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July 2006 Archives

July 2, 2006

Supreme Court Voids Military Tribunals: Bush officials now susceptible to war crimes prosecution for treatment of prisoners around the world

Catholics and other Christians profess discipleship to a Savior who was tortured to death by the military superpower of His day, and whose ministry focused on urging us to identify with the victim rather than the oppressor. Last week the US Supreme Court issued a ruling that left the modern-day proponents of torture quivering with fear and loathing. In Hamdan vs Rumsfeld, the Administration had sought to defend its plan to try the Guantanamo prisoners-of-war in military courts, because it seems likely that the use of torture there and the absence of specific evidence of wrongdoing by the accused would have led to dismissal of charges for most or all of the cases in federal criminal court. Perhaps more ominously, the Court ruled that the Administration must abide by the Geneva Conventions in their treatment of these prisoners. This less-publicized dimension of the ruling has perhaps the most profound implications, because Administration officials who approved of torture methods can now potentially be prosecuted for war crimes.

The court indicated that the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3 applies to the Bush "war on terror," by virtue of the fact that it prohibits torture and even "outrages upon personal dignity." Under US federal criminal law, violators of Article 3 can explicitly be subject to imprisonment and even the death penalty. While the Bush Justice Department is unlikely to pursue such charges against its own, a future administration could do just that.

When the Administration decided to submit the prisoners in its custody to torture, their lawyers knew full well that Mr. Bush may be surrendering any capability to try those individuals in a court of law for the threat they had posed to the lives of Americans. Rather than hold the Administration accountable for this gross error of judgment undermining national security, Republican Senators John Warner and Arlen Specter scheduled hearings to craft new legislation codifying the Administration's intent to hold military trials. Enabling the Administration's flawed plan indicated that these senators had completely missed the point of the Court's ruling. Congress could respond to the ruling by adopting penalties for the 2005 McCain legislation banning torture, which if applied to future detainees would avoid the threat to national security created by the Administration's use of torture toward these prisoners.

As Christians, we are called to use persuasion rather than coercion to reach for the Kingdom of the Lamb that Jesus has described for us. The Supreme Court ruling invites members of the Administration to reconsider their use of torture and their willingness to operate outside of US law in confining human beings indefinitely in Guantanamo, the prison camps of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the CIA's secret gulags around the world. "When I was in prison, you visited me" said Jesus. And no matter how bad the accused in our prisons may be, we are similarly called in Matthew 25 to treat them humanely.

July 17, 2006

The culture of death expands: Bush abandons Israel and Lebanon as Middle East descends into a new blood bath

As Israeli and Hezbollah missiles came raining down on innocent civilian populations, the Bush Administration refused last week to help bring the bloodshed to an end. As he did when he took office in 2001, Mr. Bush publicly washed his hands of any responsibility for brokering a ceasefire, largely because the Administration has refused to deal directly with Iran, Hezbollah, or Syria on issues of regional security. Behind the scenes, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams and Assistant Secretary of State David Welch were dispatched to begin low-level discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials as the pointless cycle of violence escalated.

The question of who started the violence seemed increasingly irrelevant as the real potential rose for a wider conflict across the Middle East. Sunday a Lebanese missile killed eight people in Israel's third largest city, Haifa, and Israel retaliated by dropping bombs in Beirut and across southern Lebanon that killed at least 40 people. An Iraqi Shiite cleric responded by vowing new attacks on US soldiers in Iraq. The Associated Press quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying, "If the occupying regime of Jerusalem attacks Syria, it will be equivalent to an attack on the whole Islamic world and the (Israeli) regime will face a crushing response." Each Hezbollah missile builds enmity among Israelis toward Iran and Syria, and each Israeli bomb leads to more hatred across the Arab world toward America.

As Fr. Bargil Pixner has pointed out, Christians were the majority population in the Holy Land for most of the last 2000 years. Now the tables have turned, and Christians are a small minority, as in the days following Jesus' Resurrection. How easily we forget that Jesus was a Jew, preaching peace among his people and seeking to persuade his countrymen that no amount of repression was worth taking the life of another human being. The architects of the militarization of our Holy Land-President Assad's Syria, President Ahmadinejad's Iran, and President Bush's America-must engage one another immediately. The people there are too precious to allow us the luxury of sitting by idly while hatred extinguishes their lives with the tools that foreigners have provided.

