Secret “Kill Lists” and the dark sickness that ails the U.S.
By Coleen Rowley May 30, 2012
[Editor’s Note: The following articles from various sources are included as part of this article by the author: President Obama’s Priestly Assassinations, Assange and the “War on Whistleblowers,” America As Self-Declared Victim, The Moral Challenge of ‘Kill Lists’]
There is such hypocrisy on every level but even greater hypocrisy for the clergy and theologians who set themselves up on a higher level and pretend to lecture others on morality and “what would Jesus do?” For Catholic universities whose mission statements are about the pursuit of social and ethical justice to now be giving their highest awards to the architects of Bush’s kidnapping and torture tactics, and most recently to John Brennan, Obama’s “assassination czar,” this is the rankest of rank hypocrisy.
Speaking of hypocrisy, it’s hard to understand how they could do this with a straight face (after reading the long NY Times front page article) but yesterday representatives of 22 countries meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, including the U.S. and other main NATO countries criticized the spate of “extra-judicial killings” and human rights abuses that have taken place and continue to occur in the Philippines. How can the U.S. State Department not be laughed at when it criticizes other countries for torture and “extra-judicial killings” when 3 dozen of Obama’s “Kill List” nomination committee have described (and mostly lauded) how U.S. President Obama orders those on his “extra-judicial killing list” to be executed?!
In any event, we perhaps engage in too much finger pointing at our politicians and bureaucrat officials who have now, in part, also succumbed and are also simply reacting to the political force of what our fearful American culture has turned itself into after 11 years of experiencing heavy-duty propagandizing. For an overall harsh but accurate diagnosis of how opening Pandora’s Box has sickened nearly the entirety of the U.S. people, see “America as Self-Declared Victim” by Prof. Michael Brenner below. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-brenner/obama-kill-list-war-on-terror_b_1556141.html)
President Obama’s Priestly Assassinations
Sam Husseini or David Zupan May 29, 2012
Institute for Public Policy (IPA) via CommonDreams
A New York Times investigative piece “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will” reports today: “Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who is variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists from his cavelike office in the White House basement, or a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president’s attempt to apply the ‘just war’ theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict. …
“In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistanunder Mr. Obama was in the ‘single digits’ — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.
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“But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The CIA accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it ‘guilt by association’ that has led to ‘deceptive’ estimates of civilian casualties. ‘It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,’ the official said. ‘They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.’ …
“It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. … David Axelrod, the president’s closest political adviser, began showing up at the ‘Terror Tuesday’ meetings, his unspeaking presence a visible reminder of what everyone understood: a successful attack would overwhelm the president’s other aspirations and achievements. …
“In fact, in a 2007 campaign speech in which he vowed to pull the United States out of Iraq and refocus on Al Qaeda, Mr. Obama had trumpeted his plan to go after terrorist bases in Pakistan — even if Pakistani leaders objected. His rivals at the time, including Mitt Romney, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mrs. Clinton, had all pounced on what they considered a greenhorn’s campaign bluster. (Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama had become ‘Dr. Strangelove.’) …
“Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive. …
“Some State Department officials have complained to the White House that the criteria used by the CIA for identifying a terrorist ‘signature’ were too lax. The joke was that when the CIA sees ‘three guys doing jumping jacks,’ the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.
“Now, in the wake of the bad first strike in Yemen, Mr. Obama overruled military and intelligence commanders who were pushing to use signature strikes there as well. ‘We are not going to war with Yemen,’ he admonished in one meeting, according to participants. … Mr. Obama had drawn a line. But within two years, he stepped across it. Signature strikes in Pakistan were killing a large number of terrorist suspects, even when CIA analysts were not certain beforehand of their presence. And in Yemen, roiled by the Arab Spring unrest, the Qaeda affiliate was seizing territory. …
“Moreover, Mr. Obama’s record has not drawn anything like the sweeping criticism from allies that his predecessor faced. John B. Bellinger III, a top national security lawyer under the Bush administration, said that was because Mr. Obama’s liberal reputation and ‘softer packaging’ have protected him. ‘After the global outrage over Guantánamo, it’s remarkable that the rest of the world has looked the other way while the Obama administration has conducted hundreds of drone strikes in several different countries, including killing at least some civilians,’ said Mr. Bellinger, who supports the strikes.”
