Army Chaplain Resigns over Drone Wars

The U.S. government’s reliance on drones to sustain perpetual war in the Mideast is meeting resistance from some assigned to carry out and justify these tactics, including a U.S. Army chaplain who resigned in protest, writes Ann Wright.

By Ann Wright

U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain Captain Christopher John Antal resigned from the U.S. Army Reserves on April 12 in opposition to U.S policies regarding militarized drones, nuclear weapons and preventive war. Antal stated he could not serve as a chaplain for an “empire” and could not “reconcile his duty to protect and defend America and its constitutional democracy and his commitment to the core principles of his religious faith including justice, equity and compassion and the inherent worth and dignity of every person” with policies of the United States.

His letter of resignation stated that he resigned because he could not support “unaccountable killing” through the U.S. armed drone policy and the Executive Branch claiming “the right to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials.”

Antal also cites his opposition to the U.S. nuclear weapons policy calling it a policy of “terror and mutually assured destruction that threatens the existence of humanity and the earth.”

In his letter of resignation, Antal refuses to support the U.S. policy of “preventive war, permanent military supremacy and global power projection” in what he calls “imperial overreach through extra-constitutional authority and impunity from international law.”

From September 2012 through February 2013 Chris Antal was an Army chaplain to a signals battalion supporting the 3rd Infantry Division at Kandahar Airbase in southern Afghanistan. While his unit did not have operational responsibilities for drones, Chaplain Antal saw drones launch and land where he gave services for military personnel killed in Afghanistan and whose remains were being transported back to the United States.

Additionally, he was concerned about the use of drones after hearing about a drone attack in which a grandmother had been killed while picking okra in a field near her home in the region around the military base.

On Veterans’ Day 2012, identifying himself as an Army chaplain in Afghanistan, he posted “A Veterans’ Day Confession for America” on the Unitarian Universalist site, A Quest for Meaning, in the form of a poetic testimony.

Antal wrote, “We have sanitized killing and condoned extrajudicial assassinations … war made easy without due process, protecting ourselves from the human cost of war./We have deceived ourselves…denying the colossal misery our wars inflict on the innocent.”

He had delivered this sermon during a worship service of military personnel and contractors who had freely gathered for a service in the Unitarian Universalist tradition at Kandahar Air Base.

Antal’s commanding officer was informed about his article, told him “you make us look like the bad guys” and “the message does not support the mission.” The commander said he had lost confidence in Antal and had him investigated, grounded from travel and officially reprimanded by a letter from a general officer at Division level.

Antal was sent back to the U.S. with a “do not promote” evaluation and discharged from active duty. Antal challenged the punishment through New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and her congressional inquiry resulted in his re-activation and promotion to Captain in the U.S. Army Reserve.

The Rev. Antal spoke on March 30 at the Veterans for Peace symposium “Inside Drone Warfare: Perspectives of Whistleblowers, Families of Drone Victims and Their Lawyers,” held at the University of Nevada Las Vegas Law School with military and CIA drone whistleblowers. The symposium was held during the week of vigils called “Shut Down Creech 2016” at Creech Drone base, 60 miles outside of Las Vegas.

During his talk at the symposium, Rev. Antal said the U.S. Army had changed its policy on the duties of chaplains to silence dissent on military policies that concern speaking with a “prophetic voice” and on issues of “moral turpitude.”

The phrase speaking with a prophetic voice and issues of moral turpitude was eliminated from the 2015 version of the Chaplain regulations. While the 2015 regulation charges chaplains to speak “with candor as an advocate to confront and support resolution to challenges and issues of the command,” what happened to him when he spoke with candor demonstrates that the Army does not want chaplains speaking truth to power.

The 2009 Regulations for Chaplains states: “3-2  Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with a prophetic voice and must confront the issues of religious accommodation, the obstruction of free exercise of religion, and moral turpitude in conflict with the Army values.”

The 2015 version states: “3-2  Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with candor as an advocate to confront and support resolution to challenges and issues of the command.”

Currently, Rev. Antal is a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern, New York, is the convener of Veterans for Peace Hudson Valley Chapter 177, and chaplain at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. He is married and has five children.

Following is Chaplain Antal’s letter of resignation:

April 12, 2016

MEMORANDUM FOR Commander-in-Chief, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20500

THRU U.S. Army Resources Command, ATTN; AHRC-OPL-P, 1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Ft. Knox, KY 40122

SUBJECT: Resignation in Protest

Dear Mr. President:

I hereby resign my commission as an Officer in the United States Army.

I resign because I refuse to support U.S. armed drone policy.  The Executive Branch continues to claim the right to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any tie, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials.  I refuse  to support this policy of unaccountable killing.

I resign because I refuse to support U.S. nuclear weapon policy. The Executive Branch continues to invest billions of dollars into nuclear weapons, which threaten the existence of humankind and the earth.  I refuse to support this policy of terror ad mutually assured destruction.

I resign because I refuse to support U.S. policy of preventive war, permanent military supremacy and global power projection.  The Executive branch continues to claim extra- constitutional authority and impunity from international law.  I refuse to support this policy of imperial overstretch.

I resign because I refuse to serve as an empire chaplain.  I cannot reconcile these policies with wither my sworn duty to protect and defend America and our constitutional democracy or my covenantal commitment to the core principles of my religion faith.  These principles include: justice, equity and compassion in human relations, a free and responsible search for truth; and the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Respectfully submitted,

Christopher John Antal

Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/ Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She served 16 years as a U.S. diplomat in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December, 2001. She resigned from the U.S. government in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.

Unfair Attack on UK’s Labour Party

The British Labour Party is under attack for “anti-Semitism” because a few of its members have made remarks critical of Israel and Zionism, but this assault is an abuse of a very serious accusation, says Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

How do you misuse a racial prejudice? At first glance this ought to appear to be an absurd question. Racial prejudices already constitute the distortion of perception and emotion. Nevertheless, when a particular prejudice has a distinct pedigree and an age-old definition, and then is purposely exploited (particularly by those purporting to represent its victims) solely for political gain, the issue of misuse becomes anything but absurd.

The racial prejudice in question is anti-Semitism, one of the most devastating of bigotries and responsible for untold misery. It has always been defined as hatred of Jews as Jews. This hatred is underpinned by a vast number of historical myths and fantastic conspiracy theories, but at its core, what we have here is close to pure racism – a Jew is bad not because of what he or she has done, but because of some racial taint.


Now here is the complicated part. This age-old definition has been reformulated by an ideologically driven sub-set of Jewry – Zionists – for political purposes. The Zionists have declared that there is no difference between the State of Israel and the worldwide community of Jews and therefore, if you are opposed to Israel you are anti-Semitic.

This identification of Israel and the Jews en masse is historically, demographically and certainly religiously false. But no matter, the Zionists shout this redefinition loudly and endlessly. And, by backing their claim with political pressure and a lot of money, they have managed to get it accepted in some Western political circles. This, then, is what constitutes the misuse for political purposes of a dangerous racial prejudice.


Having laid this foundation, the Zionists are now using this bastardized concept of anti-Semitism as a weapon against those critical of not the Jews as a group, but the political state of Israel, its policies and behaviors, which are, themselves, racist and barbaric. Indeed, it is Israeli behavior, specifically toward the Palestinians, that has encouraged a revival of anti-Semitism after more than a half a century of quiescence – thus the very striking irony of the Zionist insistence that opposition to Israeli racist policies is itself a racial prejudice.

Attack on the British Labour Party

There are many examples of this Zionist perversion, but the latest one is a full-blown attack on those members of the British Labour Party who are critical of Israel yet not of Jews as such. Charley Allan, a columnist for the British paper Morning Star, has described the resulting atmosphere as a “witch hunt.” Below are two examples of isolated statements made by Labour Party members which have caused a purposefully exaggerated brouhaha over the issue of anti-Semitism.

In late April, it was revealed that Naseem Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, had posted on her Facebook account a map that showed Israel transferred to within the borders of the U.S. She labeled it as “a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Shah’s posting, which she sourced from the website of the Jewish-American scholar Norman Finkelstein, was made at the height of Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza and pre-dated her election to Parliament.

While the suggestion of the wholesale transference of Israel to the U.S. is but a fantasy, associating the U.S. and Israel certainly has an underlying logic. The United States is Israel’s major protector and financier. The U.S. Congress treats Israel as a privileged 51st state. And, most of those who emigrate from Israel go to the U.S.

Accusations that Shah’s post was an anti-Semitic attack on Jewry were belatedly raised, leading to her suspension from the Labour Party pending an investigation. She subsequently, and rather abjectly, apologized.

Nonetheless, the fact is that Ms. Shah’s display of the map was not anti-Semitic at all. It was not an attack on Jews as such, and there is no evidence that it was motivated by a hatred of Jews. What is really objectionable is the Zionist effort to perversely manipulate the post as if it really was anti-Semitism, in order to attack those opposed to their own racist political ideology.

The second example concerns the veteran Labour Party leader Ken Livingstone, who is also a former mayor of London. In late April, Livingstone stated on a British radio program that “Hitler was a Zionist” whose policy was that “the Jews should be moved to Israel.” Now this is certainly not a true statement.

What is true is that Hitler wanted the Jews out of Germany. Up until 1938 they could leave that country (albeit without any possessions) if they could find another country that would let them in (which wasn’t easy). During this time Hitler did not particularly care where the German Jews went, and most who did have the foresight to leave did not go to Palestine.

Though historically inaccurate, Livingstone’s statement was not anti-Semitic. Its principal subject was Hitler and the Zionist movement, and, again, there is no evidence that it was motivated by hatred of Jews. Nonetheless, for making his statement Livingstone has been accused of being anti-Semitic, and he too has been suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation.

It would seem that the present Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is running scared, tossing out members like Shah and Livingstone, rather than counterattacking against Zionist offensive with the truth – that the charge of anti-Semitism is being improperly exploited for political purposes.

Corbyn himself, who is of the left wing of the party, and has repeatedly expressed sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, is probably among the real targets of this campaign of intimidation. It seems that the right wing of the party has joined up with the British Zionists to run Corbyn out of office using, or rather misusing, the charge of anti-Semitism.

Despite what amounts to ever-present paranoia in some circles, there are no signs of a future Holocaust in the making. That does not mean that history holds no important lessons for the Jews. It certainly does.

The primary lesson is that the Jews, like other minority groups, need to protect their collective interests by maintaining strong support for universal civil and human rights, as well as the rule of law both domestically and internationally. However, there is another lesson the past, and specifically the Holocaust, ought to have taught us: that it is dangerously counterproductive to engage in a defense of group interests that involves the persecution of others.