July 25, 2006

Bush boasts about his support for embryonic stem cell research, while vetoing new legislation

President Bush vetoed legislation Wednesday passed by both the House and Senate that would have allowed federal funding for expanded embryonic stem cell research. In his veto message, Mr. Bush said, "If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers for the first time in our history would be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos. Crossing this line would be a grave mistake and would needlessly encourage a conflict between science and ethics that can only do damage to both and harm our Nation as a whole."

His spokesman, Tony Snow, took the argument one step further, stating, "The simple answer is he thinks murder's wrong. The president is not going to get on the slippery slope of taking something living and making it dead for the purposes of scientific research."

Five days later Mr. Snow recanted that assessment, saying his characterization was "overstating the president's position...He would not use that term."

But if embryonic stem cell research is tantamount to murder, then one might think that any president who approves of such research would be considered an accessory to the crime.

Thus it was ironic that in the same speech, Mr. Bush pointed out that, "When I took office, there was no Federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research." As he had in his first presidential debate with Senator John Kerry in September 2004, Mr. Bush then boasted that he was the first president to approve funding for embryonic stem cell research. "My Administration has made available more than $90 million for research of these lines. This policy has allowed important research to go forward and has allowed America to continue to lead the world in embryonic stem cell research without encouraging the further destruction of living human embryos," he added. "The president is not opposed to stem cell research, he's all for it," Snow said earlier in the day.

The sponsors of the legislation, Representatives Michael Castle (R-Del) and Diana DeGette (D-Col), specifically restricted the funding to research on stem cell lines derived from early embryos created by in vitro fertilization clinics and otherwise destined for destruction.

The Catholic Church forbids in vitro fertilization under any circumstances, a view not shared by at least half of American Catholics in several polls. A 1987 document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called Donum Vitae, said that use of in vitro fertilization creates a "dynamic of violence and domination." But Mr. Bush and the Republican Platform have never called for the banning of in vitro fertilization. The number of "embryo adoptions" in the US is fewer than 300, a tiny fraction of the more than 400,000 early embryos currently stored across the country. Most of these embryos could never practically be implanted, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has likened stem cell research on these early embryos to cadaveric transplantation of hearts to save the lives of people in heart failure. Several polls of American Catholics have now shown approval of embryonic stem cell research at between 60-72%.

An analysis of some numbers may provide a helpful perspective on the debate. An estimated 440 million fertilization events occur around the world every year, which works out to 1.2 million zygotes created every day leading to about 350,000 babies born daily. Thus 60-70% of these early embryos are lost, most prior to implantation. This is a daily early embryo death rate of roughly 844,000 per day worldwide. (This compares with about 71,000 legal abortions daily around the world, and 55,000 illegal abortions). On average, about 820 early embryos are implanted in women each day in the US for purposes of assisted reproduction, and 710 of them are lost (with 109 live births per day). The number of new stem cell lines being created every day globally is thought to be fewer than one, with 22 lines currently available for federally funded research under Mr. Bush's 2001 plan, and fewer than 200 available in private repositories after five years of unfunded research.

No public discussion has taken place about how to save the 844,000 early embryos that die each day around the world. No public advocacy by the Republican Party or by religious leaders has been made for an investment of research dollars in saving the embryos lost to "natural causes." If the early embryo has the same moral worth as an adult human, then saving these lives would seem to take on an immense moral urgency. By comparison, one-sixth as many people--155,000-will die today worldwide of all other causes. 46,500 will die from heart disease or stroke. 19,000 will die of cancer today, one-third of the deaths preventable. 16,480 people will die today of starvation. 6,800 children will die from diarrhea today. 100 people today will die violently in Iraq. One or fewer embryos will be diverted today from storage or death to the creation of a new stem cell line.

American taxpayers are being compelled to pay every day for the killing in Iraq, most against their will, but Mr. Bush is not concerned about their moral reservations on this issue.

As a moral community, we should decide if bringing an additional 844,000 people into the world each day is a priority, virtually tripling the number of children who would be born every day. If these lives have the same moral value as any adult, as Mr. Snow's remarks suggest, then they should be saved as urgently as we seek to keep our elderly from dying unnecessarily of stroke. But if saving elderly people from "natural causes" when stroke attacks is in fact a far greater priority for our society than saving the 844,000 embryos dying of natural causes (as current research priorities would suggest), then it might be worth investing our moral outrage more properly in providing food to the hungry, clean water to the world's children, and peace to the war-ravaged countries of Iraq, Lebanon and Israel than in villainizing stem cell research scientists seeking cures for chronic debilitating diseases.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama

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