Nasrat - or "detainee 1009" as he was officially known - always insisted he was innocent. But recently his hopes started to slide and he feared dying far from his home in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

Then late last month, without warning, the US military let him go. Nasrat was flown to Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, the same way he had left: blindfolded, handcuffed and with his swollen half-paralysed legs chained to the floor. His lawyer was informed of the release, by email, after Nasrat had left Guantánamo Bay.

After he was handed over to Afghan officials his first act of freedom was practical and symbolic. He clambered out of his white jumpsuit and slipped into a shalwar kameez, the baggy pants and long shirts worn by most Afghans.

"I felt like I was born again," he recalled with a faint smile.
The irony of that last statement should not be lost on anyone.

As billmon notes (hat tip to Grandmere Mimi for the link), George Bush assured the country that those in Guantanamo, deserved to be in Guantanamo. But no one can say why, and no one ever told Nasrat Khan's lawyer:

Khan was not charged with a crime and Ryan said the government never said why he was detained.

"We couldn't figure out why he was there," Ryan said. "He could barely walk and he could barely hear."
And this is the cry the US is going to hear for generations: the cry for justice.

Some foreign visitors came too, including US officers from the base in nearby Sarobi. Nasrat welcomed them as warmly as everyone else. "They said they were sorry," he said afterwards. "I told them I have forgiven you for what you have done." But days later he fell sick with fever, and his reconciliatory spirit wore thin. He wanted compensation, he said, but more importantly he sought justice. "They told me one year ago I was innocent. So why did they only release me now?" he asked.
There are still 445 people in Gitmo, not counting the transfers Bush announced recently. 115 have been deemed eligible for release.

A voice says "Cry!"

and I say "What shall I cry? All flesh is grass."

Maybe Digby called the legislative conclusion, but I don't think Digby called the public reaction. The report on NPR this morning was clear-eyed and pragmatic, and said there was more left unsaid than said. Nina Totenberg's analysis yesterday was equally critical. The New York Times has another editorial up today, pointing out more flaws in the legislation. There are loopholes here that you could drive Humvees through:

Both the White House and Senate versions contain provisions on rape and sexual assault that turn back the clock alarmingly. They are among the many flaws that must be fixed before Congress can responsibly pass this legislation.

Rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse are mentioned twice in the bill — once as crimes that could be prosecuted before military tribunals if committed by an “illegal enemy combatant,” and once as “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes if committed by an American against a detainee. But in each case, the wording creates new and disturbing loopholes.
And the front page (on the website, anyway) article notes the "contradictions" and "legal paradoxes" in this proposed bill:

It would impose new legal standards that it forbids the courts to enforce.

It would guarantee terrorist masterminds charged with war crimes an array of procedural protections. But it would bar hundreds of minor figures and people who say they are innocent bystanders from access to the courts to challenge their potentially lifelong detentions.

And while there is substantial disagreement about just which harsh interrogation techniques the compromise would prohibit, there is no dispute that it would allow military prosecutors to use statements that had been obtained under harsh techniques that are now banned.
Sen. Carl Levin has announced his concerns with the proposed law, and while he hasn't promised a filibuster, he's made public his interest in preserving the rule of law, and invoked Sen. Leahy's name in that effort.

Is it all over but the crying? I'm not so sure anymore. This is beginning to seem clear, from the public reaction to the bill (by way of media reports, which is the most concrete reaction we're going to get):

“The only thing that was actually accomplished,” said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University and the author of a book on habeas corpus, “was that the politicians got to announce the existence of a compromise. But in fact, most of the critical issues were not resolved.”
And that's another loophole the Democrats could maneuver a victory through. It may be the Democrats will maneuver this bill into extinction, rather than grandstand it away. A loud noise of rejection might make some of us feel righteous and justified; but simple tinkering with the provisions might well kill it without leaving fingerprints the GOP could exploit.

And there is this, which I hadn't heard before:

The compromise adds a wrinkle, prohibiting the very invocation of the Geneva Conventions in civil cases and habeas proceedings and, depending on how one reads an ambiguous passage, perhaps criminal cases, too.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on Monday on limiting detainees’ habeas challenges. If Congress does not act, Professor Freedman said, the courts may reject the habeas provisions in the law.

