Alliant 28, Not Guilty!

Alliant 28, Not Guilty!
By Steve Clemens. Oct. 18, 2003

On Friday, October 17, 2003, a six-person jury of citizens from Hennepin County, MN declared that International Law can trump the local private property/no trespass law. At the height of the recent war against Iraq, on April 2, 2003, 28 Minnesotans “crossed the line”, entering the world headquarters property of Alliant TechSystems Corporation in Edina, MN with the express purpose of conducting a “citizens weapons inspection”. The letter they carried demanded that they have access to the books and records of Alliant TechSystems Corporation (ATK) to see if they had completed any studies on the medical and environmental effects of the depleted uranium munitions they produce. The defendants contended that there is significant evidence that the depleted uranium penetrator munitions they produce containing U-238, a radioactive substance with a half-life of 4 ½ billion years, is a prime suspect in escalating rates of cancers and birth defects among residents of southern Iraq and US troops who served in the first Gulf War.

Using provisions from the US Constitution and International Humanitarian Law, the defendants successfully argued that the “manufacture, sale, stockpiling, as well as the use of weapons containing this radioactive waste (depleted uranium) is illegal. The US Constitution declares that International Treaties signed by the government become “the supreme law of the land.” The Hague and Geneva Conventions and its protocols and subsequent treaties are clear that weapons which cannot discriminate between civilian and military or combatants are prohibited from not only use but also from manufacture and sale. The Nuremberg Tribunals were the vehicle victorious Allied countries used to judge and punish German military, political, and corporate leaders for war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity after WWII. The Nuremberg Principles were incorporated into the Charter of the United Nations, a treaty which in now “supreme law” in the US when it ratified it. The 7th Principle declares that “complicity with a Crime Against Humanity or a War Crime” is a crime under International Law. Because of the increasing evidence mounting about the indiscriminate nature of this weapon, the defendants argued they were compelled to act.

All 19 of the remaining defendants (9 original defendants pled “guilty” because they were unable to devote a week out of their work/school schedules to a jury trial) testified on Thursday, clearly moving the jury as well as fellow defendants. Steve Clemens introduced the provisions from International Law and he and 3 other defendants told accounts of what they had seen first-hand in visits to Iraq since the 1991 war. Dr. Gene Ott testified about some of the medical consequences he suspects are the results of exposure to the use of these radioactive weapons. The most moving testimony came from a first-time activist. Wendi Nauheimer had never been in a demonstration before. One week before this witness against ATK took place, she told Marv Davidov, the long-time peace and justice activist, “They [ATK] killed my brother, Patrick”. Wendi testified that her brother, a US Marine for 11 years, returned from the desert area of Iraq and Kuwait after “clean-up” of the area where depleted uranium weapons were used with sores on his body. He developed an aggressive form of leukemia and died in 1995, leaving a widow and two young children. Before he died, he told his family, “Something happened to me in that desert”. Wendi believes her brother’s death is at least partially due to the exposure to radiation he received from the waste left by depleted uranium penetrator munitions manufactured by ATK and sold to the Army and Air Force and used in that war.

Another defendant, Katy Gray Brown testified that her brother-in-law is fighting cancers she believes were caused by the radioactive nature of the shrapnel which lodged near his spine during the first Gulf War. The defendants included 6 Roman Catholic nuns who testified how our nations spending on the military has deprived many needy people in our inner cities. Sister Char Madigan pled with the jury to join her in working to move from “money-wealth to commonwealth”. She said that ATK cannot hide what it is doing for profit behind “private property” laws but must be exposed and held accountable like the tobacco companies and Enron. Jane Evershed, a local poet and artist told of being arrested for protesting apartheid in South Africa. Today, that evil system is gone and she believes that some day soon, so will the evilness of depleted uranium weapons be evident to the majority and we will rid ourselves of it as well. Phil Steger, Director of the Friends For a NonViolent World handled the difficult task of the opening and closing arguments, winning praise from the prosecutor. Because all of the defendants were there without an attorney by their choice, Phil’s eloquence was all the more appreciated by the other defendants since this was his first trial.

Although most defendants were motivated by their Christian faith, Kathleen Ruona, a proclaimed atheist, spoke movingly of “species arrogance” in that the deadly radiation released by these illegal weapons threaten not only humans but other plant and animal life as well. Marv Davidov, a Jewish activist thundered like one of the Hebrew prophets of old as he decried the racism of our society and then told of his 30+ year campaign to stop the production of landmines, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium weapons made by Honeywell Corporation and now by the spin-off of that company into ATK. Because of the large and frequent demonstrations against the weapons they were making, Honeywell divested itself of that division. Marv and “Alliant Action”, as well as the newly-created “Philip Berrigan Depleted Uranium Coalition”, will continue to work to convert ATK from its present production of “swords” into “plowshares” which can better all humankind. Weekly vigils, begun in 1995, will continue by the entrance to ATK. Come join us!

