Christians and the Kill List
In broad daylight, without a Christian murmur, President Obama has placed a “kill list” on the altar of “American values.” An unconstitutional, international law-violating, indifferent to innocent civilians, anti-American-breeding “kill list.” A national security advisors-created, biographical “baseball cards”-like, “PowerPoint slides-amplified “kill list,” comprised of enemy terrorist suspects, including Americans, whose execution the President alone has the authority to order.
President Obama’s “kill list” was not only carried far and wide in an extensive front page New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane; it was wrapped in morality and religion as suggested by the title: “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a test of Obama’s Principles and Will.” (May 29, 2012) Based on “interviews with . . . three dozen of his current and former advisors,” the story tellers’ subtly seek to merge “In God We Trust” with In Drones We Trust.
The story is about camouflaging evil with good, murder with morality, depravity with duty. It is about human beings
whose deaths he [President Obama] might soon be asked to order, [which] underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be . . . it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation. . . . A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions.
And President Obama has a “priest” by his side to guide him, so the story goes:
Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism advisor, John O. Brennan, who is variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists . . . or a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president’s attempt to apply the ‘just war’ theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.
A “priest?” Yes! proclaims a quoted Harold H. Koh, former dean of Yale Law School, who “was a leading liberal critic of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies.” However, after “becoming the State Department’s top lawyer, Mr. Kohn said he had found in Mr. Brennan a principled ally.” Koh anoints Brennan with canonical fervor: “If John Brennan is the last guy in the room with the president, I’m comfortable, because Brennan is a person of genuine moral rectitude.” Koh’s benediction: “It is as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”
Then it’s John Brennan’s turn to give a moral spin to the “kill list.” Murdering other human beings is on our behalf: “The purpose of these actions,” Brennan says, “is to mitigate threats to U.S. persons’ lives.” And to calm any moral qualms of Americans, he adds, “It is the last option of recourse. So the president, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die (italics added). And so he wants to make sure that we go through a rigorous check list.”
It takes caring and moral fortitude to kill people. But somebody has to do it. Especially with our U.S. government’s murderous invasions and occupations of Islamic countries and support of tyrannical regimes that create countless victims and endless enemies. There would be no need for a “kill list” if America stopped plundering other people’s lands and killing their citizens.
For America’s military power to truly become “A Global Force for Good,” good will have to overcome force. Good is the force that resolves conflicts with diplomatic understanding and human caring that transcend borders and create inclusive relationships.
“All of us here don’t like the fact that people have to die.” These obscene, disingenuous words reek of exceptionalism and entitlement upon which American imperialism is based. Here President Obama and his advisors play “God” with other people’s, and our, lives, which national grandiosity conveniently shifts the focus from U. S. imperialistic policies that terrorize people and create enemies in the first place.
John Brennan evidently handles well the “moral responsibility” in facing up to “the fact that people have to die.” In fact, Ray McGovern, former 30-year CIA and Army intelligence analyst, devotes an article to Brennan’s record as “a ‘Terror War’ Architect,” writing about “Brennan’s open identification with torture, secret prisons and other abuses of national and international law.” McGovern states that “Brennan is widely known for his advocacy of kidnapping-for-torture (aka ‘extraordinary renditions’) and killing ‘militants’ (including U.S. citizens) with ‘Hellfire’ missiles fired by ‘Predator’ and ‘Reaper’ drone aircraft.” McGovern then drives home the cause and effect truth: “These practices and ‘Special Forces’ operations guarantee an indefinite supply of anti-American militants. . . . The endless supply of ‘insurgents’ engendered by the violent tactics so beloved of Brennan makes Americans less safe.” (“Honoring a ‘Terror War’ Architect,” consortiumnews.com, May 12, 2012) McGovern’s piece is a commentary on Brennan recently receiving an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the Jesuits’ Fordham University.
The truth that many American political leaders vigorously avoid is contained, in passing, in Jo Becker and Scott Shane’s very long piece. They accurately write, “Drones have replaced Guantanamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.” They then quote “Faisal Shahzad who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square. . . . In his 2010 guilty plea,” he “justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, ‘When the drones hit, they don’t see children.’”
Faisal Shahzad spoke the cause and effect truth which most political leaders don’t want us Americans to hear, or believe. When Federal Court Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum tried to discredit him as being inhumane, in saying that the bomb he put in Times Square, at 6:30 pm on a Saturday, would kill children, he replied, “Well, the drone hits Afghanistan and Iraq. . . . They don’t see children; they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children. They kill everybody.” (A Guilty Plea In Plot to Bomb Times Square,” By Benjamin Weiser, The New York Times, June 22, 2010. See Alberts, The General and the Bomber, Counterpunch, July 9-11, 2010)
Jo Becker and Scott Shane refer to another rarely dwelled on truth: President Obama’s “focus on [drone] strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the Muslim world that he had envisioned.” They state that “both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president. Justly or not,” they write, “drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents. With China and Russia watching,” they conclude, “the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies.”