“An attempt to throw out of court many hundreds of pending cases that the Supreme Court has twice held have a right to be there,” he said, “is not likely to be met with a favorable reaction in the Supreme Court.”
Apart from all that, the groundswell of opinion that demands security over civil liberties, just doesn't seem to be there. It may be a good time to gum this legislation to death, rather than engage in a dramatic confrontation. And it may still be that this is how God delivers us from danger. Not by coming down and setting fire to wood, but by making sure the angels of our better nature, and our better sense, finally prevail.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Let Those Saved By God Tell Their Story

Reading Psalm 106 last night, when the pattern struck me (you get used to reading something a certain way, you forget there are patterns in it; or maybe it's the translatsions)

Give thanks to the Lord of goodness,
for God is lasting love.

Let those saved by God tell their story:
how the Lord snatched them
from the oppressor's might,
gathering them from east and west,
from north and south.

They wandered through wasteland,
trekked over sands,
finding no city, no home.
Weak from hunger and thirst,
their lives were fading away.

Then they cried out to God,
who snatched them from danger,

leading them up a straight road
in a place they could settle

Let them celebrate God's love,
all the wonders revealed to them.

The Lord slaked their thirst
and filled their aching bellies.

There were some confined in darkness,
chained by suffering,
for they rejected God's word,
scorned the plan of the Most High.
Burdened by their misery
they fell with no one to help.

Then they cried out,
and God snatched them from danger,

shattering their fetters,
banishing the darkness.

Let them celebrate God's love
all the wonders revealed to them,

The Lord smashed iron bars
doors of bronze.

Disease struck down others,
for rebelling in their sin.
Sickened by food,
they almost died.

Then they cried out
and God snatched them from danger,

spoke a word of healing,
and kept them alive.

Let them celebrate God's love,
all the wonders revealed to them.

Let them offer a sacrifice of praise
and tell their story with joy.

Sailors went down to the sea,
traders on merchant ships,
and saw the works of the Lord,
all the wonders of the deep.

At God's command
a storm whipped up the waves,
high as the rolling clouds,
low as the fathomless depths.
Seafarers trembled,
lurching and reeling like drunks,
helpless without their skills.

Then they cried out,
and God snatched them from danger,
hushing the wind,
stilling the waters.
They rejoiced in the calm
as God brought them to port.

Let them celebrate God's love,
all the wonders revealed to them.

Let the assembly shout "Hallelujah"
and the elders sing praise in the temple.

God turns rivers into sand,
springs to thirsty ground,
rich earth to salt flats,
when evil dwells in a land.

But God turns deserts to flowing water,
dry land to fertile valleys,
and gives this place to the hungry
where they built their city.

They sow crops, plant vines,
and gather the harvest.
With God's blessing they prosper;
people and cattle increase.

But if they fail to prosper
and suffer oppression and pain,
God will scorn their leaders
and let the wander in chaos.
But God will lift up the poor,
shepherding them like flocks.

Good hearts, rejoice!
Evil mouths, be shut!
Let the wise listen
and wonder at God's great love.

Alright, so it's painfully obvious when it's pointed out. It just struck me, especially as I've been pondering bits of Mark recently. I'm set to preach on three consecutive Sundays in October, the longest stint of preaching I've done since 2001 (has it been that long? Where does the time go?). So, of course, I've been thinking about what to say. The last passage I'll preach on is the story of Bartimaeus. In my usual fashion, I picked up on the details of the story, hoping to find something interesting to say. And I noticed: a) Bartimaeus "cries out" to Jesus (well, we all knew that, didn't we?); and b) Jesus just says: "Okay, you have your sight back." Or something similar.

This last bit is important to me, because we humans love gestures. Harry Potter must brandish a wand and say the right words to get a spell to work. Although, really, it's a question of will. He must (this is obvious as the books progress) learn to discipline his will, to make will and desire one (the sub-text to the battle of Voldemort and Dumbledore in Order of the Phoenix, and a child's view of adults, who have, presumably, mastered such discipline). But we like gestures: Magneto wiggles his fingers, Jean Gray scowls, Jessica Alba (Sue Storm) hurls her "force field" by sweeping it out of her arm through her fingertips. Our will is usually extended through our hands, so we expect a gesture to complete the release, or transfer, of power. But Jesus doesn't mutter in another tongue here (Talitha cum) or spit in the dirt and rub it on the beggar's eyes (John has his reasons for telling his semeia story that way). He just says, basically: "Okay. It's done." A small thing. But, like John's story, Mark has his reasons for telling it this way.

