Obama’s False Choice on Drones, and a Syllogism of Sorts

A few remarks about President Obama’s address last week, specifically relating to his defense of the immoral drone strikes the US government continues to use (You can read the full transcript of President Obama’s remarks here.) Ultimately, I argue President Obama’s defense of drone strikes relies on a false choice between kill or do nothing and some poor logic.

In addressing drones, he sets the stage by reminding Americans of just how remote those the government hunts are considered, hiding in lawless nations like Somalia and in the deserts and caves of the Middle East. Geographic difficulties, national sovereignty concerns, and risk to surrounding populations all mean using troops is implausible most times. The hunt of ‘terrorists’ is necessary, the means are limited, the challenges are many: cue the drones.

The president’s first defense is that drone strikes are “effective.” So much for a discussion on ethics. His quotes from al-Qaeda communications that worry about the effectiveness of the drones as evidence, concluding, “Simply put, these strikes have saved lives.” It seems President Obama is making the ethical argument that the ends justify the means, and this discussion seems to be all about effective tactics for the just end of…well, I’m not so sure.

To appease the lawyers, he then references the terrorism of September 11th and the Congressional authorization for the War on Terror as the legal basis for this war of self-defense. Relying on the theory of Justified War, the president concludes: “So this is a just war — a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.” I have no legal training, so perhaps this War on Terror is legal under domestic and international law (though I’m inclined to think not). I do know Justified War theory and its Catholic roots, and definitively these drone attacks are neither proportional, a last resort, nor in self-defense as the theory traditionally understands imminent threat.

Finally, President Obama admits that merely possessing an effective technology is not actually a moral defense for drones. In his own words:

“To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance…And that’s why, over the last four years, my administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists…”

Unfortunately, he dodges the moral question again. Merely having a framework implemented again does not answer the jarring questions raised by drones. His words are shallow, and painfully ironic, for those who know the truth about drone strikes. The president claims these strikes are constrained, respectful of national sovereignty, used only when capture is not possible for “terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people,” and when there is “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” There may be this framework, but it is a failed one and the body count tells a different truth.

President Obama’s defense of drones comes down to the false choice he presents, excluding the voices of nonviolence and peacemakers, development individuals and educators, leaders of civic society and democratic reformers. The choice is between accepting massive civilian death tolls, tacitly acknowledged as a “gap” between official military estimates and those of nongovernmental reports, and not using drones to stop terrorists who would kill us all if only we let our guard down.

As he reiterates, sending in US troops would be too costly and there may be governments who would not allow the US to operate militarily within their nation (shocking). There may be a plethora of reasons why we cannot use conventional means to attack these terrorists, so the only option that is left is drones. For the president, when this choice is all that exists, ” Doing nothing is not an option.” And that something to do is a drone strike.

There is more in the speech I hope to digest, about the killing of American citizens using drones and the expansiveness of their use, about Congress role and the over-empowered Executive branch, about many other issues. I think these are separate issues than the moral justification of a drone strike itself though, and in this moral defense President Obama fails gravely.

Fundamentally, when President Obama made a defense of drone strikes it was this:

(1) Drone technology is effective in getting around the nasty bits of warmaking, like US soldiers being killed, accountability to the American people, or foreign governments rejecting our ‘aid,” and we have a good end to justify this questionable means;

(2) The Obama Administration’s lawyers concocted a way to ‘legally’ justify these drones strikes under domestic, and international law, but there is no need to explain this to the American people. Just trust the Administration that the strikes are ‘legal’;

(3) It is necessary to violently strike/kill at whomever the US government secretly ordains ‘terrorist’ because the only other choice is inaction, and conventional uses of force are impractical for a number of reasons thus necessitating the use of drones;

(4) Therefore, drone strikes are morally acceptable.

That syllogism may not make sense because of my poor articulation, but more likely it may not make sense because the muddling of premises into a cloud of confusion is the only means through which the President can arrive at the unjustified conclusion. The limited imagination at the White House does not allow for new thinking or for the realization violence perpetuates violence.

