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

Guantanamo: When Will it Get Foreclosed?

Demonstrators with Witness Against Torture march to the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, on January 11, 2011. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Please keep in your prayers the fasters who are in prayer at the U.S. capitol between January 11-21 keeping vigil for the closing of the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo. As an opening to their prayer vigil yesterday, they engaged in a little prophetic street theater in front of the Justice Department.

In August 2007, candidate Obama promised to close Guantanamo, saying “As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.”

In January 2009, one of President Obama’s first official acts was to sign an executive order promising to close Guantanamo within one year. “This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he said.

Christians and others are taking the lead in holding President Obama accountable for his pledge.

A group of 173 human rights activists, each wearing an orange jumpsuit and a black hood and representing the remaining 173 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rallied in front of the White House on Tuesday to mark the ninth anniversary of the detention center’s opening and to protest the Obama administration’s inability to close it.

“Detainees, halt!” yelled Carmen Trotta, a volunteer with the group Witness Against Torture, who wore military fatigues as he gathered the protesters in Lafayette Park. “Turn left. Face the home of your captor.”

The rally and street theater were organized by a coalition of groups – including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows – that are calling on the administration to either try Guantanamo Bay detainees in federal court or release them.

“We believe in and promote the rule of law,” said Valerie Lucznikowska, whose nephew was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and who described the military detention center in Cuba as a “living stain on America.”

Last January 2010 passed and we now move into a second year of with 173 men and boys still held in an extrajudicial setting. Obama has learned that the issue “is complicated.” Indeed it is. But it must be done. America’s democracy requires that we “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.”