"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Friday, January 14, 2005

After 40 Years: I'm A Lutheran No More

Lutherans Recommend Tolerance on Gay Policy

A task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recommended yesterday that it retain its policy against blessing same-sex unions and ordaining gays, but suggested that sanctions could be avoided for pastors and congregations that chose to do so.

The sixth-largest Christian denomination, with five million members in the United States and Caribbean, the Lutheran Church is attempting to resolve what the task force called a "deep, pervasive" disagreement about the role and treatment of gay men and lesbians.

The task force, comprising 14 clergy members and lay people who worked for three years on these issues, recommended that the church consider not enforcing sanctions against those who acted outside the policy. Those who defy church policies now face a range of disciplinary actions. The approach would allow those who agree and disagree with the policy to stay within the church, the group said.

"I think this is about letting people be responsible to human conscience, rather than a capricious decision to let people do what they want to do," said the Rev. Margaret G. Payne, bishop of the church's New England Synod and the chairwoman of the task force.

The recommendations are expected to draw comment from churches and regional synods. The church's national assembly will address any changes to the policy on homosexuality at its meeting in Orlando, Fla., in August.

Some clergy members said that by giving local churches and synods wiggle room, the task force had found a way to preserve the unity of the church.

"The task force didn't want legislation: that would have created a win-lose situation," said the Rev. Dr. Philip D. W. Krey, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. "They wanted to legitimize both sides of the issue. This allows each side to be conscientious objectors, allows them to legitimately disagree and act on it and not be disciplined for it."

But Word Alone, a biblically orthodox Lutheran group, sharply criticized the recommendations as an attempt to hoodwink parishioners into believing that policies remained unchanging despite the fact that sanctions may not be enforced.

Lutherans Concerned, a group that seeks greater acceptance of gays in the church, contended that the recommendations did not go far enough to dispel the punitive atmosphere around issues of homosexuality.

"We were dismayed and deeply saddened by the recommendations because we felt they perpetuate a system of selective discrimination of gays and lesbians in the Lutheran church," said Emily Eastwood, the group's executive director.

The Lutheran Church's efforts to negotiate a compromise come at a time when other mainline Protestant denominations have been roiled by disputes over the acceptance of gay clergy members. Recently, the United Methodist Church defrocked a minister in Pennsylvania who had admitted to being in a long-term lesbian relationship. She is appealing the decision.

The Episcopal Church USA is also wrestling with the issue of homosexuality. The Episcopal bishops met in Salt Lake City on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss how to respond to what is known as the Windsor Report. It was produced last fall by an international committee of church leaders trying to reconcile the conflict over homosexuality in the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the American affiliate.

The rift deepened in 2003 when the Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire, and several church provinces in Africa, Asia and Latin America threatened to break ties with the Americans.

The Windsor Report called on the Episcopal Church to declare a "moratorium" on ordaining bishops living in gay relationships and to halt public "rites of blessing" for same-sex unions. The American bishops said yesterday that they did not have enough time in Utah to reach agreement on those recommendations. However, as the Windsor Report called for, they issued a statement expressing their "sincere regret for the pain, the hurt, and the damage caused to our Anglican bonds by certain actions of our church."

The presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, said from Salt Lake City, "We perhaps have not been the most sensitive partners in terms of taking with full seriousness the integrity of other provinces and their struggles."

Published: January 14, 2005

Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting for this article.

Shiite Cleric's Representative Killed in Iraq After Prayers

The attacks raised the prospect of sectarian strife ahead of the Jan. 30 elections, and the assassination appeared to be a message to Ayatollah Sistani, who as the most senior cleric of Iraq's Shiite majority strongly supports the vote.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 13 - Gunmen assassinated a representative of Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and five other people in an attack south of Baghdad on Wednesday, the cleric's office said on Thursday.

And in an area north of Baghdad on Thursday, 3 people were killed and 13 wounded when a car bomb exploded in front of a Shiite mosque, according to Baghdad's security service, Agence France-Presse reported.

The attacks raised the prospect of sectarian strife ahead of the Jan. 30 elections, and the assassination appeared to be a message to Ayatollah Sistani, who as the most senior cleric of Iraq's Shiite majority strongly supports the vote.

