"Star Trek Into Darkness" does what Star Trek has always done best: holds up a mirror to the United States and asks, "Are we the moral people we want to be?"
Photo credit: http://www.startrekmovie.com
"Star Trek Into Darkness" does what Star Trek has always done best: holds up a mirror to the United States and asks, "Are we the moral people we want to be?"
Photo credit: http://www.startrekmovie.com
In response to a recent tweet of mine about Christian support for environmental protections, I received a series of unsolicited tweets from Oregon radio talk show host Bill Post. He's against environment protections and upset that the National Council of Churches (mainline and orthodox Christians), the National Association of Evangelicals and the U.S. Conference of Bishops (Roman Catholic) have come out in strong support of such protections and have defended the science that proves climate change is caused by humans:
Mr. Post was apparently unaware that his own church is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals. I found that somewhat surprising for someone who is an "elder" in the church but when I asked he said he had no theological education so perhaps that explains his confusion.
But he wanted it clear he was a real Christian and belonged to a true Christian church - Salem Evangelical Church - (unlike, apparently, the vast majority of other Christian churches):
Well, clearly Mr. Post at least is missing the idea that God gave us stewardship over creation not to exploit creation but to protect it. I think it is pretty fair to say Mr. Post is missing that part of Christianity. Whether or not his entire congregation - in which he serves as an elder - believes as he does, I just don't know.
But I saw another tweet from Mr. Post today that gave me pause and made me think he was missing something even more fundamental about Christianity. He tweeted:
This international news story has been making the rounds. The New York Times reports:
The United States Marine Corps has identified the four Marines shown in a video urinating on what appear to be dead Taliban fighters, without releasing any names, and has named a lead investigating officer to decide whether they should be charged, Marine officials said Friday...
The top American general in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen of the Marines, expressed his disgust over the video on Friday, saying the images “are in direct opposition to everything the military stands for.”
His comments echoed those of Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a day earlier, when both promised a thorough investigation. “Such acts violate the sanctity of the dead and are deplorable and must be condemned in the strongest manner possible,” the general said. “We will support the investigation of these acts in every way for a swift determination of the facts.”
Yes, Mr. Post missed something in Sunday School. And I fear anyone in a church in which he serves as an elder might miss it as well. It's called the Greatest Commandment:
36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
And perhaps Mr. Post might benefit from this lesson as well:
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
What passes for Christianity in his tweets is impossible to recognize.
Can We End The War In Afghanistan, Negotiate A Peace With The Taliban, And Protect Human Rights For Women?
Polls show that the majority of Americans want the U.S. out of Afghanistan. Ten years after 9/11 the war there goes on. What has the cost been? What will the cost be if the U.S. withdrawals?
Restrepo, which won best documentary at Sundance in 2010, is now available for download on iTunes or purchase elsewhere. The film offers an extraordinary and sometimes painful glimpse into the everyday lives of soldiers and cilivians in Afghanistan during 2007-08 (before President Obama took office and redirected resources from Iraq to the Afghanistan theatre).
RESTREPO is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 94-minute deployment. This is war, full stop.
It would be hard to recommend this too highly. Nothing like it has shown the human side of American forces trying to fight a war that seems at times highly incomprehensible. The film does not try to hide the ugle side of war. Watch and be prepared to see U.S. forces harm children. The truth is that kids die in war. We shouldn't run from that truth.
It is particularly tragic that Tim Hetherington, one of the film's co-creators, was killed recently covering the conflict in Libya.
A more recent look at the conflict in Afghanistan comes from PBS's Frontline. This is the opening chapter of their program Kill / Capture:
What seems clear is that as U.S. forces step up their efforts to root out Taliban forces the population becomes more and more anti-American.
As the BBC and others have reported, all of this has led the negotiations with the Taliban:
Now that President Obama has made it clear he wants to draw down the US troop surge in Afghanistan, there is growing emphasis on political and diplomatic efforts to try to bring an end to the war.
