April 4: The King of Love

Fifty years ago, Martin King was assassinated. As theologian Jim Douglass shows, the face-covering of the Unspeakable was lifted and we saw the true enemy of the great democratic experiment. Nina Simone sings into the moment as she wrestles with “Always living with the threat of death ahead / Folks you’d better stop and think / Everybody knows we’re on the brink / What will happen, now that the King of love is dead?”

For Christians and Americans, this is our Good Friday moment. And with every killing of Michael Brown, Sarah Bland, Trayvon Martin, and Stephon Clark … with every killing of Sandy Hook children Charlotte Bacon (age 6), Daniel Barden (age 7) and 24 others … with every killing of Yilmary Rodríguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., and 48 others at the Pulse nightclub … with every high school leader at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland … with all known and unknown … we reveal that we are still standing – uncertain – at the foot of the cross staring at our Crucified Christ. Which side are you on? Which side am I on? –Rose Marie Berger

What’s the Difference Between Justice and Lawlessness?

The assassination of Osama bin Laden may be President Obama’s darkest hour. In clear violation of international law, under the guise of secret treaties with Pakistan, and most likely after having been manipulated by CIA and Pentagon insiders into thinking he was making the best reasonable choice, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize issued an executive “kill order.”

Bin Laden was indicted on criminal charges related to the bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and plans to attack US defense installations. An indictment is an formal accusation based on probable cause. A verdict is the formal finding of guilt or innocence by a jury after trial. But the difference between just punishment and lawlessness is a trial in a court of law.

The standing order in 1998 was to capture Bin Laden and bring him to trial. At some point, that order changed to an assassination order. When a suspected criminal is murdered rather than brought to trial, it’s called an “extrajudicial killing.” Justice can not be served because the system of justice has been circumvented.

President Obama serves at the pleasure of the American people. How will we reflect on our own responsibility, authority, and culpability in the assassination of Osama bin Laden? How will we hold our government accountable?

Here are a few reflections:

“Osama bin Laden – as we all know – was gravely responsible for promoting division and hatred between peoples, causing the death of countless innocent lives, and of exploiting religions to this end. Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace.”–Vatican Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi on the killing of Osama bin Laden

“Here in the Easter season, we may think back to the final days of Lent, when we heard the Passion read on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, and the Church asked us to place ourselves in the role of the chief priests and elders and of the mob that called for Christ’s death. It’s not uncommon, even, to find in Catholic devotional literature meditations in which we compare ourselves with Judas, not in the manner of the Pharisee in the parable of the Publican and Pharisee—’I thank you, Lord, that I am not like this man’—but as a means to recognize the ways in which we ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’

Viewed that way, it hardly needs to be said: When we rejoice in the death of another man, no matter how evil he may have been, our attention is not focused where it needs to be—on our own sinfulness, and our need for God’s grace.–Scott Richert, The Assassination of Osama bin Laden: A Catholic View

And from the Financial Times, an apt critique of America’s deteriorated freedoms:

Mr Obama has abandoned the most outrageous expedients that Mr Bush adopted. By executive order, for instance, he has forbidden waterboarding. But Mr Bush had already adjusted his policies, partly at the Supreme Court’s direction. The framework he left behind is essentially still in place: indefinite detentions, military tribunals, Guantánamo, the right to capture or kill, and the rest. Mr Obama is not just asserting the powers Mr Bush bequeathed, but, as in Abbottabad, is using them.

One could conclude that Mr Obama is an unprincipled tyrant – or that marrying liberal principles and the fight against terrorism is far harder than the president once believed and his critics still insist.

It would be hard to argue (and impossible to persuade the US public) that having located Osama bin Laden the US should have let the law take its course. What would that even mean? But if the fight against terrorism is not a war, the US raid on bin Laden’s compound (to say nothing of the drone strikes in Pakistan that Mr Obama has stepped up so dramatically) had no grounding in international law. These are extrajudicial killings.

Until international law recognises that the fight against terrorism is neither a conventional war nor an ordinary matter of law enforcement, it will continue to be honoured in the breach. US anti-terror law, in the meantime, needs repair in its own right. Stronger Congressional oversight is needed. More transparency is possible than current law provides. And limits on presidential authority should be imposed by law, not volunteered in reversible executive orders.

Most important, Congress needs to put time limits on the post-9/11 powers. Failure to do so in that first sweeping authorisation was a dereliction of duty. Ordinary wars end, and you know when they do. Fighting terrorism is not like that. Emergency powers were justified after 9/11, but allowing them in perpetuity is wrong. They should sunset at two-year intervals and be subject to Congressional renewal.

