Friends With Conviction(s)

Friends With Conviction(s)
By Steve Clemens. Dec. 12, 2005

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, peace activists were celebrating two consecutive “Not Guilty” verdicts from Hennepin County juries. Today, Judge Lorie Gildea presided over a bench trial for 12 nonviolent peacemakers at the Southdale Courthouse in Edina. All twelve were declared guilty and ordered to pay a fine of $142. or arrange with the probation department to do Community Service or Sentenced To Serve assignments. What accounts for the different outcomes?

After the City of Edina lost three consecutive jury trials because judges allowed evidence and testimony about International Laws and Treaties, the city, Alliant Techsystems, and the city attorneys got together to devise a different strategy to prosecute nonviolent activists who continued to raise legal and moral objections to several of the indiscriminate weapons made by this “defense” contractor. What they devised was to rewrite the local law to include a new trespass ordinance which would deny protestors the right to put their case before a jury of their peers. By passing a new Edina ordinance and changing the penalty to one where a jail sentence was no longer a sanction, the city effectively removed the cases from appearing before juries. The City of Edina was in such a hurry to protect this corporate malefactor (ATK) that members of the City Council adopted the new ordinance without even having the courtesy to allow for community input by scheduling a second reading of the proposed ordinance.

Today’s trial was the first test of this new ordinance and retired lawyer Ken Gleason joined defendant Bob Burns in requesting that the trespass charges be dismissed because the new ordinance limited the rights of the defendants and the city council did not follow proper procedures. It was a noble intent but a little much to ask a newly appointed judge to make one of her first acts on the bench a decision to override a local (and wealthy) government body. After that decision was handed down, it appeared to many in the courtroom that a conviction was almost assured for the trial that followed.

As has been the practice in previous AlliantAction trials, the defendants stipulated to the facts of the case and only testified about why they took their nonviolent action. Three defendants were absent from the courtroom but John LaForge, Bonnie Urfer, and Sam Foster stood by the testimony of their co-defendants. In a simple yet moving procession, 8 of the defendants spoke clearly and forcefully about their convictions and ATK’s indiscriminate weapons. Dr. David Harris, a member of the local chapter of Vets for Peace led off with a clear statement of the illegality of weapons systems later described by other defendants. Pepperwolf testified about the nature of depleted uranium weapons. Bob Burns described the cluster bombs made by ATK. Sister Jane McDonald brought a child’s prosthesis to the witness stand with her to illustrate her concern about landmines. Sister Betty McKenzie talked about civil disobedience and the rich history of those who have blazed this trail before us, talking about the Boston Tea Party, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Barbara Valle was in tears as she decried the threats to our natural environment by these weapons. John Schmidt added his voice to the choir. Kathleen Ruona reminded us all that these indiscriminate weapons threaten all life on our planet, not just the human species.

Tom Bottolene chose to deliver the closing argument rather than testify. In clear, concise terms, he urged the judge to remember her recent swearing-in ceremony where she pledged to “uphold the Constitution of the United States.” Reading the Preamble to that constitution, Bottolene went on to highlight the supremacy clause found in Article Six which identifies treaties signed by our government as being the supreme law of the land.

The judge, in delivering her guilty decision stated that she was bound by the law and how it has been interpreted by previous rulings. I wanted to ask her how she would rule today if she had Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., or Sojourner Truth standing in front of her. I thought of the moving testimony in a previous ATK trial by Jane Evershed who reminded us that some day [hopefully soon] we will look back on the days of DU weapons with the same horror we now view our world’s history with apartheid, slavery, and the holocaust. How long will we continue to allow ATK to hide behind property laws while profiting from weapons the world community has identified as indiscriminate and illegal? I am blessed to have such friends with conviction(s)!

Why I'm Going to Prison - Pretrial letter. Dec. 2005

Why I’m Going to Prison
Steve Clemens. Dec. 1, 2005

Dear Friends,

Almost 25 years ago, I went to jail for six months as the result of a prayerful protest against nuclear weapons in Amarillo, TX. At that time, it was left up to my Dad to explain to family members why his son was in the slammer. Before I head off to what may be another six month sentence in a Federal Prison, I felt it best to try to share with you the reasons why. In 1981 we didn’t have the luxury of the internet and e-mail and with Wilma conveniently providing e-mail addresses with the Clemens Family Corporation newsletter I now have the ability to do this.

