Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Irish-Americans and War (Part 1)

by Jack Gilroy

Anti-Catholic cartoon by Thomas Nast, 1867.
Many years ago, my wife and I backpacked across Ireland. As international travelers, we found the Irish the warmest people we had ever encountered. As Irish-Americans, this was comforting. Personal contact with so many loving people was in stark contrast to what we had learned in history studies about truculent Irishmen. We knew well that Irish immigrants in America were often depicted as angry, fighting Irish. Even Notre Dame University picked up on the late 19th century American cartoon bigot, Thomas Nast. Nast drew hundreds of caricatures of ugly shillelagh carrying Irishmen ready to smash skulls. Today, the Notre Dame mascot symbol is a leprechaun with green hat and fists turned up to take on any enemy.

Historians give many reasons why immigrant Irish in America developed the stereotype of fighters. Religious discrimination seems to rank above all other reasons including fear of job losses taken by Irish willing to work for low wages. Yet, there’s a long Irish history of war dating before the Christian period. In fact, many Celtic centuries of violence. Later, from the 16th century and into the 19th century, Ireland became a reservoir of mercenaries drawn to fight various wars on the European continent. Known as the Flight of the Wild Geese, thousands of Irishmen left their families and homeland to fight in France, Spain and wherever there was a cause that attracted them.

But the flight of Irish to America was supposed to offer good jobs, not jobs to kill, as soldiers do. Yet, soon after arrival in the land of promise, the American government lured the Irish to fight for pay.

San Patricio (Saint Patrick's) Battalion
Famine Irish came to America for a better life but found themselves pushed into the American Army warring against Mexico in 1847. Some Irishmen defected to the Mexican Army to be with their Catholic Mexican brothers. Just sixteen years later, the Civil War riots (1863) of New York City occurred. Irish immigrants fighting conscription into the Union Army led to the “largest civil insurrection in American history” notes Eric Fonet in Reconstruction – America’s Unfinished Revolution (1863-1877).

Irish-American opposition to war in the 20th century was not as open fisted as the Mexican and Civil wars.

There is really only one outstanding Irish-American character who stood in opposition to the call of his country and his church to fight and kill in 1917. The American author, Torin Finney, focused his book, Untold Hero of the Great War on the Denver, Colorado Irish Catholic, Benjamin Salmon. Salmon, in 1917, refused to follow not just his President (Wilson) but Cardinal Gibbons, the leading American Catholic religious leader who urged all good Catholic men to train for war. Finney describes in detail the humiliation and torture of Ben Salmon. Salmon, who said there was no such thing as a ‘Just War’ was detained in federal prison for years, he was the last conscientious objector released in World War I.

There was little Irish American opposition to World War II. In fact, Irish Catholics played a major fighting role in the war. But the carry over of war hawkishness into Vietnam had major Irish Catholic stumble blocks.

The Berrigans
The Vietnam War had many conscientious objectors and for the first time, a large number of Catholic objectors. Leading the movement of Catholic objectors were the Irish-American brothers, Fr. Phil Berrigan and Fr. Dan Berrigan. Dan Berrigan was called by Time Magazine and the FBI as Public Enemy #1 for his opposition to war. Both Phil and Dan carried draft cards from a Selective Service office and burned them with home made napalm. They were arrested, tried and sentenced to federal prison.

But the Berrigans were simply the forefront of Catholic activists who would grow the movement far beyond the size of Army divisions before the war was ended in 1975. Irish Americans Catholic objectors found leadership in Senator Robert Kennedy and Senator Eugene McCarthy. And then, the leader of the House of Representatives, Thomas Tip O’Neill, became a partner to the nonviolent movement. All came to the conclusion that war was not the answer.

And some of the best voices of Irish American human rights activism have been women. Kathy Kelly of Chicago has been nominated three times for a Noble Peace Prize for her work with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Kathy braved the misery of the sanctions, the shock and awe of the American attack on Baghdad and now is deeply involved with Afghan children trying to recover from emotional and physical trauma directly the result of America’s longest war.

Kathy Kelly
Megan Rice
Brian Terrell
Just this past summer of 2012, Irish American peace activist Megan Rice, a Catholic Sister, was arrested for what the US Government calls the “biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s nuclear complex.” 82 year old Sister Megan was moved by her religious and moral belief that nuclear weapons put the planet closer to total destruction.

In October of 2012, Irish American peace activist Brian Terrell of the Iowa Catholic Worker was sentenced to six months in prison for attempting to deliver a war crimes indictment to Whiteman Air Force base, a drone firing base in Missouri.