The distancing of killing people with drones enables American citizens to remain oblivious to their deaths and grieving—and to the anger such terrible loss and suffering instills in their loved ones. Out of sight out of mind, which is believed to help explain why President Obama can place a “kill list” on the altar of “American values,” with no audible protest from “Sunday shine” Christian leaders.
The most recently reported “kill list” carnage, in Afghanistan, involved an early morning U.S.-directed airstrike targeting a Taliban commander that killed 18 or more civilians, reportedly, where “a wedding had taken place.” An adjacent house, to the commander’s assumed location, was destroyed and all the people in it were killed: “seven women, 11 children and one man . . . according to health clinic workers in Sajawand, the village where the strike occurred.” As usual, U.S.-led NATO military leaders denied any civilians were killed. The media stated that “NATO said it had no record of civilian deaths.” And as usual, reality exposed the denial: the Associated Press reported that Afghan “President Hamid Karzai . . . criticized NATO for not being able to provide an explanation for the vans piled with bodies of women and children that villagers displayed to reporters.” (“Commander Apologizes for Afghan Airstrike,” By Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times, June 9, 2012; “Afghanistan Faces Deadlist Day for Civilians This Year in Multiple Attacks,” By Alissa J. Rubin and Taimoor Shah, The New York Times, June 7, 22012; and “NATO strike killed 18 civilians, Karzai says,” By Amir Shah and Heidi Vogt, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, June 8, 2012)
A predictable pattern, adept U.S. military leaders rely on apologies to cover their evil doing. As reported, NATO commander U. S. Marine General John R. Allen made “the first admission by coalition forces that the strike on Wednesday had killed civilians, and his rare decision to meet with families close to the site of the attacks . . . was a sign that his command took the episode seriously.”
How seriously? As reported, “General Allen spent several hours with local Afghans to express his regrets. . . . ‘We take these deaths very seriously and I grieve with their families,’ Allen told the provincial governor. ‘I have children of my own,’” he added “’and I feel the pain of this.’” (“US apologizes for civilian deaths in Afghan strike,” By Deb Riechmann, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, June 9, 2012) General Allen stressed what it means to be a father: “I am here not only as the commander of the coalition forces but also as a father, to apologize for the tragedy that occurred two days ago. Additionally,” he continued, “I am committed to ensure we do the right thing for the families of those we inadvertently harmed, as well as for the community in which they lived.” (“Commander Apologizes for Afghan Airstrike,” Ibid)
“Do the right thing?” For starters, General Allen can bring back to life the grieving relatives’ loved ones, and take his command and leave Afghanistan! If he can’t do that, let’s see; how much are the lives of dead Afghan human beings worth these days? $2,000? $5,000? Maybe even $10,000? After all, the General’s, media-detailed, presence “was a sign that his command took the episode seriously.” How much are General Allen’s children worth? How much are your and my children worth? Far more than money can buy. Just as Afghan– and other– children and mothers and fathers are equally precious and cannot be replaced by “blood money.”
The intended audience for General Allen‘s obscene apology is not the Afghan people, but the economically depressed American people, to prop up their flagging public support for a costly, immoral war.