To the extent that they have followed this path, the Zionists have failed to learn from history.

Therefore, it is not the Jews as a people who are remiss. It is only those who have abandoned the protections of civil and human rights and now flout international law in favor of a cruel nationalist policy. The Zionist claim that they have pursue this path to protect the Jewish people is highly suspect for, since its founding, Israel has always been the most dangerous place a Jew can reside.

We are led to the conclusion expressed by Professor Stephen Bronner in a deeply insightful work entitled The Bigot. “Disentangling genuine prejudice from a legitimate critique of Israeli territorial ambitions should be the aim of all progressive inquiry into the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry.”

That critique of Israel’s behavior is not only legitimate, but central to future peace in the Middle East.

Zionism is an ideology gone seriously astray. And the use of the charge of anti-Semitism as a weapon against its critics is a dangerous exploitation of that age-old bigotry as well as a betrayal of the lessons of history.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

Price for Witnessing Against War

Exclusive: The funeral for anti-war priest Daniel Berrigan was a reminder of humanity’s need to challenge immoral government actions and the price that one pays for doing so, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Fr. Daniel Berrigan’s funeral was being live-streamed Friday, as I started to write this, which seems only fitting. Dan’s witness and writing have been a constantly re-chargeable battery for my moral compass.

Live-streaming (arranged by America magazine) was the next-best thing to being at the funeral in person. And it brought back memories of getting shoe-horned into West Baltimore’s St. Peter Claver church in early December 2002 for an equally moving celebration of the life of Dan’s younger brother, Fr. Phil Berrigan.

Homilist Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J., who has spent more than a decade in this or that prison for non-violent resistance to war began with some Berrigan-style Irish humor: “Let members of the FBI assigned here today validate that it is Daniel Berrigan’s funeral Mass of the Resurrection, so they can complete and perhaps close their files. ‘Death has no dominion!’ to quote Daniel’s friend William Stringfellow.”

Kelly then minced no words in calling out “appointed pastors who collude with structures of domination, blessing the bombs.”

Tears welled as I watched Catholic Worker friends drop a large banner with the words from Isaiah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares. Nations shall make war no more,” a charge lived into by all three brothers Berrigan – Jerry, Dan, and Phil.

And I thought back on what I learned decades ago at retreats led by Dan on the prophets Isaiah and Amos.

During the eulogy, Liz McAlister, Phil’s widow, quoted from the “apology” Dan wrote for burning draft cards with home-made napalm in Catonsville, Maryland, in May 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War:

“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house.”

Liz continued to read from the Statement of the Catonsville 9: “The suppression of truth stops here; this war stops here!” (emphasis added by Liz’s own prophetic voice.) Not stopping was the loud, un-church-like cheering that rattled the rafters.

So Liz added a vintage Berrigan admonition for those who “seek ways to exempt themselves from responsibility.” I had the feeling that the affirming crowd would still be making a din, had not Phil’s daughter Frida gently gestured: Please, let my mom finish.

Thanks to the live-streaming, I could discern many of my friends at the still functioning Dorothy Day Catholic Worker houses for men and women in the Bowery. The only folks missing were those doing the daily Martha-work of preparing food for the lunch line. Ringing in my ears was another charge, heard hundreds of times from my Irish grandmother: “Show me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are!”

As the daughter of the late Jerry Berrigan, eldest of the three brothers, added her words to the eulogy, I felt proud to be out on bail, awaiting trial with 11 others of the “Jerry Berrigan Memorial Anti-Drone Brigade” for shutting down the main entrance and exit to Hancock Air Force Base Brigade near Syracuse, New York, on the morning of Jan. 28, 2016. Jerry, who lived in Syracuse, was frequently arrested there for similar protests against drone killings.

‘Whatever His Views, He’s Harmless’

Following people like Dan, Phil, and Jerry can get you beaten up and thrown in jail, but the benefits are out of this world, so to speak. Watching Dan’s funeral, I found myself musing over the words chosen by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s confidant Sidney Blumenthal, reassuring Clinton that she had nothing to fear from the likes of me.

On Feb. 15, 2011, at George Washington University, Clinton had, with callous aplomb, completely ignored my getting assaulted by two security personnel as I silently stood directly in front of her with my back turned.

In a Feb. 18, 2011 email, Blumenthal explained: “Ray McGovern, a former CIA officer who gave the daily brief for President George H.W. Bush, is pretty well known in the intelligence community. He’s become a Christian antiwar leftist who goes around bearing witness. Whatever his views, he’s harmless.”

Harmless or not, I can see my grandmother smiling down at the company I now keep, and whispering in her thick Irish brogue, “If you were really harmless, Raymond, they would not be writing them email things about you.”

It was not so long ago that I moved in circles where the label “activist” was dismissed as misguided but, well, harmless. How fortunate, then, to learn of the definition given to activism by my co-passenger on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, poet Alice Walker: “Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.”

I could not be more grateful at having fallen in, better late than never, with such companions. Dan’s funeral served as a reminder of how much my journey has changed – having witnessed power from the inside, and the consequences of challenging it from the outside.

On the Inside

During the first Ronald Reagan administration, it was my job to conduct early morning one-on-one briefings of the Secretary of Defense (Caspar Weinberger), Secretary of State (George Shultz), and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gen. Jack Vessey) and also, depending on their schedules, Vice President George H. W. Bush, as well as a movable feast of Assistants to the President for National Security Affairs.

Another senior CIA officer and I took turns, each of us briefing every other day six days a week. As professional intelligence analysts, we conducted ourselves in a completely non-partisan way, and our services were appreciated. We relied largely on The President’s Daily Brief that we had helped prepare the day before, and we updated and supplemented the material in it, as needed.

Ronald Reagan was given these one-on-one briefings as soon as he became president-elect and put considerable value on them. Once in the White House, however, he ordered that, as a general rule, the early morning briefings be given to his most senior national security advisers whom he would normally ask to brief him directly several hours later.

When I took early retirement at age 50, I was fully aware that few others on “the outside” had the privilege of acquiring a first-hand feel for how intelligence could be used, and power abused.

At the time, however, I had no inkling that the creeping politicization and careerism fostered by senior CIA official Robert Gates on behalf of Reagan’s CIA Director William Casey would corrupt managers and analysts alike to the point they would let themselves be suborned into conjuring up the kind of faux intelligence that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney ordered up to “justify” war on Iraq.

‘Quid Est Veritas?’

What brought this to mind earlier this week was the tenth anniversary of an impromptu, four-minute debate that I had with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Atlanta on May 4, 2006.

It was not hard to prove him an inveterate liar about important matters like the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) he said were in Iraq – but weren’t; and the ties that existed between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein – but didn’t. But my Rumsfeld anniversary brought a painful reminder that things have hardly improved – and that no one has challenged former Secretary Clinton openly about her lies – about Syria and Libya, for example. [See’s “A Need to Clear Up Clinton Questions.”]

The opportunities for such challenge have become fewer; the penalties harsher; the Fawning Corporate Media dumber and dumber.

The mini-debate with Rumsfeld in Atlanta depended largely on luck. Not only had I truth as my breastplate, so to speak, but the stars were nicely aligned. People like Rumsfeld, an accomplished Princeton debater (and, for that matter, Wellesley valedictorian Hillary Clinton), are required to keep careful track of their lies. Those not normally burdened with that extra chore – professional intelligence analysts, for example – enjoy a distinct advantage, even in times like these, when all too many Caesars keep asking “Quid est Veritas?” – “what is truth?” – a phrase attributed to Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus.

As it turned out, I had some success – momentarily, at least – exposing Rumsfeld, who had played fast and loose with the truth, while enjoying the “matinee-idol” label pinned on him by President George W. Bush during the initial weeks of “shock and awe.”

The abundance of evidence notwithstanding, my attempts to expose the lies of Hillary Clinton proved much more difficult (as I was wrestled away by security guards for turning my back on the Secretary of State), and I had zero success exposing Teflon-coated General (and former CIA Director) David Petraeus for the fraud he is (as I was arrested by New York City police at the entrance of a Petraeus speech). Worse still, the violence I encountered escalated with each nonviolent attempt.

With Rumsfeld, none of the media stenographers at Pentagon briefings ever looked up from their pads long enough to ask the Defense Secretary a direct question about his prevarications, so the Pentagon prima donna seemed a bit shocked by a factual question he could not spin.

So, Rumsfeld was not used to fielding “impertinent,” un-self-censored questions. Indeed, it may have seemed to some as though I were unfairly blindsiding the poor Secretary of Defense.

An Exchange with Power 

The setting for Rumsfeld’s talk was a little-known, defense-secretary-friendly-Southern-white-male-upper-crust “think tank.” There was no advance notice of Rumsfeld’s talk on its website, but some women friends from the World Can’t Wait figured out a way to get me a ticket (for $70!).

The impromptu debate went as follows:

RAY McGOVERN: And so, I would like to ask you to be up front with the American people. Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven’t lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn’t lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate, and he presented that to the United Nations. The President spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people, and he went to the American people and made a presentation. I’m not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.

RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were, and we were —

RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were, “near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and northeast, south and west of there.” Those were your words.

DONALD RUMSFELD: My words — my words were — no, no, no, wait a minute! Let him stay one second. Just a second.

RAY McGOVERN: This is America, huh? Go ahead.

DONALD RUMSFELD: You’re getting plenty of play, sir.

RAY McGOVERN: I’d just like an honest answer.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I’m giving it to you.

RAY McGOVERN: We’re talking about lies and your allegation that there was bulletproof evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Was that a lie or were you misled?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.

RAY McGOVERN: Zarqawi, he was in the north of Iraq, in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That’s where he was.

DONALD RUMSFELD: He was also in Baghdad.

RAY McGOVERN: Yeah, when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren’t idiots. They know the story.

DONALD RUMSFELD: You are — let me give you an example. It’s easy for you to make a charge, but why do you think that the men and women in uniform every day, when they came out of Kuwait and went into Iraq, put on chemical weapon protective suits? Because they liked the style? They honestly believed that there were chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons on his own people previously. He had used them on his neighbor, the Iranians. And they believed he had those weapons. We believed he had those weapons.

RAY McGOVERN: That’s what we call a non-sequitur. It doesn’t matter what the troops believe. It matters what you believe.

MODERATOR: I think, Mr. Secretary, the debate is over. We have other questions, courtesy to the audience.

‘Let Him Stay’

Early in the exchange, the black-hatted point man from Rumsfeld’s SWAT Team (clearly seen in the video) put his elbow in my solar plexus as I was speaking and started to pry me from the microphone to which I was adhering like permanent glue.

