We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Artisit's Rendition of Witness Against Torture photo

The photo above, taken by WAT's Mike Benedetti and adapted by an artist, is from a recent Truthout article by Andy Worthington. The photo is of Luke and myself when Kairos Chicago joined Witness Against Torture and the 100 Days Campaign in Washington D.C. last Spring. We performed some street theatre at the Navy Memorial off Pennsylvania Avenue that highlighted the continued use of force-feeding at Guantanamo and other prisons like the expanding Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Our actions that day seemed like a small ripple, but perhaps the image above that accompanies Worthington's reporting and analysis is a bit of encouragement that our work is not for naught. I have noticed recently that much of the media images used for news stories on Guantanamo and torture feature photos from the resistance of Witness Against Torture.

For Immediate Release: Federal Judge Threatens NMD Volunteer with 25 Days Imprisonment

For Immediate Release: Federal Judge Threatens NMD Volunteer with 25 Days Imprisonment
**For Immediate Release**

Sarah Launius (520) 240-1641
(Español) Brook Bernini (413) 552-7661

Tucson, AZ--At a hearing on Friday, December 4, No More Deaths volunteer Walt Staton was threatened with 25 days imprisonment for leaving clean drinking water along known migrant trails in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR). Federal Magistrate Jennifer Guerin denied Mr. Staton's motion to modify or suspend his sentence pending appeal, and scheduled a probation violation hearing for December 21st.

Staton, a seminary student at Claremont School of Theology, was originally sentenced to 300 hours of community service on August 11, 2009. In a letter to the judge delivered prior to today's hearing, Staton stated that he cannot comply with the original sentence, adding: "When a government fails to respect and protect basic human rights--or, worse, is itself a violator--it is the responsibility of citizens to act in defense of those rights." A copy of the letter sent to Magistrate Guerin is available at www.nomoredeaths.org.

Following today's hearing, Staton stated: "I remain committed to upholding human rights while going through this process. I plan to take some time for personal reflection and discussions with family and faith advisers as I prepare to go back to the Court on December 21st and possibly go to prison." At the hearing, Magistrate Guerin suggested that Staton would be sentenced to 600 hours in prison--the equivalent of 25 days, or double the number of community service hours.

2009 was one of the deadliest years ever on the U.S./Mexico border. Since the mid-1990s U.S. border policy has channeled unauthorized migration into remote and fragile desert areas. This has resulted in more than 5,600 deaths along the U.S./Mexico border and damage to protected wildlife habitat. Many of these deaths have resulted from easily preventable heat illnesses and dehydration.

On Saturday, December 5, No More Deaths will hold a memorial action on BANWR. Members of the public and the media are invited to attend this action. A caravan will depart from Southside Presbyterian Church (9th Ave. and 23rd St.) at 8 am; participants are asked to bring a rock or bottle of water in order to help build an altar for those who have died along the Arizona/Mexico border in 2009.

No More Deaths continues to stand behind the position that "humanitarian aid is never a crime," and calls upon the government to recognize the human rights tragedy taking place along the border, suspend Walt's sentence, cease harassment of humanitarian aid workers and act quickly to achieve a Memorandum of Understanding with humanitarian aid groups to prevent needless death and suffering on public lands.

On January 12, 2010 at 9:30 am, 13 other humanitarian aid workers from a coalition of organizations will go to trial for placing water on BANWR. Since July 2009 these organizations have been involved in negotiations with officials from BANWR and the Department of the Interior, initiated by No More Deaths and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. No More Deaths calls upon the Department of the Interior to adopt a proposed Memorandum of Understanding that would facilitate cooperation with humanitarian organizations in responding to the human rights crisis taking place on public lands.

For more information:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fear of Living a Radical Life...

I had a lot of time to think this weekend. Bus rides for hours, dreams I remembered and the life I lived…they all melt together, bringing me to a place of distant joy and constant vigil for El Salvador. It was only yesterday that I stood at the gates of Fort Benning in Georgia and wept for my friends in the land of the Savior.

Resurfacing my memories of the rose garden where the Jesuits were dragged on the lawn in 1989…the place I took the #46 bus to in search of clarity…or the sweat dripping heat of the mid-day sun as I stand on the place where the church women were buried in a shallow grave….and then la capilla, the cold marble and the community of nuns who give tours of Romero’s small house amidst the ever present pain of the cancer hospital that he gave his final sermon at. I am humbled by the people of El Salvador…blessed to share my existence with them…forever changed in the mystery of why my journey led me to such a place. And so as I stood at the gates, with the tears flowing with each breath, I remembered these realities…the current violence, poverty and migration…why does my emotion surprise me?

Back in August of 2005 I was a bit innocent and filled with vague concepts of job descriptions. I didn’t quite know what I got myself into answering this call to service. And yet I knew I was already ruined…living some life that I had no role models for…some beaten path of my own drum or something like that. It rained for days for the first month I was there…full on hurricane, earthquake and volcanic eruption…forget about the martyrs, THIS is the reality. And the real depth of my experience came with each day, building relationships and living a daily abundance of gratitude.

I spend my days back then stuck to a computer, buried in human rights files or chatting with high school kids in some dusty town about the American Dream that doesn’t really exist…somewhere past Mexico. There were no expectations of being something I wasn’t…I don’t think. I lived differently…more fully. And I was terrified and in love…all at once. Was this a radical life?

I protest at Fort Benning, holding up my cross with the names of Ignacio Martin-Baro (a Jesuit psychologist), Ida and Jean and Romero….my spirit sings Presente! And yet I don’t know how present I really am…I drift to memories and longing. At the Kairos meeting a question I pondered was, “If I was not afraid, what would I do?” I made a list in my head, now converted to paper…I realized that my life is too calculated. And despite my intentionality in life, I still falter in facing my fears.
If I were radical, I might consider taking up a few of these issues on my list. I might …put my life where my mouth is.

If I was not afraid, I would….
o Take time each day to write my thoughts down
o Speak up more in groups, class and conversations
o Spend money on things I want to do (travel)
o Give away my possessions to the poor
o Wake up early in the morning and pray
o Tell people how much I appreciate them
o Begin full discernment for Maryknoll
o Cry more often (good insight comes)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

on being an "adult" and the process of re-radicalization

at 3am, i finished a 4-day trip (with 26 hours of driving) to protest the School of the Americas/WHINSEC in Ft. Benning, GA.

Within that statement lives a world of confusion and joy and challenge and faith.

The last time I went to the SOA protest was in 2005 with the lovely JVC folks. I was young and hurting and in need of community. And I found it - I still have fond memories of time with Alex, hitting the Waffle House with Christine, and writing a wonderful poem for Erica at the JVC Atlanta house.

Now, I'm almost 30, still hurting but not so young. The world stings in different ways now, and my response is different, too. Going down to Georgia with 16 semi-strangers (and the lovely Amy) and arranging all the logistics and managing personal dynamics and trying to make sure we had gas and cars and food and lodging helped distract me, temporarily, from how i felt being there.

But, eventually, when it all calmed down and I remembered that everyone was a grown-up, I didn't have anything to distract me. And that's when I realized how far I'd come from who I wanted to be. Being older than many folks here, I struggle with what it means to live like a grown-up. I hadn't ever really sat down to think about the ways I've pre-defined my adult life. Adults don't protest. Adults don't get arrested. Adults don't drive 13 hours each way to learn things they might just have downloaded from the Internet. Adults don't really think that saving the world is feasible or that protests are effective or efficient. And I'm nominally an adult, so I expected myself to believe those things, too. But, then...