My Trial Testimony - ATK Trial 2003

Steve Clemens testimony for Alliant Trial 2003 - October 2003

I am a husband and the father of 2 young men, ages 17 and 20. I have been married 25 years and my wife is in the back of the courtroom today. I have worked for Habitat for Humanity here in the Twin Cities (a non-profit that builds homes with volunteers for low-income families) for 12 years. I recently came back from HFH trip to Egypt/Jordan, building homes as a gesture of peacemaking and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. I am a member of the Community of St. Martin, an ecumenical Christian worshipping community committed to peace and justice. Each year members take a vow of nonviolence. My faith and religious beliefs are central to who I am.

As a freshman student at Wheaton College in 1968, I turned 18 and was forced to wrestle with the question of the morality of war as I was faced with the military draft. After prayerful study, soul-searching, and discussion with others, I chose to register as Conscientious Objector, a person opposed to participation in all wars.

In my senior year of college in 1971, as part of an International semester abroad, I took an International law course in The Hague, Netherlands, the place where much of the international rules concerning behavior in warfare were originally developed. We also visited Geneva where the most current rules concerning warfare have been discussed and adopted. We had a discussion about Nuremburg Tribunals and their role in Int’l Law. The Nuremberg Tribunal was the trial of the Nazi leaders for War Crimes. Not only political and military leaders were tried but also some corporate leaders.
I was able to visit the concentration camp at Dachau to see the realities of “crimes against humanity”.
My interest in International Law led me to read a book written by a Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, Telford Taylor entitled Nuremberg and Vietnam. Reading that book helped me understand that even our own country must follow the Laws of War.

I spent a year with Mennonite voluntary service in Washington, DC. in 1975. While there, my interest in nuclear and radioactive weapons was sparked by Philip Berrigan and Liz Macalister in 1975. I participated in a Bible and Book Study with them on the Biblical Prophets and our need to speak out.

Throughout the years since then, I have participated in numerous nonviolent witness actions against war and particularly against weapons which do not discriminate against non-combatants.

I moved to MN in 1990 and by 1995 or so, I became familiar with Alliant TechSystems and the weapons they made. Protests started with landmines, continued with cluster bombs, now Depleted Uranium munitions are a primary focus.

In my studies about International Law, I learned:
International Law is binding on us per the US Constitution where Article VI states that “all treaties made under the authority of the US shall be the SUPREME law of the land” and judges are bound thereby. (Exhibit 119)

The US was a party to the Hague Treaty, the Geneva Conventions and its subsequent protocols, and was a main prosecutor of the Nuremberg Tribunals. As a signatory to the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Tribunal rulings have the effect of International Customary Law. Int’l law is clear that weapons which are “indiscriminate” are banned. (Exhibit #149, 150, 151, 152). [I “walked through” some of the provisions against these weapons from 3 treaties and the Nuremberg Tribunal.]

International Law is developed not only through treaties but is “found” through the Customs of Nations (Customary Law) and the writings of scholars. I have read scholarly articles about indiscriminate weapons and the relevance of International Humanitarian Law. Articles by R.J. Aurajo on landmines and Karen Parker on DU have led me to believe that treaties naming specific weapons to be banned are not needed since the broad provisions of the Hague and Geneva Treaties already have made them illegal. Karen Parker, an attorney who specializes in Human Rights has addressed UN Committees which are discussing Depleted Uranium weapons. I believe she is correct when she asserts that DU fails 4 tests for legal weapons. (Quote article*). She and other experts on International Law led the UN Commission on Human Rights to pass a resolution banning the use of DU weapons, nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons, cluster bombs and other similar weapons in 1996.

I had a moral, practical, legal, and personal responsibility to cross the line at ATK:
• Moral: as a follower of Jesus, I am called to love my enemy, not bomb them. I felt the need to put my faith, beliefs and “prayers for peace” into action.

• Practical: politically, silence in the face of evil implies consent. What is done in my name, by my country, cannot go unchallenged. I have voted, written letters to elected officials, marched in the streets, and prayerfully vigiled. “Putting my body on the line” was a way to continue to act on my convictions.

• Legal: The Nuremberg Tribunals require us to take a stand. International Humanitarian Law and Common Law are clear that weapons which are indiscriminate are illegal and cannot be manufactured, sold, stockpiled, or used. The fact that there presently does not exist an active enforcement mechanism does not relieve us of moral and legal responsibility under the Nuremberg Principles. Principle #7 of it states: Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law. (Exhibit 111).