Some leaders of the guerrilla insurgency, including the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, are believed to be trying to inflame tensions between Sunnis and Shiites to help destabilize the country.

In the past month, dozens of Shiites have been killed in at least three large-scale attacks, and some reports say scores of others have died in smaller attacks.

About two weeks ago, a suicide car bomb outside the Baghdad headquarters of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Iraq's largest Shiite political party, killed nine guards and visitors. The party is running in the elections as part of the United Iraqi Alliance coalition, backed by Ayatollah Sistani.

On Dec. 19, in the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala, car bombers killed at least 61 people.

In the attack Wednesday, the Sistani representative, Sheik Mahmoud al-Madaini, was killed along with his son and four guards after leaving sunset prayers at a mosque in Maidan, a Sunni-dominated city about 12 miles south of the capital, said an official in the ayatollah's office.

Sheik Madaini was one of many such representatives in Iraq, leading people in prayers and passing them the religious edicts of the revered cleric, said Sheik Jamal al-Saghir, another representative. "I believe he was killed because he asked people to participate in the election," Sheik Saghir said, adding that more than 60 Shiites had been killed in Maidan by insurgents, and that many Shiite families had left the city.

Like the attack Wednesday, the bombing Thursday, in the Khan Beni Saad region north of Baghdad, was executed as worshipers were leaving evening prayers.

Insurgents have kept up an unrelenting campaign of attacks before the elections, making foreigners and Iraqis who work with the occupying military their targets. Iraqi security forces and government officials have also been killed in ambushes and bombings that call into question the readiness of security forces to make cities safe for voting on Jan. 30.

Many Iraqis believe the attacks are being waged by former Baathists and Sunni Arabs concerned about the potential political power of Shiites, who form about 60 percent of the population. The Sunni Arab minority had enjoyed dominance under Saddam Hussein.

But there is also a possibility that some attacks on Shiites are meant to provoke sectarian war. In a letter released nearly a year ago that American officials said was written by Mr. Zarqawi, help was sought to start a civil war in Iraq. The letter suggested that attacks on Shiites would prompt counterattacks on Sunnis who would then join the insurgency.

Last month, a message on an audiotape believed to be from Osama bin Laden endorsed Mr. Zarqawi as his deputy in Iraq.

In further violence Thursday, seven Iraqis were killed and a Turkish man was kidnapped in front of a Baghdad hotel, an employee of the hotel said. The employee, who out of fear for his safety asked not to be identified, said about 10 gunmen attacked a minibus carrying the Iraqis. The Associated Press reported that the abducted Turk, Abdulkadir Tanrikulu, was a businessman whose construction company was working in Iraq with the Americans.

The American military said in a statement that an American soldier was killed in the northern city of Mosul on Thursday when his patrol hit a roadside bomb, Agence France-Presse reported.

[The military announced Friday that two members of the First Marine Expeditionary Force were killed Thursday in Anbar Province, in western Iraq, Reuters reported. No details were released.]

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi acknowledged this week for the first time that "pockets" of Iraq would be too dangerous for voters to cast ballots. His remarks echoed those made last week by the commander of American ground forces here, Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, about parts of four provinces, most of them dominated by Sunni Arabs.

The four are Baghdad; Anbar; Nineveh, which contains Mosul; and Salahadin, which includes Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein.

In stepped-up operations intended to counter the expected surge of violence ahead of the elections, the American military said Thursday that it had rounded up at least 59 men on Wednesday and Thursday suspected of involvement in attacks.

Most of those detentions were in the north-central Sunni heartland and in Mosul. Two more suspects were detained in Baghdad during a search for the killers in the Jan. 4 execution of the Baghdad governor, Ali al-Haidari, the military said.

An American military official, Maj. Gen. John R. S. Batiste, said at a news conference on Thursday in Baghdad that his troops and Iraqi security forces were "chasing down the insurgents" in the four provinces north of Baghdad: Salahadin, Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk and Diyala. "That will go on continuously up through, to and after the elections," he said.

Atef Hassan/Reuters

The Normalization of Horror

American gulags become permanent.