In our hotel room, after a semi-exhausting day, we made crosses. I looked at the list of martyrs from the slaughter at El Mozote to find a name to put on my cross. I chose Telesforo Marquez. He was 35 when he was killed. He was also deaf and mute. It made me think of folks I've known with disabilities, including my own mother. I thought about what it means that my government had any role at all in training soldiers who then went home and committed these acts against their own people. Do you know how many children were on the list of the dead at El Mozote? Until we fully acknowledge the role that the US played in providing tactical training for these killers, we can't claim to be a country that loves peace and freedom. At all.

While writing down Telesforo's name and details, I realized how incredibly selfish and safe I've become. What good does it do to come to a protest with all my baggage and not fully examine the ways that I'm culpable, the ways I sin? Every Sunday, I stand with my Catholic brothers and sisters and tell them that I've sinned in my thoughts and my words, in what I've done and in what I've failed to do.

But I don't always think of sins by name. In that hotel room, I knew that I've sinned by not exploring the privilege I inherit as an American and what that privilege takes away from others. I've sinned in not being brave enough. I've sinned in being safe. I've sinned in thinking that my form of world-changing is better than yours. I've sinned in my desire for comfort over the kingdom of God.

I'm sick of being a sinner.

So, this Sunday, I went to "mass" in front of the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia. We offered to break bread with a cop, and we all provided the homily and the blessing over the bread and the wine. We looked through barbed wire toward a world that's not as it should be. And we prayed for it. And we prayed for ourselves. And we let the dead bury the dead, but remembered their names in the land of the living. With every "Presente!", we called the dead back to us, carried them with us, and set them down in front of the gates of Ft. Benning, with prayers and sorrow for all the ways that our country sins, in its thoughts and deeds, and in all it does and fails to do.

And it was the most adult thing I could have done.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Day Without Water

Heading out for my usual noon stroll with the baby I encountered my upstairs neighbor, Tristan, confronting the maintenance men who were working on the unit across the hall. They had once again failed to inform us residents that the building water supply would be cut off. I’d noticed this earlier but had chosen, as I am wont, to accept the injustice with apathetic resignation. For me it seemed little more than a minor inconvenience, so slight in fact that it did not even register as a real irritation. I had enough to keep me busy without calling the landlord to suggest the benefits of increased communication with his tenants. I was glad to see Tristan picking up the slack for the rest of us but also a little embarrassed. My feeling of embarrassment came, not from him speaking up, but the way and to whom he chose to make his voice heard. His tone was irate, inadequately masked by polite language, and addressed to a fella whose blank expression and reluctance to speak more than one or two words of English indicated a lack either of understanding or of interest.

When I got back from walking I put the baby to bed and set about preparing lunch. The lack of access to running water confronted me with a realization of how constantly I would typically use it. I faced the lack when I wanted to boil an egg, to rinse my hands after chopping vegetables, to wash the dishes that were now filling the sink, to make tea after I’d finished eating but still had the craving to consume (that is another issue, for another time). What would I do if I was in a situation in which water was not available for days or weeks at a time? What would I do if I was personally responsible for gathering the water I would use and once it was gone, it was gone; no turning on the faucet to bring it back? What would I do, in other words, if water was always—not just for these few hours because of maintenance work—in limited supply?

I will say here that I do realize there is in fact a limited supply and water has in many ways become a commodity. Though I concede being ignorant of much of the fresh information on this topic that is making the rounds I am cognizant that there is a dangerous scarcity of water in not only in developing countries but within our borders. That being said, however enlightened my intellect may or may not be about water challenges, I do not feel the truth of it. I don’t feel it because it is not part of my personal experience. When I want water, I call it forth with the flip of my wrist. Experience leads me to feel—whatever I may think to the contrary—that the water running through the faucet is something I have a right to and power over. I feel entitled to it, offended if my expectations are not met (What? Nothings coming out! It’s coming out brown? Outrageous!). It seems quite natural that water should run into my home and become automatically hot or cold according to my preference.

As long as this is my experience of “reality” genuine empathy eludes me and all that I can feel is a kind of billowy sympathy for the family in Eastern Kentucky in a trailer with no plumbing, not because it’s being repaired but because it doesn’t exist. I certainly can have no sense of solidarity with entire regions in India, Africa, Latin America, etc, where the only accessible water supply is contaminated. I recently saw a story on the Real News about a litigation case between the government of El Salvador and a Canadian mining company called Pacific Rim. The latter wanted to establish a mining operation a few miles from the town of San Isidro and was rejected. A primary concern for those in El Salvador is contamination. There is demonstrable evidence that gold mining consistently contaminates water supplies. Already only one third of El Salvador’s water supply is drinkable and they are anxious not to see their source diminished any further. Pacific Rim, through some clever machinations, is suing the government of El Salvador via a U.S. subsidiary for violating a free trade agreement.

This story grabbed my attention and I had intended to follow it, keeping track of what was happening and looking to see if there was any way that I could support El Salvador’s decision to prohibit the miners. Four days later, this is my first time to revisit the matter. The thought has presented itself a few times, but without the motivating force of feeling one would expect in the face of injustice. The thought came more as an inconvenience, an interruption so slight in fact, that it did not even register as a real irritation. I had other things to do and put the thought aside with apathetic resignation. Just like the plumbing, I expected someone else to handle it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kairos Chicago to Gather in Columbus, GA

Kairos Chicago @ The SOA

Kairos Chicago will be gathering for an afternoon of study and reflection on Saturday, November 21, in Columbus, Georgia. We will gather @ 4:00 pm and begin our meeting @ 4:30 pm to spend some time in conversation and community before the Ignatian Family Mass. All are welcome to join us. Feel free to spread the word and contact us for more information or if you are having trouble finding us. We will meet @ the park across the street from the Coca-Cola Space Science Center (at Front Ave & 7th Street, just South of the Convention Center). Contact Jake Olzen: 847.372.4289 or Jerica Arents: 262.366.3785 for further questions.

Also, on Sunday Morning, we will gather for a celebration of the Word and Eucharist. This inclusive, community-centered liturgy will take place just inside the gates to Fort Benning @ 7:30am to read scripture, break bread, pray together, and share the sign of peace.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Climate Justice Fast

Climate justice activists have begun a month-long, water only fast as the world prepares for the international climate talks in Copenhagen during early December.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Beyond Talk...

"Now you've got flash mobs and sky art, like the Climate 350 people who all stood together and made a 350," he said. "No mining company executive is shaking in his boots when he sees 500 people standing together in a field. It's about the confrontation. That's what these actions lack - they're creative but they're not creative confrontation." - Mike Roselle

Lately I've been feeling called to respond to the urgent need for comprehensive environmental and climate change. I got my start in activism through environmentalism but as war, torture, and immigration have entered more into my consciousness, that has been the realm I've participated in. We live in a desperate and finite time for the health of life-giving earth. I am interested in how we can step up our resistance, organizing, and commitment to environmental change and sustainable living in ways beyond what is easy for us: organic foods, local living, conserving water. We need to create confrontation with those killing our planet. Please read the full article that the comment above is excerpted from on Common Dreams:
"Long-Time Environmental Activist: 'It's About the Confrontation,'" check out Chris Hedge's article "A Reality Check from the Brink of Extinction," and visit Beyond Talk - A Climate Pledge of Resistance. I challenge us to seriously consider the ways we are called to nonviolently resist and put our earthly bodies on the line.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Faith like a Child: Living Without Value

Even a brief, cursory reading of the Christian Scriptures can give us a deep appreciation and invitation to the teachings of Jesus and unlock a call to conversion and holiness that lasts a lifetime. From a perspective of evangelization, this universal accessibility to understanding the Gospel certainly reflects the timelessness of the Word of God and the call to preach it to all the nations. No doubt there is spiritual meaning and value to reading the Gospel within the context of one’s contemporary time and place, but in doing so does one run the risk of not fully understanding who the person of Jesus was historically or what it was that he was preaching? To take a person out of his or her temporal and environmental space can often distort the radical depth of his or her teachings and message. The way in which our modern understandings of language and patterns of thought have certainly done this to Jesus, both to his full humanity and to his full divinity, has altered his message in such a way that the radical inclusivity of the Reign of God that humanity to has been invited to is devalued. For me, Jesus’ teaching for us to be like children (Mt 18: 1-4) has wide-reaching consequences for my community, not just my own personal spirituality.