• Personal: I traveled to Iraq this past December, just before the latest war. After seeing children I believe were victims of illegal weapons used in the first Gulf War when I visited the Children’s Hospital in Basrah, I traveled to an area nicknamed “The Highway of Death”. (Exhibit 114) This tank I am standing in front of had steel armor that was 2 ½” thick. I saw on the side of the tank a hole bored through that steel armor that appeared to me to be caused by projectile that completely penetrated the armor. I believe this tank was destroyed by a depleted uranium penetrator. I have read numerous accounts of how this weapon works and I learned that when fired from a gun or artillery, the DU actually burns in the air and according to the military “cuts through steel armor like a hot knife through butter”. As it burns, it also “aerosolizes” and 20-70% of the radioactive material is converted to minute particles of dust which can be swallowed, breathed in, or enter the body through any cuts or scratches. Others will testify further about this weapon. After viewing the destroyed tanks and civilian vehicles I gathered the 5 Iraqis who traveled with us and told them how sorry I was that my nation had used DU weapons in the past war. I told them that although I spoke out and demonstrated against that war, I still asked for their forgiveness for what was done “in my name”. As we cried and embraced, I gave them my solemn word that when I returned to America I would take action to prevent these weapons from being used again.

When I went to ATK that Wednesday morning last April, I was aware of a letter other demonstrators carried re: citizen’s weapons inspection and I support that letter.(Other defendants will talk about that letter- the same letter that Lisa Amman tried to give to Officer Larson when she was arrested.) I carried a sign (hold it up) with me. (Exhibit 117). I also carried a letter addressed to Alliant personnel when I “crossed the line.” My letter reads, in part: (read letter). I mailed the letter to Alliant after the Edina Police told me they refused to take it as soon as I was released from the Edina jail. (Exhibit 118) When I was told by the Edina Police Officers who approached me that I had to leave or I would be arrested, I told them I was there pursuant to International Law and the State Constitution and had a claim of right to be there. It is my belief that a provision in the State Constitution also, like International Law, gives us a right to be protesting on ATK’s property. (exhibit 110). (Read it).

I believe that the cluster bombs and DU weapons used against the Iraqi people were made by ATK and are illegal under International Humanitarian Law. I believe the Nuremberg Principles requires us with knowledge of these illegal weapons to take action ourselves. I believe the state constitution of MN gives us the right to express our conscience in this matter. I believe I had a claim of right to enter Alliant Tech property.

I have committed civil disobedience in the past (like ML King, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, and Mary Lou Hamer). However, this time I believe I did not violate the law because I believe I had a Claim of Right under both the provisions of International Law as well as the State Constitution’s provisions of freedom of conscience.

I am both proud and humbled to be a co-defendant with such a group of conscientious citizens who not only love the principles on which our country was founded, but also strive to love all the citizens of our planet.

Exhibit 110: State of MN Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 16 on Freedom of Conscience
Exhibit 111: Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nurnberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal.
Exhibit 114: Photo of Steve standing in front of destroyed Iraqi tank south of Basrah
Exhibit 117: Sign reading “ATK cluster bomb and DU weapons are illegal under Int’l Law”
Exhibit 118: Letter written 4/2/03 by Steve to Alliant re: why I was there that day.
Exhibit 119: Article 6 of the US Constitution (relevance of International traties)
Exhibit 149:Protocol 1 of Geneva Convention, Part III, Art. 35, 36; Part IV Art.48, and 51.
Exhibit 150: CCW (Certain Conventional Weapons) Convention
Exhibit 151:Agreement for Establishment of an Int’l Military Tribunal for War Crimes in Europe.
Exhibit 152: Hague Convention (1907), Section !!, Chapter 1, Art. 22, 23
* Campaign Against Depleted Uranium, Statement by Karen Parker at Int’l. Conference, Manchester, UK 11/4-500

Shared Word on John 12:20-33

Shared Word CSM April 6, 2003 (During Combat Phase of Iraq War)

Text: John 12: 20-33

“Whoever loves his own life will lose it. Whoever hates his own life in this world will keep it for life eternal.”

I suspect in not a few churches in the US this morning, this passage was used to praise the sacrifice of US troops now engaged in the war against Iraq.

What does it mean to “Support our Troops” during a time of war? I want to share two excerpts about this question. The first is from an op-ed piece in a Texas newspaper from David Wiggins, an honors graduate of West Point and a former Captain in the US Army who resigned his commission and left the Army as a Conscientious Objector during the first Gulf War while he was on the front lines:

Considering the common practice of talking about "supporting the troops" in times of hostilities, I want to let the troops know how I feel.

With all due respect, I want them to know that if they participate in this conflict, they are not serving me, and I don't support them. Speaking for myself, I feel those who participate will be damaging my reputation as an American, and further endangering me and my children by creating hatred that will someday be returned to us -- perhaps someday soon. Our troops' actions will not lead to a safer world, but a more dangerous world of pre-emption and unilateral decisions to commit mayhem. I don't support that.

