You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2009.

The First 100 Days

                “Barack Obama Sent Somali Pirates a Trio of Snipers:  100 days of Obama’s Facebook news feed,” By Christopher Beam and Chris Wilson. Posted April 29, 2009.

                “The Patient Is in Stable Condition:  Obama calmed the economy in his first 100 days. Now what should he do?”  by Daniel Gross.  Posted April 29, 2009.

               “The Worst 100 Days,”  by Slate V.  Posted April 29, 2009.

               “The Party of ‘Oh No’:  If you thought the GOP’s first 100 days were bad, wait for the second 100,” by Christopher Beam.  Posted April 28, 2009.


Plan to Cut Weapons Programs Disputed

Defense Supporters Say 100,000 Jobs Are in Jeopardy

By Dan Eggen, Washington Post Staff Writer, April 28, 2009

Some of the nation’s largest defense contractors, labor unions and trade groups are banding together to argue that the Obama administration is putting 100,000 or more jobs at risk by proposing deep cuts in weapons programs. 

The defense industry and its supporters argue that the proposals by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will increase unemployment during a historic economic crisis. Why, they ask, would President Obama push hundreds of billions in stimulus spending to create jobs only to propose weapons cuts that would eliminate tens of thousands of them?

“It doesn’t make sense that our government is looking at trying to save or create jobs at the same time it’s talking about cutting something like this,” said Jeff Goen, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers chapter in Marietta, Ga., where Lockheed Martin does final assembly on the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, which is slated to be cut.

….Gates and other Obama administration officials argue that job-loss fears are overstated, and note that the Pentagon’s overall budget would increase by $20 billion, to $534 billion, under the plan released this month. Proclaiming the need to “reshape the priorities of America’s defense establishment,” Gates called for halting or cutting a host of programs that have been plagued by delays, cost overruns or performance problems, including the F-22, the C-17, a fleet of new presidential helicopters and the Future Combat Systems program.

But Gates and his generals have also tailored the budget to include growth in other programs that may lower the intensity of opposition, and has successfully brought Air Force generals in line on cutting back the F-22 and other programs that the service has historically championed. Although Maine would lose some jobs with the shuttering of the F-22 program, for example,  Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) praised Gates for planning to build three DDG-1000 destroyers at General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works.

“A lot of people are ascribing real cleverness to Gates in the way he has structured this,” said Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute think tank. “He has spread things out in a way aimed at dividing and weakening opposition.”

read whole article here

and another blogger’s response “bullet trains instead of bullets”  here

and an educational wand pdf on the issue here

a sample:  (from wand brochure)



May 2009

Mother’s Peace Day 
by Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss

“Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’”Julia Ward Howe

Though we’ve lost sight of its origins, Mother’s Day began as a cry for peace in the wake of war. In 1872 Julia Ward Howe–mother, abolitionist, poet, and suffragist–envisioned that for one day each year the women of the world would call for peace. She named it Mother’s Peace Day.

And this year, I want to honor the mothers of Afghanistan by calling for a renewed commitment to a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan that empowers women to participate on equal footing with men in the rebuilding of their nation.

When President Obama announced his plan to send an additional 21,000 troops into Afghanistan, I came down with a serious case of ambivalence. Just give the President’s plan a chance, I found myself thinking. Yet the striking parallels between the surge in Iraq (which candidate Obama vociferously opposed) and the proposed surge in Afghanistan prompted me to engage the issue more thoughtfully. Why, I wondered, was my knee-jerk reaction to entrust the healing of a war-torn nation to a military escalation?

My thoughts turned to a personal email I received from a Pakistani woman, who confessed: the Taliban are getting stronger in Northern areas of Pakistan and people are conscious that if they are not stopped, one day they will reach our capitol. Women across the country are terrified due to this incident in which the Taliban whipped a young veiled girl publicly in a Swat village. Children are shocked by watching this scene on TV and ask their parents, “Why are they beating her?” Yesterday our women’s prayer group prayed for this wave of Talibanization, for God to stop it.