In his speech setting out plans to bring home 33,000 US troops over the next year, the president emphasised: "We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war, without a political settlement."
That means a "political settlement" with the Taliban.
One senior official said that phrase would have been "unthinkable" a year ago.
Just hours after President Obama spoke, Hillary Clinton spoke in a US Senate hearing of a "diplomatic surge to support Afghan-led efforts to reach a political solution to chart a more secure future."
Can the Taliban be trusted? Hardly. They are war criminals with a dismal human rights record. Yet such types have been brought back into coalition governments before after long periods of war and without a negotiated conclusion to this conflict it will go on and on.
But what would peace look like?
Dr. Ida Lichter, a writer who advocates for women, recently blogged on The Huffington Post that:
Women's rights would suffer a severe setback if the Taliban were given a share of power, possibly in the south of the country. Abandoning women to the Taliban would also spur imitation by extremists outside Afghanistan, including Britain, where the "London Taliban" has reportedly threatened to kill unveiled Muslim women. A Western failure in Afghanistan could stimulate more attacks from radicals, emboldened by their conviction that religious fervour was instrumental in defeating a second superpower.
Some women activists have sounded more conciliatory in recent times, attempting to thwart the punishment they anticipate when foreign troops leave. Most fear that a hasty drawdown of foreign troops could bring more chaos and violence, civil war, and even the return of jihadist training camps. The death of Osama bin Laden has also caused alarm, as the US could claim their mission to destroy al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was complete.
In order to achieve a respectable exit, Afghan and Western negotiators might find it expedient to accept promises by the Taliban and go along with the view that gender culture in the country is too tribal to be changed and should be respected even if it is harsh on women.
Afghanistan will remain a backward, failed state if half the population is prevented from contributing to the social, economic and political fabric of society. In their opposition to misogyny, a pillar of radical Islam, women also provide a challenge to extremism.
What can be done to safeguard women's rights? Taliban guarantees to promote rights for women and girls should be considered worthless, due to lack of coalition leverage.
Women should be included in all talks with the Taliban and gender issues incorporated in documents for discussion.
US aid could be contingent on protecting the human rights of Afghan women, and the pace of withdrawal made dependent on the extent to which the Taliban keep to their word.
Women and children are the main casualties in the war zone, and security will not improve unless the Pakistani government is prepared to stop the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network and Hezb-e Islami from manufacturing improvised explosive devices on their soil.
Another requirement is a comprehensive settlement of reconciliation and de-radicalisation that goes beyond the Taliban to include other paramilitaries and power brokers. Rather than defend the Taliban, it would be more productive, and consistent with the democratic values of the Arab Spring, to support the victims of violence, the women's movement and other reformers in Afghanistan, so that human rights and civil society can seed and grow.
Is the U.S. willing to fight for the rights of women? If so, how can that best be achieved through a diplomatic process that finally brings this war to an end?
President Obama tonight announced his intention to begin a significant troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. He said that:
...starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
Those on the left were quick to say the president isn't moving quick enough and those on the right complained the president wasn't finishing the mission ( those left and right lines have become increasingly blurred over time).
A significant number of religious leaders wrote the president a letter this week which read:
As your target date to begin U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan approaches, we are compelled by the prophetic vision of just peace to speak. We represent a diversity of faith communities -- ranging from just war to pacifist traditions. As leaders of these communities, some of us initially supported the war in Afghanistan as a justified response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Others opposed the war, believing there were better ways than military force to address the al Qaeda threat. Today, however, we are united in the belief that it is time to bring the U.S. war in Afghanistan to an end.
After nine years, what began as a response to an attack has become an open-ended war against a Taliban centric insurgency -- which itself is largely motivated to drive out foreign troops and has no designs beyond its own borders. The military operation has so far resulted in the deaths of over 2,500 Coalition troops, including 1,600 from the U.S. Estimates are that over 20,000 Afghan civilians have died. And yet, the security situation is deteriorating and Taliban influence is spreading. The military situation is at best a stalemate. Al Qaeda barely exists in Afghanistan, but it has metastasized into Pakistan and has established itself in Yemen, Somalia, and other places around the globe.