When ten people shut down the entrance way to another drone base (Hancock Air National Guard, Syracuse, NY) on October 5th, 2012, six of the ten were Irish Catholics.

(To be continued in Part 2: "But these Irish-American activists of today find little company in the United States Federal Government. Few Catholics, Irish or otherwise are ready to strongly oppose war and the preparation for war. In fact, Irish-American leadership in militarism is the norm . . . . ")

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ending Drone Killing: The Spirit Is Moving

(See previous reflection: Is God Urging Us to "Risk It"?)

by Joe Scarry
Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh."
As if the bud's essential oils brush
Christ's fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh

Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it's me,

- from "Supernatural Love" by Gjertrud Schnackenberg
We are inevitably asked to accept injury to innocents as an unavoidable consequence of a goal that is considered very important. Assuming for the moment that we accept the "very important goal" ... what does a confession of faith clarify about such "collateral damage"?

People who absolutely reject violence, in general, and/or reject drone killing, specifically, find the problem of collateral damage to have an obvious solution: it's wrong and the actions leading to it should be stopped.

The solution to the problem is much less obvious to those who think there are ends that can and should be attained using violence. A recent exchange on the "Morning Joe" about drone strikes between Joe Scarborough and Time columnist Joe Klein put a fine point on this difficulty:
"This is offensive to me, though," Scarborough said. "It seems so antiseptic. It seems so clean. And yet you have four-year-old girls being blown to bits ... this is going to cause the U.S. problems in the future."

"The bottom line in the end is whose four-year-old gets killed?" Klein responded.

"Does that matter?" Scarborough said.

"What we're doing is limiting the possibility that four-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror," Klein concluded.
Note: "limiting the possibility that four-year-olds here will get killed"!

Though the assertion that "the bottom line in the end is whose four-year-old gets killed" is abhorrent to me, I must recognize that it neatly sums up the point on which a great many people experience a failure of understanding. To some people -- Joe Klein, for instance, in the example above -- it is as obvious that some four-year-olds matter as it is that some others do not.

I came back from a conference on drones in April, 2012, determined to increase people's understanding of drone killing. I believed that they didn't know that young children were being killed, and I assumed that I could arouse their awareness by providing visceral images. As I worked at this, I came to recognize that there are many possible pathways to understanding, and many different obstacles, and that different kinds of information and different levels of stimulus are required for different people.

Do Christian beliefs help us to find a way to address this?

When I think about the difficulties that people experience in understanding -- in understanding the world around them, and notions like justice, and ultimately in discerning God's will -- and the hope of surmounting those difficulties, I think about the meaning of the expression "the Holy Spirit." The Apostles' Creed includes the words, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." My understanding of the Apostle's Creed is that the Holy Spirit includes all those ways that God becomes known to us -- through the Bible, for instance, and but also through people - including Christian people ("the holy Christian church," which I understand to be cognate with "the communion of saints") but, perhaps more importantly, simply through people in general.

Consider, for instance, the witness provided by Nick Mottern, director of the Know Drones project, describing an encounter during one of his presentations during a tour of Ohio and Pennyslvania.
In the late afternoon of September 20, 2012, in Room 101 of Maginnes Hall at Leigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a young woman student from Yemen touched off a blast of reality that startled and sobered 50 or so of her fellow students and townspeople attending a talk I was giving about US drone attacks and surveillance. Paraphrased, she said:

“I get the feeling that there are those in this room who value American lives much more than the lives of other people in the world. I am from Yemen. I am a city girl, but I live not far from a village where I have family members and where US drones killed 40 people who were doing nothing but minding their daily business. The people in the village have no idea why this happened, they know nothing of al-Qaeda; they are trying to sue the United States.”

After she spoke, there were other comments and questions, but her words hung in the air, a stark personal, undeniable witness to the fact that yes, US drone attacks are killing people and creating great suffering. For all of us there, drone killing now had a face, and the United States stood convicted. At the end of the Q & A, people went up to her to talk and to say they were sorry for what is happening; several, including me, gave her a hug and more thanked her for speaking out.

The woman, with a sweet, friendly disposition, speaking in a soft, direct but extremely firm way, crystallized what appears to be the main reason that the American public is so accepting of drone wars – that is, the widely-held feeling that Americans are exceptional.
(Excerpted from Challenging Dronotopia, available soon on the Know Drones website.)