However, after a glance in the direction of the TV cameras, Rumsfeld waved him off, with a “no, no, no, wait a minute! Let him stay one second. Just a second.” It was a snap decision to continue the debate, with Rumsfeld convinced he could put me in my place. After all, I had identified myself as a former CIA analyst, and Rumsfeld had had an easy time intimidating CIA directors George Tenet and Porter Goss, as well as those of my former colleagues badgered into dancing the Cheney/Rumsfeld fraudulent tango on Iraq.

The event also took place early enough that afternoon to make the evening news. Better still, the event was aired live on C-Span and CNN. All this together made it very difficult for TV producers, anchors and pundits to brush off my challenges to Rumsfeld as inconsequential. Besides, there was very little happening that was newsworthy on May 4, 2006, which put icing on the cake.

In any case, the tense scene of a citizen challenging the great and powerful Rumsfeld with real questions was so unusual that even the corporate media recognized it as “news” and gave it at least fleeting attention on the evening news shows.

But my unmasking of Rumsfeld’s Iraq War lies also created a highly unwelcome precedent that I would be made to pay for by soon being pigeonholed as a disgruntled stalker.

CNN anchor Paula Zahn’s first questions that evening were (1) “How long have you harbored this animus against Donald Rumsfeld?” and (2) why was I “following the Secretary of Defense all the way down to Atlanta?”

I explained that, in fact, I had gotten to Atlanta first – to receive, that same evening, the ACLU’s National Civil Liberties Award (won the previous year by Coretta Scott King).

I could not remember how long I had had “this animus” toward Rumsfeld. Were I quicker on my feet, I would have said something like — since his lies got thousands of human beings killed in an unnecessary war. But you don’t get a do-over.

After the Zahn interview, CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s first question, asked of me haltingly as I was exiting the auditorium, was much less hostile but, in its own way, far more revealing: “Weren’t you afraid?” he asked. Think about that for a while.

No Such Luck With Hillary

Five years later, with some slight hope for an encore during a possible Q & A – this time with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – I wangled a ticket to hear her speak at George Washington University on Feb. 15, 2011. After several minutes of fulsome praise from the university president and prolonged, standing, adulatory applause from the carefully chosen audience, before Clinton even uttered a word, I decided to remain standing in silence with my back to her.

Unlike Rumsfeld in 2006, Secretary of State Clinton was taking no chances. True, her speech focused on the need to respect dissent, but she was talking about the authorities in Iran, not in Washington. She missed not a syllable as she watched me brutalized directly in front of her and then dragged down the main aisle (with Clinton seeing-no-evil and nary a peep from the Hillary-friendly audience of by-standers/by-sitters).

Once outside the auditorium, a Clinton security-woman interrogated me at some length, after two sets of steel handcuffs were put on my wrists. I was then arrested and dumped into jail.

Perhaps Clinton thought her tacit condoning of this pre-emptive strike by her security folks would provide a useful deterrent to others who might choose nonviolent but highly visible ways to express dissent – or, God forbid, ask an impertinent question of the kind asked of Rumsfeld in Atlanta.

Unlike my encounter with Rumsfeld and even though multiple TV cameras caught the brutal way I was seized and thrown out directly in front of Hillary Clinton (“escorted out” is the gentle way Fox News put it), there was almost no further mention in mainstream media.

The Clinton incident happened at the same time of day as my mini-debate with Rumsfeld, so its absence from the evening news had nothing to do with the news cycle. Still, one would have thought the Kafkaesque nature of my brutalization at the very moment Clinton waxed eloquent about respecting dissent – in Iran – might have provided irresistible grist for a news story or commentary.

But in the five years that had passed since the Rumsfeld event in Atlanta, the media had grown five years-worth tamer. And, in contrast to Rumsfeld’s quick calculation as he looked at the cameras in the back, Clinton apparently believed she could count on the TV outlets and pundits NOT to give much coverage to the assault. In any case, she calculated correctly.

A number of Washington media stenographers were there, of course, as well as the cameras, but the evening TV producers and anchors chose the safer path. After all, no “sensible” commentator or outlet will gratuitously put out of joint the nose of a probable heiress to the presidency.

Less Tolerance of Dissent

If my understandable chagrin at the way Hillary Clinton ignored the assault right in front of her leaves me open to charges of having an “animus” toward Hillary Clinton, so be it. That is very small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.

My “animus” was substantive – her share of responsibility for all manner of death and destruction because of her vote for the Iraq War and the benighted escalation/surge in Afghanistan, for example. It would be only another couple of months after her GWU speech before she helped create equal tragedies in Libya and Syria.

I suppose I should thank my blessings in having avoided the far more brutal, fatal treatment accorded Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Although I had a ticket to hear David Petraeus speak at the 92nd Y in New York City on Oct. 30, 2014, I was barred from even entering, roughly treated, whisked away by NYPD cops already on the scene and jailed overnight in the infamous “The Tombs” beneath the Criminal Court in lower Manhattan.

Although my arrest occurred in the so-called “media capital of the world,” the incident was almost completely ignored at least in the mainstream media. [See’s, “When Silencing Dissent Isn’t News.”]

The trend seems to be more violence from the “organs of state security,” as they were known in Soviet parlance, and more silence in the mainstream media.

All the more need to follow the example of the Berrigans.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and CIA analyst for a total of 30 years and, after retiring, co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

The Terribly Annoyed Saudis

Official Washington’s pols and pundits fret whenever Saudi Arabia or Israel complains, but those “allies” are charting a dangerous course for the U.S. that President Obama seems incapable of changing, writes Michael Brenner.

By Michael Brenner

A staple of commentary about the fraught politics of the Middle East, especially the Gulf, is the wrenching torments of the Saudi royal family as they face unprecedented challenges. The essence of their plaint is that they are fending off a host of threats not of their own making and no longer can count on the United States as a reliable protector and moral supporter.

This theme has been picked up by analysts both in the region and here in the United States. The claim on our empathy is felt by many. Most often, the KSA and its empathizers have as their point of anxious departure the Iran nuclear deal, which is interpreted as some sort of American abandonment of their traditional ally.

Riyadh lobbied hard for a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic and was keenly disappointed by that landmark accord. President Obama’s visit to Riyadh was designed to alleviate these strains and to reinvigorate the supposed alliance. Apparently, he may follow up with a proposal for some sort of security understanding between NATO and the GCC.

There is a contrapuntal theme – but struck so sotto voce as to be almost inaudible. That is the line that conveys an antithetical conception of the problem and the challenge in apposition to the Saudi-centric narrative, which dominates the diplomatic and intellectual discourse.

With a measure of detachment, it becomes starkly clear that the conventional approach only makes sense from a parochial Saudi vantage point; indeed, that of the new leadership of the semi-senile King Salman and the ruthless, power-hungry Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed who have pursued a series of reckless policies since taking power. They went out of their way to demonstrate their anger at Obama by refraining from welcoming him on arrival at the airport in violation of all protocol.

The House of Saud’s overriding preoccupation is their parlous legitimacy as rulers of Arabia. It is the pivot of everything they do. They are keenly aware that it hinges on their acknowledged status as custodians of the Holy Sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina, which they seized by force in the 1920s without even a semblance of consultation.

Hence, the crucial alliance with the leaders of the Wahhabi movement. It is that blessing that endows the royal family with a semblance of authority. A number of propositions follow. They cannot afford to be outflanked at the fundamentalist end of the Sunni Islamic continuum.

Therefore, their aggressive promotion of an ultra-orthodox creed. Therefore, their strenuous efforts to coopt the proliferating jihadist movement that they themselves have encouraged. Therefore, the compulsion to present themselves as protector of the faithful against heretics (Shia) and all enemies of Islam. Therefore, their staunch opposition to the democratic spirit of the Arab Spring.

Therefore, their antipathy toward Iran whose own brand of Islamism threatens to foment unrest among Saudi Arabia’s large Shi’ite minority. Therefore, the goal of having the United States serve all of these ends by providing unqualified military backing regarding Iran, Assad’s secular regime, and the Houthis in Yemen.

Therefore, there resentment at Washington’s bringing to power in Iraq a Shi’ite dominated government. Therefore, their demand that the U.S. not cooperate with Shi’ite militias in the campaign against ISIL. Therefore, the ancillary goal of ensuring that the American’s cease their proselytization in the name of democracy in the Islamic world. Therefore, the aim of modeling the Saudi-American relationship on the Israeli model.

The current ruling Sudari branch of the royal family is more aggressive in pushing this strategy than were their predecessors while bent on establishing a Sudari line of succession. That claim gains strength if the Salmans can deliver on their audacious agenda.

Why does it serve United States’ interests to adopt the Saudi line that Iran is an implacably hostile force that sows instability throughout the Middle East and with whom any form of normalization is dangerous? Why does it serve our interests to act in a manner that strongly suggests that we have chosen the Sunni side in Islam’s sectarian confrontation?

Why does it serve our interests to participate in the bloody Saudi-led assault on Yemen which has led to a vast strengthening of the Al Qaeda branch which Washington long has judged to be the most menacing? Why do we tolerate the Saudi-led forces fighting side-by-side with Al Qaeda units? Why should we assiduously avoid even raising the issue of Saudi and friends’ backing of ISIL and their promotion of al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Shem in Syria – against the backdrop of aggressive projection of their anti-Western Wahhabist creed across the Islamic world?

Why should we give priority to removing Assad when his downfall will bring to power violent Salafist groups of the most extreme kind whom the KSA now see as shock troops in their war against Iranian led Shi’ism?

Other than narrow Saudi interests, the other stakeholder who sees advantage in the existing strategy is Israel – with whom the KAS now is in tacit alliance. Each demands obeisance from the United States despite their high degree of dependence on the American super-power.

Washington, in turns, accords them deference and appeasement. By any reasonable objective standard, that is illogical. Yet, there are no answers given to the questions asked above. They are not posed in political circles, they are ignored by the media, and the commentariat only rarely raises a timid hand.

The Obama administration restricts itself to making ad hominum declarations on individual issues that confuse more than they explain. If there is a coherent justification for what we are doing, and not doing, it is well-nigh time that we heard it. Preferably, before the President digs us an even deeper hole in Riyadh.

Instead, there is every indication that such a course reversal has been neither presented nor debated – much less accepted within the Obama administration. That is a sad commentary on this administration’s intellectual sclerosis and the President’s callowness. Always lacking the gumption to stand up to Netanyahu and the Israelis, he (and his successor) now must contend with a partnership that adds Saudi gold to the flow of influence in Washington.

The complexity of the dilemmas that the White House has created for itself is further exacerbated by the dismaying truth that most of the main actors are either emotionally unbalanced or monomaniacal fantasists: al-Baghdadi; the Salmans – father and son; Erdogan; Netanyahu.

