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

Photographs: ‘Dream Big Dreams’

Here are two photographs pulled from the White House Flickr stream. I like both of them for very different reasons. I hope you enjoy them also.

ohealthcareedit

This is an “Official White House Photo” taken by Pete Souza. President Obama and Jon Favreau, head speechwriter, edit a speech on health care in the Oval Office, Sept. 9, 2009, in preparation for the president’s address to a joint session of Congress. As a writer and editor, I just love to see the mark-ups. There’s a creative elegance to it.

dreambig

This photo’s also by Pete Souza. It shows Obama’s signature on a wall in a health classroom at Southwest High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin, June 11, 2009. The staff at the school, where the President attended a town hall meeting on health care, left a note asking him to sign the wall for future students to see. He wrote, “Dream big dreams” (or perhaps “Dream hip dreams,” which also is cool with me).

‘When Fortune Turns Against One of Us …”: In Defense of Liberalism

cardboardcityorigLast night, at the end of his health care speech, President Obama gave one of the great defenses of the modern Liberal political tradition — the important role that government has to play in defending liberty and providing for the common good.

He layed out a healthcare reform platform that sets in place a cushion for those times “when forture turns against one of us.” It’s an organized way of making sure that we are “there to lend a helping hand.” We do this because it is right, because it makes us better human beings, because it’s spiritually enlivening, because it is fiscally appropriate, and because it’s what we want someone to do for us and our kids if we ever need it.

In some ways, the reactionary town-hall tiffs orchestrated by a few folks on the Far-Right forced Obama to teach a national civics lesson. Sixth grade civics covers the meaning of citizenship; how citizens exercise roles, rights, responsibilities of civic duty at local, state, and national levels; how power, responsibility, and authority are distributed, shared, and limited; the purpose, organization, and function of local, state, and national government, etc.

Obama framed the end of his speech with excerpts from a letter from Ted Kennedy: “What we face,” Kennedy wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

Here’s the last section of Obama’s speech:

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it the most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed — the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town halls, in e-mails, and in letters.

I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death.

In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends, his wife, Vicki, his amazing children, who are all here tonight. And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform — “that great unfinished business of our society,” he called it — would finally pass. He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that “it concerns more than material things.” “What we face,” he wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

I’ve thought about that phrase quite a bit in recent days — the character of our country. One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and, yes, sometimes angry debate. That’s our history.

For some of Ted Kennedy’s critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their minds, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.

But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here — people of both parties — know that what drove him was something more. His friend Orrin Hatch — he knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend John McCain knows that. They worked together on a Patient’s Bill of Rights. His friend Chuck Grassley knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.

On issues like these, Ted Kennedy’s passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick. And he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance, what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent, there is something that could make you better, but I just can’t afford it.

That large-heartedness — that concern and regard for the plight of others — is not a partisan feeling. It’s not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character — our ability to stand in other people’s shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

This has always been the history of our progress. In 1935, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism, but the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it. In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.

You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter — that at that point we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.

That was true then. It remains true today. I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road — to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.

But that is not what the moment calls for. That’s not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it’s hard. I still believe — I still believe that we can act when it’s hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history’s test.

Because that’s who we are. That is our calling. That is our character. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Read the whole transcript here.

Obama Defends Closing Guantanamo and Cleaning Up Bush-Cheney Mess

breakingthesilence_dianna_fCleaning up the Bush-Cheney mess will take some time and take careful and responsible work by this new administration. They must be guided by humanitarian principles and the clear separation of powers and protection of citizen’s rights outlined in the Constitution.

If you haven’t preached a sermon on what’s wrong with torture, I suggest you get on it! (Read Back to Basics: T is for Torture to understand why we need to teach from the pulpit that torture is a sin.)

Preach with the lectionary in one hand and President Obama’s national security speech in the other. Consider using Psalm 1, if you’re using the Revised Common Lectionary:

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

Or Ephesians 1:20-21, on this Christ who was tortured, if you are using the Ascension readings:

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

Following is an exerpt from the text of President Obama’s speech this morning on national security issues, as released by the White House.

We’re currently launching a review of current policies by all those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a position to review executive branch decisions on these matters. Because in our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers — especially when it comes to sensitive administration — information.

Now, along these same lines, my administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the “state secrets” privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It’s been used by many past Presidents — Republican and Democrat — for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary in some circumstances to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. It is also currently the subject of a wide range of lawsuits. So let me lay out some principles here. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrassment to the government. And that’s why my administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.

And we plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the state secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following our own formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. And each year we will voluntarily report to Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why because, as I said before, there must be proper oversight over our actions.

On all these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there was some simple formula out there to be had. There is not. These often involve tough calls, involve competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: We will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it’s uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don’t know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why.

Read his whole speech here.