Why does it take someone from the country affected in order for these killings to become understandable. Why do we only begin to understand when the killings "have a face"?

""Absence" by Jane Norling

This helps remind me of one of the meanings of "sin" -- of human frailty: that, for all our pretensions, we are beings who are capable of only very limited amounts of abstraction. To relate this to the Apostles' Creed: we are not capable of clearly discerning God's will through our belief in God the Father alone. The meaning of Jesus Christ is that humans needed something more "up close and personal" to shake their consciousness'. And -- dare I say it? -- Jesus Christ (narrowly defined as that man who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago) isn't enough unless we open ourselves to the continual and every-present impact of God and Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, acting to continuously break through the human fog.

"At a local school"
(from the Code Pink Pakistan delegation)
The Holy Spirit is moving in the testimony of people like Nick Mottern and the woman from Yemen at Lehigh.

The Holy Spirit is moving in the testimony of people like JoAnne Lingle and her colleagues in the Code Pink peace delegation that went to Pakistan, and the stories of the people they met there.

The Holy Spirit is moving in the work of the many artists who contributed to the exhibit Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan.

And our awareness of the movement of the Holy Spirit is only just beginning.

I predict that when we finally extract ourselves from the hell that we have waded into with drones, we will look back and realize that we didn't "think" our way out of this problem, but that we "opened" our way out of it -- and that God met us in our opening up.

Read more about the questions that I think we need to be asking ourselves about drones.

"Absence" by Jane Norling is part of the exhibit Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Is God Urging Us to "Risk It"?

(See previous reflection: Drones vs. Up-Close-and-Personal Reality)

by Joe Scarry

To read what's buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor

Trying to stitch "Beloved" X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle's point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text

- from "Supernatural Love" by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Before she left for Pakistan to participate in the Code Pink delegation, my friend JoAnne Lingle, from Indianapolis, told me, "We want to reach out to the people there to show that we care about their lives; we want to show the American public how civilians are being targeted by drones; we want to come back to the US and tell the stories of drone victims. Our larger goal is to stop the drone strikes." (Read more at My visits to Pakistan and Kurdistan.)

Map of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan
I find this in stark contrast to the attitude implicit in the official U.S. approach to much of the Mideast and South Asia: "We're going to go over there and get them before they come here and get us."

And, in fact, in the last week the newspaper has seemed to be especially filled with stories about people "getting" each other - "getting" people who were too liberal, "getting" people who were suppressing liberation, "getting" people who were acting suspicious . . . and on and on . . . .

Each of these accounts or characterizations is steeped in violence, and corresponding to each of these accounts or characterizations, there is a worldview that explains the utility, justification, and/or desirability -- indeed, the extreme praiseworthiness -- of that violence.

I believe the significant feature of the faith that Christians confess when they recite the Apostle's Creed is that it forces us to confront the question: why doesn't God deal with us violently? If ever there was a utility or justification for destroying someone or something, it is the implacable, stubborn imperfection present in people. Why doesn't God just get rid of the lot of us? Why, instead, does God choose to get "up close and personal" with us, meeting us where we are, in our own sinful, mortal bodies?

In other words, I believe that God sees another way forward for us, even when all we can imagine is "going over there and getting them before they come here and get us." Even when, in our desperation, all we can imagine is throwing our own life away in order to offer a glint of hope to comrades combating a brutal regime. Even when all we can imagine is venting our rage on people who threaten us with painful social change: them, their families, and anyone who helps them. Even when we build a towering military establishment dedicated to destroying entire other cultures, as long as it keeps "them" over "there" where they can't possibly ever bring harm "here" to "us."

God shows us that other way, and it involves trying to walk together, and eschewing violence.

During the Code Pink peace delegation to Pakistan:
A sunset march through Jinnah Market with the student
group of PTI in Islamabad followed by a candlelight vigil.
What God is strangely silent about, by the way, is death! Often, we make an idol of life itself. We become trapped in the worship of our own guaranteed well-being. Think about it: extreme aversion to being harmed inherently translates into measures to pre-empt harm, at any cost, and no matter if they are marginally effective (or even counterproductive!).

Conversely, if you believe in a God who accepts the reality of the human experience, even death, then it suddenly seems ridiculous to hold as a value the prevention of harm at any cost. It's immediately apparent that God wants us to take the risk to get near our fellow humans and interact with them, hear them, negotiate with them, engage in diplomacy with them .... even if we're not 100% guaranteed of success!