What if Obama admitted, as we are well aware, that schools, healthcare, democratic institutions and the rule of law, enough food on one’s table from a stable economy, and all the varied benefits of peace will defend Americans and the whole world much more than more drone murder? For this awareness, I continue to pray to God.


P.S.Drone strikes remain immoral, illegal, and ineffective – and they’re ongoing! If you’d like to take action consider speaking out against them join the monthly witness at CIA headquarters the second Saturday of every month from 10am-12pm.


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Replacing Memorial Day with True Mourning

Marking Memorial Day, we are meant to honor those in the military who died in war – but I perennially ask myself on this day, “Why?”  Warmaking is a most sinful and barbaric endeavor. Honoring people simply for fighting in war, using language of sacrifice and service, merely perpetuates the myths of militarism. Each year, Catholics are swept up in the dangerous nationalism of this day and lend their voice to the cultic remembrance of soldiers who died in war. Enough. Catholics must stop participating in Memorial Day, and start peacemaking with our lives every single day through mourning.

Letting Go of Myths & Honor 

To honor someone usually implies they contributed positively to our world and expressed virtuous traits routinely in their life’s journey. I admit that in war individuals may act virtuously in moments that preserve life, but on the whole soldiering is a poor profession to honor. Participation in Memorial Day strengthens the myths that the military is a good force, a service, a suitable career, or worthy of our praise. Catholics cannot hold this view about the US military, the lethal arm of that greatest purveyor of violence in the world which is America, according to Rev. Martin Luther King.

Catholics cannot extol any longer the mythical virtues of soldiering or warmaking. We must jettison this false cult of honor accorded to those in the military. Parades, ceremonies, and moments of silence that speak in the language of service or that pretend these deaths preserve American freedoms merely lend credibility to the myth these deaths had purpose. Or at least purpose beyond the idiocy of anti-Communism, the bloodlust after 9/11, or the protection of US oil interests. World War II may be a justified war, but no other military action our nation took in the 20th century or now even approaches justified.

There is no honor in what our nation has done – sent young people to be killed, and even worse to kill and live on scarred. There is no honor in the routine slaughter of innocent civilians or the use of napalm or drone strikes. There is no honor in waves of homeless veterans who cannot get healthcare for their war wounds, turning to addiction and abuse. There is no honor in using hate speech, racism, and inhumanity to get 18 year olds to murder against their conscience. There is no honor in a military where women are more likely to be raped today than killed in combat. There is no honor in the utter destruction of nations. There is no honor in the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. There is no honor. There is none.

Mourning as Peacemaking 

So what do these war dead tell us? How do we commemorate tragedy? What is the call for Catholics? Their voices from the grave are simple, their message is pure and it is one with Christ’s call for every one of us: peace.

Catholics must rely on our tradition to understand how to move past the myths of Memorial Day – we must not honor, for there is nothing to honor, but we must mourn. Mourning the dead from war – the soldiers of all sides, the innocent children, the civilians cut down -this is a healthy task for Catholic peacemakers. These deaths from warmaking mourned daily drive me to enact peace in my personal interactions while challenging the US government’s violence.

This mourning isn’t wrapped up in layers of the American flag, but it strips bare the reality of warmaking: it is an abhorrent practice, one that can never be justified in the Christian tradition today, and it is the duty of every Catholic to oppose as they can the militarism of American’s empire. Mourning rids us of the hindering language of service, sacrifice, honor, bravery and enables us to speak truly: these war dead died needlessly to fuel the unjust causes of the political elite. Their deaths did not sustain American freedoms nor liberate foreign populations. Their deaths are pointless and void of any good. Their deaths are simply tragedies in the fullest manner.

For the loved ones of the war dead, and for those who support the wars, this reality is a painful endpoint – and yet, admitting pure tragedy as the only meaning to the these deaths is an essential step to peacemaking. To effectively overcome the criminal enterprising at the Pentagon and from war profiteers and to end political will for war, we must deal with the painful truth that American military actions are contradictory to peace and the values of the United States.