Let me say at the outset, I am not trying to “convert” you to my position and I am well aware that many of you do not share my perspectives on what some might see as “political” matters. I offer the following only in the hope that you might better understand me and my values and actions so that when we interact with each other, you have a better idea of who I am. I trust that as we work to be honest with each other we can also work on healing some of the sharp and bitter divisions that seem to proliferate in our culture. We can only “respectfully disagree” when we take the opportunity to listen to one another. I confess that too often I’ve neglected to speak a word when my silence has implied consent with something I understand to be wrong. Sometimes I’d added my “two cents” into a conversation without the context of my life experience and values and it has seemed to be strange or bizarre. So here is some of “why” I am likely to be headed off to jail (again).

My Dad always instructed me as I was learning to use a gun before hunting season to “never, ever point your gun in the direction of a human being” and “never aim your gun at something you don’t wish to kill.” Although I was only twelve when I learned to fire his old German mauser rifle prior to my first deer hunt, those words stuck with me and ultimately led (in part) to my declaration to be a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. That decision in the fall of 1968 set me on a path which has led me to understanding the Gospel and the way of Jesus as a commitment to nonviolence, ironically returning me to some of the same Anabaptist heritage that most of my relatives abandoned in the aftermath of World War II.

That conviction, that Jesus’ life and teaching are a call to love one’s enemies as well as one’s neighbor has been both a challenge and growing edge in my life. One of the biggest challenges for me in recent years has been to re-image God in light of those teachings. For me, to confess Jesus as Lord has meant to work for a more just society, praying and working for peace and reconciliation. Because many wars are initiated over economic reasons, the many years I spent building homes for low income families at Koinonia and with Habitat for Humanity was part of my commitment to peacemaking.

While living in Georgia in the ‘80s, I often helped drive a bus to the Texas-Mexico border or from Georgia to the Canadian border filled with refugees from the wars in Central America. From those refugees I learned about the atrocities committed by their own militaries (and paramilitary units), many of whom had been trained by the U.S. Army at the School of the Americas (renamed but with much of the same content in 2001 as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation). I heard first-hand (via a translator) of stories of rape, torture, disappearances, and murder committed by graduates of the SOA. Twenty-five years ago, one of these graduates ordered the assassination of the Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, a man who I have come to love and deeply respect for his faith, his compassion for the poor, and his commitment to justice. Other SOA graduates have been named by the UN Truth Commission as being responsible for murders of nuns, priests, teachers, union members, and others working for a more just society in their countries in Central America.

I helped start a weekly silent prayer vigil at the entrance to Fort Benning (home of the SOA/WHINSEC) back in 1983 and traveled regularly over the next 7 years to be present there. After moving to Minnesota in 1990, a growing nationwide movement to shut down the SOA was begun and I’ve traveled to Georgia for an annual protest and vigil each of the past 12 years. (Over the years, Christine, Micah, and Zach have joined me; Zach went with me again this year.) Several times I joined other people of faith in “crossing the line” – entering the base in an act of symbolic civil disobedience to protest against the continuation of a school and national policies which promoted the use of rape, torture, and other human rights abuses in the name of anti-communism, the drug war, and/or the “war on terror”. Because I was among hundreds, and later thousands of others taking this step, I was not prosecuted for the civil disobedience when only a handful were singled out each year to be sent to trial and jail. However, since 9/11, everyone who has “crossed the line” (now 3 - 12’ high fences) has been prosecuted and most have received 3-6 month prison sentences. [Note: the fences are only up for our annual vigil. Other days of the year one can drive on to the base without interference.]

Having traveled to El Salvador this past March with my eldest son, Micah, to commemorate the martyrdom of Oscar Romero, and having met with some of the survivors of the Copapayo massacre in their new “base Christian community”, I decided this was the year I should consider risking my freedom to stand with these humble peasants to say no to a national policy which winks at torture in Abu Ghraib and continues to support regimes in places like Columbia where peasants are being killed in wars fueled by American tax dollars. My understanding of Jesus’ call to be peacemakers necessitates taking risks for peace in a similar manner to the witness for racial justice by Martin Luther King, the stand for women suffrage by Susan B. Anthony, and the nonviolent actions which, I believe, helped end the Vietnam war.

