News flash: The U.S. is using remotely piloted drones for targeted killing strikes against suspected terrorists. If you don’t think that’s news, you’re right. For years, it’s been the worst kept secret in Washington, but a speech yesterday by White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan was the first official acknowledgement of the program. He insisted that it is consistent with U.S. and international law, even while admitting that civilians have been killed.
The news report noted,
"Brennan’s speech was also noteworthy, however, for what he withheld. He did not disclose how many people have been killed, list all the locations where armed drones are being flown or mention the administration’s increasing reliance on “signature” strikes, which allow the CIA to fire missiles even when it doesn’t know the identities of those who could be killed".
While this policy of targeted assassination should be ended immediately, the admission that it exists is an important step toward an important public debate.
Peter Bergen, a director of the New America Foundation, writes: “The president who won the Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months after his inauguration has turned out to be one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades.”
And he adds up the evidence of the past four years:
"Mr. Obama decimated Al Qaeda’s leadership. He overthrew the Libyan dictator. He ramped up drone attacks in Pakistan, waged effective covert wars in Yemen and Somalia and authorized a threefold increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He became the first president to authorize the assassination of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and played an operational role in Al Qaeda, and was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. And, of course, Mr. Obama ordered and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden."
These actions, allegedly against the “threat of terrorism,” are reminiscent of the so-called Reagan Doctrine against the “threat of communism” in the early-to-mid 1980s. We’re still paying the price for the use of covert operations to attack insurgents, while supporting repressive and corrupt governments in that era. The Mujaheddin who were armed and trained to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan are now the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighting the U.S. occupation. The price of the last four years is yet to be seen, but history suggests it will be substantial.
This weekend, if you can believe it, marks the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots that followed the verdict in the Rodney King trial that acquitted four police officers of any wrong doing. Maybe some of us are old enough to remember the beating that King took as he was being arrested.
Maybe some of us are old enough to remember the violence that followed. Fifty people died in the riots.
Why do we bother to honor such memories? Why do we hold them up? St. John of the Cross, the Carmelite mystic, writes of a temporal veil that separates us from God. It's an unavoidable separation, he said, that every creature encounters.
We live in time. God does not. He also said, however, that by grace that veil can be torn, time and memory collapsing in upon one another and we are no longer separate from God.
It seems that drones have become the administration’s favorite form of warfare. There’s no danger to American troops, just unmanned aircraft killing from the skies. They’ve been used in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen.
The campaign in Yemen has so far relied on targeting specific individuals in an attempt to distinguish between al Qaeda leaders and Yemeni insurgents. But the CIA is now seeking to expand the campaign by asking for authority to launch strikes without knowing the identities of those being attacked. They call it “signature strikes,” choosing targets based on suspicious behavior. This, the CIA claims, involved putting together multiple intelligence reports to arrive at “signatures” of al-Qaeda activity based on vehicles, facilities, communications equipment and patterns of behavior.
Assassinating specific individuals (and often their wives, children and other people who happen to be with them) is bad enough. Attacks based on “signatures” of suspicious behavior is worse. Is a group of people gathering in a house an al Qaeda meeting, or a wedding? Is a truck convoy carrying weapons, or goods to market? It seems to me that if approved, it’s a policy change that will result in more civilian casualties and more questions about the use of drones.
Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners. You can follow him on Twitter @DShankDC.
Today is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943, and the day designated as Holocaust Remembrance Day. Ari Shavit, senior correspondent and editorial board member of Haaretz newspaper has some important reflections on how that remembrance is used and misused.
We are being torn between those who mention Auschwitz so that Israel will be deemed innocent in every situation, and those who distance themselves from Auschwitz so that Israel will always be guilty. As a nation, we have lost the ability to experience the Holocaust both as a universal event with humanitarian significance and as a unique event with Jewish and Israeli significance. …
It is our duty not to speak harshly and not to exploit it. The Holocaust was a terrifying event of insanity. The true imperative to be derived from the Holocaust is the imperative of sanity. Not to be enslaved to the past but also not to be alienated from it. To observe death, and to remember death - and to choose life.
In a world that seems dominated by death – from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria; to South Sudan and the Congo; this day should allow us to reflect on the 6 million Jews who died in Europe and to redouble our efforts to work for life for the millions dying or threatened with death today.
Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners. You can follow him on Twitter @DShankDC.
Here I am meditating on the broken body that holds the divine and the human in the mysterious way that only the Omniscient understands.
Today, I reflect on this body of Christ. It beckons me and I’m reminded once again that the violence and death that happened on that dark day lingers still.