Jesuit Dean Brackley on Obama in El Salvador

President Barack Obama lights a candle at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador, March 2011.

Below are Dean Brackley’s reflections in the National Catholic Reporter on President Obama’s recent trip to El Salvador and his visit to Archbishop Romero’s grave in the crypt of the Cathedral.

I met Dean, a Jesuit priest, at “the UCA” (University of Central America) in San Salvador in 2005. I was in El Salvador to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination. Brackley has been at the UCA since 1990, when he volunteered with others to step in when 6 Jesuit members of the faculty were murdered by the U.S.-funded Salvadoran military in 1989.

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — President Obama and his family spent a packed overnight March 22-23 here and took the place by storm. Reactions in this polarized society couldn’t help but be mixed, but many were positive. Obama surprised and pleased most people by his historic visit to the tomb of Archbishop Romero, the 31st anniversary of whose martyrdom we celebrate today.

Obama arrived under two clouds. His administration had been decisively instrumental in allowing an illegal coup to stand in Honduras a year-and-a-half ago and for the elections organized by the coup-masters to go unchallenged. And, of course, he arrived as U.S. cruise missiles were raining down on one more Arab country. While Salvadorans know tyranny of the Gaddafi stripe, they are also very sensitive to war.

Many probably sensed that Obama, like Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, has mounted a horse he cannot fully control. He said as much when asked about helping “legalize” undocumented Salvadoran immigrants in the United States: The U.S. Congress is tying his hands. (Few drew attention to the 50-odd immigrants that the U.S. has been deporting by air to El Salvador each day for the last three years.)

The most dramatic moment of Obama’s stay was his visit to Romero’s tomb in the cathedal crypt. He listened to the current archbishop, José Luis Escobar, in silence, then closed his eyes, ostensibly in prayer. Before leaving the cathedral, the protestant president lit a candle at the rack near Romero’s tomb. The press, dominated by the right, spilled barrels of ink about Romero, about his life and ministry. (The main media had air-brushed Romero from Salvadoran history until 1999 when the Anglican Church mounted his statue, along with seven other martyrs, on the façade of Westminster Abbey.) Continue reading “Jesuit Dean Brackley on Obama in El Salvador”

Keeping Up with Catholic Peace Author Jim Douglass

Jim & Shelley Douglass

I was gratified to find this little note in the Publisher’s Weekly update about friend Jim Douglass. Simon and Schuster picked up the paperback rights to Jim’s book and chose to release it to coincide with the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination (47 years ago this week).

Oliver Stone provided the impetus for Catholic publisher Orbis to sell the paperback rights to James Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters to Simon & Schuster, which published its edition this month (Nov.).

Stone held the book up on Bill Maher’s show last year and urged all Americans to read it; he repeated that message in the Huffington Post later in the year. The book argues that Kennedy’s assassination was the result of a conspiracy between the U.S. military and intelligence communities.

On November 8 there was a panel discussion with author James W. Douglass, Oliver Stone, Lisa Pease (coauthor of The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm X), and Orbis Books publisher Robert Ellsberg at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, Calif.

S&S’s description of Jim’s book is as follows:

At the height of the Cold War, JFK risked committing the greatest crime in human history: starting a nuclear war. Horrified by the specter of nuclear annihilation, Kennedy gradually turned away from his long-held Cold Warrior beliefs and toward a policy of lasting peace. But to the military and intelligence agencies in the United States, who were committed to winning the Cold War at any cost, Kennedy’s change of heart was a direct threat to their power and influence. Once these dark “Unspeakable” forces recognized that Kennedy’s interests were in direct opposition to their own, they tagged him as a dangerous traitor, plotted his assassination, and orchestrated the subsequent cover-up.

Douglass takes readers into the Oval Office during the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, along on the strange journey of Lee Harvey Oswald and his shadowy handlers, and to the winding road in Dallas where an ambush awaited the President’s motorcade. As Douglass convincingly documents, at every step along the way these forces of the Unspeakable were present, moving people like pawns on a chessboard to promote a dangerous and deadly agenda.

I’ve said it in several previous posts and I’ll say it again – in order to understand the enormity of evil and the explosive power of conversion in modern America, this is a must-read book.

Video: Salvadoran Archbishop Romero Last Sunday Sermon (The Appeal to Soldier to Lay Down Their Guns)

Here’s a very moving 3-minute video of images (some graphic) from El Salvador’s war and the voice over of Archbishop Romero’s last Sunday sermon on March 23, 1980,  in which he appeals to the members of the Army to put down their weapons. Romero was shot and killed while celebrating Mass the following day.