COLEEN ROWLEY, rowleyclan at earthlink.net
Rowley, a former FBI Special Agent and Division Counsel, whose May 2002 memo described some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures, was named one of Time Magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002. She said today: “These New York Times reporters do a good job explaining how Obama’s political calculations and desire to show toughness in the ‘war on terror’ has led him to his role as judge, jury and executioner. Whereas Bush detained and tortured, Obama impresses the former Bush officials with his taking of no prisoners, thus avoiding all the messy legal questions that tend to arise in court. This, however, is the only little bit of transparency that exists so far showing how this new type of ‘due process’ functions. Hopefully there will be judges asking to see the secret memo inventing the new ‘due process’ (written by the same Office of Legal Counsel that OK’d waterboarding). How have they decided that CIA and Pentagon Power point presentations can fully substitute for the entire body of law governing American judicial process?”
RAY McGOVERN, rrmcgovern at gmail.com
McGovern, who was a U.S. army officer and CIA analyst for 30 years, now works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He said today: “So THAT’S it. New York Times writers Jo Becker and Scott Shane today provide insight into how President Obama is helped to resolve the ‘moral and legal conundrum’ of ordering ‘kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.’ Counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, is ‘beside the president at every step.’ Colleagues compare Brennan’s role to that of a ‘priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president’s attempt to apply “just war” theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.’
“So that’s why Brennan’s alma mater, Fordham University, last week conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, and asked him to deliver the commencement address. Many graduates had greeted the honoring of Brennan with astonishment, and strongly criticized him for his key role in ‘justifying’ things like drone killing and ‘mosque crawling’ (infiltrating mosques with pretend-Muslims from NYPD/CIA). A few of the Fordham’s justice-oriented graduating students faced into the prevailing winds with exceptional courage, and a few days later wrote about it.” McGovern cited the just-published student pieces:
Assange and the “War on Whistleblowers”
Rowley, a former FBI Special Agent and Division Counsel whose May 2002 memo described some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures, was named one of Time Magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002. She was featured on an IPA news release yesterday titled “Obama’s Priestly Assassinations” about the administration’s “secret kill list.” She said today: “The war on whistleblowers (which Obama has likened to traitors and espionage), is connected to yesterday’s New York Times story about the ‘secret kill list’ since it is secrecy that is being protected and which fuels and empowers the entire illegal, immoral wrongdoing by a ‘l’etat c’est moi’ [‘I am the state’] war presidency setting itself up as investigator, judge, jury and executioner. The only thing that will prevent a return to the dark ages is light.”
DAVID MacMICHAEL, dmacmi at centurylink.net
MacMichael is a former CIA analyst. He said today: “There is a strong possibility that if Assange is extradited to Sweden that theU.S. will have him extradited here. It’s widely thought that there is already a U.S. government secret indictment against Assange in theAlexandria, Virginia, federal court. This would be part of a pattern of the Obama administration’s unprecedented attacks on whistleblowers, using the 1917 Espionage Act to pursue them. So are we going to see an extraordinary prosecution of Assange from this? This is a strong possibility, I believe.
“The U.S. government, like any other, seeks to avoid transparency in the conduct of its foreign policy. The Obama administration is no different in this than its predecessors. Yesterday the New York Times published a piece on the way Obama personally approves the so-called ‘kill lists.’ of individuals being targeted in the Middle East and elsewhere. During the Vietnam war, it was widely accepted: ‘If he’s dead, he must be Viet Cong,’ hence the notorious body counts of that conflict — and that’s essentially what the Obama administration is doing: If a foreign male who is of broadly-considered military age is killed as a result of U.S. operations — drone strikes, helicopter strafings, etc., he must have been a ‘militant’ (interesting definition, that) and not a civilian. Because, of course, we (our military and intelligence forces) don’t kill civilians. That would be wrong.”
GLENN GREENWALD, ggreenwald at salon.com, @ggreenwald
Available for limited number of interviews, Greenwald’s latest book is With Liberty and Justice for Some. He has written extensively about WikiLeaks and said today: “Remember, Julian Assange is one of the most hated people by Western governments because of the transparency that he brought. … Typically, and unfortunately, judicial branches in the United States and in the United Kingdom do the opposite of what they’re intending to do, which is protecting the institutional power, and help to punish and deprive those who are most scorned. So I would have been shocked had the court ruled in favor of Assange, even though, as the two opposing judges on the high court pointed out, the argument for Sweden and those who argued extradition is directly antithetical to what the statute said. No one thinks that a prosecutor is a judicial authority. He hasn’t been charged with a crime, and therefore, there is no courtroom judge seeking his extradition. … But the law in these cases is not what typically governs. What governs is political consideration and views of the party. …
“[Sweden has] a very oppressive, I would even say borderline barbaric, system of pretrial detention.” Greenwald noted that Assange, since he is not a Swedish citizen, will be “automatically consigned to prison, and not released on bail. … The pre-trial hearings inSweden are private. … And given how sensitive this case is, the idea that judicial decision in Sweden will be made privately and secretly is very alarming. …The concern is that Sweden will hand him over [to the U.S] without much of a fight and that he will face life imprisonment under espionage statute when he is doing nothing more than what newspapers do everyday.”