Albert Nolan, in his book Christianity Before Jesus, contextualizes how scandalous it was for the people of Jesus’ day to hear “unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” For many, the popular image of a smiling Jesus surrounded by young, clean-cut children is a heartfelt reminder for us to return to a simple, joyful, and anxiety-free childhood. One imagines Jesus’ rebuke to his disciples to be akin to someone telling us to “take it easy” and be more light-hearted. But Nolan is quick to point out that “there is no evidence whatsoever for the popular opinion that that the image of the little child is an image of innocence” (Nolan, p. 69). In fact, the image of the child is one that shakes up Jesus’ Jewish audience because children had absolutely no status: The child is a live parable of “littleness,” the opposite of greatness, status, and prestige. Children in that society had no status at all – they did not count (Nolan p. 69).

In a society where “the dominant value was prestige” to say that children were the ones who were able to enter the kingdom of heaven is a complete reversal of the social values and hierarchy (Nolan p. 67). Those who are not even considered part of society, the children, are the ones who make up the kingdom of heaven. One must rid or detach oneself of prestige, honor, and social standing in order to become like a little child and enter the kingdom of heaven. It is a reality that many of us in the West, where we think of children having rights and being the first to receive care and attention, have a hard time to understanding. Because of our Western hermeneutic, without contextualizing Jesus within his time and how children were viewed within that society, we totally misinterpret what God is calling us to: a way of life that undoes placing worth and value on prestige and honor. The Kingdom of God is devoid of the social ladder; it is a

society in which there will be no prestige and status, no division of people into inferior and superior. Everyone will be loved and respected, not because of one’s education or wealth or ancestry or authority or rank or virtue or other achievements, but because one like everybody else is a person (Nolan p. 71).

By taking Jesus out of his historical time and place and not properly situating what Jesus intended it to mean when Jesus said to “become like children,” we radically depart from the rich spirit of inclusivity that Jesus scandalously taught.

In connecting to Nolan’s insistence that “becoming like children” was a shocking, provocative invitation that Jesus seriously meant, I was also moved by how Nolan describes Jesus’ own disassociation with prestige and honor to be in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. The way Nolan describes Jesus’ compassion is particularly challenging because of what it demands, but such compassion is an invitation into a deeper communion and love with God and others. Nolan names this the “paradox of compassion:”

The one thing that Jesus was determined to destroy was suffering: the sufferings of the poor and the oppressed, the sufferings of the sick, the sufferings that would ensue if the catastrophe were to come. But the only way to destroy suffering is to give up all worldly values and suffer the consequences. Only the willingness to suffer can conquer suffering in the world. Compassion destroys suffering with and on behalf of those who suffer. A sympathy with the poor that is unwilling to share their sufferings would be a useless emotion. One cannot share the blessings of the poor unless one is willing to share their sufferings (Nolan 138).

To become like a child means to endure the suffering of non-recognition, being counted last, and often going without food, shelter and other basic needs being met. This can be a hard pill to swallow, but in a world of increasing material poverty, resource abuse, and environmental crisis, it is a message that the world most needs to hear – not only does our spiritual salvation rely on it, but now our continued existence relies on it, too!

Nolan’s emphasis on the paradox of Jesus’ compassion through suffering was an affirmation of my vocation in the Catholic Worker movement and the reality of the cross being our path to liberation. A friend of mine is fond of saying that a way of liberation must pass through fire – that is, suffering. The passage cited above breaks my heart open and allows the message of Jesus’ suffering, nonviolent love to pass through me. But after that prayerful, contemplative moment I begin to realize what such a radical invitation to compassion might ask of me and fear and trembling sets in. It is no wonder that thee popular media that encourages us to have faith like a child misses the true, deep meaning of Jesus’ comparison: the truth is a hard message to hear and not an attractive one to sell!

Over the past week, the Gospel message of ridding oneself of prestige and social standing so that I can better be in solidarity with and for the poor has reminded me of the importance of the revolution of the heart. I can practice the corporal works of mercy, but if it leads to judgment of others and a self-edification that presumes honor in the eyes of God, I am not living the faith and spirit Jesus preached. If I can carry with me the Christian message to become like a child, one without status or attachment to my privilege – and encourage others to practice that faith – I think my ministry with students and in the Catholic Worker will be more faithful to what Jesus historically invited his followers to.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama’s Eternal Vigilance?

By Jerica Arents

In the third monotonous hour of waiting to be processed at the Anacostia Park Police Station, my eyes fell on a post-9/11, Bush-era FBI reward poster mounted in front of me.

The Cost of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance, propagated the sign. The madness is as prevalent today as it was eight years ago: Obama is continuing Bush’s folly.

Entering our ninth year in Afghanistan, sixty-one anti-war activists were arrested in front of the White House Monday morning calling on President Obama for an end to the war in Iraq, an end to the escalation and occupation of Afghanistan, an end to the drone bombings in Pakistan, and a swift closure of Guantanamo and Bagram military prisons.

An estimated 500 protesters watched as some of us clad in orange jumpsuits and black hoods chained ourselves to the fence, while others carried coffins, participated in a die-in, and wore shrouds with the faces of Iraqi and Afghan war victims and shouted, “Mourn the dead, heal the wounded, end the wars.” Among the peace groups were Witness Against Torture, the War Resister’s League, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance and Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

It is no secret that Americans are in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; 58% of the public is now against these U.S.-led wars, while legislators across the House and Senate, from Rep. Barbara Lee to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are calling Gen. McChrystal’s request for escalation in Afghanistan into question.

As mediocre bills to end war funding circulate endlessly through the white walls of Congress, I sit listening half-heartedly to the news on the reverberations of the day’s dead, the unbounded detention of innocent men, the infinite proliferation of weapons and warmaking, manufactured to take away the tiny, dirty hands and feet of the voiceless poor.

Eternal vigilance is the cost of my freedom, I am told. The richest country in the world with a monopoly on over a fourth of the earth’s resources, our freedom now is somehow guaranteed in playing the super-Vigilante of the impoverished country of Afghanistan, targeting the loosely connected, oftentimes illiterate and highly unskilled network of the Taliban.

Our strategy is to massacre and enter without looking back, destroying all opportunity for a collective livelihood and security, and leaving thousands of Afghans in IDP camps homeless and barefoot and uncertain of the U.S.’ interference in the first place.

We have spent over one third of my life in Iraq and Afghanistan, wrought with unfulfilled promises and millions of shattered lives. I believe deeply that I am implicated in the crimes my country is committing against our innocent sisters and brothers. My daily complicity is only reinforcing Obama’s – and before, Bush’s – paradigm of occupation and militarism, the culturally insensitive, ever-increasingly expensive and destructive ways of those in power.

Fifty one percent of my taxes (and yours) are spent on our country’s military machine. In Afghanistan, over 90 percent of the current administration’s spending is on military operations – leaving a miniscule amount to rebuild bombed schools, reconstruct neighborhoods of decimated houses, provide even excruciatingly low levels of medical care, or attend generally to the common stories of desperation.