Tom Engelhardt’s prophetic warning about President Obama’s “kill list” is contained in an article, aptly called “Praying at the Church of St. Drone: The President and His Apostles.” He writes,
Assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized and bureaucratized around the figure of the president. Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, he alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children. He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations. On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked. He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated” . . . He and he alone can decide that assassinating known individuals isn’t enough and that the CIA’s drones can instead strike at suspicious “patterns of behavior” on the ground in Yemen or Pakistan. . . .An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual. This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from. (TomDispatch.com, June 5, 2012)
The Obama administration also has been seeking to establish another kind of “kill list,” one that would effectively silence democratic dissent of U.S. citizens against the government’s so-called endless “war on terror.” Last December 31, President Obama signed a bill (the updated National Defense Authorization Act) that, as journalist Chris Hedges writes, includes a provision that would authorize the military, “for the first time in more than 200 years, to carry out domestic policing.” The bill would empower the military to “indefinitely detain without trial any U.S. citizen deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism.” As defined by the bill, to be detained would be “a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” Thus any U.S. citizen, whose journalistic or humanitarian work leads to contacts with pre-determined “terrorists,” or any citizen critical of our government’s foreign policy, could be judged as “substantially support[ive]” of designated enemies and thus “an accessory to terrorism” and indefinitely detained. (“Why I’m Suing Barack Obama,” Text of Hedges Legal Complaint (Updated), www.truthdig.com, Jan. 16, 2012)
Chris Hedges was one of seven American Journalists and activists (Jennifer Ann Bolen, Alexa O’Brien, Kai Wargalla, Hon. Brigitta Jonsdottir, Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky) who brought a lawsuit against the Obama administration, arguing “that the vague wording of the law could subject them to indefinite military detention because their work brings them into contact with people whom the U.S. considers to be terrorists, and in so doing violated their First Amendment rights.” (“Judge Blocks Enforcement of National Defense Authorization Act,” By Adam Serwer, www.motherjones.com, May 17, 2012)
Fortunately, last month a federal judge temporarily prevented the enforcement of the “indefinite detention” provision of the NDAA, ruling that it “violates free press and due process rights guaranteed by the First and Fifth Amendments.” (“Federal Judge Blocks ‘Indefinite Detention’ Provision of the National Defense Authorization Act,” By Tim George, www.offthegridnews.com, May 217, 2012)
A “kill list.” Legitimized by a “priest”-like, “Doctor of Humane Letters”-awarded, counterterrorism expert in the disappearance, torture and killing of people, who is “guiding” the president. A president “who has reserved for himself the final moral calculation” of who shall “have to die.”
And another list, to silence journalistic and activist citizen political dissent, waiting in the wings—an ominous sign that America’s political process is being controlled, more and more, by the war-profiteering 1%, a sign that our democracy is in danger of shrinking into a predatory, corporate-controlled imperialistic state. This threat in broad daylight, before our very eyes— as many Christian leaders close their eyes and bow their heads.
Where are the Christian leaders? They are busy with their own lists!
The Vatican has its naughty Nuns’ list. Disobedient, disgraceful, disorderly, disruptive, defiant, ill-behaved, improper, insubordinate, misbehaving, non-conforming, obstinate, out-of-line, recalcitrant, self-willed, shameful, transgressing, undisciplined, unruly, ungovernable unmanageable, willful, wayward.
All definitions of naughty, that the Vatican says fit the tens of thousands of U.S. nuns, whom it accuses of
promoting radical feminism . . . contradicting bishops . . .making public statements that ‘disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals’ . . . hosted speakers who ‘often contradict or ignore’ church teaching; had never revoked a statement from 1977 that questioned the male-only priesthood, and focused their efforts on serving the poor and disenfranchised, while remaining virtually silent on issues the church considers great societal evils: abortion and same-sex marriage. (“American Nuns Vow to Fight Vatican Criticism,” By Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, June 2, 2012)
Naughty nuns, whose disobedience is reported as causing “the Vatican to . . . announce it would dispatch three American bishops to lead a complete makeover of the sisters’ principal organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of the nation’s 57.000 nuns.” (Ibid)
Like the Vatican, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church has its own list: the homosexuality list, which sexuality is ruled as being “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Bishops’ homosexuality list, of those judged unfit for marriage and ministry, was again approved by a majority of United Methodists at their recent April 24-May 4 General Conference. Their action is contrary to that which is humanizing and loving.
What a commentary! The recent outrage of Catholic and United Methodist leaders is not about a “kill list” but about a same-sex, love list.
Former Army officer and CIA analyst Ray McGovern has a name for such Christian leaders: “domesticated clergy.” He uses that description in broadening his criticism of Christian leaders in his commentary on Fordham University awarding an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to John Brennan—and to “pro-life” New York Archbishop and head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Timothy Cardinal Dolan. He refers to the “largely domesticated clergy,” from whom “Americans can no longer in good conscience expect bold action for true justice.” He says, “After ten years of ecclesiastical silence regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be a cop-out—pure and simple—to expect the leaders of institutional “Christian” churches in the United States to act any differently from the way the German churches did during the Thirties in Germany.” (The Kill List of Barack Obama,” Counterpunch, May 31, 2012)
Many Christian leaders are chaplains of the status quo. Their bottom line is about maintaining profits not being prophets. Rather than finding their voices and speaking truth to power, they provide the Invocations and Benedictions for those in power—and also punish those who threaten the status quo.
It is time for Christians to follow the dictates of their conscience rather than their leaders, and say No! to killing their neighbors and Yes! to loving them all—as Jesus taught.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, has just been published. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.