Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Message about the genocide in Darfur from Paul of "Hotel Rwanda"

In April, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed piece by Paul Rusesabagina, the hero (I use the word advisedly) of the film Hotel Rwanda, who tells his dumbfounding story in the exceptionally fine book An Ordinary Man. I just caught up with the Journal piece. The link is

I have followed Paul Rusesabagina closely for some time now and he is a man of rare wisdom and humanity. I recommend this article.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Getting the balance just right

Peter Beinart, editor-at-large, New Republic, writes:

There is no contradiction between recognizing that our enemies are not intrinsically evil, and recognizing that they must be fought, just as there is no contradiction between recognizing that although we are not intrinsically good, we must still fight them.
(quoted in The New York Times, 6/14/06)

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Kingly example for these times

In 1994, the late King Hussein of Jordan did something that should be not only remembered, but also honored and emulated. In these times when President Bush is described by his aides as "mourning the loss of every life" though he never goes to funerals, when Israeli and Hezbollah bombs are killing and maiming children left and right, when world leaders strut the world stage at the G-8 conference and lay wreaths for the dead but show little concern about the human suffering caused by their decisions, King Hussein's remarkable actions should be celebrated. A Muslim monarch behaved like a Christian, with notable results.

Here's the story, summarized from an article by reporter Joel Greenberg (New York Times, March 17, 1994):

When seven Israeli schoolgirls were shot dead by Jordanian soldiers, the King of Jordan made a pilgrimage. Accompanied by his own son and daughter, as well as then-Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he visited all seven families in their homes. He knelt next to mourners sitting on the floor in keeping with the Jewish custom of mourning. He said to one father, "I feel that I've lost a child." He spent time, lots of it. He said to a family, "I hope you will consider me a brother and a member of the family." One grieving father said that he saw tears in the king's eyes as he knelt on the rug beside him. Ruhama Cohen, mother of one of the slain girls, said that at first she did not want to receive the king's visit. Afterward, though, she said it had helped her cope with her loss. "He strengthened us," she said.

The reporter interviewed people on the streets of Beit Shemesh, a working-class Israeli town with a reputation for hard-line politics. He said that the king's "extraordinary act of conciliation seemed to strike a deep emotional chord." A store manager who watched televised images of the king's visit said, "It gave us a feeling that he cared about us." A secretary said she was moved to tears; "This is such a noble man. A special could see the sadness in his eyes." A young mother said, "I admire him, because no other king would come like that to express his sorrow. It's see that he wants peace."

The mother of one of the dead girls said, "He was very human, very warm. He held my hand very, very tight."

When Willy Brandt, chancellor of Germany, visited the Warsaw Ghetto after World War II, he fell to his knees. This apparently spontaneous act told the whole world that the German nation took responsibility for its guilt. It has been a long time since we have seen anything like that. Bill Clinton's brief, lip-biting public "apology" to the Rwandan people was not even remotely in the same class. If Henry Kissinger cares a fig for the lives of Salvadorans or Cambodians he has never owned up to it. Cindy Sheehan came to the White House with other family members of dead American soldiers not expecting what she found. If President Bush had known her son's name, if he had not acted bored and had not called her "mom," Ms. Sheehan would never have started her protest movement (not that he would have cared one way or the other)...

Most tellingly of all, the action of the late King of Jordan seems to me an image of the Incarnation. Kings are, of course, long since out of fashion; but the symbolism remains. Prime Ministers come and go, but the image of a king kneeling on the floor brings out something lying close to the heart of the human predicament. Here is one who has made himself vulnerable, like us; here is one who has "gotten down" with us; here is one who wishes to share our pain and help us bear it.

When will we see anything like this again?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

US Senator Graham fights for American values

New York Times article by Kate Zernike
Published: July 18, 2006

WASHINGTON, July 17 — Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina [is] the Senate’s foremost expert on military law in the midst of the emotional debate over what rights to provide to terror suspects.

Mr. Graham advocates using the existing court-martial system as the basis for trying suspects...Drawing on his own experience and a deep personal loyalty to the military justice system, Mr. Graham is working across party lines to try to assemble a consensus for his approach...

His views are shaped not only by his understanding of the law, but also by his respect for an institution he credits with changing his life, by shaping his career and allowing him to support his 13-year-old sister after his parents died when he was in college. His belief in the integrity of the military code has repeatedly led him to resist the White House when it comes to defining the treatment of people accused of being terrorists.

Last year, against the wishes of the Bush administration, he was one of the key forces in helping pass a ban on torture. Last week, he raised questions about the judicial nomination of William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon general counsel who helped write a memorandum that narrowly defined torture only as treatment that causes pain similar to death or major organ failure... Mr. Graham has insisted that only a system grounded in the fundamental rights of the military code and the Geneva conventions will affirm the reputation of the United States abroad and protect American troops when they are captured by enemies.

“I’m trying to remind the Senate that the rules we set up speak more about us than it does the enemy,” Mr. Graham said in an interview. “The enemy has no rules. They don’t give people trials, they summarily execute them and they’re brutal, inhuman creatures. But when we capture one of them, what we do is about us, not about them.

“Do they deserve, the bad ones, all the rights that are afforded? No." [and here, we might recall Hamlet's observation, 'use every man after his deserts, and who shall 'scape whipping?'] "But are we required to do it because of what we believe? Yes.”

“I’m a big fan of the Geneva Conventions,” he declared.

Mr. Graham, who turned 51 last week, grew up in the rooms behind the bar and liquor store his parents owned in Central, S.C., a textile town....When his mother died when he was 21, the Air Force allowed him to continue his education instead of going into the service, so he could stay home. When his father died 15 months later, the service said he could attend law school in South Carolina so he could stay with his sister, and when he finished, the service posted him as a defense counsel to South Carolina so he could adopt her. After she went to college, he went to Europe as a military prosecutor.

