Saturday, 31 July 2010

Cluster bombs, and those who want to continue using them

The 'Convention on Cluster Munitions' comes into effect tomorrow, 1st of August 2010. The ICRC's website has useful information on what these infernal devices do, and why we need to get rid of them.

So, today the Convention becomes binding international law. Well, ... for the states that signed the Convention, that is. It does not affect the proud countries (or rather, their governments) that chose not to. The list of signatories shows, or rather does not show, a number of important countries that have refused to sign: USA, Russia, Israel (who have recently used them), Brazil, China, India, Pakistan, and North and South Korea. What a lovely bunch of truly "rogue states".

A lament to God which holds together both trust and desparate plea in the face of the enemy (Psalm 13):

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, "I have prevailed"; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Monday, 26 July 2010

If involved in conflict resolution, don't go to the USA

A lot of lawyers and humanitarian law workers will have to think hard about whether it is safe to set foot in the US. This includes people working in conflict resolution organizations. Advising prescribed armed groups, for example, that it is a good idea not to lay anti-personnel landmines (something the USA incidentally still does not wish to ban), is now a crime.

(By the way: humanitarian law = law of armed conflict.)

In "Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project" (21 June 2010), the US Supreme Court concluded that giving legal advice to groups proscribed by the US government as "terrorist organizations" is to be construed as 'material support', and hence a crime (18 U. S. C. §2339B(a)(1)), punishable by up to a life-term in jail. The prosecutions have not started yet, but that is no guarantee that you won't be the first.

What can I say to that? Well, actually, the hypocricy of the system leaves me almost speechless. Once again I turn to Job's rhetorical questions:

"Shall one who hates justice govern? Will you condemn one who is righteous and mighty, who says to a king, 'You scoundrel!' and to princes, 'You wicked men!'; who shows no partiality to nobles, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?" (Job 34:17-19)

Well, one might say to brother Job, it must be said that in many places, including the USA, those who hate justice do indeed govern. They do have lots of company in other places, but that's no excuse.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

(No) justice and police violence

In some countries, it is normal for police to meet out its own form of "justice" right there and then - beating up suspected 'criminals' as a matter of routine, in public or behind closed doors, with or without subsequent arrest and trial (for the accused, not the police, naturally). In some countries, this is just the way it is, even though it is usually officially denied.

All the more important, one would think, that in countries where this is not supposed to happen, all efforts are undertaken to prevent the abuse of power by police officers in its most obvious form: physical violence. Of course, the old (German) saying applies: eine Krähe hackt der anderen kein Auge aus (a crow won't hack away at the eye of another), something for which I haven't found an equivalent in English yet. The system will see to it that the police will get away with it.

[Update, 28 July: perhaps something will happen after all.]

And so, on the very anniversary of the extra-judicial murder of Juan Charles de Menezes in 2005 (or should we say, accidental killing due to racist incompetence - ater all, it was de Menezes' own fault that he 'looked Middle Eastern' and happened to live in the wrong building), the British Crown Prosecution Service decides to announce that it will not prefer charges against the police officer who struck Ian Tomlinson. Tomlinson, a passer-by at a demonstration in London in 2009, had been struck from behind while walking home; he died soon after that.

Excellent timing, not to mention the bizarre legal twist to this:

First of all, apparently the statute of limitations on common assault is six months. This means, it would seem, that this police officer cannot even be charged with assault (instead of culpable homicide or some greater charge), even though it seems obvious that he struck a man from behind who had not physically threatened him. There are eye-witnesses and there is video footage of the attack.

Secondly, the reasoning of the CPS was that three pathologists had come to different conclusions: the first had not found a connection between Tomlinson's assault injuries and his subsequent death; the other two pathologists did. However, the first pathologist is known for alleged incompetence in several cases, as for example George Monbiot points out:

"A Home Office standards committee had already ruled that [the first pathologist] had not maintained professional standards in three other cases, after he had failed to detect what appeared to be clear evidence of injuries. He is facing a disciplinary hearing before the General Medical Council for alleged incompetence in 26 cases."

Great stuff. One can only hope with de Menezes' cousin, that the Tomlinson family (and their lawyer) won't give up in their search for some kind of justice. Not that it will give life to to the victims. Not that it has helped (so far) the de Menezes' family - absolutely nobody has even been reprimanded, never mind charged, for de Menezes' execution.

The scriptures take it for granted that justice is applied in a society that is governed wisely. Hence Job's rhetorical questions:

"Shall one who hates justice govern? Will you condemn one who is righteous and mighty, who says to a king, 'You scoundrel!' and to princes, 'You wicked men!'; who shows no partiality to nobles, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?" (Job 34:17-19)

Or the solemn curses of Dt 27:

"'Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.' All the people shall say, 'Amen!'" (Deuteronomy 27:19

Of course, the perversion of justice happened all the time, but it was always seen as a sign of a perverted state of affairs:

"When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. ... Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice." (1 Samuel 8:1-3)

And thus the Psalmist's prayer:

"O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear, to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more." (Psalm 10:17-18)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

22 July 1944

66 years ago, the most well-known plot to kill Hitler and carry out a coup, was attempted - and failed. If Stauffenberg had remained with his bomb to ensure its effectiveness, sacrificing himself, it might have worked. But it was thought necessary to use him in Berlin for the aftermath - with fatal consequences, since (it is thought) the briefcase containing the bomb was moved after he left. No other plan ever got as far as this, apart from Georg Elser's one-man-show in 1939, which missed Hitler by 20 minutes, and a bomb smuggled on one of Hitler's aircraft in 1943, which failed to explode.