The most level-headed and reasoned is Putin – whom Obama shuns in the conviction that a new Cold War is inescapable. Having designed a field of action sown with mines and offering no escape hatches, the temptation to temporize until retirement day may be irresistible.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Netanyahu’s Neocon Mind

An admirer of Benjamin Netanyahu says the Israeli Prime Minister shares the American neocons’ stark view of the world that disdains diplomacy and compromise with adversaries, notes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Dan Illouz is an Israeli lawyer and a former legal adviser to both the Knesset’s leadership coalition and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. He is also a big fan of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On April 13, he wrote an opinion piece for the Jerusalem Post entitled, “A Fresh Perspective: Understanding Netanyahu’s Mind.”

Among the many synonyms of “fresh” offered by your average on-line dictionary are “unusual” and “undeveloped.” Though Illouz would certainly not agree that these terms fit his effort to explain the Prime Minister’s consciousness, it turns out that they actually do.

For instance, there is his unusual claim that “Netanyahu is one of the deepest thinkers among world leaders.” At the same time Illouz emphasizes that Netanyahu comes from a “very ideological” background bequeathed to him by both his Revisionist Zionist father, Benzion Netanyahu, and the American neoconservative worldview. As we will see, both outlooks are undeveloped one-dimensional frames of reference.

It is true that our perceptions reflect a worldview structured by the aspects of family and society we choose to embrace, or rebel against. It could go either way. According to Illouz, Netanyahu has embraced the restricted worldview of a brand of Zionism that teaches that, if the Jews are to survive in the modern world, they must be militarily all powerful and remain unmoved by any and all calls for compromise with alleged enemies.

Also, according to Illouz, Netanyahu sees the world through the myopic lens of the American neoconservative movement, which preaches that both the United States and Israel are allies in a never-ending battle of good against evil. The unalterable consequences of compromise in such a struggle have been taught to us by the history of the 1938 Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler. All such compromises in this imagined struggle must end up in catastrophe, especially for the Jews.

Deep Thinking’

The conclusions Illouz draws from this description of Netanyahu’s mindset are, to say the least, baffling. Not in the sense that Netanyahu is cemented into a worldview that itself is modeled on a narrow slice of history. This indeed seems to accurately describe him. But rather in the claim that by seeing the world this way, the Israeli prime minister shows himself to be a “deep thinker.”

What does it mean to be a “deep thinker”? It should entail some capacity to break free of the structural framework or the worldview we start out with. For example, a degree of independent thought that allows us to discern when the past serves as a useful guide to the present and when it does not. This all adds up to an ability to be original – to understand present circumstances in novel ways that lead to breakthrough solutions to problems, be they political, social or scientific.

That is what it takes to think deeply. Does Benjamin Netanyahu qualify? No, he does not. He is no more a “deep thinker” than George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or John Bolton. Then why does Illouz say he does qualify? Because this Israeli lawyer, who is himself no “deep thinker,” mixes up profundity of thought with a skewed notion of “prudence” – which, in this case, he interprets as a “reluctance to embrace a utopian view of the world that progressives push forward.”

Examples of such “utopian views” are peace agreements such as the Iran accord, and the notion of “unilateral withdrawals.” In other words, Benjamin Netanyahu is a “deep thinker” because, in the name of “prudence,” he shuts down all consideration of diplomatic compromise. For Illouz that also makes him one of the world’s leading “realists.”

In truth, Illouz’s assessment of his Prime Minister’s mind is itself a product of the same narrow, static worldview shared by neoconservatives and Likudniks alike. For instance, according to Illouz, Netanyahu’s refusal to withdraw from the Occupied Territories (O.T.) is stark realism motivated by a desire to “stop history from taking a wrong turn” – as it did in 1938.

The comparison of the Palestinian desire for an independent state in the O.T. and the Munich agreement of 1938 is so patently inane that I won’t waste words on it. But Israel’s absorption of the territories can be judged as the very opposite of realism – it is a utopian (actually dystopian) scheme that is in the process of doing untold damage to both Jews and Palestinians while isolating Israel from the rest of the world.

There is a contradiction between profundity of thought and the ideologically determined worldview. To be in a position to achieve the former, one must, at the very least, eschew the dogmatic aspects of the latter. Neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor Dan Illouz are capable of doing this.

Analyzing Illouz’s presentation is not hard. His mistaken take on “deep thinking,” the lessons of history, the notions of realism and utopianism are quite obvious. This being the case one might ask why the editors at the Jerusalem Post thought it proper to print such balderdash? Perhaps because they too see the world in the same one-dimensional fashion.

If we are to believe the reports coming out of Israel, the Jewish majority there is undergoing an unchecked withdrawal into itself. The “us against the world” attitude that has always characterized some of world Jewry has now taken command in Israel. And, except for a small portion of the population that has managed to break free of this warped worldview (and as a consequence is being labeled as traitors), the mass of Israeli Jews are following their Pied Piper leaders into dangerous isolation.

This state of detachment has led to a series of policy decisions that are anything but realistic. The continuing expansion of illegal settlements and destruction of Palestinian houses, the resulting ethnic cleansing, the utter barbarism of Israeli policy toward Gaza, and the labeling as terrorist behavior all reactions against these policies, mark an official, and internally popular, worldview that is increasing detached from reality.

Dan Illouz’s piece in the Jerusalem Post is a clumsy effort to rationalize this way of thinking and seeing.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

Playing Off Europe’s Muslim Fears

Exclusive: Turkey and the Islamic State are exploiting the Syrian refugee flow into Europe to achieve their own ends, playing off the Continent’s fear of what a Muslim influx will do to political stability, explains Andrés Cala.

By Andrés Cala

Over a million refugees and migrants poured into Europe in 2015, mostly Syrians, and more than 150,000 have joined them so far in 2016, the majority by crossing into Greece from Turkey. Most are simply fleeing war and turmoil in the Middle East, but these human waves are also being exploited by the Islamic State to spread chaos into Europe and by Turkey to advance its own regional agenda vis a vis Europe.

In the face of the worst refugee crisis since World War II, Europe – led by an erratic German Chancellor Angela Merkel – entered into a morally and legally dubious deal with Turkey in which humans have become bargaining chips and pawns. As of March 20, immigrants entering Greece illegally were being deported to Turkey in a so-called “one-for-one” mechanism. For every returned Syrian, another of the nearly 3 million in Turkey will be legally relocated in Europe, up to 72,000, but even that number is causing difficulties.

Europe’s goal is to slam its doors to the refugee crisis that is upending domestic politics across the Continent and driving countries to close intra-European borders, unwinding the freedom of movement that has been a central pillar of the European Union. Europe seeks to stop the flood of refugees by plugging the Greek hole through which 85 percent of the immigrants arrive. But in doing so Europe is disregarding its responsibility to millions escaping violence mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that the Western alliance has failed to resolve and, in some cases, started or fueled.

The central role of Turkey as the bridge to Europe has given Ankara special leverage over the process. Some might even call it coercion or blackmail, threatening to open the gates if the European Union doesn’t comply with Turkey’s demands for money or favorable treatment.

In exchange for accepting deportations from Greece, Turkey will get 6 billion euros in aid from Europe to care for the nearly 3 million Syrian refugees now in Turkey, on top of Europe agreeing to approve visa-free travel for Turkey’s citizens after some conditions are met and promising to jump start a fast-track process for Turkey’s E.U. candidacy for membership.

On one level, Turkey genuinely does need the money. It says it has already spent $10 billion since 2011 harboring Syrian refugees. But Europe is also perfectly capable – just not willing politically – to deal with the refugee crisis within its borders.

By refusing to do so, Europe is not only sacrificing its humanitarian principles but it is empowering extremists and other warmongers in Syria who are exploiting Europe’s reaction against Muslim refugees to win the allegiance of already alienated Muslims living in Europe.

In other words, Europe is letting the Islamic State wield the refugee crisis as a powerful propaganda weapon, exposing the anti-Muslim bigotry that has risen to the surface in country after country as they slam their doors on desperate families seeking safety and work.

At this point, European leaders are just desperate to save the E.U., not as much from refugees but from the divisiveness that the refugee crisis has spread across Europe. E.U. leaders are concerned about far-right, anti-immigrant, and anti-E.U. parties that are gaining ground, especially after the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks. The E.U. leaders see the danger of a new authoritarian populism along the lines of the fascism that devastated Europe last century.

This fear may be overblown, but the refugee crisis has once again brought to the surface the ugly face of European nationalism that for decades has been submerged under modern European principles of tolerance and humanism. Replacing that cultured image of Europe is a scowling reaction among many Europeans who say the arrival of African and Middle Eastern immigrants will disrupt the cultural balance and the welfare generosity of many European countries.

But Europe’s deal with Turkey – money and other concessions in exchange for restricting the flow of refugees – is giving populist parties even more ammunition to advance their anti-E.U. goals, including the upcoming referendum in Great Britain on exiting the E.U. These very public debates – and their sometimes raw anti-Muslim sentiments – play into the hands of the war of religions script that the Islamic State thrives on.

The refugee crisis also is at the center of Turkey’s gamesmanship as it veers between holding back the refugees and letting them head for Europe. That leverage fits neatly into Turkey’s strategy to scuttle ongoing Western and Russian peace efforts with the Syrian government. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds out hope that he can still engineer the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite, and have him replaced by a Sunni leader allied with Turkey.

Temporary Fix

While complicating the already complex Syrian conflict, Europe’s refugee response is doing little to help the refugees as it dumps the responsibility onto other countries. There are some 4.6 million Syrians alone spread across Syria’s neighboring countries, mostly Turkey but also Jordan and Lebanon.

Desperate migrants are finding  alternative – even more dangerous – routes into Europe, such as crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy, going from Morocco to Spain, and even sneaking across from Russia to Finland. The death toll from such risky approaches to Europe is high. More than 3,700 people remain unaccounted for in 2015.

Though the Greek entry is considered the safest route, there have been horrific cases there of migrant boats capsizing and scattering drowning victims along beaches. And, with the onset of warmer weather, the flow is sure to increase.

Europe’s deal with Turkey also has drawn complaints and legal questions from the United Nations and all major humanitarian agencies, as well as courts and governments. A key flaw in Europe’s reasoning is that while it may pretend that Turkey is a safe country for refugees, many reports indicate otherwise.

The E.U. Commission this week sharply criticized member countries for failing to honor even the discrete commitments to relocate 160,000 refugees already in Greece and Italy by the summer of 2017. Less than 1 percent of the commitments have been met after nearly a year. To underscore the point, last weekend, Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos, ground zero of the refugee crisis, and returned to the Vatican with 12 refugees, half of them children.