And so, as Catholics opt out of Memorial Day, we must fervently turn to mourning as a spiritual practice. We must include American soldiers and civilians in the nations we ravage by name in our prayers, encompassing the pain of their loved ones and the loss to our world of these lives if we can. We must personalize these current losses, set in a context of the millions slaughtered at the altar of the Pentagon in wars past. We must mourn in our tears and anguish that combat persists, and then we must find in this Christ’s peace that will strengthen us to take a step forward and louden our call for love.



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Drone Strike in Watertown

As the overhyped headlines about terrorism continue, I couldn’t help but reflect on the terrorism my nation commits daily abroad in nations like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc. One thought keeps breaking through:

If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were hiding out in one of those nations where everyone isn’t wealthy and white, you know, the terrorist training grounds, the US government would have assassinated him without trial in a drone strike. Surrounding homes in this far-off neighborhood would have been leveled, and dozens of innocent lives would be taken in strikes like these day after day, month after month.

The question stares Americans in the face:

Would slaughtering a dozen Watertown residents to kill this one guy be an acceptable policy for you? What if it meant several strikes and hundreds of innocent lives?

The targets are civilians (written off as collateral damage at best), children as young as 8 are killed, and fear grips the lives of thousands — just like the Tsarnaev brothers did with their heinous bombing at the Boston Marathon, except this time sanctioned, supported, and funded by the United States of America.

That is what America does daily abroad with our immoral, illegal, and ineffective drone warfare. It seems the US government and the Tsarnaev brothers method isn’t so different after all — terrorism is always terrorism, no matter who commits it.


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Excerpts from Rachel Maddow’s “Drift,” part II

Rachel Maddow

I recently finished reading Rachel Maddow’s book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. I highly recommend all read this book, as Maddow lays out systematically how far US militarism has drifted from the nation’s origins. This is the second post of excerpts from the book. These aren’t a systematic outlining of Maddow’s argument, but merely passages that I found particularly compelling. I encourage all to reflect on them, as our nation figures out how to reject this permanent, profitable war-making state we’re in and turn towards a peaceful co-existence with the world.

“Ignoring the founders’ loud and explicit warning that we should not allow one person to unilaterally take us to war has been demonstrably bad for this country.” [p.147]

“…it was common practice among the contract workers at Comanche to buy themselves live-in sex slaves from the local Serbian mafia…

“The Army lawyers had told military investigators that neither Bosnian law nor US law applied to the contractors, so the Department of Defense had no authority to prosecute any crimes private contract workers committed over [in the Balkans], and therefore no responsibility for them either. Thank God…

“So how did we get to the place where private American citizens representing us — men whose salaries were paid by the US government — could cut this greasy, lawless swath through the Balkans with no real consequences for the criminals, or for DynCorp itself?” [p. 165-167]

“The CIA now functions as a military force beyond the accountability that the United States has historically demanded of its armed services. The CIA doesn’t officially acknowledge the drone program, let alone provide public explanation about who shoots and who dies, and by what rules…

“Having a secret military force with no visible chain of command, or recognizable rules of behavior or engagement, has become a most useful thing.” [p. 197-198]

“[From an intelligence source] ‘If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality…They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that.'” [p. 201-202]

“With tax cuts in wartime, with no sense of collective national sacrifice on behalf of the war effort, with less than 1 percent of the American population taking up arms to fight, with US casualties politically and literally shielded from public view, the cumulative effect was to normalize our national wartime. We’ve become a nation ‘at peace with being at war,’ in the words of the New York Times media critic David Carr.” [p. 246]

“This isn’t bigger than us. Decisions about national security are ours to make…We just need to revive that old idea of America as a deliberatly peaceful nation. That’s not simply our inheritance, it’s our responsibility.” [p. 252]

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Excerpts from Rachel Maddow’s “Drift,” part I

I recently finished reading Rachel Maddow’s book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. I highly recommend all read this book, as Maddow lays out systematically how far US militarism has drifted from the nation’s origins. In this, and a follow-up post, I include excerpts from the book. These aren’t a systematic outlining of Maddow’s argument, but merely passages that I found particularly compelling. I encourage all to reflect on them, as our nation figures out how to reject this permanent, profitable war-making state we’re in and turn towards a peaceful co-existence with the world.