“It changed my life,” he said of the military legal corps. “It exposed me to things. I got to spend four years in Europe. I was thrown into court as a young defense attorney doing things, with responsibilities you’d never have in the civilian world as a lawyer.”

Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed services Committee, has, along with Senator John McCain of Arizona, been one of Mr. Graham’s Republican allies in bucking the White House on the torture issue. “In an extraordinary way,” Mr. Warner said, “he overcame many obstacles and misfortunes that others never could imagine. His goals posts in life are to do what’s best for the country, what’s best for the military.”

From his time on the defense, Mr. Graham says, he learned that the system provides fairness; from his time as a prosecutor, he came to see the importance of military discipline. For that reason, he said, it is important that soldiers continue to be trained using the Geneva Conventions, even in a war against a new kind of enemy. “If a marine caught Osama bin Laden tomorrow, they’re all trained to treat everyone as a prisoner of war under Geneva,” he said. “You don’t want to change that, because you don’t want to confuse your troops out there.”

It becomes trickier, Mr. Graham said, when coming up with the rules for interrogation. He argues that Congress must define what the conventions mean by “humiliating” or “degrading” treatment.

Still, he disputes the assertion of some Republicans that using the court-martial system will result in soldiers’ having to stop in the middle of capturing a terrorist to read him his Miranda rights.

“That’s an offense to the military legal community, who’s telling us there’s a better way, to suggest that that better way would hamper us,” he said. “It’s political rhetoric that’s got to stop.”

Friday, July 14, 2006

Really good news on the detainee front

The African-American columnist Bob Herbert has been for several years a consistent and courageous voice for human rights and human dignity. In his column in the July 23 New York Times, he hails the self-sacrificing work of the Center for Constitutional Rights, whose lawyers could be making a lot more money working somewhere else. Here is some of what he writes:

The Center for Constitutional Rights, in a new report documenting myriad abuses at Guantánamo, noted that a prisoner named Hadj Boudella was told by military intelligence officers: “You are in a place where there is no law. We are the law.”

Lawyers from the Center, a public-interest organization in New York, have fought long and heroically to bring even the most minimal legal protections to the prisoners. Along the way it was learned that the inmates at Guantánamo were far from "the worst of the worst" [Rumsfeld's description]. Many of them, it turned out, were no danger to the United States at all.

In an article in January 2005, The Wall Street Journal said, “Commanders now estimate that up to 40 percent of the 549 current detainees probably pose no threat and possess no significant information”...The Center’s report quotes one general as saying, in the fall of 2004...“Sometimes we just don’t get the right folks.”

Not only were the legal rights of the prisoners at Guantánamo dispensed with, but their basic human rights were trampled. Prisoners were beaten, sexually humiliated, denied essential medical treatment, deprived of sleep for days and weeks at a time, held in solitary confinement for periods exceeding a year...

The courts, in large part because of the efforts of the Center, have slowed the administration’s descent into barbarism at Guantánamo. In June 2004, in a case brought by the center, the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners at Guantánamo had the right to challenge the legal and factual basis of their detention in U.S. courts.

Two weeks ago, in another landmark ruling, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the court declared that the Guantánamo detainees were covered by a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as Common Article 3. It prohibits cruel and inhumane treatment and requires that prisoners receive “all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people...”

“The opinion in Hamdan is really historic,” said Bill Goodman, the Center’s legal director. “On the one hand, it tells the executive branch that it will not be free to act as it chooses...At the same time, it acknowledges as part of American law certain international minimums of decency, morality and ethics, and those are encompassed in Common Article 3...”

I asked Mr. Goodman why Americans should care about the treatment of the detainees.

He said: “It’s important for the American people to know that this has been done in their name so that they can disavow it, disclaim it. We have to hold ourselves up to a mirror. We have to see what we have done. And at that point, we have to say, ‘Oh, my God, we can’t do this anymore.’ ”

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Ken Lay and the absence of repentance

The July 6 New York Times has a headline (Business section), "Even at the End, He Didn't Get It." The article by Joe Nocera goes on to say, "The tragedy of Ken Lay is not that his name will always be linked to the seminal business scandal of the era. Nor is it that his fall from grace was so precipitous...No, the tragedy of Ken Lay is that, right up until the end, he never fully understood what he'd done wrong..." The theme of the article is that Mr. Lay's propensity to see things as he wanted to see them, not as they really were, was his great and fatal flaw.

On NPR, a reporter mused that despite Mr. Lay's often-remarked Christian faith, there was no "come-to-Jesus moment" (that's an exact quote) after the scandal was made public, during the trial, or as he awaited his sentencing at a lavish Aspen ranch. On the contrary, after his death from a heart attack, the owner of the ranch came out to talk to reporters: "Ken Lay was a wonderful, kind-hearted, generous man."

One of Mr. Lay's Texas acquaintances, a lawyer named Bill Burton, said in an interview after the fall of Enron in 2002, "The Enron and Ken Lay stories are best told in an English literature class, or a classics class, where you are trying to explain what hubris is all about."

Yet Lay's pastor, Stephen P. Wende, of the First United Methodist Church in Houston, has been quoted over and over saying such things as "He seemed healthy, peaceful, with a good and positive perspective...He felt God could use him in prison." (NY Times 7/6/99) Isn't this a classic example of American theology today? Prosperity, positive thinking, and "God has a plan for your life," without a hint of judgment, repentance, corporate responsibility?

Wouldn't Psalm 51 have been a better accompaniment to this publicly-played-out drama?