But even excluding humanitarian considerations, Europe is going to bed with an increasingly authoritarian figure in Turkey’s President Erdogan, who is trampling basic human rights at home, including freedom of expression. Erdogan continues to consolidate power while facing widespread accusations that his intelligence services have aided extreme jihadist elements inside Syria, including the Islamic State.

Erdogan, who has reversed Turkey’s longstanding policy of official secularism, also is using his new-found leverage from the refugee crisis to gain some revenge on Europe which began backing away from closer ties to Turkey as it became an increasingly religious state under Erdogan. Now, most Turks also reject the idea of full E.U. membership, which would run counter to Turkey’s current ambition to become the dominant power in the Muslim world.

But Erdogan is flexing his muscles by making the E.U. revive the idea of a Turkish candidacy for full E.U. membership, which is something that European nations, starting with Germany, would not accept at this point. A more important perk for the Turks would be visa-free travel to Europe.

And to add insult to injury, there is the anecdotal, but powerfully symbolic scandal over Jan Bohmermann, the German comedian who called Erdogan a “goat-fucker,” along with a long list of other insults in a satirical song that he broadcast on German TV, acknowledging beforehand that he might be breaking the law.

Merkel decided on Friday to allow Erdogan to use a Nineteenth Century law to seek criminal charges against the comedian, a prerequisite to take his case to German courts. But the public, political parties and even coalition members criticized the Chancellor for bending to Erdogan and undermining the principle of freedom of expression.

After all, Europe is the place which strongly defended Charlie Hebdo’s freedom of expression as it published insulting images of the Prophet Mohammed. But – with Erdogan playing the powerful refugee card – apparently the Turkish president is off limits to ridicule.

Andrés Cala is an award-winning Colombian journalist, columnist and analyst specializing in geopolitics and energy. He is the lead author of America’s Blind Spot: Chávez, Energy, and US Security.

The Shame of the Jesuits

Exclusive: A spotlight has fallen on a shameful chapter in the history of Georgetown University’s Jesuits, the 1838 sale of 272 African-Americans into Deep South slavery, but moral lapses didn’t end there, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Anti-war prophet Rev. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., was onto something with his “hunch” – in his 1987 autobiography, To Dwell in Peace – that “the fall of a great enterprise,” the Jesuit university, would end up “among those structures whose moral decline and political servitude signalize a larger falling away of the culture itself.”

Berrigan, a Jesuit himself, lamented “highly placed” churchmen and their approval of war, “uttered … with sublime confidence, from on high, from highly placed friendships, and White House connections. Thus compromised, the Christian tradition of nonviolence, as well as the secular boast of disinterested pursuit of truth — these are reduced to bombast, hauled out for formal occasions, believed by no one, practiced by no one.”

But that “moral decline” among Jesuit institutions of higher learning may have had deeper roots than even Berrigan understood. One of those deep roots is drawing national attention, an 1838 decision by the Jesuit leaders of the Jesuits’ Maryland Province and Georgetown College to improve the school’s financial health by selling 272 African-American men, women and children as slaves into the Deep South.

As New York Times writer Rachel L. Swarns described the scene in Sunday’s editions, “The human cargo was loaded on ships at a bustling wharf in the nation’s capital, destined for the plantations of the Deep South. Some slaves pleaded for rosaries as they were rounded up, praying for deliverance. But on this day, in the fall of 1838, no one was spared: not the 2-month-old baby and her mother, not the field hands, not the shoemaker and not Cornelius Hawkins, who was about 13 years old when he was forced onboard.”

Rev. Thomas Mulledy, S.J., the Provincial (head) of the Maryland Jesuits, sold the 272 enslaved African-Americans to Henry Johnson, the former governor of Louisiana, and Louisiana landowner Jesse Batey for $115,000, the equivalent of $3.3 million in today’s dollars, according to the Times account.

Documents show that $90,000 went to support the “formation” of Jesuits (the preparation of candidates spiritually, academically and practically for the ministries that they will be called on to offer the Church and the world); $17,000 to Georgetown College; and $8,000 to a pension fund for the archbishop of Baltimore.

There is now a campaign among Georgetown professors, students, alumni and genealogists to discover what happened to those 272 human beings and whether Georgetown can do anything to compensate their descendants.

An Earlier Alert

But there is also a sad back story to this telling slice of Jesuit history, in which I became personally involved after I first learned of this scandal two decades ago from Edward F. Beckett, a young Jesuit who had the courage to speak out and summon his superiors to conscience. Beckett published his research in “Listening to Our History: Inculturation and Jesuit Slaveholding” in the journal Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits (28/5, November 1996).

Beckett and I became friends while working at the Fr. Horace McKenna Center where I volunteered at the overnight shelter for homeless men in the basement of St. Aloysius Church in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. The Jesuits were quick to exult Rev. Horace McKenna, S.J., as “Apostle of the Poor” after he died, but – while alive – not so much. Fr. McKenna was known for being something of a pain; he once even wrote a letter to the Vatican complaining – using a sports analogy – that his superiors were “not throwing enough forward passes to the poor.”

During the Great Depression, Fr. McKenna set up a food distribution system and other assistance to struggling farmers, and advocated vigorously for racial integration in churches and schools. He expressed “passionate impatience” toward go-slow approaches which were favored by some of his fellow Jesuits and priests.

After I got to know Beckett as we worked nights with the men in the St. Aloysius Church shelter, he gave me a copy of his booklet relating the history of how – in the 1800s – the Maryland Jesuits rebuffed ethical calls from other religious leaders who were pushing for the abolition of slavery. Instead, the Jesuits were more interested in how much money they could get for selling slaves.

It was, you see, an economic issue since the Jesuits no longer needed the proceeds from slave labor on their plantations in southern Maryland because they had received permission from Rome to reverse their longstanding tradition of free education and start charging tuition to the wealthy sons of plantation owners to attend Georgetown.

So, no longer needing the slaves to work the fields, the Jesuits decided to sell them into the Deep South to turn a tidy profit and invest the money in the “moral education” of young Jesuits while also providing a pension to the Baltimore archbishop.

A Chance to Repent

After learning of this history two decades ago, I joined with a small group of activists to ask Maryland Provincial Rev. James R. Stormes, S.J., in effect, to seize a unique opportunity to confess and repent.

We thought our initiative was particularly well timed since President Bill Clinton had announced the appointment of a seven-member advisory board for his initiative on race to promote “a national dialogue on controversial issues surrounding race; to increase our understanding of the history of race relations and the common future people of all races share; to recruit leadership at all levels to help bridge racial divides, and to propose actions to address critical areas such as education, economic opportunity, housing, health care, crime and the administration of justice.”

John Hope Franklin, an eminent historian and educator, whose writings included the 1946 landmark study From Slavery to Freedom, was appointed chair, and Judith A. Winston was named Executive Director of this “One America Initiative,” with a senior staff of national civil rights leaders as senior staff.

As the initiative was getting off the ground, our small, diverse group met with Ms. Winston, herself a graduate of Georgetown University Law School, who was clearly delighted with what we proposed. We told her that we were not about blaming, but rather about acknowledging, apologizing, and reconciling, and said we were approaching then-Georgetown President Rev. Leo O’Donovan, S.J. and Maryland Provincial Stormes as follows:

“We have a vision of Georgetown’s most prominent alumnus standing up before the cameras at Georgetown University this spring (1998) and being able to say, in all sincerity, that he has never been prouder of his alma mater and the Jesuits who run it. He might tell a bit of the story of Georgetown’s origins and then, jointly with Fr. Stormes and Fr. O’Donovan, announce the establishment of a foundation to promote the education of the descendants of the Jesuits’ slaves.  President Clinton could then cite this as precisely the kind of action he had hoped would spring forth from his Initiative on Race, and could call upon others to follow the courageous example of the Maryland Jesuits. We think this could be a welcome boost for the President’s Initiative.”

But our optimism was misplaced. Even though many of us had learned at Jesuit hands about acting in a just way and doing recompense for injustice, we were told that we had no “standing,” as what the Jesuits call “externs” or outsiders who have no right to hold them accountable. We still cannot figure out exactly why the Jesuit leaders were so offended by our initiative and they wouldn’t tell us. We were denied an audience with Stormes – and without Stormes’s nihil obstat, there was no hope for support from O’Donovan.

The final nail in the coffin for our own initiative (as well as Bill Clinton’s) came in early 1998 as his trysts with Monica Lewinsky and his lies about them deprived him of any pretense to moral leadership. The whole Initiative died an inconsequential death.

By chance I found myself sitting next to Judith Winston on a plane a few years ago. She saw my name, recognized me, and recalled our ill-fated common effort. Neither of us could do much more than simply shake our heads.

Jesuit Universities

Perhaps even more sadly, the behavior of those Jesuit leaders in 1838 was not entirely an aberration. As Fr. Berrigan noted in this autobiography, Jesuit institutions have often traded ethics for clout, preferring to hobnob with the great and powerful rather than act as moral critics of social wrongs, such as slavery, war and — in recent times — even assassinations and torture.

Among its graduates, Georgetown University churned out CIA Director George Tenet, who offered “slam dunk” deceptions to justify the invasion of Iraq, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s torture-excusing lawyer David Addington, who graduated summa cum laude.

Nor is Georgetown alone as a Jesuit institution in this dubious position of training people to engage in jesuitical arguments to justify the unjustifiable. My alma mater, Fordham, which has forever been trying to be “just like Georgetown,” produced CIA Director John Brennan, an ardent, public supporter of the kidnapping/”rendering” of suspected terrorists to “friendly” Arab intelligence services for interrogation.

Brennan also defended the use of U.S. secret prisons abroad, as well as “enhanced interrogation techniques” (also known as torture).

But Brennan was a big shot in the White House and Fordham’s Trustees were susceptible to the “celebrity virus.” So, Fordham President, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., invited Brennan to give the university commencement address on May 19, 2012, and to be awarded — of all things — a Doctorate of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Several graduating seniors, who were aware of and cared about what Brennan represents, did their best, in vain, to get him dis-invited. They saw scandal in the reality that the violent policies Brennan advocated remain in stark contrast to the principles that Fordham University was supposed to stand for as a Catholic Jesuit University.

Controversy on campus grew, catalyzed by two protest petitions created by Fordham students and multiple articles in the school newspaper, The Ram. Eventually, Fordham senior and organizer, Scott McDonald, requested a meeting with university president McShane to discuss why Fordham’s trustees could not be trusted to invite someone more representative of Fordham’s core values.