“The framers clogged up the works by making the decision to go to war a communal one. By vesting it in the Congress — a large, slow-moving deliberative body of varied and often competing viewpoints — the Constitution assured that the case for any war would have to be loud, well argued, and made in plain view. The people’s representatives would be forced to take time and care to weigh the costs against the benefits.” [p. 23-24]

“Military action was a first resort for the Reagan team, not a last resort. It’s not like they tried much else. They didn’t even bother to get good information about what was actually happening on the island, or to verify what little they did get…And frankly, this was an administration eager to use the military in a way that would let the president say things like ‘America is back.’…No, the real energy inside the Reagan administration was expended on preparing a full-out combat operation, and preparing to justify it after the fact.” [p. 79-80]

“The toll [of invading Grenada under the Reagan administration] in the end was this: 19 American servicemen killed (17 from friendly fire or accidents), 120 Americans wounded, 300 Grenadians killed or wounded, including those 18 mental patients killed in their beds. And also, precedent: operational secrecy justifying flat-out lying to the press corps and therein to the public. Secrecy, again, and the blunt assertion of executive prerogative justifying a cursory dismissal of the constitutional role of Congress in declaring a war, and even of the need to consult them.” [p. 89-90]

“It’s not a conspiracy. Rational political actors, acting rationally to achieve rational (if sometimes dumb) political goals, have attacked and undermined our constitutional inheritance from men like Madison. For the most part, though, they’ve not done it to fundamentally alter the country’s course but just to get around understandably frustrating impediments to their political goals…By 9/11, the war-making authority in the United States had become, for all intents and purposes, uncontested and unilateral: one man’s decision to make. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” [p. 125]

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Prayers for Boston with Oscar Romero

As the situation in Boston grips the nation, gun safety legislation fails, fires blaze due to lack of government regulation in West, Texas, and evils rock our world to its core this third week of April for many years — in this I turn to the words of a prophet, martyr, and saint for comfort:

“I assure you that today the holy suffering of so many that suffer unjust orphanhood is also a suffering that nourishes, that injects life, love of God, into this church this preaching hope, preaching that we must not despair, that days of justice must come, days in which God will triumph over human evil, over diabolical human wickedness.”

Monsenor Oscar Romero, December 1, 1977 from El Salvador


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Initial Response to Boston’s Tragedy — Peace

Patriots’ Day in my childhood was a spectacle in Massachusetts when the Boston Marathon was run, the Sox played an early game, and every school child celebrated a day off. I never understood the meaning of the holiday, aside from some loose association to a battle at Bunker Hill. Now, Patriots’ Day will be instilled in my adult memory for the modern violence inflicted earlier — and it will gain clear meaning in years to come.

September 11th happened when I was newly in sixth grade, and I still recall the ambiguous fear of that day. My youthful response was a cry for vengeance, modeled after many adults I witnessed nearby and on television who’s blood lust became the narrative. I didn’t know until years later there had been peacemakers immediately calling for a response of love. Now, as a young man molded in a post-9/11 America, I find none of that cry for vengeance or retaliation. I find in myself only a desire to love.

I find too the dusty feelings from September 11th in myself. Those of fear, anguish, and pain for all that is transpiring. The anxiety of the unknown, the inadequacy of the unanswered. Living afar from Boston now, I still know many family and close friends who live, work, go to school there — and would assuredly be partying it up on Marathon Monday. It takes such a tiny connection as this to rupture my calm completely, and cast me desperately on Twitter and Facebook and news sites for a story, an answer, a credible report, a confirmed death toll.

And then, I recall the newness in me that was not there on September 11th or in moments of terror that ensued in my adolescence. The new factor is my awareness now that these feelings, this suffering is the daily experience of millions. Graced with a living situation that is relatively secure, I’m conscious of the daily violence — of conflict and terrorism, of mental anguish and physical malnourishment, of poverty’s deathly sickle — that grind away at the lives of so many millions in our world. The anxiety, fear, pain, suffering, unknown, and everything else is, for me, brought about occasionally, but is the constant reality for too many who are victims of US drone strikes or wayward economic policies favoring the powerful.