RAY McGOVERN, rrmcgovern at gmail.com
McGovern, who was a U.S. army officer and CIA analyst for 30 years, now works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was also featured on the “Obama’s Priestly Assassinations” news release and has closely followed WikiLeaks.
America As Self-Declared Victim
By Michael Brenner May 30, 2012 Huffington Post
America today lives with a cultivated sense of victimhood. That is the legacy of 9/11. It fills us with anxieties. It warps our self-image. It distorts our foreign relations. It is self-perpetuating. Yet we need it. Too many benefit — politically or materially or psychologically. Too many are emotionally dependent on it. Too few have the courage to confront the culture that has grown around the idea of America the victim. The price we pay — in all currencies — mounts.
The trauma exposed America’s vulnerability to attack. That is obvious. More profound was its exposure of how fragile is the nation’s psyche when America’s exceptional security and freedom from the events that bedevil ordinary countries is called into question. We couldn’t handle it. So we have absorbed it and made it part of our collective consciousness. The consequences are pernicious.
Above all, Americans have found a renewed purpose in our dealings with the world that is unhealthy. Summed up in the catch phrase “global war on terror,” it is a convenient ordering principle. Convenient intellectually since we are spared the bother of figuring out who exactly out there wants to do us harm — and why. It conjures a suitably stereotypical image of the “threat” — an Islamic jihadist, bearded & turbaned — who hates us for being who we are. His methods are diabolical, lending an aura of alien malice to our free floating dread. That gives emotions the upper hand over thinking.
The “global war on terror” is politically convenient, too. Our masters have used it effectively for more than a decade to justify whatever they find it expedient to do abroad — and at home. We are cowed by our own fears, which are systematically stoked and manipulated. The GWOT has impelled us into a series of military and political adventures that range from the useless to the catastrophic to the absurd. The pointless invasion and occupation of Iraq is the most tragic-comic of these adventures. A failure on every count that leaves us more endangered by would-be terrorists, deprived of respect throughout the Muslim world — and elsewhere, poorer by a trillion or so dollars, facing a strengthened Iran, the abject Iraq project has yet to be pronounced a failure by either our leaders or their courtiers in the press and think tanks. “It remains for history to decide” is the refrain. An inability to admit error, to hold the guilty accountable, to call falsity by its name, is a symptom of the victimization syndrome — and a signal trait of anAmerica wedded to living in the grip of virtual realities.
Afghanistan is in the same vein — even though we did have a legitimate purpose when in 2001 we ousted the Taliban and broke up the al-Qaeda network then extant (as it is not now). No one dares pronounce failure even as every single stated objective eludes our fumbling hands. That is inescapable as we never defined success. One foot out the door — only one, we bluff and fulminate. The only people we delude are ourselves. Certainly not the Afghans — of all stripes, nor the Pakistanis, nor the Iranians, nor anybody else who has a stake in the future of that star-crossed country or is just paying skeptical attention. As the sun sets on another costly defeat, we are obsessed with looking tough rather than acting soberly and realistically. “All hat and no cattle,” as they say on the prairie. Of course, we in fact do have cattle — as many fine heads as an outsized defense budget can buy. What’s under the hat is another matter.
Elsewhere, we insist on seeing ourselves as the victims of the worldwide jihadist campaign to undo us. So we chase terrorist phantoms. In 24 countries Special Forces and other under the radar operatives are combating any and all Muslims who might bear us ill-will. Since the threat is omnipresent, since the GWOT has no time-frame, that means that we must worry about the future too. So not just tangible present dangers but prospective intangible ones are our targets.