Next installment: Ending Drone Killing: The Spirit Is Moving

* * * * *

For more photos from Pakistan, see the Code Pink delegation photo site. And be sure to read JoAnne Lingle's full account of her trip!

Read more about the questions that I think we need to be asking ourselves about drones.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Modern Applications of the Buddha's Teachings on Love and on the Suffering Attributable to Misperception

Previous installment:"The Suffering Caused By Misperception"

by Jack Lawlor

Love is a universal message in world religions. Buddhism, however, may be unique among religions in its emphasis on the need to prevent the injury and tragedy caused by human misperception.

Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh urges us to cultivate the following qualities through the engaged, consistent practice of meditation based on mindful breathing in order to live in love, free of misperception in the manner suggested by the Buddha:
  1. The cultivation of stopping, or "Shamatha" in the Pali language: i.e., to recognize and let go of compulsions and prejudices which cause misperception;

  2. The cultivation of concentration, or "Samadhi". Everything in our culture encourages distraction and reduces our ability to concentrate, thwarting our ability to understand what is actually going on;

  3. Dwelling in "Appamada", the absence of madness. Once we cultivate stopping and concentration, we dwell in awareness, free of misperception that causes us to say and do things we do not understand;

  4. The cultivation insight, or Vipassana. Once we dwell in concentration, our perception clears, and we can see and understand underlying causes and conditions not only effecting us, but others. We are capable of seeing and understanding things from the vantage point of other beings;

  5. The cultivation of compassion, or Karuna. Once free of our own obsessions and misperceptions, we better see and understand what is going on, how we have an impact on others, and how they influence us, opening the way to compassion; and
  6. The cultivation of understanding, Prajna. The practice of compassion deepens our understanding of the radical impermanance and interdependence of all beings, giving rise to wisdom.
There's another set of exercises which Thich Nhat Hahn urges his students to practice when encountering uncertainty and confusion. They might be practiced in U.S. Air Force and CIA drone command posts, safely tucked away thousands of miles from violent operations. Rather than live compulsively, driven by habit energies, Thay suggests that we first take refuge in mindfulness of breathing, and then ask ourselves:
-- Am I sure of what I am doing? If we are not sure, the moral thing to do may be to refrain from action until deep looking and inquiry suggest what we should do or not do;

-- What am I doing? Am I trying my best to do technical read-outs nin my drone's computer and surveillance camera, or am I killing someone who may not even be the person my government has labelled a "terrorist' on the basis of information unknown to me. What am I REALLY doing?

-- Am I giving into habit energy? What tendencies and beliefs have I inherited from my nation, my family, my society? Do I need to question and challenge their resort to violence under these circumstances? Isn't the use of violence at odds with other things I have been taught by the nation, the family, the society I love?

-- Are my acts making it possible for all beings to live, to be their best? In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, it is believed that all beings have bodhicitta, the heart and mind of love that is capable of manifesting both compassion and wisdom simultaneously, not only for one's own benefit, but for the benefit of all beings. Will my actions injure the bodhicitta in others? If they do, won't my acts cause ever escalating levels of suffering?

Next installment: "The Nearsighted Drone"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Hour Has Come

by Rev. Loren McGrail

“The prophetic originates with the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger as a voice protesting their marginalization. The indictment is registered against the system that produces the injustice. The faces of the marginalized are the indictment. Everything else is commentary.”
            Marc Elis, Jewish Liberation Theologian

The first miracle Jesus performs is at a wedding in Cana according to the Gospel writer John. He turns water into wine so that the bride and groom can share their celebration with all. When Jesus’ mother notices they are about to run out of wine she goes to her son and pushes him to do something. He answers, “My hour has not come.” Yet as if she knows something he doesn’t she instructs the servants to do as he says and so they bring forward the water jugs for purification and he turns them into wine. They who are the poor, the economically marginalized, who have no more wine, will have plenty to share.

 It is a wonderful joyous story of transforming scarcity into abundance and it will be repeated often throughout the gospel when later Jesus will feed thousands with a few loaves and fishes.

Some read the story of the Wedding of Cana as the fulfillment of the promised wedding feast in Isaiah and the beginning of the messianic age, which will be fulfilled at the “marriage supper of the lamb” (Revelations 19: 7-9). Messianic history begins and ends with a wedding feast where all are invited.

They who have no more wine also have no security from bodily harm from drones that strike gatherings like weddings to target their assassinations. These “signature strikes” are common in our shadow drone warfare across the globe in country’s we are and are not at war with.  In Afghanistan alone there have been 6 documented strikes on wedding parties with over 367 civilian deaths. Funerals make good “signature strikes” too. 