This consciousness does not mitigate the feelings in Boston and by those affected today in any way; the pain is real and the implications will be lasting. Instead, our suffering is united out of Boston to join in solidarity with those millions worldwide who are pained today. As Americans, and other citizens attending the Boston Marathon, let us all join together in a too-often rejected humanity common to all. I have no idea what the causes will be or what investigations will find, and I speculate nothing — but I pray for a peace-filled, constructive response when the smoke clears and the reports are issued.

After September 11th, I joined many in supporting wars. Now, I will seek to wage the violence of love instead. I cannot meditate on hate any longer, but only on Christ’s words as he gathered with those whom he loved before a most violent death:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” -John 14:27

This response is all I can muster. No cries for justice, no cries for retaliation, no cries for answers even. Just peace.


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Is It Time to Resurrect the ‘Seamless Garment’?

Horrifying accounts about the practices of Kermit Gosnell have generated an important discussion about journalism in America today. That’s a discussion I encourage, and the anti-abortion movement is surely pivoting to this event in the hopes a broader dialogue will begin. It is challenging to read through the graphic grand jury report where each line and word heaps injustices upon injustices. In my mind though, the crimes of Gosnell speak not only to the need for greater defense of unborn children in this moment, but the resurrection (amid the Easter season) of the Seamless Garment.

Restoring a sincere respect for life, dignity, and creation within the Catholic community, and then hopefully evangelizing this belief to the world, is our only way moving forward. The Seamless Garment provides Catholics a framework to re-imagine our pro-all life efforts anew.

For those unfamiliar, I offer a patchwork history of this Seamless Garment philosophy. Eileen Egan, a Catholic pacifist and someone worth reading up on, first used “seamless garment” in the 1970s as a challenge to those in the anti-abortion movement who favored the death penalty. Alluding to John 19, where soldiers crucifying Jesus cast lots for his garment that could not be torn into pieces, this phrase is used to emphasis the necessary defense of each and every life.

In the 1980s, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago unified this belief in his concept of a “Consistent Life Ethic,” for which the Seamless Garment remained a metaphor. The cardinal inextricably linked the defense of life and dignity in the many causes aimed towards one end, creating a culture of life while admitting the unique nature and needs of each injustice.

Kermit Gosnell’s clinic, the Women’s Medical Society, exemplifies the utter breakdown of our society’s cloth. In this devastating clinic, countless injustices amplify one another cyclically: abortion and healthcare, poverty and racism, government failures and media dishonesty, medical ethics and institutional accountability, economic justice and the idolatry of profit, and, perhaps in Gosnell’s trial, the death penalty.

The clinic profited from its “cash for an abortion without questions” scheme that preyed on poor women, largely of color, who ostensibly saw no alternatives. Gosnell committed abortions and infanticide as “medical procedures” in a clinic lacking standards of any sort, violating women and children as a matter of routine business and sending forth those who survived with health complications, venereal disease, and emotional wounds. Oppose abortion, support choice — we all must admit the Women’s Medical Society is a creature unto itself for facilities providing such services.

Sadly, Kermit Gosnell and his clinic cannot be considered the result of one man gone awry in one building. These crimes are personal assuredly, but also structurally sinful. Our nation fails to provide adequate healthcare and social services for women with children, who turn to abortion and pay-in-cash medical clinics. Racist structures and institutionalized poverty, enriched by government policies favoring the wealthy, further exaggerate the struggles of the women Gosnell “treated.” The ideology of individualism, abhorring government regulation on the right and championing “choice” on the left, leaves us with a system where Kermit Gosnell’s can easily exploit women because no one will even inspect his clinic. I safely assume migration policies affected negatively women in his clinic, and I could elucidate for pages on how our system not only allowed, but also enabled Kermit Gosnell to wantonly kill children and women for cash.

Today, it is impossible to overcome any injustice without a united cause against all threats. The Consistent Life Ethic, once a fruitful approach for Catholics and those of faith in building up the common good, suffers condemnation from all sides. Some anti-abortion activists reject it for not singularly focusing on the life of unborn children, as it simultaneously confronts right-wing support of the death penalty, gun rights ideology, militarism, etc. Progressives cannot accept the Seamless Garment because it rejects the excessive individualism that “choice” is premised upon, and at its core the Left in America is not seeking a Gospel-based communitarian vision of society that this ethic is rooted in.