Those reasons appear in Psalm 106. Not as a direct corollary, but as part of the understanding of who God is, and God's relationship to humanity. This verse is the most direct example, although it could apply to any of the healings:

Then they cried out
and God snatched them from danger,
spoke a word of healing,
and kept them alive.
Notice, too, that all of the healings are reversals: from death to life (the little girl to whom Jesus says "Talitha cum"); from blindness to sight; from lame to dancing. Rivers in the desert; fertile ground that was a wasteland. And all this at a word. God speaks, and there is light. God speaks, and a world is created, watered, fertile, populated. And when people cry out, God hears!

Something worth remembering today. Perhaps more of God's people need to cry out, eh?

It's still not weird enough for me

Hugo Chavez, a man vilified by the Bush Administration and given little, if any, positive press in the mainstream US media, holds up Noam Chomsky's book at the UN, and, says the BBC, now that book is #1 at Amazon.

Although, to put it in perspective, Chomsky's book on 9/11 was a bestseller on the NYT best-seller list (the one that matters) after 9/11.

So maybe this means nothing at all. But it's certainly interesting.

On the other hand

I am reminded of the Amistad incident, when lawyers and churchmen decided that persons on a slave ship were human beings deserving of humane treatment.

And they worked hard to make the courts agree.

There are powers other than the legislative and political that work in this country, and methods other then elections for changing the laws. Not even habeas corpus was granted to the people by King John, but had to be extracted by great effort. Our leaders may be quislings, but the people don't have to be. And religious individuals have an obligation, and a great authority, behind them and surrounding them. We have the clouds of witness to show us the way, and give us the courage, to do what is right. Especially for the alien and the foreigner and the stranger, to whom it can honestly be said we owe the greatest obligation of all. Especially those of us who call our selves Christians.

Because whatever we do to the least of these....

No one likes us,

I don't know why:

Even before the compromises began to emerge, the overall bill prepared by the three senators had fatal flaws. It allows the president to declare any foreigner, anywhere, an “illegal enemy combatant” using a dangerously broad definition, and detain him without any trial. It not only fails to deal with the fact that many of the Guantánamo detainees are not terrorists and will never be charged, but it also chokes off any judicial review.

The Democrats have largely stood silent and allowed the trio of Republicans to do the lifting. It’s time for them to either try to fix this bill or delay it until after the election. The American people expect their leaders to clean up this mess without endangering U.S. troops, eviscerating American standards of justice, or further harming the nation’s severely damaged reputation.
Maybe it's the way we think of them. Ya think?

Foreigners don't vote, though, do they? Foreigners are the reason we have terrorism. Foreigners are the reason we have to be "strong" on terrorism. And where do we go from here?

The White House and dissident Senate Republicans reached a tentative accord yesterday on legislation that President Bush said would provide for continued tough interrogations of terrorism suspects by the CIA at secret detention sites.
That article goes on to say "both sides declared that they had achieved their aims." Which tells you all you need to know about the political process in America. The two sides being referred to? The White House, and 3 GOP senators.

Gore Vidal is right. We are a one-party state, with a right wing and a far-right wing. This is not an unusual action. This is business as usual.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

This just in! Habeas Corpus is not dead!

But it may be on life support:

Both the legislation introduced on behalf of the administration and the competing bill sponsored by a group of largely Republican opponents in the Senate include a provision that would bar foreigners held abroad from using the federal trial courts for challenges to detention known as habeas corpus lawsuits. If the provision was enacted, it would mean that all of the lawsuits brought in federal court by about 430 detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would be wiped from the books.
Who backs this insane and unconstitutional notion? (Even Arlen Specter agrees with that.) Why, Sen. Lindsay Graham, the “maverick” who’s joined McCain in standing up to Bush:

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a sponsor of one of the bills eliminating the habeas corpus filings, said Wednesday that the flood of such lawsuits had hampered the war effort and given judges too much leeway to second-guess field commanders.

Mr. Graham said his bill provided an alternative by allowing detainees to challenge their detentions in the federal appeals courts but barring them from raising the broad range of complaints that are allowable in habeas corpus lawsuits.

“These enemy prisoners should not have an unlimited right of access to our federal courts like a U.S. citizen,” he said in an interview.
After all, due process and equal protection are not available to non-citizens. Right?

Oops. Guess they are. And why do we need habeas corpus? Well, because without it, we don't have a judicial system at all. We just have a detention system:

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a New York lawyer who has represented Guantánamo prisoners, said habeas corpus proceedings had demonstrated how many people have been detained on little evidence.