Relief and development aid, desperately needed after three decades of war, have been integrated into and are subservient to military operations. Civilian aid organizations that attempt to provide much-needed relief are often seen as part of the foreign military occupation and have faced increasing attacks. Additionally, this form of militarized aid has worked to undermine long term sustainability while proving ineffective in addressing immediate poverty concerns. As the faith community, we have experience doing this kind of work, and maintain relationships with partners on the ground. We see and hear the need for relief and development aid to be provided through these civilian aid organizations while untying it from a counterinsurgency strategy and involving and empowering local Afghan partners to the greatest extent possible.
Moreover, this type of aid is most effective -- both in terms of the development in Afghanistan, and the cost of the conflict. The past ten years have shown that we cannot broker peace in Afghanistan by military force; it is time to transition toward a plan that builds up civil society and provides economic alternatives for Afghans. At a time of economic turmoil, as we are presented with difficult financial and budgetary decisions at home, we have an opportunity to invest in aid that both supports the people of Afghanistan, and saves our country much needed funds.
We recognize that legitimate ethical and moral issues are at stake in Afghanistan -- U.S. national security, protecting the lives of Coalition servicemen and women, protecting Afghan civilians, defending the rights of Afghan women, supporting democracy and, of course, saving innocent lives from the inevitable death and destruction that accompany war. We humbly believe there is a better way than war to address these important issues.
What is needed now is a comprehensive package of interlocking arrangements to enhance security and stability. This alternative path is not without some risk, but it is preferable to the known dangers of war. As you said in December 2009, the U.S. should begin a responsible but accelerated withdrawal of troops, beginning with a significant number in July 2011 and continuing along a set timetable. This must be linked to a comprehensive security agreement, a regional multi-lateral diplomatic initiative, and increased public & private assistance for locally based economic and social development programs. We must commit to proactively share the costs of war, which have been borne disproportionately by the veterans of these wars, their families and thousands of Afghan civilians.
We reaffirm our religious hope for a world in which "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid."
Like these colleagues of mine (listed below), I want this war to end. It cannot be stressed enough, however, the the international community has an obligation to rebuild Afghanistan and to protect human rights there. A return of the Taliban will be a humanitarian nightmare - particularly for women. In late 2001, a joined a very small number of religious voices in opposing the invasion of Afghanistan because I believed U.S. intervention would fail and that we would leave the civilian population worse off. President Bush did lead us into failure and President Obama has been forced to make very difficult decisions since taking office. I believe that the proposals made by religious leaders to the president this week will help further advance the goals set forth by the White House.
Here is the list of those who signed the letter:
Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ
Pastor Geoff Browning
Presbytery of San Jose
Simone Campbell, SSS
NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Co-President, Pax Christi International
Rev. Dr. Cheryl F. Dudley
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
Swedenborgian Churches of North America
Dr. Linda Gaither
Episcopal Peace Fellowship
Lutheran Peace Fellowship
Christian Peace Witness
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Dr. Robert Hanson
Chair of Peace Committee
Mt. Diablo Unitarian-Universalist Church
Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Mark C. Johnson, Ph.D.