The news has come in from Kandahar, Karachi, and Kabul about the resilience of girls and women in the face of fundamentalist violence. Teenage girls sprayed with acid defy terror daily in their perilous journey to school. More than 500 women rallied in Karachi to protest the flogging of a burka-clad teenager. And despite the heckling of angry men, 300 women marched two miles to the parliament building in Kabul to resist a new law that permits marital rape.

In spite of their courage, I seem to have lost mine. The Taliban’s terrible hatred of women tempts me to trust in the myth of redemptive violence. If ever there was a time when I wanted to solve a problem with military force, this is it. I imagine the terror of a nuclear armed Taliban and another generation of girls robbed of their right to quality education and health care, exposed to violence in every sphere of their lives. The absolute horror of misogyny disguised as religion compels even a peacemaker like me to proclaim that all options should remain on the table for dealing with such unjust violence.

But what is best for the girls and women of Afghanistan and Pakistan? What do they want for their future and, in their experience, what is the best pathway to a just peace that welcomes them to fully participate in public life?

In a recent poll, just 18% of Afghans support a troop increase. Afghan women surveyed through Women for Women International cite peace and security as their greatest priority. Their 2009 Afghanistan Report states, “If Afghan women can participate shoulder to shoulder with men in rebuilding their country, all of society will benefit. Before this can happen, though, women need access to the health, education, economic, civic, and security resources that are their rights as humans.”

Can military escalation achieve these goals? According to Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are “the most important element driving the resurgence of the Taliban.” And with those forces pushing insurgents into Pakistan, risking the further destabilization of a nuclear-armed state, military escalation could prove disastrous.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, argues that the “militarization of U.S. foreign policy” has not been constructive in achieving security. In fact, the RAND Corporation issued a report last year demonstrating that only 7% of terrorist groups were brought down by military force. Most terrorist group networks have dissolved into the political process or through intelligence resulting in criminal prosecution.

Highly militarized societies, however, almost always produce bad results for women. Kavita Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women claims, “Yes Afghanistan needs troops–but it needs troops of doctors, troops of teachers, troops of Peace Corps volunteers, and troops of farmers to go and replant the fruit orchards.” While nations like India have provided Afghanistan with doctors, the world has grown weary of the only American boots on the ground belonging to those in the military. Eleven aid agencies, including Oxfam, recently issued a report claiming that a military escalation will lead to increased civilian casualties, further eroding our credibility. Rather than military escalation, we needtargeted economic and strong diplomatic engagement to resolve this conflict.”

And so in memory of Julia Ward Howe’s audacious proclamation of Mother’s Peace Day and in honor of the Afghan women who so courageously resist fundamentalist violence, I lift my voice for peace this Mother’s Day. I hope you will join me. In the words of Julia, “Arise, all women who have hearts!”

Looking for a Mother’s Peace Day resource for use in the classroom or with a small group? Check out “Women and War: the Survival of Hope” from WAND’s Faith Seeking Peace curriculum and WAND’s action guide, “The Real Meaning of Mother’s Day.

The Mental Murder of Torture

By Russell E. Saltzman

Tuesday, April 28, 2009, 12:00 AM

The story is increasingly shameful—how the United States conducted “enhanced interrogations” of terrorist suspects.  Some of the story has been out a long time, if only in bits and pieces, appearing in various news outlets.  But it really got hot and better documented after the November elections, and there is every indication of its getting hotter, especially following the Obama administration’s release of CIA papers.  Yet one of the more devastating accounts is that of the International Committee of the Red Cross.  By any standard, the treatment reported amounted to torture—strenuous enough, brutal enough, as to require medical personnel in attendance as the suspects were subjected to it.