There are many things about the use of drones that are disturbing, disgusting, and horrifying and “signature strikes” should be at the top of the list for their deliberate attack on civilians. And for those who value weddings as secular or religious celebrations of human love, these attacks are particularly grotesque. So let us side with Mary and the one who came to stand in solidarity with the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the stranger and say, “The time has come” to ground the drones, call a moratorium on drone strikes that target civilians. The bodies of the bombed are the indictment. Everything else is commentary. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Call from the Faith-Based Community to Stop Drone Killings

Abby Karish

The following is a letter crafted by CodePink and signed by religious leaders throughout the country. There are two things you can do with such a letter. One is to go to CodePink's new website and sign the letter as as an individual, peace and justice group or as a congregation. The second is to use the letter as a template for crafting a resolution for your denomination or faith body to bring the use of drones to their attention. Some might wish to add the growing use of drones for surveillance in the U.S. as well. The important thing is that faith leaders should be adding their voices and moral authority to the movement to ground the drones.

As representatives of faith-based communities, we are deeply concerned about the proliferation of lethal unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones. The United States is leading the way in this new form of warfare where pilots in US bases kill people, by remote control, thousands of miles away. Drones have become the preferred weapons to conduct war due to the lack of direct risk to the lives of U.S. soldiers, but these drone strikes have led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in countries where we are not at war, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Some aspects that we find particularly disturbing include:

The President and his aides draw up a Kill List in which they play the role of prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. People on this secret Kill List have never been charged, tried or convicted in a court of law, and are given no opportunity to surrender;
The labeling of all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, thus justifying their murder, is an extreme and macabre form of profiling;
Drone strikes kill not only their intended targets, but innocent people, including children, violating the sanctity of human life;
Drone strikes violate other nations’ sovereignty (Pakistan’s elected leaders, for example, have repeatedly called for an end to the strikes);
Drones in the hands the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command keep the program veiled in secrecy. The lack of transparency and accountability violate the basic tenets of a democratic society;
Drones make killing more abstract, impersonal, antiseptic, convenient and “easy”;
The Administration insists that because drones do not risk American lives, Congress need not be consulted, leading to a dangerous abuse of executive power;
Drone strikes have replaced Guantanamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants. They fuel anti-American sentiment, radicalize local populations and perpetuate an endless cycle of violence;
The example being set by the United States that a nation can go anywhere it wants and kill anyone it wants on the basis of secret information is leading to a world of chaos and lawlessness.
The world’s great religions teach us to cherish human life. This impersonal, risk-free killing of people on the other side of the globe runs counter to religious belief and the teachings of our traditions.
We urge our government to put an end to this secretive, remote- controlled killing and instead promote foreign policies that are consistent with the values of a democratic and humane society. We call on the United Nations to regulate the international use of lethal drones in a fashion that promotes a just and peaceful world community, based on the rule of law, with full dignity and freedom for every human being.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Suffering Caused By Misperception

Previous installment: "The Buddha on Love"

by Jack Lawlor

There is a corresponding side to Buddhist contemplation that cultivates a radical type of wisdom, radical in the sense that its does its utmost to see and perceive the roots of conflict deep in the human heart, and tries to determine which skillful means can be engaged to mitigate suffering.

The following lines from the Collected Sayings of the Buddha, known as the Dhammapada, are illustrative of the Buddhist approach to cutting through confusion and identifying the roots of conflict:
"We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your own shadow, unshakable...

`Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.'
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.

`Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me'.
Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.

In this world,
Hate never yet dispelled hate.

This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible."
What do we really know about the people the U.S. government is killing through drone warfare? We know that the drones have accidentally attacked wedding parties and other family gatherings. What imminent harm are those on the drone death list not only intending, but capable of inflicting on our country? Was the threat to our country direct? Were imminent, feasible attacks on the U.S. prevented by drone killings taking place thousands and thousands of miles from the U.S., or do we simply slay tribal leaders who are making the lives of other tribal leaders who are more consistently favorably disposed toward the U.S. more difficult?

Have the people we've slain ever actually harmed us? Is the nation where they reside even capable of harming us? Or is it our government's view of their ideology and their religion that slates people for death? If that is the case, is death by drone justified? Do we simply chose to live in hate?

How much misperception are we suffering from? How far gone are we from what is human, what is sane? What has happened to us?