“There is also an irony in that people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed who are said to be responsible for the deaths of thousands will get a trial while hundreds of others, who are not even charged with any crimes, may be kept at Guantánamo forever without any court hearing,” he said.
And in breaking news, a reminder that it's always darkest before it goes completely black. Well, maybe it isn't that bad; but this is hardly reassuring:

Republican lawmakers said today that the Bush administration had reached an agreement with three crucial Republican senators on legislation to clarify which interrogation techniques can be used against terror suspects and to establish trial procedures for those in military custody.

Representative Duncan Hunter of California, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said a “conceptual agreement” had been reached.

This announcement followed a meeting at the White House between Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, and the three senators: John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Warner of Virginia. Mr. Warner said “we did our duty” after confirming that an accord had been reached.

Neither Mr. Warner nor Mr. Hunter offered no details of the accord, and it was unclear whether it satisfied all the senators’ demands. Nor was it clear how Democrats – who have largely stood aside while the Republicans feuded – would react.
Without details it's impossible to know what this means, but there's no reason to rejoice. We'll just have to see what the Democrats do, now.

BREAKING NEWS ALREADY BROKEN: As is usual with such a "hot" story, new details emerge immediately to cloud the picture. CNN's report is much less definite than the NYT's:

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans wrangling with the White House over proposed rules for the interrogation of suspected terrorists said there was a "50-50" chance of breaking the deadlock stalemating the legislation, said a Republican Senate staffer familiar with the negotiations.

The staffer referred to the White House proposal that was sent to Capitol Hill Monday night as "a serious offer on their part." But he said the senators were not "accepting it in its current form" and intended to send the White House a proposal of their own sometime Tuesday.


Sen. John McCain of Arizona, one of the Republican senators who has bucked the White House on the detainee issue, called the White House proposal "good" and said any counterproposal from the senators would be "part of the process."
Nothing to do but fasten your seatbelts again.

New and Improved Rule of Law!

It's not just for breakfast anymore!

The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

The former officials said the CIA interrogators' refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished.

When Mr Bush announced the suspension of the secret prison programme in a speech before the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, some analysts thought he was trying to gain political momentum before the November midterm congressional elections.

The administration explained its decision in light of the legal uncertainty surrounding permissible interrogation techniques following the June Supreme Court ruling that all terrorist suspects in detention were entitled to protection under Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions.

But the former CIA officials said Mr Bush's hand was forced because interrogators had refused to continue their work until the legal situation was clarified because they were concerned they could be prosecuted for using illegal techniques.

In an interview with the Financial Times, John Bellinger, legal adviser to the state department, said there had been "very little operational activity" on CIA interrogations since the passage last December of a bill proposed by Senator John McCain outlawing torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners.

Key figures among the 14 prisoners transferred to Guantánamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had been held in secret centres for three years or more.
So it wasn't about November, and it wasn't Karl's idea. It was Hamdan, and McCain. Which explains Bush's last press conference; and ties him even more closely to the war crimes that have so clearly been committed. But some of the pressure probably came from Europe, too:

The US has set out on a "new course" in engaging with its international allies over its treatment of terrorist suspects, according to a top Bush administration lawyer.

John Bellinger, legal adviser to Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, challenged Europeans to offer constructive suggestions about how to deal with this "really difficult" area, rather than simply making "criticism after criticism after criticism".

Mr Bellinger's comments come as the administration faces increasing domestic and international pressure in areas ranging from the interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects to the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

Mr Bellinger said in an interview with the FT that he had visited a dozen or more European countries in the past year and a half as part of an effort to establish a "common approach" to the problems of dealing with international terrorists.

"It may be that this would be not a binding multilateral treaty but an agreed approach to the policies and the rules," he said. "My prediction is that over the next six months there will be more conferences, more meetings and more discussions over what the rules and the policies ought to be going forward."
And still the lies go on:

Mr Bellinger conceded that questions raised about the US commitment to human rights and "moral clarity" had a "ripple effect" across the world, but he added that some of the criticisms were unfair and inaccurate.

He denied that the US used the practice known as "extraordinary rendition" to take suspects to other countries to be tortured. He said it was "ridiculous" to suggest there had been hundreds or even thousands of detainee flights, forming a "spider's web of rendition across Europe, and kidnapping people off the streets of every European capital from Ireland to Spain".
Alright, not a "spider web." Let's just talk about Mr. Arar's case. Seems to me the burden of proof is on the Bush Administration.