That means taking on the job of doing a triage among Muslims, among sects, among political formations, among would-be leaders from Morocco to Mindanao in a futile, vain effort to eliminate the bad guys now and forevermore. Elimination as literal as our president routinely checking names on an official ‘kill list.’ As we relentlessly apply this full court press, we never imagine that all this interference in the affairs of other people might be counterproductive — that it might generate more bad guys than otherwise would be the case. This already has happened in Iraq, in Pakistan and in Yemen. If you travel 8,000 miles to kill people in their own country, they — or friends, relatives, fellow countrymen — may in turn try to kill you over there. That makes them terrorists — by currentWashington definitions. A perfect recipe for self-perpetuating war and self-reproducing kill lists. Moreover, the broader audience out there that you are trying to impress may not have the same outlook as Sunday morning talk show hosts. This simple point, though, never gets debated seriously.
One reason for this feckless conduct is that the pronounced sense of American victimhood has powerfully strengthened American self-righteousness. We are as sure as we ever have been that we have a Providential mission on this earth, that we were born as a nation in a condition of “original virtue,” that 9/11 was an offense against the natural order of things. That order must be restored — in our hearts, in our minds, in our spirit — by acting our there, not by looking inward. After all, Americans are a proactive, can-do people.
Americans, more than most other peoples, live by their collective myths. American ‘exceptionalism’ in particular holds a key place in their make-up. That places an exceptional burden on preserving our foundation fables. The impulse to pursue real and imagined enemies across much of Eurasia and Africa is propelled in part by the fearful quest for absolute security that is taken as an American birthright. That impulse is reinforced by the imperative to validate the nation’s mythical self-image. Atavistic beliefs that Americans are winners, that they act selflessly in the world, that this goodness should be recognized by others, that Truth is on their side — together form the keystone of American being and meaning. Individuals’ sense of worth is tied to this mythologized collective identity. This makes it exceedingly difficult, psychologically, to cut loose from actions that failed the test of utility in meeting national interests years ago. For the dread of facing a reality bereft of the moral and ideational sustenance those myths provide is stronger than is the fear of costly wars without end and corrupted ideals.
A mind shaped by feelings of dread, ingrained superiority and resentment is totally self-absorbed. It suffers from a lack of interest in the attitude of foreign parties — much less an ability to understand them. We launch ourselves into one audacious venture after another whose success supposedly depends on reorienting the thinking of the natives, of winning a battle for hearts and minds, for instilling new norms of behavior — all overlaid with respect for the United states.. Yet we show little concern for finding out who these people are — much less adjusting our own actions accordingly. They are just ‘they.’ So we scold, we instruct, we insist — and we bribe. They resist, they fume, they ignore — and they pocket, sometimes. This is what Washington celebrates as “smart power.”
They suffer accordingly. We suffer their reaction — and from our incapacity to rethink what we are doing and why.
A companion reason is that we all are implicated in the deeds we have done since 9/11. We have made torture a national policy, we have besmirched our good name in the eyes of the world, we have been passive accessories in repealing some of our most cherished liberties, we lie with impunity and we accept lies from our rulers as natural and necessary. Along the way, we have lost our self respect in a manner that we cannot acknowledge. For to do so is make an admission that we have done things as a nation that run counter to what we believe is the very soul and essence of our collective being. In some, the resulting frustration turns into anger and gets expressed in bitter tirades against all the ‘others’ and other ideas in our midst — a lashing out that has become a feature of our public life. For some, it means sublimating feelings of guilt while finding excuses for those who have abused their authority and deceived us.
The vague feeling of self betrayal hardly breaks the surface because we are accomplices in all of our misdeeds — through our own acts of non-commission as well as of commission. We have permitted ourselves to indulge in the exaggerated privileges of victimhood too long and too often. Our leaders have encouraged that. When George Bush told Americans to go shopping as per normal while a few carried on the active ‘war on terrorism,’ he made them passive accessories to the iniquities committed in their name. Barack Obama has been just as calculating in stilling dissent and avoiding candor. Even the story of his ‘kill lists’ is artfully massaged by White House public relations specialists. The implications are profound. For it draws a line of shame between ignominy and virtue — and nearly all of us find that we are on the wrong side of it. Crossing that line, sadly, is proving a near impossibility.
The Moral Challenge of
Exclusive: Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan has been called President Obama’s “priest” as they wrestle with the moral dilemma of assembling a “kill list” of “bad guys,” a role that recalls how established religions have justified slaughters over the centuries, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
In an extraordinary article in Tuesday’s New York Times, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” authors Jo Becker and Scott Shane throw macabre light on the consigliere-cum-priestly role that counterterrorist adviser John Brennan provides President Barack Obama.
At the outset, Becker and Shane note that, although Obama vowed to “align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values,” he has now ordered the obedient Brennan to prepare a top secret “nominations” list of people whom the President may decide to order killed, without charge or trial, including American citizens.
Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, who would become Pope Pius XII (seated, center), at the signing of the Reichskonkordat with Adolf Hitler’s Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen on July 20,1933, in Rome.
The authors understate this as “a moral and legal conundrum.” It is, in fact, a moral and legal impossibility to square “kill lists” for extrajudicial murders with traditional legal and moral American values.
Enter the legal consiglieres. Attorney General Eric Holder and Harold Koh, the State Department’s top lawyer, seem to have adopted the retro (pre-1215) practices of their immediate predecessors (think Ashcroft, Gonzales, Mukasey) with their extraordinary ability to make just about anything “legal.”
Even torture? No problem for the earlier trio. Was not George W. Bush well-armed with the perfect squelch, when NBC’s Matt Lauer asked him about waterboarding in November 2010?
Lauer: Why is waterboarding legal, in your opinion?
Bush: Because the lawyer said it was legal. He said it did not fall within the anti-torture act. I’m not a lawyer. But you gotta trust the judgment of the people around you, and I do.
So there! You gotta trust those lawyers. The legal issue taken care of – though early in his presidency, Bush had ridiculed other lawyers who thought international law should apply to him. “International law?” he asked in mock fear. “I better call my lawyer.” He surely knew his lawyer would tell him what he wanted to hear.
President Obama has adopted a similar attitude toward the moral conundrum of targeted killings around the world. Just turn to Consigliere John Brennan for some “just war” theorizing. We have it from Harold Koh that Brennan is “a person of genuine moral rectitude. … It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”
So, like the Caesars of old or the generals of World War I, Obama consults a priest or minister before having folks killed. And in this case the “priest” is Brennan, “whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the President’s attempt to apply the ‘just war’ theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict,” write Becker and Shane.
If, as the New York Times writers claim, President Obama is a student of the writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he seems to be getting very warped exegesis from Brennan.
Cameron Munter, Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, is just one who seems inadequately schooled in those theories. According to Becker and Shane, Munter has complained to his colleagues that the CIA’s strikes are driving American policy in Pakistan, saying, “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.”
Western news reports have Munter leaving his post this summer, after less than two years — an ambassador’s typical tenure.
Now, don’t “mis-underestimate” John Brennan. His heart is in the right place, we’re told. The authors quote him as insisting, “The President, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die.” Yes, it really is too bad, don’t you know; but, hey, sometimes you just have to belly-up to the really tough decisions.
In Brennan’s and Obama’s world, some suspects just have to die, partly because they seem to look/act like “militants,” and partly because it is infeasible to capture them (while unprecedentedly easy, and safe, to kill them — by missiles from drones).
Thus far, the words of today’s Gospel by post-9/11 “Christian philosophers.” No doubt, these “just war” enthusiasts would brand hopelessly naïve, or “quaint-and-obsolete,” the words seen recently on a bumper sticker: “When Jesus told us to love our enemies, I think he probably meant not to kill them.”
Not one of the thousand cars driving onto the Bronx campus of Fordham University for commencement on May 19 was sporting that bumper sticker, nor was there any attention given to the general concept at commencement.
That kind of thinking was hardly welcome that day at the “Jesuit University of New York City,” after the Jesuits and their trustees decided to give Brennan the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, and asked him to give the commencement address.
Several of the Fordham graduates, though, did take the trouble to learn more about Brennan’s role in “war-on-terror” practices like kidnapping, torture, black-site prisons, illegal eavesdropping on Americans, and extrajudicial murder by drone. They found it preposterous that Obama would seek “priestly” advice from Brennan. At commencement, they orchestrated some imaginative protests.
Fordham and the Prestige Virus
Fordham is the college that blessed the “priest” that blessed the president that killed from a list compiled in a White House that slaves built. And looking on silently from his commencement seat of honor atop the steps to Fordham’s Keating Hall was fellow honorary doctorate awardee, “pro-life” Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
I wonder if it occurred to Dolan that from these same steps an honorary degree was conferred in 1936 on Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, author of the Vatican’s Concordat with Nazi Germany. Later, as Pope Pius XII, Pacelli could not find his voice to speak out forcefully against the wars and other abuses of the Third Reich, including genocide against the Jews.
So too, the new archbishop of New York and his fellow bishops cannot find their voice on the transcendent issues of aggressive war and its accumulated evil, preferring to focus on pelvic issues.
A few summers ago, I spent a couple of hours in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in West Jerusalem. Decades earlier while serving in Germany, I had made it a custom to devote the last day of a visitor’s stay to Dachau, the first concentration camp, established in 1933.
At the end of the barracks at Dachau stands the famous caution from Santayana, “Those who do not remember history are condemned to relive it.” That dictum kept racing through my mind as past and present merged on the walls of Yad Vashem, mocking the ubiquitous “Never Again.”
There were parallels that stood stark naked for any thinking American to see: parallels between Hitler’s success in grabbing dictatorial power in Germany — largely because of a supine Parliament, an acquiescent Church, a careerist Army leadership, and a fearful populace — and the situation we Americans face today with “kill lists,” unconstitutional “laws,” and Gestapo-style police armed to the teeth.
There they were in photos on the walls. It was 1934, and the German Army generals were in the limelight swearing allegiance to Hitler — not the German Constitution (what was left of it); the German Supreme Court swearing allegiance to Hitler — not to the law and Constitution; and, not least, the Reich’s bishops swearing allegiance to Hitler — not to God and the people they were supposed to serve.
I noticed that one of the English-speaking guides pointed to the generals and jurists but avoided mentioning the bishops, so I insisted he make full disclosure. (It occurred to me that Hitler might have been stymied, had the Catholic and Lutheran bishops been able to find their voice.)
On an adjacent wall was the Hamlet-like Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, trying to make up his mind on whether he should put the Catholic Church at risk, while Jews were being murdered by the train-full.
The most compelling story was that of Imre Bathory, a Hungarian who, like many other Hungarians, put their own lives at grave peril by trying to save fugitive Jews. Asked to explain, Bathory said that because of his actions:
“I know that when I stand before God on Judgment Day, I shall not be asked the question posed to Cain; ‘Where were you when your brother’s blood was crying out to God?’”
At Fordham’s commencement, one would have taken considerable risk in alluding to the crying-out blood of Iraqis and Afghans. Only happy, prideful talk is de rigueur on such occasions, together with honoring prominent people — with little heed paid to how they earned such prominence. A White House post suffices.
From the Grave, Albert Camus
In 1948, still under the dark cloud of what had been a disastrous world war, the French author/philosopher Albert Camus accepted an invitation to come to the Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg.
To their credit, the Dominicans wanted to know what an “unbeliever” thought about Christians in the light of their behavior during the Thirties and Forties. Camus’s words seem so terribly relevant today that it is difficult to trim them down:
“For a long time during those frightful years I waited for a great voice to speak up in Rome. I, an unbeliever? Precisely. For I knew that the spirit would be lost if it did not utter a cry of condemnation…
“It has been explained to me since, that the condemnation was indeed voiced. But that it was in the style of the encyclicals, which is not all that clear. The condemnation was voiced and it was not understood. Who could fail to feel where the true condemnation lies in this case?
“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.
“It may be … that Christianity will insist on maintaining a compromise, or else on giving its condemnations the obscure form of the encyclical. Possibly it will insist on losing once and for all the virtue of revolt and indignation that belonged to it long ago.
“What I know – and what sometimes creates a deep longing in me – is that if Christians made up their mind to it, millions of voices – millions, I say – throughout the world would be added to the appeal of a handful of isolated individuals, who, without any sort of affiliation, today intercede almost everywhere and ceaselessly for children and other people.” (Excerpted from Resistance, Rebellion, and Death: Essays)
It may be that the Dominican monks took Camus seriously; monks tend to listen. Vatican functionaries, on the other hand, tend to know it all, and to urge pope, cardinals and bishops to be highly “discreet” in what they say and do.
Help From the Outside
Sometimes it takes a truth-telling outsider to throw light on our moral failures.
South African Methodist Bishop Peter Storey, erstwhile chaplain to Nelson Mandela in prison and outspoken opponent of Apartheid, has this to say to the platitude-inclined, patriotism-preaching American clergy in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks:
“We had obvious evils to engage; you have to unwrap your culture from years of red, white and blue myth. You have to expose and confront the great disconnect between the kindness, compassion and caring of most American people and the ruthless way American power is experienced, directly or indirectly, by the poor of the earth.
“You have to help good people see how they have let their institutions do their sinning for them. All around the world there are those who long to see your human goodness translated into a different, more compassionate way of relating with the rest of this bleeding planet.”
Albert Camus and Peter Storey are among the true prophets of our time. I think the late Madeleine L’Engle also had it right when she wrote:
“I think if we speak the truth and are not afraid to be disagreed with, we can make big changes.” The biggest obstacle is often within us, she observes. “We get so frightful.”
In A Stone for a Pillow: L’Engle adds:
“The true prophet seldom predicts the future. The true prophet warns us of our present hardness of heart, our prideful presuming to know God’s mind.
“We must be careful … that we are not being false prophets fearing only for our own selves, our own families, our own country. Our concern must be for everybody, for our entire fragile planet, and everybody on it. …
“Indeed, we must protest with loving concern for the entire universe. A mark of the true prophet in any age is humility. … And the final test of the true prophet is love.”
After ten years of ecclesiastical silence regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be a cop-out — pure and simple — to expect the leaders of the institutional “Christian” churches in the United States to act any differently from the way the German churches did during the Thirties in Germany.
Americans can no longer in good conscience expect bold action for true justice from the largely domesticated clergy; nor can we use that feckless expectation as an excuse to do nothing ourselves. As theologian Annie Dillard has put it: “There is only us; there never has been any other.”
And, she might have added, we don’t do “kill lists.”
Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-cityWashington. He served thirty years as an Army officer and CIA intelligence analyst; he holds an M.A. in Russian from Fordham and a Certificate in Theological Studies from Georgetown University.
3 Responses to The Moral Challenge of ‘Kill Lists’
Rehmat on May 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm
John Brennan – Bush’s “priest” or “rabbi”!!
It’s not the religion but the people who distort religious teachings to serve their homocidal natures. The atheists have created more mass genocides and holocaust than religious people.
On May 18, 2010 – John Brennan told a Washington think tank that Hizbullah a very interesting organization, has improved from “purely a terrorist organization” to an entity that now counts members in Lebanese parliament and even cabinet posts. However, Brennan likes Washington to bring a regime change within the organization as it did within the Palestinian Authority (PA) by projecting pro-USrael corrupt Mahmoud Abbas over duly elected Hamas government. “What we need to do is to find ways to diminsh their (Sheikh Nasrallah and clerics) influence within the organization and try to build up the more moderate elements,” he said.
Reacting to Brennan’s comments published in Jerusalem Post, Major-General Yaakov Amidror, former commander of Israel’s National Defense College, told CBN: “I think it’s a joke…..I don’t believe there is anyone in the (US) administration who is naïve enough to believe there are moderate elements within Hezbollah that might act against Iran……. I don’t believe this naïveté exists in Washington, I think that this is something that Jerusalem Post has to go and to find where a mistake was made, maybe in the translation to what is going on in Washington to the front page of Jerusalem Post because if the Jerusalem Post is right something wrong has happened in Washington…”
fusion on May 30, 2012 at 4:18 pm
You said: The atheists have created more mass genocides and holocaust than religious people.
Show us your proof
Robert Charron on May 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm
I must say that I think Ray McGovern is being a little hard on Pope Pius XII. Now Mr. McGovern has courageously stood for justice and I can understand his irritation with fellow Church members for not standing up to what has been going on in this country, I share this feeling, and this can make one hyper critical. I am very disappointed that the Catholic hierarchy and Catholics have not denounced our engaging in needless wars that result in the blowing up of many innocent civilians among others. I am disappointed that catholics do not denounce torture. I am particularly upset that the Catholics who consider themselves “traditionalists” or “conservatives” are the strongest supporters of our killing and torturing, and many like Brennan play a major role in this obscenity.
But Pope Pius XII has been subject to vicious slanders by many who feel the holocaust justifies their actions in attacking Catholics. They have not hesitated to spread lies either. This did not begin until some years after WWII. Immediately after most Jewish leaders had nothing but praise for Pius XII, then the revisionists came on strong, as they sensed blood in the water. And it is very, very easy to claim the Pope should have done more and should have spoken out louder.
When the Dutch Bishops condemned the Nazia for their persecution of the Jews, the Nazis rounded up all the Dutch Jews they could and shipped them to concentration camps. The Pope realized this and the Pope’s power was limited. But from what I have heard he did what he could, and did it quietly so as not to invite Nazi retaliation against others. And I believe Mr. McGovern was alluding to the fact that Pope Pius XII, before he became Pope wrote a pretty strong encyclical condemning Nazism. Now given the stakes in play, the well being of German Catholics, he couldn’t just issue a thunderous denunciation in longshoreman’s terms, but he did enrage the Nazis at that time.