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
National Council of Churches
Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston
Disciples Justice Action Network
Oregon-Idaho Chapter of the Methodist
Federation for Social Action
Bishop Chuck Leigh
Apostolic Catholic Church
Rev. John R. Long, DD
Retired Presbyterian Minister
Presbytery of Western New York
Rev. Dr. Dale E. Luffman
Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer
Community of Christ
The Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller
President, Provincial Elders' Conference
Moravian Church, Northern Province
Adventist Peace Fellowship
Mr. Stanley Noffsinger
Church of the Brethren
Rev. Gradye Parsons
General Assembly Stated Clerk
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The Rev. Nathaniel W. Pierce
Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Pax Christi USA
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
Mennonite Central Committee US, Washington Office
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed,
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America
Director, Washington Office
Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
Hosanna! People's Seminary
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Stephen M. Veazey
Community of Christ
President and Chief Executive Officer
Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Watts
Co-Moderator Disciples Peace Fellowship
Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW
James E. Winkler
General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church
When President Obama said last week it was time to move past the "silliness" over the contrived debate over where he was born he wasn't kidding. The world faces serious issues and the president was in the midst of a serious national security operation that would lead to the demise of Osama bin Laden, ten years after the 9/11 attacks. Serious times demand serious debates but still on the far fringes of the left and the right people are engaging today in less than serious behavior.
On blogs and talk radio shows some conservative voices are decrying bin Laden's burial at sea. The decision was made because what nation state would take his remains and why set-up a shrine for a man who has committed crimes against humanity? The Creeping Sharia website calls the decision "political correctness run amok" and others have said the burial was too humane. That's short sighted and little more than an attempt to use the matter as a political wedge issue against the president.
A better informed perspective comes from Imam Khalid Latif, chaplain for New York University, who wrote today on CNN's website that:
In general, Islamic law would state that a Muslim should be buried in the ground. However, everything is not black and white, and a main objective of Sharia law is to increase benefits and reduce detriments to society.
The question here is not about how a body should be buried in general, but rather how specifically the body of Osama bin Laden should be buried. The decision to bury bin Laden at sea exemplifies for us how Sharia is meant to function as it takes into consideration what would be best for society on a whole through a lens of compassion and mercy.
Consider these three points:
1) Humanity on a whole has a right that needs to be considered in regard to bin Laden’s burial. Who would want this man buried next to their loved one? Is it appropriate, especially after he has caused such pain to so many, to put anyone in a situation where they might have to be buried near or next to him? I would say no.
2) The number of individuals who hate this man, including many Muslims, is extremely large. If he were buried in the ground somewhere, even at an undisclosed location, eventually we would know where his body was. Years of anger and frustration that have built up because of him would now have an outlet for expression. Whichever country had the misfortune of hosting his body would need to increase security measures around his grave. It's a good thing that no country, including Saudi Arabia, wanted to bury him in their lands.
3) There should be no opportunity for glorification of bin Laden. A grave that people could visit also would serve as an opportunity for his small group of followers to memorialize him. These individuals are skewed not only in their misreading and misinterpretation of Islam, but also - and more important - in their understanding of morals and ethics. No opportunity should exist by which they could glorify bin Laden in his death, either in the immediate future or in years to come.
In showing respect for Islam, we demonstrated once again that our war is with terrorists and not the Muslim people. It was a smart decision on a number of levels. Let's face it: the debate over the burial is mostly naked Islamophobia along with a deep desire to hurt the president politically no matter the issue. The Chreeping Sharia website itself is a paranoid waste of internet bandwidth.
On the left, I'm sad to say, we have our own voices of silliness. Politico reports today that:
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan wrote her supporters, “I am sorry, but if you believe the newest death of OBL, you’re stupid. Just think to yourself—they paraded Saddam’s dead sons around to prove they were dead—why do you suppose they hastily buried this version of OBL at sea? This lying, murderous Empire can only exist with your brainwashed consent—just put your flags away and THINK!”
I once thought of Sheehan as a hero for the way she bravely stood up to George W. Bush and helped to bring attention to the foolish Iraq War. Now? Her passion is turning her into the equivalent of a leftist "birther." Her comments are foolish and irresponsible.
There is still too much silliness in the air. Let's focus on reality and start asking the hard questions about what happens next in Afghanistan, for example, and how we address our economic woes at home and the global climate change crisis that impacts us all. We don't have time for Donald Trump-style freak shows right now.
Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who last year threatened to burn the Qur'an on the anniversary of 9/11, followed through on his threat this week when his church put the Islam holy book on trial and then burned it. In response, a riot broke out in Afghanistan in which at least 12 people have been killed, most of them workers with the United Nations. Jones had been repeatedly warned his actions could provoke a violent response. Religion News Service reports:
"Showing blatant disrespect for Muslims by burning their scriptures directly contradicts the example and spirit of Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves," said Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.
"Those who burned the Quran do not represent the vast majority of Christians, who wish to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors."
The Rev. Welton C. Gaddy, president of the Washington-based Interfaith Alliance, called the riots an "unacceptable" response to the Quran burning, but said they show that actions in the U.S. can have consequences overseas.
The New York Times reports on the trial held by Jone's church:
Sitting in judgment was a jury of 12 members of Mr. Jones’s church, the Dove World Outreach Center. After listening to evidence and arguments from both sides, the jury pronounced the Koran guilty of five “crimes against humanity,” including the promotion of terrorist acts and “the death, rape and torture of people worldwide whose only crime is not being of the Islamic faith.”
Punishment was determined by the results of an online poll. Besides burning, the options included shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad. Mr. Jones, a nondenominational evangelical pastor, announced that voters had chosen to set fire to the book, according to a video of the proceedings.
Jones' "trial" took place shortly after U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, held hearings of the loyalty of American Muslims. The hearings were criticized by religious leaders across the United States who feared King's true agenda is to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria as a tool to divide Americans on religious lines.
In response, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, held hearings to examine civil rights violations perpetrated against Muslim Americans. Again, RNS reports:
Durbin's star witness was Thomas Perez, the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for civil rights. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, a "steady stream of violence and discrimination" has targeted Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and South Asians in the United States, he said.
Perez noted that the Justice Department passed a grim milestone last month when it secured a guilty plea from a man who torched a playground at a Texas mosque: He was the 50th defendant charged in a federal criminal case of post-Sept. 11 backlash.
Muslim complaints about workplace discrimination have increased 150 percent since Sept. 11, Perez said, but he and other witnesses seemed most upset by reports that many Muslim children are harassed at school — called "terrorists" and told to "go home."
"We have a growing docket of cases involving Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian students," he said. Muslim students form the largest category of religious discrimination cases handled by the Department of Justice's education division, Perez added.
Threats to Muslim Americans are certainly real. Last week, the head of the right-wing American Family Association, Bryan Fischer, said that Muslims should not be granted First Amendment protections. Fischer said:
Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.
Our government has no obligation to allow a treasonous ideology to receive special protections in America, but this is exactly what the Democrats are trying to do right now with Islam.
From a constitutional point of view, Muslims have no First Amendment right to build mosques in America. They have that privilege at the moment, but it is a privilege that can be revoked if, as is in fact the case, Islam is a totalitarian ideology dedicated to the destruction of the United States. The Constitution, it bears repeating, is not a suicide pact. For Muslims, patriotism is not the last refuge of a scoundrel, but the First Amendment is.
Clearly, the killing of the United Nations personnel must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. There is no excuse for this kind of violence. At the same time, Jones must be held morally accountable for fanning the flames of hatred. Terry Jones, Peter King and Bryan Fischer seek to use religion to divide the people of the world during a time where we need reconciliation and peace. Their actions will only increase the likelihood of terrorism and violence, and put American soldiers and civilians at further risk. As people of faith, we must stand up against them and proclaim that the Beloved Community is the ideal we seek and reject efforts to divide humanity in the name of the Almighty.