An elderly Vietnam War veteran approached the microphone during a question and answer period with Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh in northern Mississippi in the summer of 2011, attended by approximately 1,000 people from throughout the American South. The vet very humbly asked Thich Nhat Hanh to recognize that many, many of the young Americans who went to Vietnam as soldiers did not do so to inflict havoc upon the country, but to help the Vietnamese people. He asked that everyone acknowledge that.

Thich Nhat Hanh's response was very telling. He acknowledged the honorable intention of so many of the young Americans who went to Vietnam in such huge numbers in the mid 1960s. But Thay had a request of the American people in return. Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh asked us, as Americans, never, never, to go to war again based on a misperception. Think of how we entered war in Vietnam based on the misperception that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had attacked two U.S. Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Think of how we entered the War in Iraq based on the misperception that it was brimming with weapons of mass destruction. Think of how we are about to borrow more money from the Chinese to go to war with Iran based on our -- perception or misperception? -- that it is assembling nuclear weapons and is an imminent threat to world peace.

Is there reason to believe that our use of drones is based on any more accurate perceptions of who to kill, remotely, without ever confronting them or providing a chance to speak? Where is the declaration of war authorizing these acts? Where is the rule of law?

Next installment: "Modern Applications of the Buddha's Teachings on Love and on the Suffering Attributable to Misperception"

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Drones of War or Doves of Peace?

by Rev. Loren McGrail

How do you stop terrorism America?
Stop participating in it!
Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism.
Well, there really is an easy way. Stop participating in it.
Noam Chomsky

How do we stop participating in acts of terror? One way is to wake up to the fact that our country has been involved in extrajudicial killing for years-- at least for ½ century without drones. From the U.S. Phoenix Program in Viet Nam to assassinations in Latin America throughout the 1980s, we have been involved in covert CIA and Special Forces targeted assassinations. One way is to call into the question whether any war can ever be said to be just. One way is to call into question the rationalization that drones are more precise and safer forms of waging war or killing. One way is to begin to name the illegality of “double-tap strikes” where rescue workers are killed or the immorality of “signature strikes” where people at weddings or funerals are targeted. It means to begin to question the legitimacy of just war theory for countering terrorism. It means being horrified that our President has a “kill list” or personally names individuals to be “targeted” including a 16 year old American citizen. It means really looking at the carnage of war--- the mangled corpses of schoolchildren killed in Afghanistan, mothers scratching through rubble heaps in Yemen looking for body parts. It means listening to the stories of people bombed or terrorized living under drones. It means counting everyone even those our government says are “military combatants” in the body count. It means calling into question the very idea of proportionate collateral damage.

There are many legal and constitutional questions surrounding the use of drone warfare. Over the past few months many people have begun to write about many of the issues I have just named. Reports and studies are coming out from respected institutions like Stanford and New York. Websites have sprung up across the country to track both the strike counts and the rising global resistance movements. In addition, people are risking jail terms to put the use of these killer drones on trial while still others are marching insolidarity in northern Pakistan to say not all Americans support these drone attacks, to say we stand with you in your suffering.

What is striking to me, as a faith leader, is how few are the voices of our faith leaders. Awake to Drones began as an attempt to bring these voices forward from a variety of traditions to question killing and the use of drones for war making and surveillance.

As a Christian minister I will be exploring over the next few months on this blog some of these same questions and concerns through the lens of my faith. I will explore these issues from my reading of what scripture has to say and through deeply held beliefs about what it means to be human, to follow a man who calls us to follow the path of nonviolence and who was brutally murdered by empire. Finally, like the late great Abraham Heschel, I believe that “God’s presence unites us, and God is present wherever man is afflicted, and all humanity is embroiled in every agony wherever it may be.” Thus, I believe God is in agony over each and every death and desires us to seek nonviolent solutions to our problems. I also believe that international law and human rights are frameworks that we should use instead of violence. America participates in terrorism when it violates these laws and resorts to violence.  It becomes the very thing it seeks to counter and it inspires or creates new militant resistance thus perpetuating the cycle of the violence it seeks to stop.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Drone Surveillance: "Tracing Our Journeys"?

by Newland Smith

“Lord, you have searched me out and know me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways … Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I free from your presence?”  (Psalm 139 : 1-2; 6)

These verses bear witness to the Israelites’ conviction that Yahweh, their creator and protector, knew their innermost thoughts and even “traced their journeys.”