New York - A new documentary, "Hitler's Hit Parade," runs 76 minutes without narration. Comprised entirely of archival footage, the film prompts its reviewers to remark upon Hannah Arendt's famous observation about the banality of evil. German troops subjugated Europe and shoved millions of people into ovens; German civilians went to the movies, attended concerts, and gossiped about their neighbors. People lived mundane, normal lives while their government carried out unspeakable monstrosities.

Sound familiar?

As Congress prepared to rubberstamp the nomination of torture aficionado Alberto Gonzales as the nation's chief prosecutor, the Washington Post broke news that would have torn a saner nation apart. The Bush Administration, the paper reported January 2, is no longer planning to keep hundreds of Muslim prisoners currently rotting away in U.S. concentration camps at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram merely "indefinitely." The Defense Department and CIA are now planning "a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions" for these innocents.

We're locking them up forever. Without due process.

Before gangsters like Alberto Gonzales seduced us into abandoning our values, a person was considered innocent before being proven guilty. Now we're locking people away because "the government does not have enough evidence to charge [them] in courts." And everyone, including Democrats, is OK with this.

Untold thousands of people are being held without charges, tortured and occasionally murdered in the system of gulags hastily strung together by the CIA, FBI, INS and Pentagon. According to the government itself, only a few dozen are former Al Qaeda officials. Most of these postmodern miserables were farmers, truck drivers, grunt militiamen and political enemies sold into bondage by Afghan warlords and similarly trustworthy souls for cash bounties on a no questions asked basis. We know they have no ties to terrorism, but they've already spent years getting beaten up. Releasing them would serve as a tacit admission that we were wrong to describe them as - in Dick Cheney's words - "the worst of the worst." They would sue our government, and eventually win. Worst of all, they have unpleasant tales to tell about systemic sodomy and countless other forms of horrific taxpayer-funded abuse. We can never let them out.

Bush plans to divide U.S. concentration camp victims into two groups. One set of "lifers" will end up in U.S.-run stalags like Gitmo's new Camp 6, built to hold 200 "detainees who are unlikely to ever go through a military tribunal for lack of evidence, according to defense officials." But not to worry: Camp 6 would "allow socializing among inmates."

Others captured in the "war on terrorism" will be outsourced "to third countries willing to hold them indefinitely and without proceedings" in foreign-run gulags that pledge to make victims available for torture by American interrogators. This practice, some claim, is "an effective method of disrupting terrorist cells and persuading detainees to reveal information."

"The threat of sending someone to one of these countries [where they are likely to be tortured] is very important," said Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror."

But the so-called "ticking time bomb" rationale for torture is patently fallacious. We've heard the scenario repeatedly: wouldn't it be worth torturing someone who knew the location of a nuclear bomb that was about to destroy Manhattan? The short answer, to a moral person, is obviously no. Moreover, its logic is ludicrous.

Suppose we had captured Osama bin Laden on 9/10 and immediately gone to work on him with our Alberto Gonzales-approved psychotropic drugs and our Alberto Gonzales-approved "waterboard" dunking technique. It wouldn't take long for Osama's pals to notice that he'd failed to show up at the Terrorcave. They'd assume that we had him and were torturing him. They'd assume that he'd tell us everything he knew. So they'd delay 9/11 to 10/11 or 11/12 or 9/11/02. Or go to Plan B. Or develop a Plan C. No one in an underground organization, not even its top leader, is indispensable. Arrests are inconvenient, not debilitating.

The information a person possesses at the moment of his capture ages like a ripe cheese in hot sun. Even if what he told you at the beginning was true, anything you'd get out of him days and weeks and months and years later would be completely worthless.

Wait a minute.

Look at what we're talking about. Consider the breezy way we Americans - Americans! - are debating the pros and cons of torture. Marvel at our moral bankruptcy. The liberal argument against torture used to be that it was wrong. Now it's that it doesn't work.


Read any good books lately?

Ted Rall

Shred the Constitution, Win a Promotion

On Michael Chertoff, the new Bush nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security

Argh! Another one. The Bush Administration has done it again.
It has nominated to yet another high position a key player in the War On Terror whose actions are described, in a conspiracy of media buzzwords across the land, as "controversial."