This talk of "supporting the troops" is just another method our government uses to manipulate and control us. I don't support the troops, but I certainly fear for the lives of the troops. I would support the troops staying home. I regret that our so-called leaders have involved the troops in such a foolish, misguided undertaking. I would support the troops disobeying orders. I feel sorry for the troops' families. I would support the troops if they realized that the best way to defend their families would be to stay alive and healthy and resist this war.
The only people the troops are possibly serving are those who agree with this act of military aggression. Perhaps they are not even serving them if the troops end up suffering retribution for their actions.
I feel for the troops and the difficult decisions they must make. I hope this note frees them of any sense of obligation to serve me and helps them make a conscientious decision that they will be proud to accept complete responsibility for making.
Our troops' actions will not lead to a safer world, but a more dangerous world of pre-emption and unilateral decisions to commit mayhem. I don't support that.


I also want to share a passage from the end of Mark Twain’s, The War Prayer .
The setting is a church service where the congregation has just heard a prayer to “Bless the troops”-
"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory -- must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
I suspect that many of us who hoist signs saying “Support our Troops- Bring them Home” are not calling for victory first.

But … are we willing to join Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “praying for the defeat of our nation”?

Two American professors coaxed Bonhoeffer into returning to the US from Germany in the late 1930’s to a teaching position in NYC. As soon as the boat docked Bonhoeffer knew he had made a mistake. He knew that Germany would shortly be at war, knew that the devastation of his native land would be indescribable. He was convinced he would have no credibility in assisting with its recovery and restoration unless he himself endured the devastation first-hand. He was in the US only four weeks.

By this time he was forbidden to speak anywhere in the Reich. The General Secretary of The World Council of Churches, asked him, "What do you pray for in these days?" "If you want to know the truth", replied Bonhoeffer, "I pray for the defeat of my nation." Listen to what Bonhoeffer wrote on the eve of World War II:
"Sitting here in Dr.[William Sloane] Coffin's garden I have had time to think and pray about my situation and that of my nation and to have God's will for me clarified. I have come to the conclusion that I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share in the trials of this time with my people. My brethren in the Confessing Synod wanted me to go. They may have been right in urging me to do so; but I was wrong in going. Such a decision each man must make for himself. Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make that choice in security."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to Germany shortly before the war started. He led an underground seminary as part of “the Confessing Church” before he was arrested and jailed by the Nazis. In a book of his collected writings from his jail, entitled Ethics, Bonhoeffer wrote this before he was hanged, naked, from a piano wire in 1945:
I am guilty of cowardly silence at a time when I ought to have spoken. I am guilty of hypocrisy and untruthfulness in the face of force. I have been lacking in compassion and I have denied the poorest of my brethren.... We, the church, must confess that we have not proclaimed often or clearly enough our message of the one God who has revealed Himself for all times in Jesus Christ and who will tolerate no other gods beside Himself. She must confess her timidity, her evasiveness, her dangerous concessions. She has often been untrue to her office of guardianship and to her office of comfort. She was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was crying aloud to heaven. She has failed to speak the right word in the right way at the right time. She has not resisted to the uttermost the apostasy of faith, and she has brought upon herself the guilt of the godlessness of the masses.... The church must confess that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people, oppression, hatred, and murder, and that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenseless brothers of Jesus Christ.... The church must confess that she has desired security, peace and quiet, possessions and honor, to which she has no right.... She has not borne witness to the truth of God.... By her own silence she has rendered herself guilty because of her unwillingness to suffer for what she knows to be right.

Our own President George W. Bush said this last year when speaking to the German Bundestag:
One of the greatest Germans of the 20th century was Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. -- who left the security of America to stand against Nazi rule. In a dark hour, he gave witness to the Gospel of life, and paid the cost of his discipleship, being put to death only days before his [concentration] camp was liberated.

"I believe," said Bonhoeffer, "that God can and wants to create good out of everything, even evil."

Oh, the irony of Caesar or Pilate or Herod Agrippa praising the Christ-figure! But, of course, we know how hands will be washed and it will be said “we’re just following the will of the masses!” And it is true- Americans want to continue to enjoy cheap oil and economic and military dominance. Our leaders often do reflect the shadow-side of our lifestyles and our desire to live in comfort.

Praying for the defeat of one’s country becomes very troublesome for me, however, when I realize the severe costs of an empire in the throes of defeat. The lethal firepower of a wounded, but not yet disarmed, giant will be deadly for those in its wake. If only the US could go the route of the former Soviet Union whose demise was relatively blood-free. I want this war to be over for the sake of the Iraqi people. But for the empire to be defeated, it almost must be prolonged. Any notion of the US “winning” the war in Iraq will continue to feed the monster we have allowed to be created. It only re-enforces the theology of “might makes right” and that we are the new “God’s chosen people.” If we win this war, we will continue to spend the lives of our youth on more fields of battle – not to mention the costs to those who might stand in the way of our greed, avarice, and our lust for power and control.

The pain and anguish expressed by the mother of a dead Marine in front of Alliant Tech this past Wednesday brought tears to many of our eyes. Patrick, who was poisoned by depleted uranium in the Iraqi desert in 1991 died an excruciating death in 1995. His death is multiplied by thousands more to come until that radioactive mess is cleaned up. But right now we are adding to those deposits with more of the radioactive detritus. And, according to reports this week, throwing in cluster bombs for good measure.