Stop there.  Medical personnel?  Yes.  The Red Cross report (awkwardly titled Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody) details the role of—shall we call them health-care professionals—before, during, and after episodes of interrogation. The Red Cross never quite uses the word torture, but I am at a loss for another. The report never strays over the edge of calling the medical personnel doctors, but the implication is there.

Medical personnel monitored the prisoners’ vital signs and over-all stress as they were undergoing physical abuse.  According to the Red Cross report, medical personnel would advise interrogators on the prisoner’s condition, whether to continue the abuse, moderate it, or suspend it for a time.  Medical personnel aiding interrogators, as the report laconically puts it, violates standard medical ethics.

any interrogation process that requires a health professional to either pronounce on the subject’s fitness to withstand such a procedure, or which requires a health professional to monitor the actual procedure, must have inherent health risks. . . . As such, the interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics.

Most people should be able to figure it out: If a doctor is needed during questioning, the means used in the questioning are morally suspect. The use of medical personnel reminds us of how susceptible medicine is to the contortions of nationalism, ideology, national security, even popular demand, and how difficult it may be for people of ordinary moral impulse to resist pressure from superiors.

The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Robert Jay Lifton (1986) offers still instructive reading.

In the case of official corporal punishment (for instance, whipping), SS doctors were required both to sign forms attesting to the physical capacity of an inmate to absorb such punishment, as well as to be present while it was administered.

The Red Cross describes several of the “enhanced” techniques used on the suspects, including waterboarding, also called “suffocation by water.”  Waterboarding is well known, being the subject of press conference questions and congressional hearings.  Not so well known are the other techniques cataloged in the Red Cross report that were regularly employed by U.S. intelligence agents in the CIA detention program.  The only two methods missing are thumbscrews and bamboo slivers under fingernails.

Among the procedures was prolonged stress-standing with arms chained above the head while the victim is made to stand naked for days, compelled to defecate and urinate in place. Add to that beating, kicking, slaps, and punches to the body and face.  Sleep deprivation by exposure to loud, repetitive noises and music for protracted periods of time.  Some of the prisoners underwent confinement in a box for extended periods of time, enduring cramped, restricted movement.  Exposure to cold temperatures was another, keeping cells or interrogation rooms uncomfortably cool, sometimes made more acute with the addition of cold water poured over the body.  Ill-treatment also involved continuous use of shackles and handcuffs, forced shaving, and denial of solid food—all carefully tended by U.S. medical professionals.

I’ve been trying, like many Americas, to think this thing through.  There is the altogether practical question: Did torture help us? Did it make America safer?  Was the information really good, helpful, in thwarting terrorists?  Did it actually in fact spoil pending plots? Frankly, the evidence is mixed.

But I really don’t care.  Whether torture “worked” or not as an interrogative tactic is far from the main question.  I’m a pastor.  I think as a pastor, which is to say as a parish theologian. I don’t care if these guys shrieked like little girls on the playground and blubbered out plots for everything from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to knocking over Bagdad candy stores as juvenile delinquents.  Torture is morally wrong.  It is morally wrong, theologically speaking, because it is an attack upon the imago Dei, upon the image of God inherent to every human life.

Now, I’m not so dumb or so liberal that I can’t understand and remember and share the anger the September 11 attack produced in America, nor was I the least bit hesitant in supporting the studied determination of making sure that nothing like it ever happens again. But if there is anyone suggesting the American homeland is safer today for having abandoned the ordinary principles of humane treatment for prisoners in American custody, then he’s a moral midget.  Torture is not what Americans do.  Not if we still have some lingering respect for the rights with which God endows humanity.

Are there any exceptions?

Two exceptions are frequently put forward.   The screws may be put to a suspected terrorist with intimate and detailed knowledge of a planned attack that almost certainly will claim hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives—the “ticking clock” scenario.   The information is presumed “hard,” “actionable,” revealing something that will be operational momentarily, or become so within mere days or weeks.   Torture in this imagined scenario is not only a permissible tactic, but also one that is morally imperative, aimed at the immediate protection of innocent lives.