What, in the case of Michael Chertoff, new nominee to oversee the Homeland Security Department after the meltdown of Bernard Kerik's nomination, does "controversial" mean?

It means that as a senior Justice Department official in the weeks after 9/11, Chertoff was responsible for the dubious practice of rounding up several hundred non-citizens on minor immigration violations, holding them in prison incommunicado for an average of three months. It meant that these people were plunged into the American gulag pending a policy, initiated by Chertoff, of "hold until clear" – meaning, basically, that the presumption of innocent until proven guilty was stood on its head, and detainees imprisoned until they were proven innocent. It means that Chertoff, as an aggressive proponent of the USA PATRIOT Act, helped set up the newly authorized surveillance networks that need not rely on a targeted individual being suspected of any crime.

"Controversial," in the Bush lexicon, means that the person in question has done their best to shred the constitution and its protection of civil liberties. That, and unquestioned fealty to the president, seem to be the two main qualifications for promotion in Bush's second term.

Virtually every "controversial" aspect of the War On Terror now features someone who's been promoted for their misdeeds. Previous to Chertoff, the poster child for this has been Alberto Gonzales, promoted from White House counsel to the nation's highest law enforcement post, U.S. Attorney General. Gonzales is almost certain to be confirmed by the Senate despite his role in defining "torture" so narrowly, in legal terms, as to allow torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and almost every other prison associated with military intelligence gathering around the world. At least five and up to 28 confirmed deaths of detainees are believed by the Pentagon to have been caused by aggressive policies Gonzales did not define as torture. Remember this when you hear Gonzales', and Bush's, ringing denunciations of torture.

The torture scandal is as good a measure as any of what happens to miscreants in the Bush Administration. They keep their jobs (Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Gen. John Abizaid) or were promoted. Gonzales is one promotee; Jay Bybee, author of a memo maximizing which interrogation techniques could be used, was another. Bybee, like Chernoff, received a lifetime federal judgeship for his efforts. Condoleezza Rice, War On Terror hardliner, is now Secretary of State.

In Chertoff's case, the mass round-up of Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians after 9-11 was not only a civil liberty atrocity, it was wholly ineffective. None of the detainees, held incommunicado and without bond until proven innocent, was ever charged -- let alone convicted -- of any terrorism-related crime. Few if any held any useful intelligence value.

One of the reasons for Chernoff's appointment, on the heels of the fiasco of Bernard Kerik, is that he is a safe appointee, without any of the unexpected personal or professional baggage that felled Kerik. When up for his federal court of appeals judgeship in 2003, he was confirmed by an 88-1 vote despite his role in post-9/11 detentions; the sole "no" vote came from Hillary Clinton, presumably still bitter that Chernoff was a special counsel for the Senate panel investigating Whitewater in 1994. As with Gonzales, what this underscores is that few Democrats are willing to take on even the most "controversial" of the Bush appointees. No matter what they've done, no matter how disastrous such policies would be if applied in their new, more powerful positions.

This has been a pattern in the Bush regime, where no bad deed goes unrewarded. What is more mystifying is why Democrats so often stand idly by and watch it happen. Overshadowed by the conduct of the war in Iraq, the conduct of the rest of the War on Terror -- whether the torture scandals of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, or the excesses of the PATRIOT Act -- scarcely figured in John Kerry's campaign. When appointees like Gonzales and Chernoff sail through Congress, they reinforce a culture in which there is no accountability, and bad news is never acknowledged. It's one thing for Bush, who champions these policies, to promote their architects. At some point, somebody has got to oppose them.

Geov Parrish


Germany's defeat in World War II was greatly accelerated by Hitler's refusal—especially in the final two years—to accept any bad news, and to accuse those trying to present such news of disloyalty, defeatism, or stupidity. Enemy forces were invariably underrated, own strength overestimated, and self-deceptions believed with such firmness that, by mid-1944, Field Marshal Rommel felt compelled to conclude that the Fuehrer was living in a Wolkenkuckucksheim ("cloud cuckoo land").