The 30th anniversary of Romero’s assassination will be in March 24, 2010. I’ll be interviewed on NPR’s Latino USA by Maria Hinojosa with Salvadoran theologian Ernesto Valiente who teaches at Boston College. The English translation of an excerpt of Romero’s sermon is below the video.

Archbishop Romero:
“We want to greet the entities of YSAX, which for so long have awaited this moment which, thanks to God, has arrived. We know the risk that is run by our poor station for being the instrument and vehicle of truth and justice, but we recognize that the risk has to be taken, for behind that risk is an entire people that upholds this word of truth and justice….

We give thanks to God that a message that doesn’t mean to be more than a modest reflection of the spoken Word finds marvelous channels of outreach and tells many people that, in the context of Lent, all of this is preparation for our Easter, and Easter is a shout of victory. No one can extinguish that life which Christ revived. Not even death and hatred against him and against his Church will be able to overcome it. He is the victor!

As he will flourish in an Easter of unending resurrection, it is necessary to also accompany him in Lent, in a Holy Week that is cross, sacrifice, martyrdom; as he would say, “Happy are those who do not become offended by their cross!” Lent is then a call to celebrate our redemption in that difficult complex of cross and victory. Our people are very qualified, all their surroundings preach to us of cross; but all who have Christian faith and hope know that behind this Calvary of El Salvador is our Easter, our resurrection, and that is the hope of the Christian people….

Today, as diverse historical projects emerge for our people, we can be sure that victory will be had by the one that best reflects the plan of God. And this is the mission of the Church. That is why, in the light of the divine Word that reveals the designs of God for the happiness of the peoples, we have the duty, dear brothers and sisters, to also point out the facts, to see how the plan of God is being reflected or disdained in our midst. Let no one take badly the fact that we illuminate the social, political, and economic truths by the light of the divine words that are read at our Mass, because not to do so would, for us, be un-Christian….

Continue reading “Video: Salvadoran Archbishop Romero Last Sunday Sermon (The Appeal to Soldier to Lay Down Their Guns)”

Video: Oliver Stone on Bill Maher Talking about Jim Douglass’ “JFK and the Unspeakable”

Film director Oliver Stone was on the Bill Maher show in June. Stone brought along a copy of Jim Douglass’ book JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. Stone’s support for Jim’s book bumped it up to #31 on Amazon the day after it aired.

Though HBO pulled the video of the interview, it’s now back up and you can see it here. Also, you can see my video interviews with Jim Douglass from last spring here. The JFK part starts at about 3:45 minutes.

Oliver Stone promos Jim Douglass’ “JFK and the Unspeakable” on Bill Maher

oliver-stone-on-bill-mahr

HBO has pulled down most of the YouTube videos of Bill Maher’s June 26 interview with film director Oliver Stone for some kind of copyright reasons. But none the less, Oliver Stone brought Jim Douglass’ ground-breaking book JFK and the Unspeakable: Who Killed Him and Why It Matters on to the show and gave it a great plug! Apparently, Bill Maher had already read it.

See my interview with Jim Douglass about this book and read my column on Jim’s book.

“JFK and the Unspeakable” by Jim Douglass

shelleyjimdouglass1I’ve been honored to know Jim Douglass and Shelley Douglass since their days at the Ground Zero community in Poulsbo, Washington. Now they live in Birmingham, Alabama. Shelley leads their mission at Mary’s House, in the spirit of the Catholic Worker. Jim continues to be one of the foremost Catholic writers, thinkers, theologians, and practitioners of Christian nonviolence.

In Jim’s groundbreaking 2008 book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Mattersjfk-unspeakable, he  probes the role of the principalities and powers in the assassination of John Kennedy, the first Catholic President, and explores why we need to understand our history if we are going to fully understand what is at stake with Barack Obama. Here’s a little bit of what I wrote after visiting with Jim last December:

Kennedy showcased his new vision in June 1963 during a speech at American University in Washington, D.C., by preaching on the absolute necessity for nations to choose peace. “What kind of peace do I mean?” asked Kennedy. “Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living … .”

It was this speech, Douglass says, that prompted the Unspeakable—in the form of people within the U.S. intelligence and military structure—to act.

FAST-FORWARD TO Jan. 28, 2008, when Ted and Caroline Kennedy stood on the stage at American University to endorse Barack Obama for president. President Kennedy’s 1963 speech formed the historical backdrop. The Kennedys, I think, were sending a message: Barack Obama can pick up the banner for peace dropped by John Kennedy in death.

You can read my whole column about my visit with Jim here–and look for a review of JFK and the Unspeakable by Ed Snyder in the March 2009 issue of Sojourners.