So I did the only thing I could.

Remembering the name and family of a Guantanamo detainee cleared for release under the Bush administration and still being indefinitely detained today, I secured the chain that locked my wrist to the White House fence. Like those who have been held for eight long years, like the Pakistani women mourning their dead children after an unmanned aerial drone attack, like the Afghan villagers wanting desperately to return to their fields, I am locked to the actions the United States makes on my behalf. I’m hoping desperately our country’s ruthless vigilance isn’t predestined to be eternal.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

“Hate the sin and not the sinner”

Have you experienced strained or broken relationships in your family or among friends because of serious differences in politics, moral values, or religious beliefs? These differences, which are important, can sometimes make it seem impossible for two people to get along, or to relate to each other. In a recent HSBC television commercial, however, a beautiful story is told. Despite serious differences in values, it is possible for “opponents” to be in a relationship and to love each other.

The woman featured in the commercial – a Greenpeace activist? – engages in direct action and civil disobedience in an effort to halt deforestation. Later, when she is bailed from jail, we learn that her partner is one of the loggers. (As she was cuffed and hauled away, he walked past her with a chainsaw in hand.) From the jail, they ride home on a motorcycle, showing affection for each other. When we see their extreme differences in values, we wonder how this relationship is possible. How could they love each other?

Mohandas Gandhi, in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, writes:
Man and his deed are two distinct things. Whereas a good deed should call forth approbation and a wicked deed disapprobation, the doer of the deed, whether good or wicked, always deserves respect or pity as the case may be. ‘Hate the sin and not the sinner’ is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world. This ahimsa [nonviolence] is the basis of the search for truth. I am realizing every day that the search is in vain unless it is founded on ahimsa as the basis. It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator.
Gandhi practiced this ahimsa. He never excluded anyone from his search for truth and struggle for justice. He refused to build walls between himself and the “opposition.” Instead, he listened intently for others’ values and their “pieces of the truth.” Before making any public statements condemning police mistreatment of Indian immigrants in South Africa, Gandhi would approach the Police Commissioner – in good faith – to hear his side of the story. If plantation laborers registered complaints about working conditions, Gandhi didn’t jump to conclusions. He included the owners in his fact-finding mission. Gandhi “hated the sin but not the sinner,” and we are challenged to do the same. It is easy to be judgmental and sectarian in our fight for justice and defense of values, but Gandhi shows us another way. His supreme confidence in the truth dispelled any fear he had of “opponents.” In this commercial, HSBC gives us a glimpse of ahimsa in action.

Author's disclaimer: In posting this commercial, it is not my intention to “advertise” HSBC or its practices. I admit a personal bias – fair or not – against large institutions that are involved in banking and financial planning. For instance, when they market themselves, I suspect their motivation to profit-oriented, not people-centered. That being said, it is because of my personal bias that this HSBC commercial serves as a perfect opportunity to practice “finding a piece of the truth” in my opponent’s perspective. In whatever ways HSBC might be wrong, they are right in recognizing that people value things differently, and in this commercial, they portray this reality in a beautifully human way.

Note: this posting has also been published at http://wagingnonviolence.org/.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Political Extremism

This week's TIME cover story features Fox News commentator Glenn Beck.

Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?
By David Von Drehle / TIME / Sept. 17, 2009

I try to watch Glenn Beck as much as possible, leaving me with certain questions: how widespread is his audience? Is he becoming more mainstream? Is this how liberals sounded during the Bush administration? The rhetoric is eerily familiar: the government is ignoring the people, disregarding the constitution, moving toward fascism/socialism, etc., and thus, we are in desperate need of a revolution. For me, it didn’t sound obnoxious then, but it does now. Is that simply my political bias, or has extremist rhetoric been exposed for what it is?

[If you'd like a concrete example of what could be considered "extremist rhetoric", I'll send you parallel images of Bush and Obama being compared to Hitler. (I have judged that it would not be appropriate to post the images here.)]

I'm interested in what you think, especially if you are critical of my analysis. Some people have already posted some interesting comments on my facebook place. You can find the article and comments on my "wall" or in my "links."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Closing of Guantanamo: Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

It is incredibly disheartening, and somewhat surreal, to begin entertaining the idea that Guantanamo may never actually close. Amy Goodman reported, on Democracy Now, that:
The Obama administration has indicated it could miss a self-imposed January deadline to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Thursday, top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said he can’t “say with certainty” the prison will close on schedule. Brennan made the comments after a speech outlining the Obama administration’s strategy for countering terrorism. Brennan said the US will drop the term “war on terror” in favor of “war on al Qaeda."
While many of us with the 100 Days Campaign and Witness Against Torture realized the difficulty and urgency in closing GITMO, the promising signs of Obama's executive orders on his first day of office seemed to offer some hope. But again we see the political partisanship usurp human rights and the common good. How easy it is to obscure the reality of torture in fear-mongering language and ardent nationalism. Witness Against Torture has given a lot to trying to shut down Guantanamo, Bagram, and end torture. But no matter how depressed and heart-broken we may be because of the short-sightedness of our political leaders and the injustices they perpetuate, we must continue to be present to the suffering of our brothers in Guantanamo. In a spirit of solidarity and compassion, we must not give up. Their hope must give us hope. We do not have the privilege of giving up this fight. Like our banner said that we held at the White House for 100 days, "Justice Delayed is Justice Denied." May Dr. King's words inspire us to recommit ourselves to freeing our brothers in captivity.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Obama blocks U.N. access to Guantanamo

The Obama Administration continues to backpeddle on its promise to close Guantanamo, end torture, and have more transparent government. The Washingtion Post reports that the U.S. is blocking U.N. officials from investigating the prisons dark history:

The Obama administration has declined requests from U.N. human rights investigators for information on secret prisons and for private interviews with inmates at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, U.N. officials said, dampening their hopes of greater U.S. cooperation on human rights issues.

The rebuffs are the latest instances of the U.S. government resisting international human rights organizations' efforts to learn about Bush administration practices. In June, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton turned down a request from the top U.N. anti-torture official for a meeting in Washington to discuss practices at secret CIA detention centers and at Guantanamo Bay, despite the administration's avowed commitment to being open to greater scrutiny by the United Nations.

The tortured legacy of Guantanamo continues and President Obama is setting himself up to lose friends in the human rights community.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Peace advocates plan to apologize for nuclear bombings

CNS News Feed

Peace advocates plan to apologize for nuclear bombings

A group of faith-based peace activists will lead a small contingent to Japan to mark the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and to apologize for the U.S. action.

“We want to acknowledge the tremendous damage done by our country, by what has happened,” long time Tacoma, Wash., peace advocate Jesuit Father Bill Bichsel told Catholic News Service. “We wish to attach ourselves to the continued work of nuclear abolition.”

The trip gets under way July 31. Sixteen people from various faith traditions will make the journey to the two cities on the anniversaries of the bombings: Aug. 6 for Hiroshima, Aug. 9 for Nagasaki. The group includes Dominican Sister Teresa Montes, Franciscan Father Louis Vitale, Catholic Worker and U.S. Navy veteran Tom Karlin and Mitch Kohjima, a former Buddhist monk.

Father Bichsel, 81, who has committed acts of civil disobedience to express his opposition to the nuclear weapons present at the Naval Base Kitsap near Seattle, has been working with Bishop Joseph Atsumi Misue of Hiroshima and Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki to coordinate activities.

The apology is necessary in order to begin to repent for the sins of war, Father Bichsel said.