McDonald met with McShane, Vice President Jeffrey Gray and university secretary Margaret Ball, but McShane dismissed Scott’s qualms about torture: “We don’t live in a black and white world; we live in a gray world.”

Then McShane announced that what was said at the meeting was “off the record…not to leave this room.” But McDonald had not agreed to that. He left the meeting wondering if the moral theologians at Fordham would agree that torture had now become a “gray area.”

We who attended Jesuit institutions decades ago were taught that there was a moral category called “intrinsic evil” – actions that were always wrong, such as torture, rape and slavery. At Fordham, at least, torture seems to have slipped out of that category.

Now that the issue of the 272 slaves has again surfaced, Georgetown University needs to acknowledge its institutional guilt, apologize and find some way to make restitution to the descendants of those African-Americans.

Though clearly whatever is done will fall into the category of way-too-little and way-too-late, confession of this earlier sin might finally put the brakes on the steady moral decline of what once was an important social as well as religious institution – the Jesuit university.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He graduated from Fordham Prep (just 41 years after Horace McKenna did), earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Fordham University, and finds it difficult to un-learn what he learned there.

Pope Francis Reinforces Sexual Taboos

Pope Francis won wide praise for lightening up on Catholic condemnation of divorce but a closer reading of his text shows him reinforcing the Church’s repressive positions on human sexual behavior, writes Daniel C. Maguire.

By Daniel C. Maguire

It embarrasses me to remember it. In 1960, as a young priest in my very first year in a parish, I took it upon myself to give a two-day retreat to the married people in the parish, to tell them how to live their married lives.

The event should be filed under A, for arrogance or I for ignorance. I am glad the talks were not preserved on YouTube, for much that I said was awful. In condemning contraception I trotted out what was a staple of the time, “A Letter From An Unborn Son.”

It was an epic of emotional blackmail. It said “I know you did not have me so you could get that new car or that new refrigerator, but that car and that refrigerator will never run up and put their little arms around you like I would have done if you hadn’t used contraceptives.”

Pope Francis too should be embarrassed by the significant failings in his Exhortation The Joy of Love. A fatal flaw in the text is that Francis is singing in an all-male chorus and in that company he embarks on marriage counseling, a field in which neither he nor they have any privileged expertise.

Laity were consulted in the preparation of this Exhortation but their voices are missing in the text, or filtered through the male chorus. Worse yet, Francis’ theology is muddled, and unrepresentative of the best of current Catholic thought. To be fair, Francis admits from the start that what he says makes no claim to infallibility, a healthy admission since some of his mistakes are whoppers.

The Joy of Love is the product of a committee; committee reports are never eloquent and rarely coherent. This one emanated from years of dispute-ridden Synod meetings. It is replete with compromises and contradictions. It has been hailed as a retreat from rule-centered church teaching. But it is no such thing. The old rules hover over its pages like an eminence grise.

To give credit where credit is due, the gospel according to Francis in this and in his other writings redefines “pro-life” and “family value” the shibboleths of the Far Right, whose reverence for life seems to be cut off at birth.

Being pro-life (Francis style) means working and voting for living wages for all, having a preferential option for the poor, half of whom are children, firmly rejecting the death penalty and militaristic obsessions, welcoming immigrants and refugees, fighting ecocide, and supporting unions. Families should be gardens where all those values flourish and grow.

Francis also recognizes that the world cannot withstand unlimited population growth; there are other earth-friendly ways of being fruitful. He even admits Catholics can learn much from the married clergy of other religions. (Clearly, their sexual behavior makes fewer sordid headlines.)

But Now to the Failings

Francis refers briefly to the right of conscience in the Catholic tradition. Unfortunately he does not apply that properly to some major issues in The Joy of Love: same sex marriage, remarriage after divorce, mercy death, contraception, and abortion. On those issues he is rule-bound and rigid, however couched it all is in calls for mercy.

Francis waxes rhapsodic on the beauty and personal enrichment offered by marriage and sexual cherishing in marriage. Marriage is the “ideal” human love. Marital love is love at its best, superior to the love of “friendship, filial devotion or devotion to a cause. And the reason is to be found precisely in its totality.”

“Unwillingness to make such a commitment is selfish, calculating and petty.” All this is true, says Francis, even for childless marriages.

And now the rub! This magnificent experience is reserved by God and the Catholic hierarchy only for heterosexuals. It’s beyond the reach of gays who love one another. The document should have been called The Joy of Heterosexual Love.

Is it that all LGBT persons are too “selfish, calculating and petty?” Are they so deficient in their humanity as to be incapable of this achievement of human love. Is the Pope suggesting in a new nasty way that all these persons are “queer” and “deviant.” Is that why heterosexuals have seven sacraments but gays only have six since marriage is beyond their reach? That is theologically queer. Do we see here the old brutal prejudice wrapped in the language of love, pastoral concern, and pity?

Marriage by definition is the paramount form of committed friendship between sexually attracted persons. There is nothing heterosexual-specific in that definition.

Francis quotes the Christian scripture that “everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected.” (1 Tim. 4:4) Does that not apply to those whom God has made gay?

The pope is wrong here. And he is cruel. He insults LGBT human beings who suffer enough in a heterosexist world. He says in the face of well-documented evidence that children cannot be well raised by same sex couple — there must be a  father and a mother — and thus he insults those children with same sex parents and demeans the families in which they are thriving.

More distressing yet are the fawning, uncritical comments on this document from theologians and bishops. If they see Peter as the first pope could they not join Paul who said of Peter “I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” That’s called prophecy, not disloyalty.

Why Not Stick to “Who am I to judge?”.

Francis’ noble hesitancy to judge once expressed regarding homosexuality, abandoned him in this document. Inexplicably, Francis disinters Humanae Vitae, an ill-conceived encyclical that contributed greatly to the emptying of pews and the closing of church doors. Theologians and the sensus fidelium, (the experience-fed wisdom of the laity and one of the sources of truth in Catholic theology) have rejected this disastrous condemnation of contraceptives by Pope Paul VI.

Why would Francis trot this out again in a world where overpopulation affects every crisis on this planet!

Similarly, on abortion, Francis yields to the conservatives and declares it evil in every case.  Thus, in a swoop, he condemns, sight unseen, the millions of women who choose to terminate problem pregnancies, often brought on by the lack of contraceptive availability. In this harsh judgment, those women are either morally guilty or excused by ignorance of what they are doing. There is no gentle alterative in this arrogant and unnuanced judgment.

Francis tries to ease up a bit on the condemnation of those who remarry after divorce. They are not excommunicated; they may not be in mortal sin. Still, they are in an “irregular” union. (The rule thing again; regula is the Latin for rule.)

Their situation is linked to unflattering symbols of “lost sheep,” those who have lost their way, displayed human weakness, and who are in need of mercy as candidates for admission to the church seen as “a field hospital.” They are not absolved of “objective sin.”

Subjectively their weakness or lack of understanding could absolve them of subjective guilt, but they remain “irregular.” To say more than that would allegedly have “changed church teaching” and made many Synod fathers go ballistic. The pastoral door is opened to their going to Eucharistic communion but only inasmuch as they need it more than the regulars.

There is no appreciation here of the fact that the decision to divorce might be an act of integrity and courage or that staying in a toxic union might be the wrong decision. In erotic fervor, mistakes can be made. Immaturity beclouds judgment. There is nothing weak or irregular about correcting mistakes when all else fails.

The Ready-at-Hand Catholic Solution

Catholicism has a splendid, but well hidden, theory of conscience. Francis alludes to it several times but doesn’t use it to scuttle the insensitive taboos. He quotes some of Thomas Aquinas’s teaching on rules where Thomas says the practical moral principles are good in pluribus, that is usually but in certain circumstances that good principle cannot meet the value needs of the situation.

For example, truth-telling is a good principle, but not when the Gestapo asks if you know where the Frank family is hiding and you do know. Speaking falsely then is better than truth-telling which would be lethal. So, the principle that marriage is a life-long commitment is a good principle, but in certain circumstances it would be wrong to insist on it.

Again, Aquinas: “Human actions are moral or immoral according to their circumstances.” In some circumstances divorce is the moral while not the easy choice.

A second Catholic treasure is called Probabilism, a theory developed largely by the Dominicans and Francis’s own Jesuit order. It is a theory that frees conscience from the weight of undue authoritarianism. It says that in debated moral issues (such as all the ones we are discussing) when there are good reasons with good authorities on both sides of the debate, you are free to decide and the more rigorous view is not to be imposed on you. It is a system of Catholic moral pluralism which is based on insight, not permission.

Some 30 years ago, I spoke to a Dignity group of Catholic gays. I explained Probabilism, reading from old Catholic moral theology books, and applied it to same sex unions. In the light of that, I said, “your loves are not only good they are holy and full of grace.”

A number of them were in tears. They loved the Church and did not want their deep love of another to separate them from it. I spoke of it also in a lecture at Trinity College Dublin around that same time, and applied it to contraception and remarriage after divorce.

I wondered how this was going over with my 400 Irish listeners. The first question, from a middle-aged woman, gave me the answer. She asked: “Why in God’s holy name were we not told this!” Why indeed?

I teach it in every class I teach at Marquette and students often have said: “I guess I could remain a Catholic. I had no idea there was such respect for my conscience.”

Pope Francis says: “individual conscience need to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis.” He’s right. And the tools are there to do it.

Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is author of A Moral Creed for All Christians and The Horrors We Bless: Rethinking the Just-War Legacy [Fortress Press]). He can be reached at

Pope Francis Takes On ‘Just War’ Theory

The Catholic Church, which over the centuries has blessed many dreadful wars, is shifting to an anti-war position favored by Pope Francis and more in line with Jesus’s teachings, writes ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller

Pope Francis is on a roll. He has already roiled the waters of Western thinking on economics and society by touching on the dangers of Western capitalism drifting into socially destructive greed. He has now turned his focus to an even grander theme — the place of warfare in human life and the hallowed concept of a “just war.”

The conclave that the Pope is hosting in Rome this week is of exceptional importance to the international order. He is in the process of revising longstanding Catholic doctrine on war, and in particular, on the Christian concept of “just war.”

The Vatican now suggests that “just war” has become an obsolete concept; that the massive predominance of civilian casualties in modern warfare undercuts the moral ground for conceiving of almost any war as just. He also perceives the need to eliminate the underlying causes of violence and war and to reintroduce the power of nonviolent action to the world — values that emerge out of the human community itself rather than from the preferences of ruling elites.

Now, nobody expects that war as a human phenomenon is going to come to an end anytime soon. Sadly, war may reside in the deeper recesses of the human condition; in many ways we humans glory in war. But the fact that Pope Francis speaks of the obsolescence of the idea of “just war” suggests that times are shifting at the elite level. When a major bulwark of moral philosophy like the Catholic Church begins to shift, the signal cannot be ignored.