I’m not willing to write off the sacrificing of the Iraqi people and the US troops in a prolonged war in hopes that it might eventually bring a defeat to the US Empire. The example of the one we call “Lord” must be instructive even though Jesus found himself on the other side of the Empire of his day. His example of nonviolent resistance to “the domination system” must be applied both within and without the Empire.

Are we willing to “lose our lives”, to “take up our cross”, like Jesus, like Bonhoeffer, like Gandhi, Dr. King, Dorothy Day, Franz Jaeggestetter, Andre Trocme, Rosa Parks, Phillip Berrigan, Benigno Aquino, Corrie Ten Boom, Oscar Romero, and countless others? Are we willing to invest our lives, to spend them, in the promise of our Lord that such an investment will be honored by our Creator in the end?

I am aware of the irony that this call may sound disturbingly similar to the call that Osama bin Laden has issued to his disciples. I’m not promising 72 virgins or a ticket to Paradise in exchange for martyrdom. Although both Jesus and Osama agree that there is something worth dying for, Jesus tells us there is nothing worth killing for.
How do we stand in the way of the Empire in an attempt to protect the lives it wishes to consume? Or are we so busy trying to “save our own lives” do we “love our lives” so much that we can’t face this question?

Thank you for the witness of the Christian Peacemaker Teams and the Iraq Peace Team this week. Thank you for the budding of The Nonviolent Peace Force. Thank you for the Cloud of Witnesses that have preceded us.

Let us pray.

God, you have given us Jesus as a teacher, a friend, and a model. Please help us as we struggle within the Empire to find ways to follow him. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour, for the living of these days. Amen.

Song: “God of Grace and God of Glory”.

Praying for Peace During the War

3/28/03

Friends,
I think I set a record for a speedy arrest. I arrived at Senator Coleman's office at 4:30 knowing they normally closed at 5. Since I told them I planned to stay, they called the cops to be ready for me right at 5. I was cuffed, put in the squad car and taken downtown, put in a holding cell for 15 minutes while they did the paperwork and I was released by 5:35 without even the option of staying overnight if I wanted to! I have to call in 10 days to get an arraignment date for the misdemeanor of “trespass”. So, my fast continues as well as my prayers. Thanks for your support. You can check out www.iraqpeaceteam.org for updates on the folks in Baghdad.

Paul Thorsen and Carol Masters from the Community of St. Martin joined me for a while then left just before the arrest. It is great to have others join one in solidarity. But why the solitary witness? Is it because I’m so “pure” that I don’t want my witness to be “contaminated” by the intrusions of others? I think there are times for us to join the mass movements, to lend our voice to the chorus, to help show others by our numbers that we are not alone. We need to remind ourselves as well that we are not alone.

But I also strive to make a witness that more fully communicates what I value and who I am. So often, in the large crowds, the mass rallies and marches, there are voices raised that make me cringe and call me to ask, why am I here? Voices which seek to denigrate the other. Voices that increase the spiral of violence and hatred. If we really wish to speak on behalf of the voiceless children in Iraq, that voice won’t be heard among the catcalls against the President or the attempts to out-shout counter-demonstrators.

I am inspired by the story of the solitary Quaker who day after day vigiled with his sign outside the White House during the Vietnam War. The President of the United States took time out of his busy schedule to ask the Secret Service to remove him so he couldn’t see him every day and thus be reminded that all was not well. My friend Janelle reminded me that AJ Muste would often go by himself to demonstrate at nuclear weapons installations. When asked what he was accomplishing with such a solitary witness, he said it was “to keep the world [the militarists] from changing him.”

I’d like to propose we consider instituting a regular “solitary witness” at Senator Coleman’s office during this war. If one does not feel comfortable or confident enough to do it alone, go with a friend. But do it in small numbers, do it on a regular basis, so the staff of that office are reminded daily that this war will not go on without our dissent. Strategically, to tie up our court system with daily petty misdemeanors will be a nuisance. Already the Governor is threatening to try to charge dissenters with the costs of their arrests. In a time of budget crunching, we need to remind our government that this war will be costly. If we are going to jeopardize the lives of the Iraqi people, there need to be some costs here at home as well. If day-after-day our courts are tied up with prosecuting us for trespass at the Senator’s office, we will be sending a loud and clear message that “business as usual” can’t continue as long as we are engaging in this illegal and unjust war.

For those who are unable to risk arrest at this time, it isn’t necessary to be arrested to make this witness. You, too, can go to the Senator’s office to pray for the victims and perpetrators of this war. For me, getting arrested wasn’t the goal; making a faithful witness was. I think whether or not I was arrested was less important than my presence there, praying for peace. If others are interested, I’d be happy to share some of my photos of people from Iraq to take with you. Just go to the office and tell the staff you’ve come to pray for the people of Iraq. There are 4 chairs in the outer office so if several come the same day, that’s OK. The office closes at 5 PM so if you don’t wish to risk arrest, you can leave at that time.