God’s intimate presence is also captured in the following opening words of the Collect for the Holy Eucharist: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 355) God’s creatures even though countless times they were tempted to be like God, are reminded of the limits God placed on them. God’s creatures have no business in letting their government act like God as it begins to employ drones to track the journeys of its citizens. Hence there is urgency in this call to “Awake to Drones.” Too many American citizens have become complacent and acquiescent as their government in the name of the war against terror infringes on their civil liberties.

Being involved in the work of the Committee against Political Repression for the past two years, I am very aware of the invasiveness of the FBI in the lives of those who speak out in opposition to particular US foreign policies. For example some of the twenty-three antiwar and peace activists who were issued subpoenas to appear before a Grand Jury in Chicago are Colombian and Palestinian solidarity workers. Many helped organize the protests at the 2009 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ninety-eight members of the faith community signed the statement, “Chicago Faith Community Statement on the FBI Raids and Grand Jury,” which ended with these words, “We denounce the use of fear and the far-reaching labeling of critical dissent as ‘terrorism’ that tramples on not only our right, but our duty to dissent as people called to a moral standard of justice for all.” I remember carrying a sign with the words, “FBI raids and Grand Juries chill God’s Call to peacemaking,” at the rally in front of the FBI Chicago headquarters on Roosevelt Road just two weeks after the initial FBI raids on the homes of some of those issued subpoenas. As a member of the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Social Justice and Public Policy, I helped introduce a resolution on American civil liberties to the 77th General Convention this past summer. The third resolve of this resolution which was adopted reads as follows: “That the General Convention express its concern through its Office of Government Relations that the use of the antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the Patriot Act, and the Supreme Court decision in Holder vs. Humanitarian law Project have a chilling effect on God’s call to peacemaking and unduly impact the Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim communities in the United States.”

Jesus tells his disciples to fear not yet as Americans our government increasingly is making us fearful of terrorists. John Mueller names this fear as “terrorphobia.” (Mueller, “Terrorphobia: Our False Sense of Insecurity,” The American Interest, May/June 2008.) Mueller in his article also states that by 2008 the United States had spent more than $300 billion on the Department of Homeland Security which he describes as a second defense department. The very likely domestic use of aerial drone spy planes will simply exasperate our fear of potential terrorists.

On February 12, 2012 President Obama signed into law the Federal Aviation Administration Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (HR 658). This act would, in part, allow domestic use of aerial drone spy planes. Congress also passed a $63 billion Federal Aviation Administration appropriations bill that could result in 30,000 unmaned aerial vehicles across the United States by the end of this decade for warentless aerial searches. Robert Cook writes, “The Department of Homeland Security has stated, “the primary objective of WAASS (Dept. of Homeland Security) Wide Area Aerial Surveillance System) is to provide persistent, long-term surveillance over urban and rural terrain. The surveillance system will have electro-optical capability for daylight missions, and infrared capability for day or night operations. The sensor shall integrate with an airborne platform for data gathering. The imaginary data will be displaced at the DHS Operations later, with forensic analysis within 36 hours of the flight.” (More at Wide Area Aerial Surveillance System (WAASS) solicitation.

As early as December 2011 the ACLU issued its report, “Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance : Recommendations for Government Use of Drone Aircraft”: Report by Jay Stanley and Catherine Crump. The authors point out the potential threat to Americans’ privacy and say, “the Courts should impose limits on the use of drones for surveillance, prohibiting them from becoming pervasive.” (p. 13) The report ends by recommending at a minimum “the following core measures be enacted to ensure that this [imposition of “rules, limits and regulations on UAVs as well in order to preserve the privacy Americans have always expected and enjoyed.”] happens:
- Usage restrictions. UAVs should be subject to strict regulation to ensure that their use does not eviscerate the privacy that Americans have traditionally enjoyed and rightfully expect. Innocent Americans should not have to worry that their activities will be scrutinized by drones. To this end, the use of drones should be prohibited for indiscriminate mass surveillance, for example, or for spying based on First Amendment-protected activities. In general, drones should not be deployed except:

Where there are specific and arguable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to a specific instance of criminal wrongdoing or, if the drone will intrude upon reasonable expectations of privacy, where the government has obtained a warrant based on probable cause; or

Where there is a geographically confined, time-limited emergency situation in which particular individuals’ lives are at risk, such as a fire, hostage crisis, or person lost in the wilderness; or

For reasonable non-law enforcement purposes by non-law enforcement agencies, where privacy will not be substantially affected, such as geological inspections or environmental surveys, and where the surveillance will not be used for secondary law enforcement purposes.
- Image retention restrictions. Images of identifiable individuals captured by aerial surveillance technologies should not be retained or shared unless there is reasonable suspicion that the images contain evidence of criminal activity or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or pending criminal trial.