The Consistent Life Ethic requires neither that we all work on every issue, but keeps us from callously neglecting any issue. In the tradition of Catholic theology, a consistent ethic forces each of us to navigate the “both/and” of standing up for every life while keeping a focus in our individual work on issue x, y, or z, and the “both/and” of policy nuances negotiated within civil society.

If the crimes of Kermit Gosnell propel us anywhere, I pray it is towards a resurrection of the Seamless Garment. Drone strikes that devalue life against those in Afghanistan affect the unborn in our inner cities. Vilifying the poor who receive government assistance denies each person their dignity, and soon mass shootings are an all too common occurrence. Idolatrizing a gun or anything aside from God leaves no place for love to rupture through in our world. These are not directly cause and effect scenarios, but rather the cumulative impact of devaluing another’s dignity resulting in horrors like the Women’s Medical Society.

As Pentecost nears, let the Catholic community wrap ourselves in the Seamless Garment of Christ and then, with hearts ablaze and tongues speaking the language of every injustice, build a society where Kermit Gosnell’s clinics cede to the Kingdom of God enacted in a historical-temporal reality. 


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#CloseGitmo: 3 Actions We Can All Take

img_2465April 11 has been declared a National Day of Action for the closure of Guantanamo Bay military prisons and an end to the illegal, indefinite detention of the 166 prisoners there. Many of them are engaged in a hunger strike for more than 50 or 60 days, which I’ve written on previously. The question is, what actions have each of us taken to restore the rule of law, the liberation of the imprisoned, and the just ordering of society?

Witness Against Torture offers tremendous resources on how each of us can stand with the Guantanamo detainees, speaking as a voice for the voiceless. Options include tweeting using the hashtags #closegitmo and #GitmoHungerStrike, sharing articles and photos on all forms of social media, and advocating to our elected & military leaders. Will you join me in these three steps?

1) Make Calls

Call the White House comment line with your message at (202) 456-1111. Then, call the Department of Defense at (703) 571-3343. Finally, call US Southern Command at (305) 437-1213.

All three calls took me under 5 minutes, but we amplify one another’s voices in these comment lines. You can write your own script, or just use what I wrote up below:

“I’m calling to urge President Obama/Secretary Hagel/General Kelly to act in response to Guantanamo Bay detainees now engaged in a hunger strike. This reality should spur the Obama Administration and US military to action, as the costs morally, financially, and to US credibility abroad are too great to continue — never mind the deep toll asking young kids in our military to force feed innocent detainees will do. I ask that, in the face of the failure of our elected officials to close Guantanamo, our military will end participation in force feedings. I also request that President Obama/Secretary Hagel/General Kelly rapidly find a way to release the 86 detainees held now who are declared innocent and able to be released, while working to the just, secure, and peaceful closing of the military prisons overall.”

You can also (in addition I mean!) submit online comments to the White House and the Pentagon.

2) Write a Letter to Detainees

GitmoLetters1_BlurRegardless of guilt or innocence, the detainees are being denied their human rights and have been subjected to terrible inhumanity in many cases, either at Guantanamo or before arriving. Write a letter to those entering Day 65 of a hunger strike, acknowledging their dignity and making it known that you’re working for justice on the outside. You can find names, addresses, and more information here. Yesterday, I mailed 166 letters to Guantanamo Bay using a mail merge (and if you want to commit to all, or some chunk of detainees, I can send you the files). Here’s the text, based off of Witness Against Torture’s suggestions:

Salaam Alaykum,

After witnessing outside the White House in solidarity with the growing hunger strike by over 100 detainees at Guantánamo, I’m writing to express my continued prayers and support for those on strike and held captive.

My anger at your continued detention without charge or trial, denying you justice before the law and subjugating you and other detainees to sub-human conditions grows with my government’s persistent silence. As a Catholic, I decry how Islam is routinely denigrated within Guantánamo especially because this offense cries out straight to God in its inhumanity.

The resolve and persistence of hunger strikers inspires those of us working for justice from our government, and your suffering is a constant reminder of how degrading US policies in Guantánamo remain as indefinite detention goes on unimpeded.