“What we have done not only has inflicted tremendous damage on the Japanese, it also has done tremendous damaged on the (American) people when we don’t remember what we have done,” he said.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Reflections on the April 30 direct action

More than one month has already passed since the April 30 conclusion of THE 100 DAYS CAMPAIGN TO CLOSE GUANTÁNAMO AND END TORTURE in Washington, D.C., so now I am wanting to offer some brief reflections about my experience.

Denied permission to risk arrest

While I was grateful that my Jesuit superiors supported and encouraged my work with THE 100 DAYS CAMPAIGN in both early March and late April, it was painful and difficult to be told that it was “not the right time in my formation” to risk arrest in front of the White House with 61 fellow activists on April 30. At the time, I believed that God had called me to resist the injustice of Guantánamo by engaging in civil disobedience. Thus, my superior’s wishes left me feeling quite frustrated and confused. Committed to Jesuit life, however, I also resolved to remain perfectly obedient. Since those difficult days, I have been gently reminded in my prayer that it is Jesus himself who missions (or does not mission) Jesuits, and this has provided me with a great deal of consolation.

That being said, being in D.C. was an extraordinarily powerful and transforming experience of living faith and resisting injustice; how could I possibly do it justice in this humble attempt to share the experience with you? Nevertheless I will do my best.

Inspired by these friends of Jesus

The night before the final action, we listened to several speakers and musicians at an event called “Christian Peace Witness for Iraq” at the National City Christian Church. The Brothers Frantzich moved me to tears with their beautiful song, “The Mountaintop,” which is based on the speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the night before his assassination. “I have been to the mountaintop and I have seen the promised land,” Dr. King told his audience. “I may not get there with you,” he prophetically said, but then promised, “but I know that we as a people will get through to the promised land.”

Liz McAlister, member of the Jonah House faith and resistance community, also spoke that evening, reflecting on the prophet Isaiah, who said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone… For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames” (Isaiah 9:1,7). As we spend trillions on weapons and wars, we drench ourselves in blood. In fear and trembling, Liz confessed, “Our whole way of life is at odds with these Scriptures…and how that truth hurts!” And yet, amid such darkness, Isaiah’s vision “ignites our hope,” she said. Liz’s words inspired me, no doubt; but what gives her credibility is how she lives her life. Her entire life is a testimony to the Gospel.

I feel similarly about Carmen Trotta, who, the next day, delivered a “pep talk” to the 200 activists who would march from the Capitol Building to the White House. A NYC Catholic Worker, Carmen expressed his fear for our nation. We are traveling down a dark path, he said. Have we fully reckoned with the consequences of global warming? Are we prepared for the fallout of the financial crisis? Will we remain silent as our Constitution is ripped into shreds? Only someone who prays, lives close to the poor, and has eyes to see (Mark 4:12), as Carmen does, is able to articulate the indivisible nature of these realities and our corresponding moral duty to non-cooperate with this darkness.

The nonviolent direct action

In front of the White House, 62 nonviolent activists moved into the “non-protest zone” and subjected themselves to arrest for “failure to disperse.” Donning orange jumpsuits and black hoods, the activists represented the five prisoners who died in custody at Guantánamo and the 60 men who have been cleared for release yet remain detained. As hundreds of curious tourists watched the demonstration, the prisoners unfurled a large banner, which read, “JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED.” Dr. King wrote these words from Birmingham Jail to express his impatience with the status quo of segregation and the unwillingness of community leaders to take more immediate action. Related to Guantánamo, we, too, are impatient with the status quo. Some of our brothers have been unjustly detained for over seven years now. Not another day, we say!

As the arrests happened, I used a loudspeaker to tell the stories of the men cleared for release, who continue to be wrongly slandered as “the worst of the worst.” As I read their stories, I felt sorrow, solidarity and anger. But I also felt deep joy and consolation as I watched four friends from Loyola University being arrested. In a small way, they had given up their freedom to be in solidarity with the men at Guantánamo. I am consistently inspired by the depth of their faith and the courage of their resistance.

Did we accomplish anything?

For 100 days, we prayed, fasted, wrote letters, made phone calls, and met with members of Congress. On the final day of the campaign, 62 activists engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience – and now await trial. What, if anything, has resulted from these efforts? In one sense, almost nothing. Since January, only a few men have been released, and currently, about 230 men remain in Guantánamo. Due to fear-mongering and political pressure, it is no longer certain that Guantánamo will be closed by January 2010. And yet, we have seen some progress in recent days: four Chinese Uighurs have already been released to Bermuda, and the remaining 13 are slated for release to Palau. Guantánamo’s youngest prisoner, Mohammed Al-Gharani has been released to Chad, while longtime hunger striker Ahmed Zuhair has entered the rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia.

We must always remember that we are ultimately called to conscience and faithfulness, not success. And I believe that the campaign has been faithful to the God who desires “the release of those bound unjustly” (Isaiah 58:6). We also have the consolation of knowing that our humble efforts are known and appreciated by the prisoners. Djamel Saiid Ali Ameziane, an Algerian citizen who remains in Guantánamo, sent this message:

I want to greet these protesters. I was moved by what they were doing, and very touched. It makes my heart warm to know that there are still people in America refusing injustice – no matter what excuses – and still fighting, so that there will not continue to be justice for the strong and injustice for the weak, this double standard of injustice. There should be one justice for all. What they’re doing represents real American values – the noble intentions of the founders of the United States. The world is very proud of you, and I express my deep thanks.

How is God calling us now?

When asked about Guantánamo in 2006, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, responded, “Wherever in the world inmates are being held in such conditions, we will not fail to defend them.” Even though the official campaign has ended, we cannot allow ourselves to become resigned to the intolerable status quo. We must continue to defend the dignity and rights of these prisoners. So these days, I am asking the Lord for a deeper understanding of the Guantánamo issues, greater clarity about what to do next, and the courage to respond faithfully to God’s call.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Four Uighurs released from Guantánamo

"Today you have let freedom ring," said Abdul Nasser, one of the four Chinese Uighurs who was released from Guantánamo earlier this morning. They are resettling in Bermuda. It is expected that the remaining 14 Uighurs will be released to the Pacific island nation of Palau.

In their press release, Radio Free Asia used this photo of Witness Against Torture activists from the 100 Days Campaign in D.C. For the article, click here. Release into an established Uighur community in the U.S. or Germany would have made more sense, but this is still very good news!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Video interview with ex-Gitmo detainee

ABC News interviews Lakhdar Boumediene, an ex-Guantánamo detainee who resorted to hunger strikes to protest more than seven years of detention and torture inside Guantánamo. Boumediene was finally released to France on May 15, 2009.

When Boumediene described the severe beatings and sleep deprivation inflicted upon him during his detention, the reporter asked him, “Do you think that you were tortured?” Boumediene's response: “I do not think. I’m sure. You think that’s not torture?” Arrested in late 2001, Boumediene has missed most of his daughters’ lives. “I just, I cry. Just I cry, because I don’t know my daughters,” he said. As more men are released from Guantánamo, we will, no doubt, continue to hear these heartbreaking stories. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Sanity of Torture

The Associated Press recently published the results of a poll that reveal the insanity of our nation's perspective and morality. To summarize, this is what we believe:
  • Just over 50% of Americans believe torture can be justified
  • Roughly 50% of Americans want Guantanamo closed, 50% want it open
  • 54% of Americans are concerned that terrorists could escape from high-security prisons in the United States
  • 35% of Americans believe they may be victims of a terrorist attack
The actual poll and results can be found here: AP-Gfk Poll

These findings are quite disturbing to me because they represent a culture of fear and anxiety that contributes to a national delusion. Clearheaded thinking and ethical discourse have taken a back seat, or totally failed, when one of every two Americans think torture can be justified. Despite the fact that no one has even escaped an American high-security prison, half of us are legitimately scared that a terrorist from halfway around the world could be flown into our backyard. And when one in three of us believes we will fall victim to a terrorist attack, it is no wonder that acceptance of torture is so high.