The Pope is hardly the first to raise the issue of war and peace in human life. Philosophers, ethicists and theologians have long wrestled with the problem. “Just war theory” was essentially an attempt to set certain moral limits or restraints on the scope of war — a human evil that could not be entirely eliminated. So, along with the “glory,” there has also been a human repugnance for war.

Tellingly, the U.S., like some other democracies, has sought to shield its population from knowledge of the ugly face of its own distant wars; censorship (and self-censorship) has made it easier to maintain public acquiescence to the virtually non-stop American wars since the fall of the Soviet Union.

One exceptionally qualified commentator, former U.S. Army colonel and West Point professor Andrew Bacevich, has written extensively on how U.S. society itself has grown more militarized over the past several decades, particularly with the emergence of a new professional military class, manned by a volunteer force who now lead almost cordoned-off social lives.

Glorifying War

The U.S. military is increasingly glorified in public spectacles such as the Super Bowl and block-buster Hollywood films, especially as the U.S. public itself is now safe from being drafted into war-fighting.

As U.S. public media shields the U.S. public from graphic battlefield images of the victims and devastation wrought by American military assaults (“shock and awe”), war at home takes on the quality of a vast new on-line combat game, quite devoid of reality. Democracies also require total demonization of the enemy to successfully market the launch of wars.

Historically, “just war” theory particularly stipulated measured and proportional response to aggression. But today massive (and disproportionate) response or the launching of a new war has now almost entered the realm of doctrine — the shock and awe at work in our preemptive wars of choice.

But Pope Francis is carrying the argument of moral conduct even further in proposing to develop a clearer understanding of all the teachings of the New Testament, but under contemporary realities. In colloquial language it means, “What would Jesus do?”

This phrase is not as superficial as it seems. It poses a serious challenge to Christians (and not just Christians) to consider how the moral teachings of Jesus might be made relevant to today’s world. Not as airy-fairy sentimental idealism, but as practical and meaningful muscular morality.

And of course such an issue is today particularly relevant to Muslims as well who are struggling to translate the moral precepts of the Quran into meaningful moral action today — on the personal level, but also the social, political and economic level.

“What would Muhammad do” might be a quite relevant question — requiring just as searching an answer as “what would Jesus do.” Does the so-called “Islamic State” really represent the moral precepts of Islam? Any more than the Crusaders represent Christianity? If not, how might Islam be best interpreted in a contemporary new ethical context?

Indeed, what is the contemporary relevance of religious doctrine in all religions? Because, like it or not, religions will continue to have major impact on the ethical thinking of global citizenry. And religious understanding invariably evolves over time.

Of course, thinking about the morality of war need not derive solely from religious tradition. But when the powerful religious institution of global Catholicism speaks out in radical new ways, it can and will exert influence on non-religious thinking. We might remember the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address on the aspirations of both sides in the American Civll War:

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. … The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.”

Boosting Diplomacy

How can we not welcome the rise of any new thinking that complicates reversion to war as a solution to global problems? This is especially meaningful in the U.S. where military solutions have tended to become now almost the primary response to international crisis, rather than diplomacy — perceived by some as “wimpish.”

And the European Union too has already proclaimed — after centuries of hideous European wars sometimes exported beyond Europe — that for E.U. member states war is now “unthinkable” within the E.U. That principle has so far held among the founding E.U. member states — a significant accomplishment. Here too we have the foundations of a new moral posture towards the use of war, at least within Europe.

The world desperately needs to distance itself from any further invocation of the power of religion as a justification in favor of war — in any religion. The world will indeed watch to see what the longer-range impact of this massive change in Catholic doctrine might bring — not just to Catholicism, but to all religions.

The Pope has launched an important moral shift out of the camp of war and into the camp of peace — or at least, in contemporary terms, into “conflict management.”  May he continue the pace.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle)

Why We’re Never Told Why We’re Attacked

Exclusive: When Western media discusses terrorism against the West, the motive is almost always left out, even when the terrorists state they are avenging longstanding Western violence in the Muslim world, reports Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

After a Russian commercial airliner was downed over Egypt’s Sinai last October, Western media reported that the Islamic State bombing was retaliation against Russian airstrikes in Syria. The killing of 224 people, mostly Russian tourists on holiday, was matter-of-factly treated as an act of war by a fanatical group without an air force resorting to terrorism as a way to strike back.

Yet, Western militaries have killed infinitely more innocent civilians in the Middle East than Russia has. Then why won’t Western officials and media cite retaliation for that Western violence as a cause of terrorist attacks on New York, Paris and Brussels?

Instead, there’s a fierce determination not to make the same kinds of linkages that the press made so easily when it was Russia on the receiving end of terror. [See’s “Obama Ignores Russian Terror Victims.”]

For example, throughout four hours of Sky News’ coverage of the July 7, 2005 attacks in London, only the briefest mention was made about a possible motive for that horrific assault on three Underground trains and a bus, killing 52 people. But the attacks came just two years after Britain’s participation in the murderous invasion of Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of the Iraq War’s architects, condemned the loss of innocent life in London and linked the attacks to a G-8 summit he’d opened that morning. A TV host then read and belittled a 10-second claim of responsibility from a self-proclaimed Al Qaeda affiliate in Germany saying that the Iraq invasion was to blame. There was no more discussion about it.

To explain why these attacks happen is not to condone or justify terrorist outrages against innocent civilians. It is simply a responsibility of journalism, especially when the “why” is no mystery. It was fully explained by Mohammad Sidique Khan, one of the four London suicide bombers. Though speaking for only a tiny fraction of Muslims, he said in a videotaped recording before the attack:

“Your democratically-elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security you will be our targets and until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.”

The Islamic State published the following reason for carrying out last November’s Paris attacks:

“Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake part in the crusader campaign … and boast about their war against Islam in France, and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets.”

Claiming It’s a State of Mind

Ignoring such clear statements of intent, we are instead served bromides by the likes of State Department spokesman Mark Toner about the Brussels bombings, saying it is impossible “to get into the minds of those who carry out these attacks.”

Mind reading isn’t required, however. The Islamic State explicitly told us in a press statement why it did the Brussels attacks: “We promise black days for all crusader nations allied in their war against the Islamic State, in response to their aggressions against it.”

Yet, still struggling to explain why it happened, Toner said, “I think it reflects more of an effort to inflict on who they see as Western or Westerners … fear that they can carry out these kinds of attacks and to attempt to lash out.”

Toner ascribed the motive to a state of mind: “I don’t know if this is about establishing a caliphate beyond the territorial gains that they’ve tried to make in Iraq and Syria, but it’s another aspect of Daesh’s kind of warped ideology that they’re carrying out these attacks on Europe and elsewhere if they can. … Whether it’s the hopes or the dreams or the aspirations of a certain people never justifies violence.”

After 9/11, President George W. Bush infamously said the U.S. was attacked because “they hate our freedoms.” It’s a perfect example of a Western view that ascribes motives to Easterners without allowing them to speak for themselves or taking them seriously when they do.

Explaining his motive behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden, in his Letter to America, expressed anger about U.S. troops stationed on Saudi soil. Bin Laden asked: “Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple: Because you attacked us and continue to attack us.” (Today the U.S. has dozens of bases in seven countries in the region.)

So why won’t Western officials and corporate media take the jihadists’ statements of intent at face value? Why won’t they really tell us why we are attacked?

It seems to be an effort to cover up a long and ever more intense history of Western military and political intervention in the Middle East and the violent reactions it provokes, reactions that put innocent Western lives at risk. Indirect Western culpability in these terrorist acts is routinely suppressed, let alone evidence of direct Western involvement with terrorism.

Some government officials and journalists might delude themselves into believing that Western intervention in the Middle East is an attempt to protect civilians and spread democracy to the region, instead of bringing chaos and death to further the West’s strategic and economic aims. Other officials must know better.

1920-1950: A Century of Intervention Begins

A few might know the mostly hidden history of duplicitous and often reckless Western actions in the Middle East. It is hidden only to most Westerners, however. So it is worth looking in considerable detail at this appalling record of interference in the lives of millions of Muslims to appreciate the full weight it exerts on the region. It can help explain anti-Western anger that spurs a few radicals to commit atrocities in the West.

The history is an unbroken string of interventions from the end of the First World War until today. It began after the war when Britain and France double-crossed the Arabs on promised independence for aiding them in victory over the Ottoman Empire. The secret 1916 Sykes-Picot accord divided the region between the European powers behind the Arabs’ backs. London and Paris created artificial nations from Ottoman provinces to be controlled by their installed kings and rulers with direct intervention when necessary.

What has followed for 100 years has been continuous efforts by Britain and France, superseded by the United States after the Second World War, to manage Western dominance over a rebellious region.

The new Soviet government revealed the Sykes-Picot terms in November 1917 in Izvestia. When the war was over, the Arabs revolted against British and French duplicity. London and Paris then ruthlessly crushed the uprisings for independence.

France defeated a proclaimed Syrian government in a single day, July 24, 1920, at the Battle of Maysalun. Five years later there was a second Syrian revolt, replete with assassinations and sabotage, which took two years to suppress. If you walk through the souk in Old Damascus and look up at the corrugated iron roof you see tiny specks of daylight peeking through. Those are bullet holes from French war planes that massacred civilians below.

Britain put down a series of independence revolts in Iraq between 1920 and 1922, first with 100,000 British and Indian troops and then mostly with the first use of air power in counterinsurgency. Thousands of Arabs were killed. Britain also helped its installed King Abdullah put down rebellions in Jordan in 1921 and 1923.

London then faced an Arab revolt in Palestine lasting from 1936 to 1939, which it brutally crushed, killing about 4,000 Arabs. The next decade, Israeli terrorists drove the British out of Palestine in 1947, one of the rare instances when terrorists attained their political goals.

Germany and Italy, late to the Empire game, were next to invade North Africa and the Middle East at the start of the Second World War. They were driven out by British imperial forces (largely Indian) with U.S. help. Britain invaded and defeated nominally independent Iraq, which had sided with the Axis. With the Soviet Union, Britain also invaded and occupied Iran.

After the war, the U.S. assumed regional dominance under the guise of fending off Soviet regional influence. Just three years after Syrian independence from France, the two-year old Central Intelligence Agency engineered a Syrian coup in 1949 against a democratic, secular government. Why? Because it had balked at approving a Saudi pipeline plan that the U.S. favored. Washington installed Husni al-Za’im, a military dictator, who approved the plan.

