Fifteen years ago, Douglass began investigating the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. His award-winning JFK and the Unspeakable (2008) is now recommended reading for those seriously investigating political assassinations. While researching Kennedy, Douglass learned from Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Indian liberation leader, that his grandfather had been killed by a conspiracy involving powerful nationalist forces within the Indian government—not a lone gunman. This led to Douglass’s rigorously investigating thousands of documents on Gandhi’s 1948 murder. He now provides readers with a slim, elegant volume containing explosive insight into who conspired to assassinate the father of modern nonviolence and why. “Gandhi’s murder, followed by the repression of its truth,” writes Douglass, “forms a paradigm of killing and deceitful cover-up that U.S. citizens would soon have to confront in our own government.” No other contemporary writer is exposing the mechanics of assassination as methodically and bravely as Douglass. But because he is a Catholic independent scholar and activist most well-known for his writings on nonviolence and suffering, this book is more than a fresh look at historical circumstances: it’s spiritual spelunking into the depravity of unchecked political power.
President Obama’s drone policy and his assassination “kill list” not only infringe on the sovereignty of other countries but the assassinations violate laws put in place in the 1970s after scandals enveloped an earlier era of CIA criminality. What’s more, by allowing the executive branch to circumvent judicial review, the kill list makes a mockery of due process for terror suspects, even U.S. citizens—in clear violation of the Constitution.
Here’s an excerpt from the column I wrote for the May issue of Sojourners related to this topic:
AS THE HUMAN soul matures, we are confronted with moments that force us to let go of yet another thin veil of self-delusion. The “right road,” the moral high ground, sinks into a thicket of gray.
Two examples from this Lent: An American Army staff sergeant, with four deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and probable concussive brain trauma, allegedly pulls 16 unarmed Afghan civilians, including nine children, out of their beds in the middle of the night and shoots them. The thin cloth of protection that allows us to believe “if we weren’t there things would be worse” slips to the ground.
The U.S. attorney general explains in a logical manner why it is legal and lawful in some circumstances for a U.S. president to order the “targeted killing” of an American citizen. These deaths shouldn’t be called “assassinations,” the attorney general says, because assassinations are “unlawful killing” and, if the president approves it, then it’s not “unlawful.” More veils fall—“a person is innocent until proven guilty”; “intelligent people will make morally right decisions.” Our soul runs terror-stricken into the dark woods; our complicity with evil simply too much to bear.
THOMAS MERTON describes these moments as encounters with the Unspeakable. “It is the emptiness of ‘the end,’” Merton writes. “Not necessarily the end of the world, but a theological point of no return, a climax of absolute finality in refusal, in equivocation, in disorder, in absurdity …” In the face of the Unspeakable, our nakedness is complete. All meaning is stripped away. Our carefully collected coverings lie in a heap. We are running into a silent, disorienting night. …–Rose Marie Berger, read more here
It sounded to me like the death knell of the great democratic experiment. If citizenship doesn’t convey the right to protection by the State balanced with just due legal process to address criminality, then citizenship really doesn’t mean much. And when one can be put on a “death squad list” without ever having a chance to be judged by a jury of one’s peers (not members of the NSA, CIA, etc), then The great Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the U.S. Bill of Rights–two cornerstones of modern, liberal, rights-based democracies–have been tossed in the shredder.
I believe Eric Holder is a “good man.” I think he understands the very real consequences of inhumane laws through the life story of his sister-in-law Vivian Malone Jones, who along with James Hood, stood a “the schoolhouse door” while Alabama Gov. George Wallace blocked their entrance to the University of Alabama. Wallace was defending “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” The courageous stand by Jones and Hood led to the integration of the University of Alabama.
In Holder’s speech before Northwestern University’s law school yesterday he said, “Some have called such operations “assassinations.” They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced. Assassinations are unlawful killings. Here, for the reasons I have given, the U.S. government’s use of lethal force in self defense against a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful — and therefore would not violate the Executive Order banning assassination or criminal statutes.”
As Thomas Merton reminded us in Raids On the Unspeakable,
“It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will he suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot.”
Richard Rohr also explores this issue of the “good man’s” capacity for unspeakable evil in his book Things Hidden. Rohr writes:
“The ego is that part of the self that wants to be significant, central, and important. It is very self-protective by its very nature. It must eliminate the negative to succeed. (Jesus would call it the “actor” in Matthew 23, usually translated from the Greek as “hypocrite”.)
The shadow is that part of the self that we don’t want to see, that we’re afraid of and we don’t want others to see either. If our “actor” is well-defended and in denial, the shadow is always hated and projected elsewhere (we tend to hate our own faults in OTHER people!). One point here is crucial: The shadow self is not of itself evil; it just allows you to do evil without recognizing it as evil! That is why Jesus criticizes hypocrisy more than anything else. He does not hate sinners at all, but only people who pretend they are not sinners!
Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye,” which you invariably see as the “splinter in your brother’s eye.” Jesus’ advice is absolutely perfect. “Take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5).”
The American body politic has long denied the “plank in our own eye.” And so we inexorably become more and more like those we deplore. The rarefied air of the White House and Justice Department is a super-food for the ego and slowly strangles self-reflection, self-doubt, or anything that might lead to embracing one’s shadow side. And, truth be told, even if one did find space to embrace the shadow, the system is so deeply entrenched that it would brook no opposition.–Rose Marie Berger