Americans, in their fear and anxiety, are suffering. And in our desire to avoid suffering, we are creating conditions and committing actions that lead to others' suffering. But, and here's the rub, our desire to avoid suffering, in fact, contributes to a great suffering for ourselves. It is a cycle of damnation that leads no where. Noam Chomsky, in an excellent piece for Z Magazine, writes:
Perhaps culpability would be greater, by prevailing moral standards, if it were discovered that Bush administration torture cost American lives. That is, in fact, the conclusion drawn by U.S. Major Matthew Alexander [pseudonym], one of the most seasoned interrogators in Iraq, who elicited "the information that led to the U.S. military being able to locate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq," correspondent Patrick Cockburn reports. Alexander expresses only contempt for the harsh interrogation methods: "The use of torture by the US," he believes, not only elicits no useful information, but "has proved so counter-productive that it may have led to the death of as many U.S. soldiers as civilians killed in 9/11." From hundreds of interrogations, Alexander discovered that foreign fighters came to Iraq in reaction to the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and that they and domestic allies turned to suicide bombing and other terrorist acts for the same reason (Cockburn, "Torture? It probably killed more Americans than 9/11," Independent, April 6, 2009)
We live in fear of a terrorist attack because we suffered one. In our desire to prevent another one for happening, we are doing things to people that only make them want to hurt us more. This is insanity. The only path out of this cycle of death and destruction, torment and torture, is forgiveness...but to suggest that is deemed insane - at least by the "sane" ones who think torture is a way to stop violent acts against ourselves. The conversation around the effectiveness of torture is a distraction. It is propaganda to continue the war on terror. The very fact that this conversation is happening shows that America has no conscience and no respect for its own laws, international law, or human rights.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Waging Nonviolence

Message from Eric Stoner of Kairos NYC:

"I've started a new blog with a couple close friends of mine in the last week, that I'd love for you to check out. It's called Waging Nonviolence, and aims to serve as a resource for news, analysis and discussion on the many ways that ordinary people around the globe are using nonviolence every day, often under the most difficult circumstances. Here is the link: http://wagingnonviolence.org/. As additional writers join us there will be more content and posts every day, so keep an eye on it. One nice feature that we've created is called 'Experiments with truth,' which is a phrase Gandhi often used to describe nonviolence, that gives a recap of 5 or 10 of the top stories about nonviolent campaigns or movements around the world that day. Please check it out and spread the word."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Waiting for the Fearmongers

The blogs and online news sites are all over Obama's recent speech regarding the closing of Guantanamo and the proposal for prolonged indefinite detention. Rachel Maddow offered a healthy reflection on the Obama schizophrenia and Glenn Greenwald and Andy Worthington break down the legal implications and moral consequences of the Obama position.

Yet for all the hoopla regarding indefinite detention as a policy, the practice of prolonged detention is a reality that far too many suffer at Guantanamo, Bagram, and in countless ICE detention centers in cities and towns all over this country. We live in a broken system that is rooted in fear and anxiety, as is seen by the pundits and politicians recoiling at Obama's asking for money to shut down Guantanamo. While legal analysis and political commentary have their place in democracy, there is a noticable lack of public discourse about the morality of our nation and its actions. The religious leaders are silent in the face of grave injustice. Univerisities and public intellectuals have succumbed to tit-for-tat conferences on subjective ethics in postmodernity. Let us never forget that just because something is legal does not make it the right thing to do. And while we can argue over the best course of action for how to close Guantanamo, the fact remains that we are morally culpable for failing to protect human rights and for failing to recognize the full dignity of a human person, even if we decided to call him an enemy. Enough of this banter, the stalwarts are winning the day. We are in a precarious position and one that each of us bears responsibility for creating and for changing the system of violence and fear we live in. We cannot get lost in the conversation about what is our responsibility or wait with patience for a better time to act: now is the time. If Congress is going to continue on with fearmongering and pride, let us be the mirror that reflects the humanity that remains at Guantanamo and in our enemies.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The State of the Uighurs

There has been plenty of Guantanamo news coverage this week, and yet, we must remember that nothing has changed for the detainees. (Only 2 have been released since Obama's inauguration.) Even while President Obama holds firm to his commitment to close the detention center, the scare tactics continue. Its latest perpetrators and victims: 90 U.S. Senators (thanks for the email, Cassie) who voted to block funding to close Guantanamo and to ensure that no detainees will be released or transferred into the United States. You might ask, "What about the 17 Uighurs who are not 'enemy combatants' and were ordered released years ago?" The Financial Times reports that the Guantanamo panel recommends their prompt release into the U.S., while AFP reports that two Massachusetts Congressmen continue to advocate on their behalf. Meanwhile, the Uighur community in Virginia prepares for their arrival (see this short video from Al-Jazeera news).

If you're interesting in keeping up with the news on Guantanamo, I suggest following Andy Worthington's blog. He'll alert you to major news stories, and he'll provide insightful context and commentary.

Let's continue to pray and fast for "the release of those bound unjustly" (Isaiah 58:6) and for a quick end to the fear-mongering and misinformation that continues to proliferate so many news sources. May God give us the grace to respond to Jesus, who invites us to "be not afraid" and to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Women in the Church and the Massacre at the Sumpul River

A friend writes:
no puedo olvidarme de la fecha 14 de mayo y la masacre del sumpul....
"I'll never forget the 14th of May, neither the date nor the massacre at Sumpul. I will never forget this day when year after year so many good people of all parts convene at the shores of the Sumpul to commemorate the people who have given their lives to reach a better life. Still we continue in the same fight. God willing those of the DHP will achieve it for the people of Chalatenango." --Don Bahlinger, SJ

He refers to the massacre at River Sumpul in El Salvador. The US Institute of Peace reports:
"On 14 May 1990, units of Military Detachment No. 1, the National Guard and the paramilitary Organización Nacional Democrática (ORDEN) deliberately killed at least 300 non-combatants, including women and children, who were trying to flee to Honduras across the Sumpul river beside the hamlet of Las Aradas, Department of Chalatenango. The massacre was made possible by the cooperation of the Honduran armed forces, who prevented the Salvadorian villagers from landing on the other side.

"The Salvadorian military operation had begun the previous day as an anti-guerrilla operation. Troops advanced from various points, gradually converging on the hamlet of Las Aradas on the banks of the Sumpul river. In the course of the operation, there had been a number of encounters with the guerrillas.

"There is sufficient evidence that, as they advanced, Government forces committed acts of violence against the population, and this caused numerous people to flee, many of whom congregated in the hamlet, consisting of some dozen houses.

"Troops attacked the hamlet with artillery and fire from two helicopters. The villagers and other people displaced by the operation attempted to cross the Sumpul river to take refuge in Honduras. Honduran troops deployed on the opposite bank of the river barred their way. They were then killed by Salvadorian troops who fired on them in cold blood."

The oppression continues. Today untold numbers flee the oppression of the Roman Catholic Church, even as others take up the battle from within. These are surrounded by both secular and Church forces of exploitation, and the body count of these continues to soar. One of these asked me about how to live life faithfully in todays climes, how to live simply, act justly, and carry on collectively with our God. She admires the pattern of Jesuit formation; she understands herself oriented to family life and yet her horizon includes a vision that fuses the values together in a witness of the Kingdom. I am gratefully awed by her desire yet at the time admit responding reflexively. With regret I sought counsel from two beloved friends.