It lingers still because we all are created in the image of God.
Seldom does anyone accuses Geraldo Rivera of being a reporter. More often than not, he’s good for audacious soundbytes and a campy mug at the camera while sporting his trademark “look at me” mustache. He’s more circus performer than analyst, but in as much, he’s a sign (or symptom) of the state of “news” in today’s media.
Opinion journalism is one thing. I do it all the time. There’s a time and place for opinion. But there’s an important distinction between expressing genuine, informed opinions and lodging verbal salvos into the media fray sure to garner one some much-coveted attention in the next 24-hour news cycle.
Geraldo’s most recent stunt had to do with the case of Trayvon Martin. Most folks are familiar with the story in which neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman shot teenager Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, and that Zimmerman remains a free man because he claimed self-defense. I’ll forgo rehashing the details, as you can find them elsewhere, but there’s much discussion about what’s to blame for the boy’s death.
The men burst into the church classroom and ordered the 15 teens in the youth group to the floor.
They covered the teens' heads with pillowcases and bound their hands. One man waved an unloaded gun, and another yelled, his face daubed with camouflage paint.
The kids gathered at the Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church and had planned to partake in youth ministry activities at 7 p.m. Wednesday (March 21).
Instead, they found themselves face down, hugging the linoleum floor, said the Rev. John Lanza, who described what happened. If they listened, they wouldn't get hurt, their assailants said.
It’s been almost a month since the slaying of Trayvon Martin. This particular African-American child was intentionally shot through the chest while walking back from the store in a Florida suburb. He was armed with a pack of skittles and some iced tea.
For the past few weeks, each time I open my Facebook account or scroll through Twitter I see endless posts about the Trayvon Martin case. And I’ve seen Trayvon’s faceover and over again. He was 17 but he looks like a 15-year-old cousin of mine.
I have not written anything about this tragedy because to be honest, I have been unable to find my words around or through this. I could write about anger, injustice, racism, the loss of another black male child, crazy American gun laws or even the shock or actually lack thereof, of how the police initially handled this murder. But mostly what I want to write about is the deep, deep sadness and sorrow I cannot seem to shake.
If you were walking down the street and a stranger approached you and punched you in the face what would you want to do in that moment? Sure, this is an odd hypothetical situation, but really, answer the question.
Few would say, “I would want to give that person a hug.” Depending on the size of the attacker most would either fight back or run away. But let’s suppose you fought back, and even vanquished your assailant, pummeling him repeatedly for his dastardly deeds. What then?
Would he, through being beaten, come to understand his wrong in hitting you? No, he might start plotting his revenge, or his friends would think about getting you back for what you did. If they did, then you would have friends that would want to get them back. So it goes with the endless spiral of violence.
We have been fooled into believing that violence is a respectable solution for problems in our world. What we fail to see is the many problems that violence brings with it, beginning with more violence. Violence also brings hurt, fear, anger, a desire for revenge, death and enmity.
A headline from Reuters stopped me in my tracks earlier this week.
It read, ‘"Pray for us" say Syria rebels as army closes in’." I was struck by how moving I found this statement, this plea.
I do my best to remember places of conflict and strife in my prayers, but very rarely have I been petitioned to pray from a conflict situation by those in the middle of the conflict. It may be a strange reaction on my part to conflate a headline from a news report to be a direct request for my prayers, but that is how I responded when I read it.
“Pray for me” is not an abstract or passive statement. When we are asked to pray for someone, or a group of people, we are charged to bring their need or suffering to God.
Amidst the recent police violence in Oakland and the sure temptation of some protestors to resort to violence, I wrote this little reflection inviting all Occupiers to a renewed commitment to nonviolence.
There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers of this dark world.” It is a reminder that there are people behind oppressive structures — people who laugh and cry and bleed just like everyone else — and those people are not the enemies, but the systems are.
I was reminded of this when I went into Bank of America on Move Your Money Day, and transferred my money to the non-profit credit union here in Philadelphia. As I went into the bank, I saw the smiling faces of Bank of America tellers who have become friends over the past decade. When I told them I was closing my account, one of the women asked jokingly, “You don’t like us anymore?” At first my heart sunk, but then I said, “No way, I love the heck out of all of you. I just don’t like the values of the bank you work for.” To my surprise, they all smiled. In fact they may not like the values of the bank they work for either. Even though I’ll be leaving Bank of America, I’m hoping to stay in touch with my friends there. I may even take them some coffees next week, which I’ll charge on my new credit union debit card.