Like many, I'm wary of U.S. military intervention in other nations. I opposed the war in Afghanistan early because, along with the church I served at the time, I felt that U.S. intervention there would be harmful to the civilian population and that the United States would leave Afghanistan in a position similar to that of the Soviet withdrawal, weakened and humbled, without achieving our legitimate goal of defeating the terrorists who attacked the U.S. on 9/11. I also opposed the war with Iraq. Here I had more company as nearly every Christian denomination across the globe that issued a statement concerning the matter opposed invading Iraq. A preemptive war is never legitimate. What is happening in Libya today is not the same as Afghanistan or Iraq. The United Nations, not a U.S.-led coalition under cover of a UN mandate, is working to stop the slaughter of a civilian population. This is what should have occurred in Rwanda.
I'm not sure how other Christian leaders will react. Already, many people I respect have been critical of President Obama and the allied forces attacking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his forces. There are legitimate concerns to be raised about civilian causalities. But I agree with Peter Daou, a former campaign aide to John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, who tweeted tonight: "I don't see a parallel between a war Bush launched based on lies and Obama's action to prevent atrocities in #Libya." So far I have seen no statements from the National Council of Churches or op-ed pieces from religious leaders offering support or criticism. But while I believe that war is always a failure of the human imagination and tainted by sin, I also believe there are times where it can be necessary. Much of my own thinking on the use of violence to protect civilian populations is informed by Samantha Power's book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Power now works in the Obama Administration. For now, I will offer support and prayers for President Obama, prayers for the allied forces, and prayers for all the people of Libya that the violence there ends quickly and that the civilian population can be free from terror. I extend that prayer for all the people of the world and hope for the day when democratic nations no longer support governments that commitment human rights violations with weapons contracts and other forms of aid that prop up too many corrupt governments.
I will also continue to closely monitor the events as they unfold and continue to reassess my views as needed.
This is deeply concerning:
WASHINGTON – Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is calling for an investigation into allegations that the commander of the American mission to train Afghan security forces ordered military personnel to manipulate visiting U.S. lawmakers into providing additional funding and support for the mission there.
Rolling Stone reported online Thursday that Lt. Gen. William Caldwell pressured soldiers trained in "psychological operations," or psy-ops, in violation of federal law, "to target visiting senators and other VIPs," including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) as well as Adm.Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Writer Michael Hastings, whose June 2010 profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal led to the general's removal as the senior military commander in Afghanistan, cites Lt. Col. Michael Holmes, leader of an information operations unit at Camp Eggers in Kabul, as saying Caldwell's chief of staff asked him how the unit "could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge."
How out of control is the military in Afghanistan?
The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, has strong words for former President Bush:
"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me." That is the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Likewise, the Golden Rule states, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
These are the underpinnings not only for Christianity, but for many of the world's great religions. And these are the tenets of the faith claimed by former President George W. Bush.
That's why Bush's prideful defense of torture in his new memoir, Decision Points, is utterly incomprehensible to me. It's also unrecognizable to the fundamental values of this country, and of Bush's own professed Christian faith...
As the United States reported to the United Nations in 1998 as part of our obligation under the U.N. Convention Against Torture:
"Torture is prohibited by law throughout the United States. It is categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority. Every act constituting torture under the Convention constitutes a criminal offence under the law of the United States. No official of the government, federal, state or local, civilian or military, is authorized to commit or to instruct anyone else to commit torture. Nor may any official condone or tolerate torture in any form. No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture."
We are now confronted with the fact that a president of the United States has openly acknowledged ordering torture. It is a sad and shameful moment. And, it is one we cannot let pass without consequence. Under our own laws, we must hold ourselves accountable; former President Bush has left us no choice.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), a coalition of more than 290 religious organizations representing most of the major faith groups, has called for an independent counsel to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing. In addition, the coalition has asked for a Commission of Inquiry to take testimony about U.S.-sponsored torture, review all the records, and report to the public what it learns. It would also recommend safeguards to ensure that torture by the United States never happens again.
We must demand of ourselves what we demand of others in the international community, and what all major faiths require of us: respect for the dignity and value of every human being, a manifestation of that which is most holy.