Is it conceivable that the atmosphere in the White House is beginning to resemble that at Rastenburg? One of the best informed political commentators in Washington, Chris Nelson, thinks so. His influential newsletter, The Nelson Report, has been keenly read inside the Beltway for the past 20 years because his information is usually reliable. In its January 3 issue Nelson wrote of the rising concern amongst senior officials that President Bush "does not grasp the increasingly grim reality of the security situation in Iraq because he refuses to listen to that type of information":

Our sources say that attempts to brief Bush on various grim realities have been personally rebuffed by the President, who actually says that he does not want to hear "bad news." Rather, Bush makes clear that all he wants are progress reports, where they exist, and those facts which seem to support his declared mission in Iraq . . . building democracy. "That's all he wants to hear about," we have been told. So "in" are the latest totals on school openings, and "out" are reports from senior US military commanders (and those intelligence experts still on the job) that they see an insurgency becoming increasingly effective, and their projection that "it will just get worse."

Especially alarming is the insistence of Nelson's sources that this "good news only" directive comes from Bush himself, and that it is not the result of senior officials around him trying to mislead or insulate him. Nelson concludes that "whether self-imposed, or due to manipulation by irresponsible subordinates, the information/intelligence vacuum at the highest levels of the White House increasingly frightens those officials interested in objective assessment, and not just selling a political message."

Similar warnings about Mr. Bush have been heard before, and the disturbing signs—such as his tendency to a messianic outlook—have been apparent for years. His belief that "history has called America and our allies to action" was stated with great firmness in his first State of the Union address three years ago. The conclusion, that he sees himself as an anointed agent of divine providence, seems inescapable.

The notion that one is on the right side of "history" is dangerous in a President, however, not only because it breeds irrational belief in the correctness of one's own intuitive judgment, but also because it prompts megalomaniacal decisions and policies inimical to the political and constitutional tradition of the United States. Abraham Lincoln waged his war against the South with similar convictions as Mr. Bush wages his current global crusade, and with similar consequences. As Eric Foner has noted in his review of two recent books on Lincoln, both Presidents assumed powers that went well beyond what the Constitution seems to allow; in both cases, thousands of people suspected of assisting the enemy were arrested and held without charge and military tribunals were established to circumvent civilian courts:

Leading members of both Administrations described the military conflict as an epic struggle between good and evil, inspired by the country's divinely ordained mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. The Bush Administration's cavalier disregard for civil liberties has directed attention to the permissible limits on the rule of law in wartime.

The historicist fallacy that "history" is an entity on a linear march has bred gnostic ideologies that find it easy to murder those who are deemed to be on its "wrong" side. Sooner or later this mindset results in the destruction of the over-expanded, over-extended bearer of the divinely appointed task. IBD's Washington bureau chief Brian Mitchell has diagnosed the "twin faults" of this mindset leading in the same self-destroying direction. The first is "a gnostic belief in our own anointing as a nation, a belief without any foundation in scripture or tradition, chosen merely because it flatters us." The second is an undeserved confidence in our ability to know and reason, which makes it easy

to pass judgment on others and bear the sword against them, accounting ourselves blameless for the destruction we cause . . . We all know how well men rationalize their nonrational preferences, yet after doing our just-war calculations and obtaining an answer in favor of war, we then proceed with a clear conscience to commit ghastly acts.

Reality is always more complicated than we imagine, he warns, and the farther the reality is from our own experience the less we can understand it. This is the moral basis for nonintervention, for the original refusal of the American Republic to get involved in arranging other peoples' lives.

To deal with the terrorist threat effectively and on the basis of leadership willingly accepted by those who are led, the United States should discard the pernicious notion of its exceptionalism. But instead of realizing that the threat to America is enhanced by the policy of global hegemony, President Bush is turning that hegemony into a divinely-ordained, morally mandated, open-ended and self-justifying mission of this country for decades to come. The winners are the neoconservatives, of course, who can easily tailor their long-term scenarios to fit into Mr. Bush's universe. Their mendacity—apparent in the misrepresentation of the Iraqi crisis to the American people—is now coupled with the chief executive's propensity to hear only "those facts which seem to support his declared mission." It will make the job easier for those around him who subscribe to the Straussian dictum that deception is justified, that there is no morality, and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior.

Srdja Trifkovic
Copyright 2004, www.ChroniclesMagazine.org