An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Thou Shalt Not be a Bystander




"Members of Washington-area Catholic groups began the Lenten season Wednesday by smearing ashes over walkways in front of the White House as a symbol of what they called repentance for the country's involvement in the war in Iraq and the torture of Guantanamo detainees." - theday.com, Feb. 7, 2008.

One particular sin that all Americans should do penance for is the sin of abandoning the human rights for which we once were admired. The following is a passage from the Military Commissions Act: "No person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States is a party as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories." The U.S. thereby revokes 800 years of evolution toward humanity.

Clearly, the purpose of this act is to instill fear and intimidate those who might be tempted to resist the empire's reach. Ft. Huachuca is one of the principle sites where our military are trained in torture techniques against "enemy combatants" under an infamous veteran of the Iraq occupation, Major General Barbara Fast. In the words of one who has risked and accepted jail repeatedly in witness to the law of Christ, Fr. Louis Vitale, "We are becoming more aware of how central the mission of Ft. Huachuca is to the Domination System's apparatus for world control and for intimidation of those who might thwart our political/economic purposes both here and abroad (witness Guantanamo). Our effort may just be the first steps in exploring what is happening at Ft. Huachuca, but the larger picture continues to emerge. I feel an ever greater commitment to do what we can to stop what is happening at Ft. Huachuca and wherever we encounter this force of domination and suffering."

Along with him stood Fr. Steve Kelly, about whom his Jesuit provincial has written, "Guided by the Gospel mandate of peace and nonviolence, as well as the Ignatian commitment to a faith that does justice, Steve is no stranger to being imprisoned for speaking and acting out against institutions and mechanisms of violence. Steve's prophetic witness against nuclear proliferation and war-making speaks a Christ-like love for peace--a voice all too often drowned out and actively suppressed by the cultural and political powers that support violence and war. His incarceration provides a powerful point of reference for contemplating the truth of Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer's famous line: 'Thou shall not be a victim. Thou shall not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shall not be a bystander.'" - Letter of Provincial, California Province, Society of Jesus.

To those Christians who believe that Romans teaches them to obey the government no matter what the justice or injustice of its laws might be, I reply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, "[T]here are two types of laws: just and unjust … One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.' ... We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was 'legal' ... Any law that degrades human personality is unjust ... I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.'" - Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

"An unjust law is no law at all." This has been the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church for over fifteen hundred years, as most fully expounded by St. Thomas Aquinas. The idea that Catholics could defend a law that allows torture is blasphemous. From the traditional Christian viewpoint, it is the major generals, the judges and the politicians who use law as an instrument of power to dominate the weak who are the true lawbreakers. It is they who diminish respect for the law by protecting its abuse as an instrument to shield mercenary murderers from the justice which will one day come calling.

Secret trials have become a reality in the U.S. and they are not just for alleged "enemy combatants." "A month after the Nisour Square massacre, on Oct. 20, a group of about 50 activists gathered outside Blackwater’s gates in Moyock, N.C. There, they reenacted the Nisour Square shooting and staged a 'die-in,' involving a vehicle painted with bullet marks and blood. The activists stained their clothing with fake blood and dramatized the deadly shooting spree." - Jeremy Scahill, "Pioneering Blackwater Protesters Given Secret Trial and Criminal Conviction"

For those who need a reminder, armed thugs from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded more than 20 others in Baghdad’s Nisour Square last September. As of yet, no charges have been brought. Indeed, because of the State Department's illegal guarantees of immunity, it is very unlikely that any charges will ever be brought. The treatment given to those whose conscience moved them to bring these crimes to public notice was far different.

"Their action at Blackwater, the activists said, was in response to war crimes, the killing of civilians and the fact that no legal system — civilian or military — was holding Blackwater responsible. The Nisour Square massacre, they said, 'is the Iraq war in microcosm.'"

But the judge had no mercy for this flagrant display of the duties of American citizens to bring crime to the attention of the state. "But District Court Judge Edgar Barnes would have none of it. So outraged was he at Baggarly, the first of the defendants to appear before him that day, that the judge cleared the court following his conviction. No spectators, no family members, no journalists, no defense witnesses remained. The other six activists were tried in total secrecy — well, secret to everyone except the prosecutors, sheriffs, government witnesses and one Blackwater official. Judge Barnes swiftly tried the remaining six activists behind closed doors and convicted them all. It was as though Currituck, N.C., became Gitmo for a day." - Jeremy Scahill, "Pioneering Blackwater Protesters Given Secret Trial and Criminal Conviction"

Every last one of these dangerous Christians, upholding God's law in the face of blasphemous disregard for human life, was secretly convicted while their accusers looked on. Truth - what is that? No one was allowed to hear the truth.

So blatantly illegal was the action of the judge that the ACLU stated, "'It’s a clear violation of constitutional rights, not only of the defendants but the press and public,' said Katy Parker, the group’s legal director. 'They have a right to a public trial, so any trial that goes on behind closed doors is a farce.' She added, 'We are very concerned about this reported disrespect for the laws of our land by a member of the judiciary, especially in a controversial and politically laden case such as this.'" - Jeremy Scahill, "Pioneering Blackwater Protesters Given Secret Trial and Criminal Conviction"

But where was the arm of American justice when Mohammed Hafiz cried out? "Mohammed Hafiz was driving four children when Blackwater mercenaries riddled the car with bullets. His ten-year-old son Ali was shot in the head. Mohammed had to gather up pieces of the child’s skull and brains for the burial. During one point in the massacre, Blackwater operatives concentrated fire on a passenger bus. A small boy fled the bus in terror and was shot down as was his mother who ran after him." - statement of Steve Baggarly at his trial.

While drug-crazed butchers are coddled, those who publicize the killing are prosecuted to the limits of the law and even subjected to lectures on theology. After hearing the reasons for their action, the judge said, "'I’ve always thought that if you’re going to be a follower of Jesus or someone who appreciates the Constitution, you can’t select the portions that you like and disregard the rest,'" - Jeremy Scahill, "Pioneering Blackwater Protesters Given Secret Trial and Criminal Conviction"

I'm sure Jesus would agree with the judge, but would show mercy to the "Christian" thugs who had no mercy for the inhabitants of Nisour Square.

"So where there is illegitimacy in political authority or the disorder of coerced order, or injustice of any degree afflicted upon anyone, there is blasphemy. And when nations conceive their own sanctification and pronounce wars just, there is a bombast and blasphemy of the Antichrist." - William Stringfellow, Conscience and Obedience.

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