It is always tempting to demonize people and humanize corporations. It’s easy to forget that we are up against something bigger than flesh and blood people. And it’s particularly easy to forget that people are not the enemy when people are shooting pepper spray in your face.
I’ll admit I’m a sucker for stories about the malleability of human morality. From the mob movies, where a guy can whack his cousin but better not show his Patron any “disrespect,” to justice-seeking serial killers like “Dexter,” there’s plenty of justified violence to be found.
Where do such seemingly contradictory value systems come from? And do they actually happen in the real world today?
How about the politician who claims a platform that values a respect for “all life,” while justifying war and advocating for capital punishment? Or those who celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? And the list goes on.
It’s common in western culture to objectify the Islamic faith, cherry-picking texts from their scripture and plucking choice sound-bytes from extremist leaders, to portray the whole of the religion as inherently violent. This, in turn, is employed to justify violence in-kind, or worse, preemptive violence, as in the case of our invasion of Iraq.
I call this “Dexter” theology.
Eric James Borges was teased his entire life for being different. Though he didn’t come out publicly until his sophomore year of college, he recalls emotional and physical abuse as far back as kindergarten for his differences. And though most children undergo some degree of hazing from time to time, the seeming indifference of the adults in his life made matters dramatically worse.
In a video recorded for the “It Gets Better” Project, an LGBT advocacy group focused on offering hope and community to LGBT people on the margins, Borges, 19, recalls being physically assaulted in a full high school classroom while his teacher stood by and watched.
The distressed teen had nowhere to turn at home either. His Christian parents decided to perform a ritual exorcism on him with the hope of “curing” him of his orientation. When that failed, they kicked him out of the house.
Though Borges went on to advocate for LGBT rights through the “It Gets Better” Project and his work with The Trevor Project (a group committed to preventing suicide among LGBT teens), the demons of his past still lingered. Despite finding a community that affirmed and embraced who he was, the damage had already been done.
He killed himself on Jan 11.
How many people wanted to be President of the United States when they were younger? I’d imagine quite a few. I certainly did, although I now realize that such an attempt would have resulted in something of a "birther" controversy.
As a kid, what made me want to be in such a position of authority wasn’t necessarily the power and prestige of the president. It wasn’t the White House, or Air Force One. It wasn’t even having the authority to pardon a turkey once a year.
It was the red phone.
You know the one. Commissioner Gordon has one for Batman. President Merkin Muffley has one in Dr. Strangelove (I’m pretty sure it’s red, even though it is shot in black and white). It was the phone you used to fix things. To call the superhero, or patch things up with an inebriated Soviet leader (what, you didn’t play Cold War when you were growing up?) That red phone was your hot line to solving whatever problem you were confronted with.
Today, I still want that red phone.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King did not give his life just for Black Americans, but for all Americans. He knew America could be better. He knew the America that was birthed with the hope of “liberty for all” excluded hundreds of thousands of people.
As he said in his famous sermon that is so often referred to as the “I Have a Dream” speech,
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness....
This is so horrendous it's almost too awful to type.
Early this morning at a welfare office in Laredo, Texas, a mother, desperate after months of being denied food stamps for her family, pulled a gun and shot her two young children, before killing herself.
As we gazed in shock at the battle below, Dr. Nadia quietly stepped back from the balcony.
We turned and saw her sitting alone in her office, hanging her head, shaking it from side to side in dejection. She had just said that the continued clashes were harming the revolution, that unknown forces were at work among the activists and in the military to undermine the revolution and prevent the transition to democracy.
No good can come from this, she said. Little could she have imagined that her words would be so quickly and horribly confirmed.
They came at 1 am.
Several hundred police in full riot gear in a precision military operation. They gathered at nearby assembly points out of sight of Zuccotti Park and then simultaneously came trotting out to surround the park like the army scene from The Blues Brothers movie.
Next they handed out fliers and announced by bullhorn that all personal property would be removed from the park, and that it could be reclaimed at a Department of Sanitation garage. Instead, everything was thrown into garbage trucks and crushed by the compactor’s blades. ...
Most of the occupiers were steamrolled out of the park in this manner. Because there was no tent space when I got there I was sleeping on the sidewalk at night, and packing everything back up each morning, so I was able to save everything, but for several items I kept in the OWS kitchen.
A group of more than a hundred Occupiers retreated to the kitchen at the center of the park and chained themselves by their necks to a tree. They were tear-gassed where they sat and were removed by means we have not yet learned of, and we don’t yet know what injuries were sustained.