One spoke from his years as a college campus minister and counselor. He mentioned two encourage my friend in two ways. First, to pursue individual formation via personal enrichment, further education, retreats, spiritual direction (Charis ministries would be a starting point). Many scholarships are available to this end. For instance, I am reminded of a female artist from China who was sponsored to master the craft of stain glass making under Europe's giants. She has since led the creation of Beijing's renovation efforts for its Cathedral.

Second, he mentioned social enrichment such as group connection, a need I hope Kairos Chicago fulfills.

To this second, another spoke from his years of work with a Jesuit work. He said that the desire is enacted in a multiplicity of ways. For instance, some former Jesuit volunteers [JVs] network to form settlement patterns in the vicinity of a neighborhood. They get together to pray, to share a meal. Personally, I know this network helped to raise me in Seattle. My family had a "families group" event once a month.

I was reminded of two things. First, that the very reason our education centers developed was on the basis of local demands from those who admired the Jesuit formation. I gather that same demand can have a powerful impact to influence the Society. Second, that one group of lay wooed a Wisconsin provincial to accept their vows. This was something like twenty years ago and yet he reports they remain cohesive. People responded in a backlash and the experiment ended, but it proves the power of collective persuasion. 

Finally, a word to set my own agitation in context. Many Jesuits will react to this reflexively based on having become jaded by decades of persistent effort on the part of those encouraging women ordinations. A veil of ignorance clouds clear judgment and obfuscates honest exploration, all dialogue continues to be muffled by superiors. In my experience, I was guided not to join women standing at Maria de la Strada, and cautiously given permission to attend a meeting to discuss the standing. Though distinct, the desire to living as Jesuits do picks open this same wound. 

Do not shy away. As Dr. King said in Why We Can't Wait, "the tension is like a boil that must be uncovered to be healed by the air of public opinion" (85). Continue to dream the dream, to ask the question and--to quote a Kairos Chicago member--"use civil disobedience against the Church." This is no open invitation to senseless take-over, for Gandhi spoke of such action in terms of an offering. As you know, the true aim of such resistance aims at the heart of a lover. But neither is this a passafire--as Ignatius said "Go Light the World on Fire!" Likewise, follow the words of our least Society's second founder, Pedro Arrupe, "Fall in love, stay in love, and it will change everything." Best wishes in the struggle.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Obama's Guantanamo: A Tortured Legacy

In spite of promising signs that President Obama was reversing the Bush Administration's illegal and short-sighted policies that made up the "war on terror," recent news from Washington suggests Mr. Obama's legacy is not that different from Mr. Bush's: impunity and indefinite detention continue to be the way of the White House. When Mr. Obama signed the executive orders closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the CIA's secret prisons, it seemed to be a signal that America would again respect the rule of international law and human rights, but the latest annoucements that the U.S. may revive Guantánamo military courts and that Obama seeks to block release of Abu Ghraib photos indicates otherwise.

Under the Obama Administration, the Departmet of Justice continues to remain stagnate and look to other countries to resolve the legal and political quagmire that is Guantanamo. There remains over 50 men who were cleared for release by the Bush Administration and the current review of evidence by the Obama Administration affirms the freedom these men should have. But instead of expediating the release of these men, the hostility and trumped up fears by the likes of Dick Cheney, conservative talk show hosts and most of Congress has this nation in a frenzy. Instead of putting time and energy into ensuring justice is met, the debate about the effectiveness of torture rolls on, continuing to taint America's commitment to human rights and democracy. The impunity granted to U.S. policy makers and government officials who legitimized torture continues to be a dark shadow in our recent past. Mr. Obama seeking to reinstate the controversial, inneffective, and unjust military tribunals is a betrayal of American ideals of habeas corpus and the right to a fair trial. With regards to the photos that the DOJ is seeking to block the release of on grounds of being a threat to national security, Mr. Obama continues to play the worn-out game of exploiting the American public from the depravity and inhumanity of our tortured foreign policy in the name of decorum.

Spoiled Faith

Ann Soetoro was a remarkable mother. While she stayed behind in Indonesia she sent her beloved son to live with her the United States where he would have opportunity. The separation must have hurt, yet she was right, her son Barack Obama would come to define opportunity. Unfortunately, he just robbed Americans of the same privilege.

Today, the Obama Administration reversed its decision to account for his predecessor's infamy, continuing the cover-up of documenting photos detailing the extent of torture at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. 

In contrast, today marks the day twenty years ago when student activists launched a hunger-strike for Democracy saying "We were beaten by police when we marched, though we hungered only for truth." See the May 13 Hunger Strike Declaration.

The hunger for truth continues in the U.S. and around the world. As of last week, 50-100 carried forth a hunger-strike at the Port Isabel, U.S. Immigration detention facility seeking better medical conditions (See Democracy Now). In Taiwan, attention turns to its fasting former-president, while the tactic heightens political conflict in Belarus.

 Underlying the hunger-striker's tactic is a remarkable faith. I first met such faith in 2005, during a trip to El Salvador I took to stabilize me right before I entered the Jesuits. A dozen or so camped in front of the Cathedral engaged in a hunger-strike to defend the bargaining power of their trade union. I was so moved that I too fasted for nearly a week. Liberation theologian, Roberto S. Goizueta, explains the loving power of the poor to transmit faith in an essay found in The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology. "[It is] precisely a supreme confidence in God's gratuitous love for us, as that love is revealed in our lies and in God's Word, that above all characterizes the faith of the poor" (298). Unfortunately, President Obama has lost the confidence Goizueta says 'characterizes the faith of the poor'.
Originally, he had announced earlier this month his intention to release the photos. In this he concurred with Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union defended the importance of releasing the photos:  "it will lead to a transparent government...as painful as it might be." Now Obama has taken the perspective that such images could incite aggression and endanger our U.S. troops. 

Is this the God of the poor or the god of the Pentagon? You will remember that back on Feb. 11, a federal judge named Gladys Kessler sided with the Pentagon's argument that the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo met with the Geneva Conventions: "Respondents are acting out of a need to preserve the life of the petitioners rather than letting them die from their hunger strikes." Today's news reflects reasoning that resembles the "humane" legitimation of the Guantanamo policies, will he similarly renege on his proposed closure of the off-shore halls of shame?

If he now forecloses on the deal to restore American Democracy, what will follow for families? Today four million U.S. citizens are separated from their parents by deportation orders. Can we expect more of the same, more separation without review? 

Like the historic movement in China that we mark, today the case of the hunger-strikers at Port-Isabel gives us a beacon of the hope characterized by the faith of the poor.  

Obama's decision reminds me that in El Salvador a tepid attempt at land reform was abandoned in 1976 under pressure from wealthy landowners. One of my heroes, Ignacio Ellacuria wrote an editorial titled, "A tus ordenes, mi capital" (At your service, my capital). In other words, is Obama truly concerned about troops or merely concerned with maintaining economic empire? 

The reason the decision so smacks of economy appears in the emphasis on backlash. Rather than admit the lack of authority for occupation in Iraq, the administration pretends to protect troops from harm. Yet according to the AP nearly 32,000 U.S. troops have suffered casualties and as of February 2007 Congressional hearings discussed the forfeiture of $10 billion dollars,  (See Jeff Leys' analysis of current budget proposal at Voices.) 