The second exception is a milder version of the first, and uses the same reasoning as that applied in the cases of the fourteen detainees named by the Red Cross.   The specific information held by suspects of this class, as well as any general information they might be made to disclose, is regarded as so potentially important as to justify rough, continuously torturous handling over lengthy periods of time.   If not rising to the level of moral imperative, as in the first scenario, the application of torture nonetheless is justified within existing legal and constitutional parameters as a fair means of extracting vital information from uncooperative suspects.  This scenario sees torture under these conditions as permissibly routine, an ordinary protocol in the treatment of terrorist suspects.

The trouble is both scenarios are inherently flawed.  They are detached from necessity and morality, to say nothing of reality.

It is a questionable assumption, first, that intelligence agents will ever have advance knowledge of an event with thousands of lives at stake, where prevention settles down to the information that can come from one, and only one, single terrorist—singled out and known to have knowledge of the plan.  This simply isn’t the way the work is done.  The 2006 intelligence work in Britain that thwarted sixteen suspected terrorists from hijacking several aircraft and blowing them up over the Atlantic is a case in point.  The arrests were made, said British police, as the plan was about to go operational.   Multiple sources, including tips from or near the inside, stopped the plot in its tracks.  Prevention of this kind depends upon many sources, frequently carefully cultivated sources.  The single guy tortured into cooperation saving countless lives simply does not exist.  The scenario dissolves under examination.

As for situations with high value prisoners, the second exception, what possible justification exists for waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times, as the CIA memos reveal? Khalid, the admitted planner of the September 11 attack, was captured in 2003.  The others were captured prior to him or some while following.  By this time a lot was already known about al Qaeda—its structure, intentions, and perhaps its contemplated operations were already exposed.  It is difficult to understand how 183 trips to the waterboard provided anything new or useful.

Both scenarios used to justify torture are at best imaginary.  As such, they can hardly be invoked, and when employed as justification they represent not much more than wishful thinking or a poor television script.

We’re back to the moral question, asking again:  Why is torture wrong?  These fourteen detainees are some of our worst enemies.  The instinct to treat them as they have treated us is understandable, perhaps to a degree even irresistible, and rather terrible when unleashed.

Yet torture is wrong because it can never serve a moral purpose.  It serves instead only an immoral purpose: the destruction of an individual’s personhood.  It is violence against the imago Dei, the image of God carried by every person.

Crucial to the use of torture is the intentional, systematic, step-by-step reduction of identity and selfhood, the purposeful diminution of the person as person, as the image of God cheapened to something less, to something “unperson.” The “other” is depersonalized. It is this process of thinking which gives us license for abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and torture—everything that strips the person of personal humanity.

The enormity of the crime is of course granted. I don’t ever want to see Khalid or the others like him released. But I certainly regret that my government tortured him. His torture may have begun in a manner that was thought, even sworn, to be a measured and reasoned response for protecting a civil populace, part of a wider battle being waged to prevent actual and imminent dangers. But torture remains and will always be an abominable assault upon the imago Dei. At some fundamental level we declared that Khalid was not made in the image of God. From that, all else was inevitable.

However it was initiated—all the lawyerly vetting that went on, and all the jabber about military necessity and keeping America safe—Khalid’s torture ended up being nothing more than torture, and only that. Somewhere well before the one-hundred eighty-third trip to the waterboard, torture was no longer merely an unproductive means of coaxing information from a suspect. It became an impersonal bureaucratized process that swiped his individuality. It was a form of mental murder.

Along with an account of Khalid’s crimes also must come an account of his humanity. Personhood carries an elementary dignity, even when the person carrying it is one of our cruelest enemies.

Russell E. Saltzman is associate editor of First Things.

monthly archives


Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

  • 347,934

say hello

If you drop by my site, I'd love to know what brought you here and a bit about where you are from and how you feel about your visit. Take a minute and say hello!


This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.
April 2009



On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory