The Common Good

Terrorism is the Enemy of Democracy

Sojomail - November 24, 2004

Quote of the Week Well, if polls are any indication...
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Building a Movement Marching for remembrance - and justice - in Greensboro
Good News No new nuke funding in spending bill
Religion and Politics Perhaps
Culture Watch U2 strikes back
Boomerang Readers write
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Well, if polls are any indication...

"Am I the only person in the entire United States of America who likes both George Bush and John Kerry, who believes they're both good people, who believes they both love our country and they just see the world differently?"

- Bill Clinton, at the opening of his presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Source: The Washington Post


Terrorism is the enemy of democracy
by David Batstone

Recent events in Iraq bear witness to chilling acts of evil. It now seems likely that Margaret Hassan, a British-born human relief worker who worked for more than two decades in Iraq, was executed. Even though Hassan opposed the U.S./U.K. invasion of the country, and could explain clearly in Arabic her political commitments, the insurgents turned her birthright into a death sentence.

U.S. troops also report this past week finding "houses of torture" in Fallujah during military operations there. Bloody rooms, human-size cages, and bayonets point to the possibility that civilian hostages such as Hassan were held in these homes, tortured for information, and eventually killed, often by decapitation. A third symbolic event took place in a mosque, when a U.S. soldier was shown on film murdering a wounded, unarmed insurgent. Subsequent investigations indicate that U.S. soldiers executed perhaps two additional wounded and unarmed insurgents.

All of the above scenarios must be treated as crimes against humanity, and not justified as "what happens in a war." U.S. military and government officials are quick to label enemy atrocities as "terrorism," yet consistently scapegoat a few "bad apples" as solely responsible for American atrocities.

Most American citizens were shocked when they learned of the torture and murder of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Do they realize that this "house of torture" was conducted with the implicit, if not explicit, approval of high-ranking government and military officials? A few U.S. soldiers are being singled out to take the fall, but this was no aberration.

Over the past few years, the U.S. government has been rewriting the rules of war. It is troubling that the current nominee for attorney general of the United States, Alberto Gonzales, wrote a memo in January 2002 telling President Bush that the nature of the war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

We at Sojourners do not consider torture quaint, any more than we accept murder as a necessary response to terror. That is why we are actively involved in the campaign to close the School of the Americas.

Since 1946, the SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, psychological warfare, military intelligence, and interrogation tactics. Among its graduates are death squad leaders such as Roberto D'Aubuisson from El Salvador and military dictators such as Hugo Banzer of Bolivia and General Hector Gramajo of Guatemala. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion, and execution. In response to public outcry over its poor human rights record, Congress in 2000 renamed the SOA as the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" (WHISC).

Changing a leopard's name, however, does not remove its spots. The school continues to draw criticism and protest throughout Latin America. On February 26, 2004, Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel announced that all training of Venezuelan soldiers at the School of the Americas (WHISC) would be immediately ceased. In his address Rangel stated that the U.S., which considers itself a democracy, shouldn't have a school like this on its soil.

When I was working in the countryside of El Salvador in the middle 1990s, I witnessed firsthand the atrocities that SOA-trained soldiers wreaked upon the families of peasant farmers. They terrorized the population and assassinated grassroots leaders from the church, including Archbishop Romero and six Jesuits.

Since our action alert went out, I received several letters from readers who argued that the SOA cannot be held responsible for the acts of its graduates any more than a university could be complicit in the crimes of its alumni. We contacted Carlos Castresana, the prosecutor who brought charges of war crimes against General Pinochet, and asked him if he believed this was a legitimate defense. His reply:

"The question has two possible responses. Some lessons are a priori innocuous, and do not make the professor responsible, unless the professor knows beforehand the use that the student will make of the lesson.... To know beforehand, however, turns the professor into a necessary collaborator, and he or she would be punished as a material author of the crime."

The U.S., both through the SOA and 180 other similar training programs for foreign militaries, continues to support regimes with known records of abuse and torture - in effect, arming criminals. Even since purported reforms, known human rights abusers continue to receive training. In one case, the 1992-U.N.-mandated Commission on the Truth for El Salvador found Col. Francisco del Cid Diaz as one of those responsible for the massacre of 16 residents of the Los Hojas cooperative of the Asociacion Nacional de Indigenas. Despite record of this massacre in the State Department Human Rights Record Country Reports, Col. del Cid Diaz received SOA training in 2003.

Vice President Rangel of Venezuela got it right. No society that considers itself a democracy should tolerate a school like the SOA to exist, or permit its government to jettison the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Terrorism is indeed the enemy of democracy, even when it emerges from within our own ranks.

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Hope and grief at the gates of Fort Benning
by Lisa Yebuah, Jessie Doerrer, Emily Hershberger, and Mark Betz

Actor Martin Sheen (right) marches with leaders of the movement to close the School of the Americas. (Photo by Jesse Doerrer).
Last Friday afternoon four of us from Sojourners piled into a car and began a 12-hour drive to Fort Benning, Georgia. We were excited; we were energized by our outrage and ready to join the thousands demanding the closing of the School of the Americas. But we were daunted as well. With images of the dead in Iraq and the forgotten poor on America's streets heavy in our minds, we wondered where we would find solace and inspiration as we prepared to remember the thousands killed and tortured in Latin America by graduates of the School. A member of Walk for Peace, a group that trekked 118 miles on foot from Atlanta to Fort Benning, gave words to our feelings: "Walking and running is not difficult, but keeping hope alive in our hearts in this day and age is difficult."

But we did find hope. As we pledged nonviolence, and conversed and marched with 15,000 protesters - old and young, locals and travelers, representatives of diverse faiths - we found promise in our grief.

+ Read the full article

Former Sojourners intern Jeshua Erickson explores faith and a Christian commitment to nonviolence in his latest album, Swords into Plowshares. His music offers listeners a refreshing new way of seeing faith and politics as partners in the noble pursuit of peace and justice. Reviews and information about Jeshua can be found at

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Sojourners in the News

Values and the election may still be a hot topic, but Sojourners continues to speak a clear message that goes beyond hot buttons. Thanks for your support as we continue to raise a fuller spectrum of "values" that include concern for poverty, peace, the environment, and human rights.

Jim Wallis is scheduled to appear on NBC's "Meet the Press" this Sunday at 10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Jim will join Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Richard Land, and Rev. Al Sharpton for a conversation about what this election has taught us about moral values in America. NBC has already begun heavily promoting the segment on its nightly news programs. + Find the affiliate in your area

Some Democrats believe the party should get religion
+ The New York Times

Democrats must recapture moral high ground
+ The Washington Times

Liberal evangelicals are down, but they're not out
+ The Dallas Morning News

Democrats ceded morality issue to Bush
+ BlackAmericaWeb

Liberal Christians challenge 'values vote'
+ The Washington Post

Republicanism is not fundamentalism says leading evangelical
+ Ekklesia


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Marching for remembrance - and justice - in Greensboro
by Jennifer Coulter Stapleton

Greensboro Massacre survivor Signe Waller, the widow of Dr. Jim Waller, who was killed when white supremacist groups attacked union and anti-racism activists. (Photo by Jennifer Coulter Stapleton).
On November 13, more than 1,000 people marched in Greensboro, North Carolina, to promote racial and economic justice, to protect free speech and the right to dissent, and for restorative justice and community healing. However, this march was not solely focused on hopes for Greensboro's future. We were also there to remember, and help heal, Greensboro's past.

In that same location 25 years earlier, union organizers and anti-racism activists gathered to march for workers' rights and racial justice. Members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party ambushed the marchers, leaving five people dead, injuring 10 others, and crippling the progress of a growing justice movement.

The attack and subsequent acquittal of the defendants by all-white juries in both state and federal criminal trials created a wound in Greensboro that has yet to heal. Questions remain unanswered. How were the defendants found innocent when they were photographed by police and filmed by four television stations during the attack? What role did the Greensboro police and federal law enforcement play in the events of that day? Why were police assigned to protect the marchers dismissed for an early lunch when informants inside the KKK and Nazi group had warned authorities of the planned ambush? How does a city, and a nation, move past such violence?

+ Read the full article


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No new nuke funding in spending bill

At least one of the Bush administration's bad ideas has failed to become law as the Republican-controlled Congress recently cut funding for research into new nuclear weapons. Research into so-called "low-yield" or "mini-nuke" bombs and the Freudian nightmare "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator" or "bunker buster" weapons was requested by the Bush administration in 2002, but opposed by arms control advocates fearful that such weapons would encourage further proliferation. The Washington Post reports that while congressional Democrats were unable to block such programs, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development, David L. Hobson of Ohio, is credited for dropping the funding from the appropriations bill because of his opposition to developing nuclear arms "that someone might use."

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by Rabbi Simeon Kolko

The story is told of a beloved rabbi whose followers came to him to warn him of what they perceived to be an impending situation fraught with risk and danger. What were the circumstances that provoked such concern on the part of those loyal to the rabbi? He was about to be confronted by the village non-believer with every conceivable argument, buttressed by the forces of reason and logic, for the non-existence of God. Indeed, several minutes later, this person approached the rabbi intending to engage in a disputation - the result of which would be that the spiritual leader would have no choice but to concede the point that God does not exist. The rabbi approached his interlocutor and whispered one word in his ear, after which both men broke down in tears and embraced one another. What was the magical word invoked by the rabbi to such power and effect? The word was "perhaps."

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U2 strikes back

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Readers write

John Flick writes from Redondo Beach, California:

As pointed out in Jim Wallis' article, "The real debate" [SojoMail 11/17/2004], the "moral values" issue needs to be enlarged to include a wide range of moral issues. Likewise, the theology of Christian fundamentalists needs to be called into question. The Christian right is missing a big piece of real Christianity - i.e., the central message of Jesus' teachings is love - love God, love thy neighbor, love your enemies, the golden rule, do not judge others, don't focus on the speck in another's eye until you've removed the log in your own eye, etc. The evangelicals preach loving (and fearing) God, but rarely even give lip service to love thy neighbor and its implications. I don't understand why moderate Christians (myself included) haven't held their feet to the fire on this.


Rev. John Magisano writes from Brooklyn, New York:

Why is it that those who call themselves "pro-life," including religious progressives, continue to mischaracterize and mock the pro-choice position, when it is the pro-choice movement that has forcefully advocated for comprehensive sexuality education, and universal access to safe and effective birth control - the two methods that will actually LOWER the rates of abortion? Why is it that Jim Wallis says that it is the pro-choice movement that must "soften" its stance to build alliances with pro-lifers when most pro-lifers are not willing to take the realistic steps like those above that will lower the abortion rates by empowering women to make choices BEFORE they have an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy?

The goal of the pro-choice movement has never been to have more abortions, but to give control of the means of reproduction to whom it rightfully belongs, women and their partners. When religious progressives who are anti-abortion begin forcefully advocating comprehensive sexuality education and denouncing "abstinence-only" programs that by all measures fail, then there may be something to talk about. As it stands now, perhaps we can start by talking about the economic landscape that makes it so hard to raise children in stable and loving households. But it is not the rigidity of the pro-choice movement that has polarized the debate, but the fundamentalists who feel that life starts at conception and ends at birth.


George O'Reilly, pastor of Bethel Mennonite Church, Mountain Lake, Minnesota, writes:

Treva West wrote [Boomerang 11/17/2004], "The 'moral behavior that deals with sex/body' only directly affects the person making the decision, not other people or the society in general. Corporations/powerful individuals' monetary decisions, on the other hand, affect a lot more than just themselves."

As a pastor who has counseled many couples moving toward marriage, I have over the years become much more ready to say to couples that their marriage is certainly personal, but it can never be totally private. Our entire society has a tremendous stake in the nature of their marital relationship. Marriages and also other forms of intimate relationship chosen by individuals effect great consequences. Healthy, mutual, nurturing marriages or relationships begin a ripple effect in life around a couple, certainly in children, but even within generalized society. Unhealthy marriages or relationships also begin a ripple effect, certainly toward children, but within society as well.

Just as ignoring the investment patterns of my retirement plan could allow companies that reap unbiblical returns through immoral interest rates piled on the backs of the poor to benefit the rich, so ignoring the self-centered patterns of many live-in situations and casual intercourse practices can allow couples to perpetuate highly unhealthy, at-risk "family" situations, which all studies show are vastly more likely to result in abject poverty, abusive patterns, unparented children, and other such things that harm individuals and burden society.

My sexual choices should be given the respect of privacy, but we should never deceive ourselves into believing our sexual choices are only individual, and not a part of the web of human community.


Richard Crago writes from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania:

David Batstone ["God-talk and moral values," SojoMail 11/9/2004] expressed his unease with the idea of a "personal relationship with God," and favored simply following the "path of Jesus." While many Christians do lapse into a purely non-rational, experiential expression of faith, Batstone's alternative not only reinforces the false dichotomy between faith and reason, but diverges from the historic and biblical faith. Jesus called his disciples not only to follow him, but also to know and trust him personally. Thus Jesus declared, "I AM the way and the truth and the life," not just "My WAY is the truth and the life." An authentic progressive Christian voice should challenge us to both know and to follow Jesus; to exercise both faith and reason in our decision making; to both talk about and profess Christian faith; and to work to end both social injustice and our society's other moral failings. Christianity is a both/and faith!


Maria Weir writes from Crawfordsville, Indiana:

I look forward to your weekly updates. When you first included links to the article on rising abortion rates during the Bush administration, I read it with sorrow, and, I admit, a little left-wing glee ["Pro-life? Look at the fruits," SojoMail 10/13/2004]. At the time, I was embroiled in an argument with my father about the impact of our vote in the election, so I almost used the article to help support the point that no truly pro-life candidate was running for president. When you sent the right-to-life campaign's rebuttal, how relieved I was that I didn't use that article ["Life, pro-life, and statistics," SojoMail 10/27/2004]. The rebuttal was thorough and cogent. I rode the roller coaster again the following week, when you included more links showing where the original article was published. Though I deeply oppose the current administration, I'm very concerned at any misinformation spread by my like-minded peers. Today I read a letter in Boomerang from a pro-life woman who voted for Kerry. She said she made that vote in part because of the article in question. I believe this underscores my concern. Healthy self-examination is due. As I tell my 10th-grade English students, no persuasion will be permanent unless founded upon credible experts, accurate facts, and well-founded logic.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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