And it must be kept in mind that when Hitler came to power, Germany was in the pits, and Hitler did pull the Germans out of a severe depression. This most american historians will readily admit, not that they want to make Hitler more presentable, but I just bring this up to say Hitler was not widely recognized for the monster he became. And a lot of people felt Germany had been wronged by the victorious France and England. So it wasn’t the mad dog who unleashed a viscious European war that the world was dealing with in the early and mid thirties.
Now you can criticise the Church in Germany for not speaking out, but when Germans were faced with the spector of Communist Russia occupying Germany,should the German armies be defeated, you could understand why many Churchmen did not come out strongly against their government. It was for many Germans a case fo “supporting their troops.” Moreover there were more German clergy arrested and sent to concentration camps than the clergy of any other German religion. So, yes, some say this and some say that, and I have not examined very much of the record to make a categorical comment. I lived during that time, I was in high school, and I read the papers and I read the papers following the war, and all I am saying is that I think Mr. McGovern is being a bit too hard on Pope Pius XII.
A conservative Catholic newspapaer came out against the invasion of Iraq and promptly lost a number of its subscribers. I think conservative Catholics who are repelled by the social liberalism of the Democrats, turn to embrace the Republican Party mistakenly believing that the Republicans were not liberal. They are but in a different way. And then they listen to the Republicans and get co-opted. And they get very defensive and parochial in their interests. but they need to be confronted on this, which I try in my own little way. Thats’ all.
Dennis Trainor, jr. on May 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm
Ray – This is brilliant. I wish I had read it before creating my video today. Your use of the phrase “consiglieres” is spot on. I just can’t believe the MSM’s shrug of the shoulders over this. The Times article seems in awe of a president who is such a deft legal scholar as to find “grey areas”
If this had been Bush or McCain, the MSNBC talking heads would be inventing new adjectives in an effort to outdo each other with mock indignation.
rosemerry on May 30, 2012 at 5:09 pm
Thanks Ray, and to Robert Charron as well. We never hear anything except the Holocaust of Jews; never about the communists, socialists, unionists, handicapped people, homosexuals who were targeted as well. Lots of people helped Jews to hide or escape; how ma
rosemerry on May 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm
sorry the hand slipped! gypsies as well. How many of these were helped, given a country, provided with nukes, weapons, US vetoes?
Coleen Rowley on May 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm
There is such hypocrisy on every level but even greater hypocrisy for the clergy and theologians who set themselves up on a higher level and pretend to lecture others on morality and “what would Jesus do?” For Catholic Universities whose mission statements are about the pursuit of social and ethical justice to now be giving their highest awards to the architects of Bush’s kidnapping and torture tactics, and most recently to John Brennan, Obama’s “assassination czar”, is rank hypocrisy.
Speaking of hypocrisy, it’s hard to understand how they could do this with a straight face (after reading the NY Times) but yesterday representatives of 22 countries meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, including the U.S. and other main NATO countries criticized the spate of “extra-judicial killings” and human rights abuses that have taken place and continue to occur in the Philippines. How can the U.S. State Department not be laughed at when it criticizes other countries for torture and “extra-judicial killings” when 3 dozen of Obama’s “Kill List” nomination committee have described (and mostly lauded) how U.S. President Obama orders those on his “extra-judicial killing list” to be executed?!
In any event, we perhaps engage in too much finger pointing at our politicians and bureaucrat officials who have now, in part, also succumbed and reacting to the political force of what our fearful American culture has turned itself into after 11 years of experiencing heavy-duty propagandizing. For an overall harsh but accurate diagnosis of how opening Pandora’s Box has sickened nearly the entirety of the U.S. people, see “America as Self-Declared Victim” by Prof. Michael Brenner:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-brenner/obama-kill-list-war-on-terror_b_1556141.html
Morton Kurzweil on May 31, 2012 at 9:46 am
You can’t have it both ways. A designated enemy can be an individual, a nation, a race, a religion, a culture, or and economic competitor.
Morality is in the eye of the believer. Patriotism has the identical characteristics of religious belief: emotional attachments to myth and communal support for faith and trust in cultural values, and the insanity of certainty in which an authority is claimed to offer sovereign immunity.