Can we make our voices heard by our silence? I think we can. I think silence and prayerful presence speaks volumes. For those whose schedules allows, consider going once a week or once a fortnight. Maybe others can go to Sabo’s or Dayton’s offices as well to remind them of our continued opposition to this war and encourage them to continue to vote and speak against it. Maybe there is a military recruitment office in your neighborhood or area. That is also a good place for public prayer.

Will you join me? Will you lift your voice (sometimes in silence) to end this war?

Shalom,

Steve

Why I am a Christian and how it led me to Iraq

Why I am a Christian and how it led me to Iraq by Steve Clemens
Pilgrim Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Jan. 29, 2003

[Texts read previously: II Cor. 5-17-20; Excerpt from No Bars to Manhood by Daniel Berrigan (written during the Vietnam War, 1968)
We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total – but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial. … We take it for granted that in wartime families will be separated for long periods, that men will be imprisoned, wounded, driven insane, killed on foreign shores. In favor of such wars, we declare a moratorium on every normal human hope- for marriage, for community, for friendship, for moral conduct towards strangers and the innocent. We are instructed that deprivation and discipline, private grief and public obedience are to be our lot. And we obey. And we bear with it- because bear we must- because war is war, and good war or bad, we are stuck with it and its cost.

But what of the price of peace… . “Of course let us have the peace”, we cry, “but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties.” … we cry peace and cry peace, and there is no peace. There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war – at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.

Super Bowl Sunday is probably a good time to talk about nonviolence: statistics identify this day as one of the most significant for the incidence of domestic abuse. As our culture glamorizes competition and brute force, there is the need for another perspective.

The scripture passage read, II Corinthians 5:17, “ If anyone is in Christ, there is a whole new world order; a whole new consciousness.” New values. New perspectives. A new order.

Our culture values rugged individualism, independence, competition, and militarism to protect our materialism. The call to emulate Jesus is a call to cooperation, community, interdependence, non-violence, and compassionate sharing.

Why do I choose to follow Jesus? Because the way of our culture leads to death and despair- both individually and ecologically. The way of Jesus leads to community and abundant life. How did I come to this realization?

Although I was raised within a Mennonite tradition, my parents embraced an Evangelical theology which privatized and proselytized the faith, discarding the witness of nonviolence and narrowing the scope of discipleship to a personal morality. When I turned 18 in 1968 and had to register for the military draft at the height of the Vietnam War, that faith was found wanting. I needed a faith that could provide answers to questions about injustice, violence, and domination. There was for me a real disconnect between my personal morality and what was being carried out in my name in Indochina.

I found that faith in the life, faith, and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. The God that Jesus reveals is a God of compassion and forgiveness, not the judgmental patriarch I was led to in my evangelical heritage. I was pleased to discover my own neglected Mennonite-Anabaptist heritage which allowed me to follow a Jesus who not only called me to a personal morality but also a faith that had social and political implications. Registering as a conscientious objector to all war was initially only a personal, moral stand. But, after living and working with street gangs in north Philadelphia after my freshman year of college , I realized that I needed an ethic that allowed me to engage the social injustice around me.

As I began to study the history of the Christian Church before the rise of Constantine, I discovered that the Early Church was pacifist because of their understanding of the call of Jesus. As I was exposed to theologians such as John Howard Yoder and William Stringfellow, my faith was strengthened and it began to inform my politics and lifestyle choices.

Jesus’ call to love our enemies and not to return evil with evil is a call to take my responsibilities as a Citizen in the Kingdom or Reign of God more seriously than the demands placed on me as a citizen of the American Empire. When my nation of origin tells me that the people of Iraq are expendable because our government thinks their government is led by an evil person, the example of Jesus is instructive. Jesus was raised in a society of brutal oppression. Many of his family, friends, and followers hoped he would rise up and lead a revolt against the hated Romans. Instead, Jesus chose a route of nonviolent resistance to the oppressive structures of his time. Although it led to his execution by the Romans with the active collaboration of the religious authorities, the witness of both history and the Gospels is that God honored the faith and life of Jesus through his resurrection.

For me, it doesn’t matter if the resurrection is an historical fact or a mystical experience - it is clear that Jesus’ disciples were emboldened and radically changed by this whole experience. They turned their world “upside down” – or maybe they turned it right-side up! The early Christian Church clearly understood that the life and teaching of Jesus was a call to nonviolence with a special concern and compassion for the poor. My desire to follow Jesus led me to 1 ½ years of voluntary service with a church agency and then to join an intentional Christian community in southwest Georgia.