The Governing Board of the National Council of Churches has adopted a resolution calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan:
The resolution, "A Call to End the War in Afghanistan," calls upon President Obama to negotiate a withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan "to be completed as soon as possible without further endangerment to the lives and welfare of U.S. and NATO troops, Afghan troops and Afghan civilians."
The board urged the president "to monitor the human rights situation in Afghanistan in the context of the United Nations declaration to use all available diplomatic means to protect the population from crimes against humanity, and to employ military means of protection only as a last resort."
The board stated deep commitment "that we must reaffirm our witness to Christ's commandment to love our enemies," and called upon member communions "to articulate to one another and to government authorities the concept of a 'Just Peace' as a proactive strategy for avoiding premature or unnecessary decisions to employ military means of solving conflicts."
The resolution was adopted by a unanimous voice vote.
Click here for additional information.
The Centennial Gathering of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service is occurring this week in New Orleans.
Photo Credit: NCC/Kathleen Cameron
It has been ten months since President Obama announced his Afghanistan strategy - a surge of 30,000 troops with a withdrawal date of mid-2011. Today I finished Bob Woodward's new book Obama's Wars. Go read it. Let me offer just a couple of impressions.
1. The president inherited a disaster. This was obvious from the start as President Bush abandoned Afghanistan to invade Iraq. But the situation confronted by President Obama seems to have been even worse than most people thought.
2. As Vice-President Biden forcefully articulated, Pakistan is the source of much of the terrorism in the world today and they actively undermine American efforts in Afghanistan. Biden was right to call for more engagement with Pakistan. I was struck by how much evidence we now have of Pakistani security forces' involvement with terrorism directed at India and the United States, though some of this has been previously reported.
3. I was unaware at how clearly U.S. military leaders attempted to limit President Obama's options to develop a plan for Afghanistan. They did everything up to outright insubordination to undermine the president. It was only President Obama's forceful leadership that required that U.S. military officials ask and answer difficult questions. Even then, the president basically wrote his own plan instead of relying on the military.
What is the goal now in Afghanistan? As the president has stated, the U.S. goal is to degrade the Taliban so that it cannot retake power (which would be a disastrous human rights nightmare) and to keep al-Qa'ida from attacking the homeland or our allies. Are these goals achievable?
I still support the Sojourners statements that I signed onto in 2009, which read in part:
We are concerned that the discussion in Washington, D.C., is far too narrow. We respectfully and prayerfully suggest that you pursue a strategy built on a humanitarian and development surge.
Massive humanitarian assistance and sustainable development can rebuild a broken nation, inspire confidence, trust, and hope among its people, and undermine the appeal of terrorism. And it costs less - far less - than continued war.
Lead with economic development, starting in areas that are secure, and grow from there - providing only the security necessary to protect the strategic rebuilding of the country. Do not make aid and development another weapon of war by tying it so closely to the military; rather, provide the security needed for development work to succeed. This kind of peacekeeping security might better attract the international involvement we so desperately need, both from Europe and Arab and Muslim countries.
Pursue political and diplomatic solutions by promoting stable governance in Afghanistan and Pakistan; seeking political integration of those elements of the Taliban that are willing to cooperate; engaging with the United Nations and regional states to stabilize the region and promote economic development; and investing in international policing to prevent the spread of extremists and the use of terror.
Having said that, I believe that there are few if any good options in that part of the world. We lost the war there when we invaded Iraq. Now we face war and a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan and entrenched terrorist forces in Pakistan, an unstable nation with nuclear weapons.
As someone who opposed the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, I'm still looking for the magic answers on how to end this war, not leave the nation in shambles, and how to keep al-Qa'ida or their allies from attacking us and obtaining Pakistan's nuclear weapons if that nation (or even parts of it) fall.
(My opposition to the invasion - which was the position adopted by Portland's First United Methodist Church, where I then served as the director of community outreach - was based on a shared concern for civilian casualties and a concern that the U.S. would follow historical patterns and abandon the region after defeating the Taliban, which is essentially what happened as the Bush Administration turned toward Iraq without dealing with the fallout from the war in Afghanistan).