It is true that some of the participants were part of the old military and Prussian aristocratic elite, with some rather odd ideas about where Germany should go once the Nazis had been gotten rid of. Some had influential posts in the military and justice system, and had no qualms, for instance, about having deserter shots. But they were by no means the only ones involved. There were trade unionist, social democrats, dedicated civil servants in the liberal tradition, and so on.

No doubt it did not help that the Allied forces had no interest in co-operating with or even encouraging a coup. The British foreign minister, Anthony Eden (who had been told about the plan in 1942 by Bishop George Bell), apparently thought of the coup plotters as traitors and told Adam Trott, the courier, that no encouragement could be given unless the plotters revealed themselves and offered a visible sign of their intentions. It is hard to think of something more naive than that. By the same token, Churchill's speech in the House of Commons in August 1944 grossly and perhaps deliberately misinterpreted the events of the 20th of July as in-fighting among the Nazi-elite.

Hitler used the attempted coup to have many thousands of dissidents, whether involved in the plot or not, murdered. A new way of hanging was used: hanging on a butcher's hook, being slowly throttled to death by a piano wire. Hitler had some of the murders recorded on film. Others died, in ways no less cruel, by guillotine or bullet.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Alfred Delp, and other Christian martyrs were among those who died. In one of the preparatory meetings, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been asked by his friend and fellow 'plotter', Hans von Dohnanyi: what about Matthew 26:52? After all, this plot had a real chance to succeed, and could have brought an end to the murderous regime. 'Yes', said Bonhoeffer. Mt 26:52 applies. The consequences have to be born by those who commit the sin. Guilt has to be accepted, as well as its consequences. There is no simple 'right or wrong'. (J. W. de Gruchy, Daring, trusting spirit: Bonhoeffer's friend Eberhard Bethge, London: SCM, 2005, p. 46)

And hence they went to their deaths.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

On not accepting torture

The wheels of justice systems turn very slowly (if at all), but sometimes things happen, or at least promise to happen. Let's see whether something will happen here:

Foreign Office officials 'backed Guantanamo detentions'

Classified documents reveal UK's role in abuse of its own citizens

If we take the torture preceding the judicial murder of Jesus Christ seriously in the context of a theology of the atonement, there cannot be a Christian justification of torture. Of course, for most of our history, Christians have used the instrument of torture, both among themselves and on 'the other', abandoning the witness of the scriptures, not to mention the memory of the terrible experience of torture by the first Christian generations.

Literature relevant for the issue of torture and theology is actually relatively limited. Some examples include:
  • Casalis, Georges, 1977. Torture and prayer. International Review of Mission 66 (263), pp. 240-243.
  • Cavanaugh, William T., 1998. Torture and Eucharist: theology, politics, and the body of Christ. (Challenges in contemporary theology.) Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Cavanaugh, William T., 2006. The Sacrifice of Love: The Eucharist as Resistance to Terror and Torture (Newman College Dom Helder Camara Lecture Series, 1 June 2006).
  • Cavanaugh, William T., 2009. Telling the truth about ourselves: torture and eucharist in the U.S. popular imagination. .
  • Herbert, T. Walter, 2009. Faith-based war: from 9/11 to catastrophic success in Iraq. London: Equinox.
  • Hunsinger, George ed., 2008. Torture is a moral issue: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of conscience speak out. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
  • Kolbet, Paul R., 2008. Torture and Origen's hermeneutics of nonviolence. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 76 (3), pp. 545-572.
  • Ortiz, Dianna & Davis, Patricia, 2002. The blindfold's eyes: my journey from torture to truth. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
  • Rejali, Darius M., 2007. Torture and democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Scott, George Ryley, 1940. The history of torture throughout the ages. London: T. W. Laurie.
  • Tombs, David, 1999. Crucifixion, state terror, and sexual abuse. Union Seminary Quarterly Review 53 (1/2), pp. 89-109.
  • Yearsley, David Gaynor, 2009. Bach on Torture: Mr. Cheney, They're Playing Your Song. Counterpunch June 12-14.

Homo Christianus est homo politicus

Being a Christian means being political - not in the sense of party politics, but in the broader sense of politics as that which affects the life of the polis, the city, that is, human life. Since the 1980s, much of public discourse on Christian faith and politics has been dominated by a right-wing political agenda. This blog is a small voice to fight this by redirecting our perception of what happens in this world by means of evaluating it in terms of Jesus Christ, the liberator of the poor and oppressed (Luke 4). Put differently, it is an attempt to read, as Karl Barth said, the newspaper (as a metaphor for what happens in the world) and the scriptures (as a witness to Jesus Christ) together. A luta continua.