- Public notice: The policies and procedures for the use of aerial surveillance technologies should be explicit and written, and should made public. While it is legitimate for the police to keep the details of particular investigations confidential, policy decisions regarding overall deployment policies – including the privacy tradeoffs they may entail – are a public matter that should be openly discussed.

- Democratic control. Deployment and policy decisions surrounding UAVs should be democratically decided based on open information – not made on the fly by police departments simply by virtue of federal grants or other autonomous purchasing decisions or departmental policy fiats.

- Auditing and effectiveness tracking. Investments in UAVs should not be made without a clear, systematic examination of the costs and benefits involved. And if aerial surveillance technology is deployed, independent audits should be put in place to track the use of UAVs by government, so that citizens and other watchdogs can tell generally how and how often they are being used, whether the original rationale for their deployment is holding up, whether they represent a worthwhile public expenditure, and whether they are being used for improper or expanded purposes.
Congress is beginning to wake up the implications of the Federal Aviation Administration Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act. In June Senator Rand Paul introduced S. 3287, “the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act of 2012.” This act would "prohibit the uses of drones by the government except when a warrant is issued for its use in accordance with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment with the following exceptions: 1) patron of national borders; 2) when law enforcement possesses reasonable suspicion that under particular circumstances, swift drone action is necessary to prevent 'imminent danger to life;'; 3) high risk of a terrorist attack." This act also "specifies that no evidence obtained or collected in violation of this Act can be used/admissible as evidence in a criminal, civil, or regulatory action."

A month later Representative Poe of Texas introduced H.R. 6199, “Preserving American Privacy Act of 2012.” This Act would prohibit any Federal agency from authorizing “the domestic use of an unmanned aircraft … for law enforcement purposes or for surveillance … except pursuant to warrant and in the investigation of a felony.” (Sec. 2) The next three sections address the “Limitation on domestic use of Drones in Federal Criminal Investigations,” “No use of Drone Evidence in Administrative Hearings,”, and “No Authorization for Domestic Use in Private Surveillance.”

Stay tuned for updates on the status of these two bills when Congress returns to work in September.

The Buddha On Love

Previous installment: "The Buddha and a Culture of Violence"

by Jack Lawlor

We haven't heard the word "love" used genuinely in our political discourse in the United States since Dr. Martin Luther King -- despite torrents of skepticism and doubt from all quarters -- changed this nation profoundly by both preaching it and practicing it.

In the West, Buddhism tends to be known for its remarkable focus on the practice of meditation, perceived to be the cultivation of wisdom. But although raised to be a warrior by his father, the local king, love is the essence of the Buddha and his teaching. After approximately 45 years of teaching up and down the dusty roads of northern India, the Buddha stated that he teaches but one thing -- the liberation of suffering -- out of his love and compassion for all beings.

Some witnessing Buddhist peace demonstrations in the Chicago area have encountered recitations of the Buddha's Discourse on Love and report utter disbelief that the text is 2,500 years old, its language and our need for it is so contemporary:
The Discourse on Love

"He or she who wants to attain peace should practice being upright, humble, and capable of using loving speech. He or she will know how to live simply and happily, with senses calmed, without being covetous and carried away by the will of the majority. Let him or her not do anything that will be disapproved of by the wise ones.

( And this is what he or she contemplates ):

May everyone be happy and safe, and may their hearts be filled with joy.

May all beings live in security and peace -- beings who are frail or strong, tall or short, visible or not visible, near or far away, already born, or yet to be born. May all of them dwell in perfect tranquility.

Let no one do harm to anyone. Let no one put the life of anyone in danger. Let no one, out of anger or ill will, wish anyone any harm.

Just as a mother loves and protects her only child at the risk of her own life, we should cultivate boundless love to offer to all living beings in the entire cosmos. We should let our boundless love pervade the whole universe, above, below, and across. Our love will know no obstacles. Our heart will be absolutely free from hatred and enmity. Whether standing or walking, sitting or lying, as long as we are awake, we should maintain this mindfulness of love in our own heart. This is the noblest way of living.

Free from wrong view, greed and sensual desires, living in beauty and realizing Perfect Understanding, those who practice boundless love will certainly transcend birth and death."

Next installment: "The Suffering Caused By Misperception"