Eric Holder And The Targeted Killing of Americans

11 June 1963: Vivian Malone entering Foster Auditorium to register for classes at the University of Alabama. Vivian Malone, one of the first African Americans to attend the university, walks through a crowd that includes photographers, National Guard members, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.

Recently, I listened to the 5 March 2012 speech by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in which he defend the targeted killing of U.S. citizens at the sole discretion of the president of the United States.

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

BP: Is It Time to Ban Companies Again?

It appears that BP has decided it needs tips from the Spin Master to protect its thoroughly corroded reputation in the U.S. No, they haven’t hired Republican strategist Frank Luntz. Instead they head-hunted Anne Womack-Kolton to take up the lead role for BP’s U.S. media relations.

In one of her previous jobs Anne was  press secretary to the Master of the Dark Arts, none other than Dick Cheney himself. She was also the handler on the National Energy Policy Development Group aka Vice President Cheney’s “Energy Task Force” that was supposed to be made up of “government officials” and ended up being packed with CEOs from BP, Chevron, Enron, ConocoPhillips, American Petroleum Institute, and … wait for it … Grover Norquist and Gail Norton’s Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

With BP’s stock in a much-applauded death spiral, we can now look forward to the high-sheen of Anne’s corporate disinformation campaign.

Carcass of a decomposing dolphin on rocks at Queen Bess Island in Gulf of Mexico.

Additionally, in the last few days more than 300,000 people have joined the Boycott BP Facebook campaign and are demonstrating in the streets, at BP gas stations, and boycotting BP products (such as Castrol, Arco, Aral, AM /PM, Amoco, and Wild Bean Cafe).

The best news is that Attorney General Eric Holder is opening a criminal investigation against BP. This is exactly how a government should behave and I applaud Holder’s forward movement on this.

In my estimation, BP should be banned for 50 years from doing business in the United States. Whether or not criminal charges are brought against the company, they are guilty of criminal malfeasance and endangering thousands of lives.

Here’s a section from a great article in The Guardian:

Robert Reich, the former labour secretary under Bill Clinton, today called for BP’s US operations to be seized by the government until the leak had been plugged. A group called Seize BP is planning demonstrations in 50 US cities, calling for the company to be stripped of its assets. The stock plunged 15% , or $6.43, to close at $36.52 at the end regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The criminal investigation announced by the American attorney general was launched just hours after Obama promised to prosecute any parties found to have broken the law in the lead up to the disaster. The president dropped several threatening comments into a 10-minute address from the White House to mark the start of an independent commission to look into the causes of explosion.

But the reality is that even if there was enough public and political pressure to close down British Petroleum, we wouldn’t have solved the problem. These massive environmental catastrophe’s are going to continue.

Here’s the radical wisdom of Catholic teaching that addresses this situation from Pope Benedict’s encyclical Charity and Truth:

The Church’s social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence. The social sciences and the direction taken by the contemporary economy point to the same conclusion. Perhaps at one time it was conceivable that first the creation of wealth could be entrusted to the economy, and then the task of distributing it could be assigned to politics. Today that would be more difficult, given that economic activity is no longer circumscribed within territorial limits, while the authority of governments continues to be principally local. Hence the canons of justice must be respected from the outset, as the economic process unfolds, and not just afterwards or incidentally….

In the global era, the economy is influenced by competitive models tied to cultures that differ greatly among themselves. The different forms of economic enterprise to which they give rise find their main point of encounter in commutative justice. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.

Maybe BP can convert itself into a transnational nonprofit dedicated to establishing bioreserves where they pay local communities to keep the oil in the ground and to keep the natural habitats healthy and whole.

Why We Need to Indict on Torture

botero-woman-for-web-029I’m digging around in the Torture Memos and came across this Senate Armed Services Committee report from last December. Here’s  a quote from the introductory summation:

“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of a ‘few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strenthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”—U.S. Senate Armed Services Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody (released December 11, 2008)

I’ve been going back and forth about whether it’s better to pursue criminal charges against government officials who were involved in the U.S. Torture Scandal.

On the one hand, you want to hold people accountable – especially when the results are so inhuman and heinous. On the other hand, the temptation toward political payback could undermine any legitimate pursuit for justice.

Then I remembered that the population roundups, concentration camps, and killing chambers were all perfectly legal in Germany in 1933-1945 and that one thing that came out of the trial of Secretary of Jewish Affairs Adolf Eichmann was that a psychiatrist examined him and found him perfectly sane (see A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann by Thomas Merton).

In the end, I think U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder needs to appoint an independent prosecutor to pursue indictments against the following:

1. George W. Bush for requesting in writing legal determinations for evading the Geneva Conventions

2. Department of Defense Counsel William J. Haynes II for requesting in writing that abusive tactics “similar to those used by our enemies” should be considered for us against detainees in US custody.

3. Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzalez and Counsel to the Vice President David Addington for rendering legal interpetations to distort the meaning of existing anti-torture laws.

4. Major General Michael Dunlavey who authorized use of torture techniques at Guantanamo Bay.

5. Judge Advocate Colonel Diane Beaver for providing sub-par legal renderings to justify torture at Guantanamo.

6. Major General Geoffrey Miller, Dunlavey’s successor at Guantanamo, that ignored warnings from the DOD and FBI that the torture techniques he was endorsing were unlawful and counter-productive and who encouraged more aggressive interrogation techniques be used in Iraq.

7. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers and his legal counsel Jane Dalton for cutting short the legal and policy review process of interrogation procedures at Guantanamo.

8. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo.

9. Department of Justice legal counsel John Yoo for rendering legal interpretations intentionally crafted to distort the meaning of existing anti-torture laws.

10. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez for approving torture policies–including the use of dogs, stress positions, and environmental stimuli–at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

11. Department of Justice legal counsel Jay S. Bybee for providing sub-par legal rationale for using torture to extract information from al Qaeda operatives.

12. Acting Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury for providing sub-par legal rationale for using torture to extract information from al Qaeda operatives.

13. Number 13 is Vice President Richard Cheney.

When asked last December by Jonathan Karl on ABC news “Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?”

Vice President Cheney answered: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.”

E-mail Attorney General Holder at [email protected] or here.