1950s: Syria Then and Now

Before the major invasion and air wars in Iraq and Libya of the past 15 years, the 1950s was the era of America’s most frequent, and mostly covert, involvement in the Middle East. The Eisenhower administration wanted to contain both Soviet influence and Arab nationalism, which revived the quest for an independent Arab nation. After a series of coups and counter-coups, Syria returned to democracy in 1955, leaning towards the Soviets.

A 1957 Eisenhower administration coup attempt in Syria, in which Jordan and Iraq were to invade the country after manufacturing a pretext, went horribly wrong, provoking a crisis that spun out of Washington’s control and brought the U.S. and Soviets to the brink of war.

Turkey put 50,000 troops on the Syrian border, threatening to invade. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev threatened Turkey with an implied nuclear attack and the U.S. got Ankara to back off. This sounds eerily familiar to what happened last month when Turkey again threatened to invade Syria and the U.S. put on the brakes. The main difference is that Saudi Arabia in 1957 was opposed to the invasion of Syria, while it was ready to join it last month. [See’s “Risking Nuclear War for Al Qaeda?“]

In the 1950s, the U.S. also began its association with Islamic religious extremism to counter Soviet influence and contain secular Arab nationalism. “We should do everything possible to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect,” President Eisenhower told his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. After the Cold War, religious extremists, some still tied to the West, became themselves the excuse for U.S. intervention.

Despite U.S. regional ascendance in the 1950s, Britain and France weren’t through. In 1953, an MI6-CIA coup in Iran replaced a democracy with a restored monarchy when Mohammed Mossadegh, the elected prime minister, was overthrown after seeking to nationalize British-controlled Iranian oil. Britain had discovered oil in Iran in 1908, spurring deeper interest in the region.

Three years later Britain and France combined with Israel to attack Egypt in 1956 when President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had taken over from the ousted British-backed King Farouk, moved to nationalize the Suez Canal. The U.S. stopped that operation, too, denying Britain emergency oil supplies and access to the International Monetary Fund if the Brits didn’t back down.

Suez represented the final shift in external power in the Middle East from the U.K. to the U.S. But Washington couldn’t stop Britain from trying and failing to assassinate Nasser, who had sparked the Arab nationalist movement.

In 1958, the U.S. landed 14,000 Marines in Lebanon to prop up President Camille Chamoun after a civil conflict broke out against Chamoun’s intention to change the constitution and run for reelection. The rebellion was minimally supported by the United Arab Republic, the 1958-61 union between Egypt and Syria. It was the first U.S. invasion of an Arab country, excluding the U.S.’s World War II intervention in North Africa.

1960 to 2003: Interventions Post Colonial

The 1954-1962 Algerian rebellion against French colonialism, which Paris brutally tried to suppress, included Algerian acts of terrorism. Exhibiting the same cluelessness displayed by State Department spokesman Toner, the French attitude towards the uprising was expressed by an exasperated French officer in film The Battle of Algiers when he exclaimed, “What do you people want?”

From the 1960s to the 1980s, U.S. intervention in the region was mostly restricted to military support for Israel in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. From an Arab perspective that  represented a major U.S. commitment to protect Israeli colonialism.

The Soviet Union also intervened directly in the 1967-70 War of Attrition between Egypt and Israel when Nasser went to Moscow to say he’d resign and have a pro-Western leader take over if the Russians didn’t come to his aid. In backing Nasser, the Soviets lost 58 men.

The Soviets were also involved in the region to varying degrees and times throughout the Cold War, giving aid to Palestinians, Nasser’s Egypt, Syria, Saddam’s Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya — all countries and leaders charting an independent course from the West.

During the 1970 Black September conflict between Jordan and Palestinian guerrillas, the U.S. had Marines poised to embark in Haifa and ready to secure Amman airport when Jordan repelled a Syrian invasion in support of the Palestinians.

In the 1980s the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein in his brutal, eight-year war with Iran, supplying him with arms, intelligence and chemical weapons, which he did not hesitate to use against Iranians and Kurds. President Ronald Reagan also bombed Libya in 1986 after accusing it without conclusive evidence of a Berlin bombing ten days earlier that killed a U.S. soldier.

The U.S. returned more directly to the region with a vengeance in the 1991 Gulf War, burying alive surrendering Iraqi troops with bulldozers; shooting thousands of soldiers in the back as they retreated on the Highway of Death, and calling for uprisings in the Shia south and Kurdish north and then leaving them to Saddam’s revenge.

Iraq never recovered fully from the devastation, being crushed for 12 years under U.N. and U.S. sanctions that then U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright admitted contributed to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. But she said it was “worth it.”

Iraq’s sanctions only ended after the 2003 full-scale U.S. and British invasion of the sovereign Arab nation, an assault justified by bogus claims about Iraq hiding stockpiles of WMD that could be shared with Al Qaeda. The invasion killed hundreds of thousands of people and left Iraq devastated. The invasion also unleashed a civil war and gave rise to the terrorist group, the Islamic State in Iraq, which later merged with terrorists in Syria to become ISIS.

Throughout this century of intervention, Britain, France and the U.S. managed the region through strong alliances with dictators or monarchs who had no regard for democratic rights. But when those autocrats became expendable, such as Saddam Hussein had, they are disposed of.

The Biggest Invasion Yet

While most Americans may be unaware of this long history of accumulated humiliation of Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities in the region — and the resulting hatred of the West — they can’t ignore the Iraq invasion, the largest by the West in the region, excluding World War II. Nor is the public unaware of the 2011 intervention in Libya, and the chaos that has resulted. And yet no link is made between these disasters and terror attacks on the West.

The secular strongmen of Iraq, Libya and Syria were targeted because they dared to be independent of Western hegemony — not because of their awful human rights records. The proof is that Saudi Arabia’s and Israel’s human rights records also are appalling, but the U.S. still staunchly stands by these “allies.”

During the so-called Arab Spring, when Bahrainis demanded democracy in that island kingdom, the U.S. mostly looked the other way as they were crushed by a combined force of the nation’s monarchy and Saudi troops. Washington also clung to Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak until the bitter end.

However, under the pretext of protecting the Libyan population, the U.S. and NATO implemented a bloody “regime change” in Libya leading to anarchy, another failed state and the creation of one more ISIS enclave. For the past five years, the West and its Gulf allies have fueled the civil war in Syria, contributing to another humanitarian disaster.

The West’s motive for all this meddling is often pinned on oil. But obedience is a strong factor. Hans Morgenthau wrote in Politics Among Nations (1968), that the urge of empires to expand “will not be satisfied so long as there remains anywhere a possible object of domination – a politically organized group of men which by its very independence challenges the conqueror’s lust for power.”

Tariq Ali, in his 2003 book Bush in Babylon, writes about Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Roman general responsible for much of the conquest of Britain in the First Century: “On one of his visits to the outer reaches of [Britain], Agricola looked in the direction of Ireland and asked a colleague why it remained unoccupied. Because, came the reply, it consisted of uncultivable bog lands and was inhabited by very primitive tribes. What could it possibly have to offer the great Empire? The unfortunate man was sternly admonished. Economic gain isn’t all. Far more important is the example provided by an unoccupied country. It may be backward, but it is still free.”

Cloaking Motives

Little of this long history of Western manipulation, deceit and brutality in the Middle East is known to Americans because U.S. media almost never invokes it to explain Arab and Iranian attitudes towards the West.

Muslims remember this history, however. I know Arabs who are still infuriated by the Sykes-Picot backstabbing, let alone the most recent depredations. Indeed fanatics like the Islamic State are still ticked off about the Crusades, a much earlier round of Western intervention. In some ways it’s surprising, and welcomed, that only the tiniest fraction of Muslims has turned to terrorism.

Nevertheless, Islamophobes like Donald Trump want to keep all Muslims out of the U.S. until he figures out “what the hell is going on.” He says Muslims have a “deep hatred” of Americans. But he won’t figure it out because he’s ignoring the main cause of that hatred – the past century of intervention, topped by the most recent Western atrocities in Iraq and Libya.

Stripping out the political and historical motives renders terrorists as nothing more than madmen fueled by irrational hate of a benevolent West that says it only wants to help them. They hate us simply because we are Western, according to people like Toner, and not because we’ve done anything to them.

Israel and its Western enablers likewise bury the history of Israel’s ethnic cleansing and piecemeal conquest of Palestine so they can dismiss Palestinians who turn to terrorism as motivated only by hatred of Jews for being Jews.

I’ve asked several Israelis why Palestinians tend to hate them. The more educated the Israeli the more likely the answer was because of the history of how Israel was established and how it continues to rule. The less educated my respondent, the more likely I heard that they hate us simply because we are Jews.

There’s no excuse for terrorism. But there is a practical way to curb it: end the current interventions and occupations and plan no more.

The Psychology of Terror

Of course, anger at the West’s history of exploiting Muslim lands isn’t the only motivation for terrorism. There are emotional and group pressures that push some over the line to strap on bombs and blow up innocent people around them. Thankfully, it takes a very unusual type of individual to react to this ugly history with ugly acts of terror.

Money also plays a part. We’ve seen waves of defections as ISIS has recently cut fighters’ pay in half. Anger at Western-installed and propped-up local rulers who oppress their people on behalf of the West is another motive. Extremist preachers, especially Saudi Wahhabis, also share the blame as they inspire terrorism, usually against Shia.

Wading into the psychology of why someone turns to terrorism is an unenviable task. The official Western view is that Islamist extremists merely hate modernity and secularism. That might be their motive in wanting to backwardly transform their own societies by removing Western influence. But it’s not what they say when they claim responsibility for striking inside the West.

To ignore their words and dismiss their violent reaction to the long and ongoing history of Western intervention may shield Americans and Europeans from their partial responsibility for these atrocities. But it also provides cover for the continuing interventions, which in turn will surely produce more terrorism.

Rather than looking at the problem objectively – and self-critically – the West ludicrously cloaks its own violence as an effort to spread democracy (which never seems to materialize) or protect civilians (who are endangered instead). To admit any connection between the sordid historical record and anti-Western terrorism would be to admit culpability and the price that the West is paying for its dominance.

Worse still, letting terrorists be perceived as simply madmen without a cause allows the terrorist response to become justification for further military action. This is precisely what the Bush administration did after 9/11, falsely seeking to connect the attacks to the Iraqi government.

By contrast, connecting terrorism to Western intervention could spark a serious self-examination of the West’s behavior in the region leading to a possible retreat and even an end of this external dominance. But that is clearly something policymakers in Washington, London and Paris – and their subservient media – aren’t prepared to do.

[For more on this topic, see’s “Why Many Muslims Hate the West” and “Muslim Memories of Western Imperialism.”]

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.