At Koinonia Partners, the Georgian community which became the birthplace of the Habitat for Humanity movement, I was introduced to one of the most significant theologians in the US in the 20th Century: Clarence Jordan. Dr. Jordan helped found this inter-racial community in the deep south during World War II and a commitment to nonviolence and the poor were central to it’s identity. Although Dr. Jordan died in 1969 and I didn’t arrive at the community until 6 years later, we had plenty of opportunity to read his “Cotton Patch” translations of the New Testament and listen to tape recordings of his sermons and teaching sessions. Shortly before I left for Iraq this fall, I ran into one of his quotes from 40 years ago:

“Wars are generally fought for material things; they’re not fought over ideals. After we get into them, we are told we are fighting for ideals. [but] We are fighting for oil and tin and rubber and markets, and as long as we insist on a standard of life that is so high above all the rest of the world, we’re going to have to pay for our standard of living with a lot of blood. I think we ought to reexamine the fact that Jesus was a pauper, and we should be committing ourselves to a very humble, simple way of life.” —Clarence Jordan 1963

My commitment to be faithful to the call of the Gospel has led me to some exciting and unusual places:
• I visited a man on death row in the Georgia State Prison for 10 years and vigiled at the county courthouse alongside of a model electric chair whenever the state of Georgia executed prisoners.
• Our small group of peacemakers began a weekly candlelight vigil at the gate to Fort Benning, GA in opposition to the training of Salvadoran soldiers in 1983 which has blossomed into a yearly protest which has been attended by more than 10,000 people of conscience each of the past 3 years. I continue to work to close the School of the Americas.
• Protests against nuclear weapons led to several prison sentences, including 6 months spent in a county jail and a federal prison in Texas in 1981. Blocking a train carrying 208 nuclear bombs through Georgia landed me in jail, again, several years later.
• I am part of an on-going peace witness at Alliant TechSystems, the weapons-maker headquartered in Edina that makes landmines, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium weapons- all weapons outlawed by International Humanitarian Law as indiscriminate weapons which kill and maim civilians. Last May, I spent a week in the Hennepin County Workhouse (the county jail) for a protest against Alliant cluster bombs which were dropped in Afghanistan the previous fall.
• Every Wednesday, I join more than 100 others on the Lake Street bridge between Minneapolis and St. Paul in holding signs against war and economic sanctions in Iraq.
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In August, I heard Kathy Kelly, founder of Voices in the Wilderness, a group working to end the economic sanctions against the people of Iraq, when she spoke at a rally in Loring Park in Minneapolis. She asked those in attendance to consider traveling to Iraq if war appeared imminent, to stand beside and in solidarity with the Iraqi people as a testimony to our commitment to their well-being. She was forming an “Iraq Peace Team”- a group of Americans and other nationalities to live in Iraq and place themselves by hospitals, water treatment plants, electrical facilities and other locations necessary for the infrastructure of the country. These were all facilities that were bombed by allied forces in 1991, despite the fact that it is a war crime to target such civilian structures.

After prayer and a period of discernment with my family and my faith community, I requested a leave of absence from my employer, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, and awaited word that Iraq was willing to issue me a visa to come. Part of the discernment process of choosing to go to Iraq was considering the letter Voices in the Wilderness shared with us from the US government. It informed us that unauthorized travel to Iraq was punishable by up to 12 years in prison and up to $1 1/4 million in administrative fines by the US government for violation of the sanctions. We were told that several individuals have been fined $10,000. each for taking medicines to Iraq and, while we were in Baghdad, we received notice that Kathy Kelly and Voices in the Wilderness were being fined $10,000. each as well. These threats had to be considered in light of the call of my conscience.

I felt the need to travel to Iraq to tell the people that I am not their enemy and they are not mine. Jesus’ call to love our enemies must take precedence over my country’s declaration to wage war on that country. Traveling to Iraq while that country faced the threats of our bombs was a way to put my prayers for peace into action. It was a specific way to incarnate my faith and beliefs. Gandhi summed up this in his statement: “Be the change you believe in”.

One member of my discernment team, Peter Thompson, a local criminal defense lawyer, decided to join me. After discussions with our families and my employer, we decided to limit our time in Iraq to 2 weeks, although both of us wished to remain there for a longer period. A week before Thanksgiving we received a call asking if we could arrive in Amman, Jordan by December 1, so we could drive to Baghdad the next day.

We joined 3 others in Amman for the 12 hour drive through the Jordanian and Iraqi desert to get to Baghdad. There, we were joined by more than a dozen others including people from Sweden, Australia, Canada, as well as others from the US. We visited in a few of the homes of some near-by Baghdad residents and heard their stories. Most of these families were barely scraping by.
Amal, a school teacher was painting oil paintings at night after her 3 children were asleep to help supplement her $3.50/month salary as a teacher.
Achmed, the 14-year-old boy who greeted us everyday outside our hotel, dropped out of school to shine shoes on the sidewalk to help support his family.
Karima, a widow with her 9 children were facing eviction from their apartment because they couldn’t afford the $12./month payments.
The 250 Iraqi dinar note [hold it up] we carried around with us was worth $825. in 1990. Now it is worth 12 ½ cents.
Peter and 2 others volunteered each day at an orphanage run by nuns from Mother Theresa’s order for 15-20 children with cerebral palsy. When asked what they’ll do when the bombs come again, a nun replied, “we’ll cover them with blankets and stay and pray with them.” A school teacher in Basrah, when asked the same question, said, “We’ll send the children home, pray, and hope Saddam will defend them.”