Tonight the president of the United States will address the American people and announce - as he promised during the 2008 campaign - that he has ended combat operations in Iraq. Over 90,000 U.S. troops have returned home. Another 50,000 troops remain to support the new Iraqi government. These remaining troops are scheduled to return next year.
The Iraq War was one that never should have been fought. It was sold to the American people with elaborate lies from President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and their Administration. Over 4,000 young American men and women and countless Iraqi civilians died in a conflict that could have been and should have been avoided. President Bush's false claims that Iraq was involved with 9/11 and had weapons of mass destruction brought about one of America's darkest foreign adventures.
The National Council of Churches USA (NCC) and nearly every other Christian body in the United States - with the notable exception of the Southern Baptists - argued against ever invading Iraq. At the time, NCC endorsed a statement made by the U.S. Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops that read in part:
"... war against Iraq could have unpredictable consequences not only for Iraq, but for peace and stability elsewhere in the Middle East. The use of force might provoke the very kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent, could impose terrible new burdens on an already long-suffering civilian population, and could lead to wider conflict and instability in the region. War against Iraq could also detract from the responsibility to help build a just and stable order in Afghanistan and could undermine broader efforts to stop terrorism.”Our worst fears came true. We can be thankful that Barack Obama used his voice during that period to oppose the war and as president has now ended combat operations - and begun a process to bring all troops home. The future for Iraq, however, remains uncertain. Years of oppressive rule by Saddam Hussein have been followed by war that killed countless civilians and political unrest. The United States will have to retain a humanitarian responsibility to the people of Iraq for generations.
Perhaps we can learn from this lesson that pre-emptive war should never be an option for this nation. As Christians, we must continue to speak out against war whenever possible but with the tragic recognition that sometimes there may be no other course in the most extreme circumstances. War in Iraq, however, was never a moral imperative. President Obama should be applauded for the steps he has taken.
As we leave Iraq, it is also important that we re-examine our role in Afghanistan. The moral issues there are deeply complicated and a national conversation over our involvement is critical at this moment of history.
We have waited way too long for the war in Iraq to end. It has been a long struggle. I spoke about the war in Iraq and the Christian responsibility for addressing this conflict at Portland's First Congregational United Church of Christ in 2008:
The U.S. House of Representatives voted today for another $33 billion for the war in Afghanistan. As The Oregonian notes, four out of five members of Oregon's delegation voted against the funding.
Those members that voted against continued funding of the war - Earl Blumenauer, David Wu, Kurt Schrader and Peter DeFazio - should be congratulated for sending a strong signal to the White House that the mission in Afghanistan is unclear.
Religious leaders, myself included, wrote to President Obama in late 2009 saying in part: "We respectfully and prayerfully suggest that you pursue a strategy built on a humanitarian and development surge. Massive humanitarian assistance and sustainable development can rebuild a broken nation, inspire confidence, trust, and hope among its people, and undermine the appeal of terrorism. And it costs less - far less - than continued war."
In 2006, the National Council of Churches in Christ in the USA released a statement regarding Iraq that applies, I think, to the situation in Afghanistan as well:
… we call upon the U.S. Government to recognize that the continued presence of occupying forces has not provided meaningful security for Iraqi citizens and only exacerbates escalating violence, and begin an immediate phased withdrawal of American and coalition forces from Iraq with a timetable that provides for an expeditious final troop withdrawal. And we further call upon our government to link this withdrawal plan to benchmarks for rebuilding Iraqi society, since the reconstruction of infrastructure, the restoration of essential services, and a foundation for economic growth are necessary to nurture Iraqi hopes for a stable future, and to steps to meet the security concerns of all Iraqis, including the more vulnerable, smaller ethnic and religious communities...The path we are going down now seems doomed to failure. But we need to find a way to leave that does not cause additional harm to the people of Afghanistan.