Perhaps Obama should avoid dissimulating his motives and read William T Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, Eerdmans, 2008. In it he would learn, "What marks consumerism is its tendency to reduce everything, both the material and the spiritual, to a commodity able to be exchanged." The reduction simplifies the decision for Obama: he can pretend to conceal documentary truth in earnest. But the equation reduces to yet another justification for troop levels in Iraq, estimated by the Associated Press as 140,000

 Barack has learned from history. His mother Ann sent him to Hawaii in order to discover opportunity; indeed there he learned well the imposition of colonialism under the protectionist ruse of Monroe's Doctrine. Finally, we are not talking about the exchange of photos but the exchange of who manages the spoils of Mesopotamia. The British could not afford their puppet, the young King Feisal, to broadcast anti-imperial ideas from a radio station in his palace. Likewise, the U.S. could not tolerate Saddam's exchange of the dollar to the Euro for trade of his oil reserves. Today, even though the U.S. Empire growers have inflated Iraqi troop levels to 600,000, President Obama cannot afford to destabilize its elite mastery. The release of photos would risk stirring discontentment among the Iraqi ranks. 

And as for American justice, it might spoil their faith.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

On Graduation

Bob Dylan once sung, "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

It may not be the first song lyric to come to mind while families cheer their beloved graduates. No, it may not come to mind as warm-hearted children bring breakfast in bed to their moms on Mother's Day. But still, it seems appropriate for the mood Kristen Holm may be in as she marks her final day in prison.

She has served two months for committing civil disobedience at Ft. Benning, GA last November 23. On day 59, could she be comparing her friends graduation at the Lutheran School of Theology with the graduation of so many from the School of Assassins?

She has placed herself amidst the bent-over, broken down of America's Prison system. In the cracks, in the interstices of reality, the view of the chosen people comes clear. Afterall, it is the prisoner who Jesus has blessed, the meek, the discomfited, they shall be made free. How? By God taking the form of a slave.

Some logic. Not exactly extracurricular entertainment. Not exactly a spring break to Cancun. No, serving time with the oppressed takes a mind with a different song lyric, that is, quite definitely the discovery: "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose." No jail time can take away Kristen's divine obedience, nor any government stifle such love.

The cry of the poor cannot be quelled by a passafire, but a danger remains. For the engines of capitalism have their own alluring sirens. A great competition for our ears ensues. We who attend the banquets of our masters should never pretend that we have more capacity than the millions before. Those who went mad with lust for honors and greed, first became enchanted at the good that they could do. So I implore us, please, let us stop our ears with bees wax. Or if we trust our communities, then let us be bound by stiff ropes to the center mast so that we can still hear the beauty of the siren, yet not be moved to its machination and death. We must sail on.

We have a purpose, a mission, a destination--it is to graduate from small mindedness and proclaim the Gospel of Jubilee. Like Kristen, we can do no better than attend to the cry of the poor.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"Mountaintop" by Brothers Frantzich

This song was performed by Brothers Frantzich at the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq event on April 29 at the National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C. The song follows the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's famous "mountaintop speech" the night before he died.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Articles - the 100th day

Anti-torture activists arrested at White House
By Nafeesa Syeed, The Associated Press

Catholic activists protest torture practice
By Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, National Catholic Reporter

Human rights protestors gather at White House
By Alan Wirzbicki, The Boston Globe

"Justice delayed is justice denied"
100 Days Campaign Statement
Witness Against Torture Press Release

DC action photos and video

Click here for photos.

Other videos can be found at: The Huffington Post or William Hughes.

Christian Peace Witness for Iraq

April 29, 2009
National City Christian Church
Washington, D.C.

Liz McAlister

Text, Audio, and Photos

Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo

Russia Today: Anti-torture rally hits Washington

Friday, May 1, 2009

An Echo from D.C.

From an interview with J. Bambrick

"We kind of got two or three experiences. Jake, me, Anna, and Jerica went to the Temple vigil, so we got to experience that again. Wednesday we went to the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq event when they got arrested and then Thursday when we did. So there were a number things together; it was very powerful.

"I would echo [what Luke was saying about the Wednesday Speaker at the CPT event, Tony Campolo, who was preaching away" and "basically sharing the mantra that 'it's Friday but Sunday's coming'. We're living in the darkness but the week does not end with Friday."]. The more we learn about torture and government, the Empire of the United States, the more it's like it is Friday, we're crucified. With the environment and things that get worse and worse it's tough to see that it is Sunday. But being there was an experience of both Friday and Sunday.

"To be with hundreds of people, to pray together and say 'I will put my life on the line [for this], giving up...power and control for love of these men in Guantanamo or in Iraq, to enter into solidarity with these people; it was very powerful and moving.

"Often we don't see a lot of people [doing this]. A lot [of people] might be against it, but how many would give up [what they're doing], and that's a judgment, but it is a small number of people [with such] a sense of courage. Seeing the witness of all these people...the age bracket, seeing the 80 year-old man taken away in hand cuffs; people in their fifties, sixties and seventies [saying] 'No, this is not okay. I'm going to risk myself in doing this.'

"Personally risking arrest for the first time, it was an experience of being a real big deal and a small deal [at the same time], thinking about ] 'What will people say' [like, 'O that] horrible person' and 'your future'.... [Yet] the amount of time to enter in and do it was not a long time.

"The training and then doing it was uncomfortable, emotionally, physically, spiritually. [Sure,] my wrists behind the back start to hurt and the muscles start to hurt, but it's not so big that I can't do it, or that all of us can't do these kind of things more often. [It's like,] 'Yeah, I could do more of this' 'It's not that hard.'

"The experience of being on the bus was, 'I'm pretty sure that I am f*'d, ruined for life; my path is going this way, totally screwed over, just another step of my life...turned, willing, entering prison, giving up power and control...and [the sense that] my life is going to mean very different things. [At the same time I had] a grin on my face. So it was "Wow, I'm f*'d, but in a good way."

This is what democracy looks like!

Clouds gathered over Chicago and soft tears fell from the sky. It's May Day and we recall the tragedy of our fallen proletariat. When it's a Methodist pastor who opens the rally wearing a red arm band, it seems this country has come along way. But the Red scare of yesterday has become the immigrant epidemic of today.

"Its about not having papers" the explained one of the men wearing masks.  These spectres had the retro comedy of masks from Mexican luchalibre. The fight continues. Indeed as FOX news lays the blame of swine flu upon the immigrant, dozens wore medical masks to mock the thinly veiled racism. Today marchers recalled that past agent provocateur cannot defeat the united worker. 

 Mourning Haymarkets since 1886, Unite Now held stop signs. Meanwhile, blue-coated Teamsters, and Purple-coated SEIU stood proud of accomplishments like the 8 hour work day and the weekend. Raising one question, another union marched with a gargantuan globe: have we broken ourselves from the chains of our borders? Indeed, a spectre of community has made itself known:

Black T'd Anarchists formed a drum circle and Native Traditionalists danced in a ring. Wobblies waved red while white T'd IMAN Muslims prayed the Friday prayers at the Federal plaza.

Chants echoed.  Some familiar, "Si se puede, yes we can; ...united we'll never be defeated; Others edgy: "no justice, no peace, f**# the police!" and others...well, you just had to be there to hear si se puede--in chinese. In comparison to the classic "This is what democracy looks like" and the Anarchist CHARGE, the delinquent Latino youth treated us to the infectious, moshpit inducing, "quien no se brinca es migra!" whoever doesn't jump is [an immigration officer] ICE! 

The messages coalesced like a green, white and red flag and a Guadalupe image: Halt Raids, stop separating families; pass the Dream Act and pass the fair [and full] employment act; allow legalization, and stunningly, Immigration isn't the problem, the problem is capitalism.   

 Amidst the shouting the crowd parted and there appeared a Buddha of gentleness, an organizer who stood over a pothole for our protection. In his green shirt, he beamed and said, "This is the road to Hell!" So, Watch it, 

and Keep on keeping on.