The UN diplomat in charge of the United Nations Development Program in Baghdad, a man who attended Edison High School in Minneapolis and the University of MN as an exchange student from his native France, explained how the US representative on the 661 committee of the Oil for Food program routinely placed “holds” or denied importation of needed medicines or parts to repair damaged and dysfunctional water treatment plants. He asked us the question posed to him by a fellow UN diplomat, “Don’t you know that every day the economic sanctions and the threat of war against Iraq continue, America is creating 5,000 more Osama bin Ladens?

It was heartbreaking to tour the pediatric cancer ward in the Basrah Children’s Hospital. These children had no say in the policies of their government or ours but they were dying from the effects of the depleted uranium weapons made in Arden Hills, MN and used by US troops in 1991. To compound the tragedy unfolding over there, we learned that while only 147 US soldiers died in the war, more than 10,000 US soldiers have died in the 12 years since that war- most with ailments connected to “Gulf War Syndrome” which many doctors have linked to the use of these depleted uranium weapons. We were taken to the graveyard of scores of vehicles which carried civilians and troops that were mowed down in what US pilots later called “a turkey shoot” or “like shooting fish in a barrel” along the Highway of Death, south of Basrah. Americans never saw the pictures of US troops burying the dead Iraqis by bulldozer in 1991 because the Pentagon carefully censored what images were released to the media.

We toured water treatment plants that had been deliberately targeted in the ’91 war. Hundreds of water treatment plants are being restored one-by-one with the help of Veterans for Peace because the Iraqi government is denied importation of the needed filters, gaskets and valves by the US representative on the sanctions committee. The UN reports that more than 5,000 children die each month of preventable diseases linked to contaminated drinking water, dysentery and diarrhea. We made a banner which read “To Bomb this site is a War Crime” and carried it with us when we held a press conference at a large water treatment plant in Baghdad which had been bombed in 1991.

But I went to meet the people, to tell them of my sorrow and solidarity. At the graveyard of the vehicles contaminated with depleted uranium and other radioactive components which will remain radioactive for more than 4 ½ billion years, I gathered the five Iraqis traveling with us. I told them that even though I had spoken out, written letters, and demonstrated against the US-led war in 1991, what was done by my government to the Iraqi people was unforgivable—but I asked them for forgiveness anyway, and told them that they are my brothers and sisters. In those five minutes, it didn’t matter that they were Muslim and I was Christian. That we spoke different languages, ate different foods. We were all children of the same God and we needed to work together to stop this up-coming war. Tears were shed; we embraced and experienced the reconciliation that the Apostle Paul writes about in II Corinthians 5:17-20. [read]

We are “Ambassadors for Christ”- how is that for a demanding task?
We are charged with a mission to proclaim and work for reconciliation. It is a big task, let’s start by stopping this war.
“We cry ‘peace, peace’ and there is no peace because there are no peacemakers- because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war.” Are we willing to pay the price for being peacemakers?

Amen

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Galatians 2:20- “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ, liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Dan Berrigan, in They Call Us Dead Men, writes that this passage is a call to us to risk our lives in the caused of peacemaking. If, as the Rite of Baptism illustrates, we die to self when we chose to follow Christ, we are truly liberated and can no longer be threatened by the state or other groups. If we have “been crucified with Christ”, there is nothing the state can threaten to do to us that we haven’t already voluntarily undergone. The state can jail us, they can ultimately execute us, but we have already voluntarily undergone this in following Jesus. This sense of liberation is more powerful than any government and gives one the freedom to act, as Clarence Jordan puts it, “in scorn of the consequences”.

When I scaled the fence surrounding the assembly plant for all nuclear weapons that the US makes in Amarillo, Texas, or when I sat on the railroad tracks in front of a train carrying over 200 nuclear bombs in Georgia, I did so in the confidence that in calling us to be peacemakers, Jesus also calls us to takes risks for peace. I believe God honors our acts of faithful obedience and gives us the gift of community to strengthen us in a journey which is counter-cultural.


For discussion: CSM vision statement:
We strive to be an ecumenical Christian community. Rooted in Scripture, sharing worship and ministry, we affirm active nonviolence, love of justice and peace, and the integrity of God's creation. Acknowledging our complicity in the materialism and oppression of the dominant culture, we seek to practice loving hospitality and care-filled stewardship of God 's gifts of ourselves, land, time and possessions. Through an ongoing process of action and reflection we seek to shape our lives according to our faith and the urgings of the Spirit. We commit ourselves to one another and to the way of Jesus Christ. Our community is open to all who share these values