I am only one of many US citizens joining you in solidarity fasts in recent weeks, as we prayerfully struggle for your liberation. Our fasts are symbolic relative to the hunger strikers, but we also make our voices heard to President Obama, the Defense Department, and our elected representatives that justice will be enacted.

You are not forgotten, and your united witness as detainees on hunger strike inspires me to press for justice.


Robert Shine

3) Participate in the Rolling Fast through May

Advocates of a just resolution at Guantanamo Bay will be joining the detainee hunger strike  symbolically to show our solidarity in the coming weeks. Witness Against Torture explains more here, and if you’ve done the two steps above you’re on your way to participating, so can you fast for 24 hours? 12 hours? A meal?

This matters. 3 simple acts, united with thousands of others could be world-changing, but even more importantly it could change the lives of men, unjustly detained, who we can call be name.


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US Militarism’s Sadistic Side Is Leading to More Deaths

Witnessing at the White House in solidarity with hunger strikers

Witnessing at the White House in solidarity with hunger strikers


A report in The Huffington Post quotes a lawyer for detainees as Guantanamo Bay as saying the hunger strikers, growing in numbers and days on strike, are determined to leave their unjust imprisonment either “alive or in a box.” Latest reports in this article put 130 of the 166 detainees on hunger strike, though the military denies majority of the strikers claims,’ and some are or have entered more than forty days without food which is when permanent damage and fatalities begin.

In clearer terms, the US government could be responsible for the death of detainees who hope for nothing else than release or death after torture and sadistic imprisonment for years. The Huffington Post points out these harsh conditions instigating the hunger strike loosened in recent years, especially after 86 detainees were cleared for release, and revolted only after a change in command:

“…the camp had become peaceful over the past few years, with detainees being given a measure of dignity and, for the most cooperative, additional privileges. That changed when Bogdan took control in June 2012 and began confiscating personal items such as photographs, letters and yoga mats, cranking down cell temperatures, and reimposing the practice of searching detainee Qurans for contraband.”

The quote references Col. John Bogdan, whom a detainee lawyer provides greater insight about:

“Bogdan brought a tough-guy approach to detention operations and has ruled the camps with an iron fist. Marked by displays of power for power’s sake, his approach has led to mayhem in the camps…

“In September, Bogdan, without provocation, had his men storm Camp 6. During the fall, conditions in the camps deteriorated: for example, temperatures in the cells were lowered to 62˚. In January, a tower guard in the rec area fired into a group of detainees, wounding one, and in early February, the mass hunger strike broke out.

“Bogdan lit the fuse when he or one of his OICs had the guards conduct a sweeping search of the men’s cells in camp 6, where about 130 of the 166 detainees were held. Guards arbitrarily confiscated personal items including family letters and photographs, legal papers, and extra blankets. (Civilians confiscated the papers.) Bogdan or his OICs also attempted to search the men’s Qurans, using interpreters to do the dirty work.”

130 prisoners now refuse nourishment because one ranking officer in the military is unleashing his sadism on innocent, previously abused men held in Guantanamo in contradiction to international law. The crimes of torture and indefinite detention committed against these men are evil enough alone. The declaration that 86 are worthy of release years ago, but still the US government keeps them in chains is worse. The routine humiliation and displays of power by Bogdan and his subordinates that disrupted a prison coming to peace is despicable.

Vigilers gathering in prayer at the end of witnessing, including this writer

Vigilers gathering in prayer at the end of witnessing, including this writer

Worst though, the actions of this sadistic general who exercises power against defenseless men on the margins of our society could lead to their deaths. A hunger strike of this length is not undertaken lightly, and lawyers for the detainees note how high morale is among the unjustly detained men to carry out their threat of leaving Guantanamo either “alive or in a box.” If these men die, our nation will once again kill innocent individuals without reason in a grave betrayal of those most fundamental principles this nation is founded upon – rights to life, justice, liberty, due process, etc.

Let us pray, fervently, that President Obama and our government leaders will correct this injustice before it extends too far. To get involved, connect with Witness Against Torture.


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