Many people view such acts of civil disobedience to be political statements. However, my choice to carry my witness to Fort Benning was/is primarily a result of my faith rather than my politics. My intention was to walk to the location of the School of the Americas to both pray for peace as well as a prayer of confession for my complicity in the violence symbolized by that training school for Latin American military personnel. To the degree that my lifestyle and consumption patterns continue to create hunger and economic disparity in our world, the mere fact of my identity as a citizen of the U.S. has made me complicit in the actions taken by our elected leaders. Our nation spends more on its military than the next 25 nations combined because our leaders think we want them to protect our excess consumption of the world’s food, energy, and other natural resources. My “crossing the line” is an attempt to “put legs on my prayers” by putting my body in the way of “business as usual”. [More info about SOA is available at]

I am scheduled for trial on Jan. 30 and face up to 6 months in prison and/or a $5,000. fine. I am immensely grateful to have a spouse, sons, and a faith community who support me in taking these steps for a better world. If in some small way, my action (along with 36 others, mostly also people of deep Christian commitment) helps lessen our readiness to use military force against the poor of the world, the probability of 6 months in a federal prison is worth it. I pray that attempting to act on my faith will be seen as an acceptable offering to our loving Creator who longs for all peoples to be reconciled.

After Jail, At Time to Give Thanks

After Jail, At Time to Give Thanks by Steve Clemens

Spending parts of two days in the Muskogee County Jail in Columbus, GA a few days before Thanksgiving helps to remind me of why I need to be grateful in my life.

I am doubly blessed at this time because I was able to act on my conscience and take a risk for peace as well as being joined in that witness by some incredible people. The Community of St. Martin has rented a van or bus for the 12th year in a row to help people travel to Columbus, GA to continue the call to “Close the SOA”. The School of the Americas, renamed “The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)” in 2001 after the U.S. Congress narrowly defeated a bill to close it, has been linked to a multitude of atrocities and human rights violations over the past several decades. Many of the thousands who join the nonviolent protest at the gates of Fort Benning where the school is located have traveled to Latin America and have spoken to victims and family members of victims who have suffered at the hands of graduates of the SOA under the guise of “fighting counterinsurgency”, stopping the “spread of communism”, or “opposing Liberation Theology”. Today the excuses for the brutality and inhumanity emanating from its graduates include “fighting the war against global terrorism” and “stopping the drug trade”. Our nation has yet to learn that using tactics of torture, rape, and terror only leads to increasing the spiral of violence rather than solving any issues.

The School of the Americas Watch, a group of peace activists led and inspired by Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois, has organized an annual vigil, rally, and solemn funeral procession/remembrance for the weekend in November which mostly closely coincides with the anniversary of the martyrdom of six Jesuit priests who were killed by SOA graduates in El Salvador in 1989. Each year, the number of protestors grows – this year approaching 20,000. Organizers said that the gathering this year had almost half of the attendees as high school and college-age young people which help balance out those of us with graying and balding heads. Over the past 16 years, more than 200 persons of conscience have been jailed for their nonviolent acts of civil resistance to this “school”.

After my trip to El Salvador this spring with my son Micah, I began thinking that this might be a time to once again consider risking arrest by carrying my prayers as far on to the base as possible, hoping to pray at the site of the school itself. Knowing that virtually all of those who have been arrested for entering the base since 2001 have received prison sentences as a result, it was important not to make such a decision casually. My time of discernment about taking such a step was complicated by Hurricane Katrina. Wanting to respond to the needs created by the hurricane, I contacted Mennonite Disaster Service to see if I could help. After some back and forth, it appeared they could best use me next Spring, making entering at Fort Benning again a possibility. My wife Christine would prefer me spending 6 months rebuilding Mississippi or Louisiana rather than sitting in a federal prison but said she’d support me in what I felt called to do. I am so grateful for such a partner!

When I told my two sons about my decision to risk arrest, Zach told me he’d like to join me in riding down to the vigil on the CSM bus. I was really pleased to see his interest rekindled in this issue as an adult. He had traveled with me several times over the past 12 years but school work/schedules discouraged his participation in more recent times. He arranged to reschedule two midterm exams at his college to be present when I “crossed the line”. In Minneapolis, I had a send-off from our Wednesday AM vigil group in front of weapons-maker Alliant Techsystems and then another send-off from our Community of St. Martin’s circle before the bus left on Friday morning for the 24 hour ride to Georgia. Those traveling on our bus also circled up for a prayer and blessing on Sunday morning prior to our joining the witness. Such signs of support and caring are essential to sustaining a spirit of resistance over the long haul.

Carrying a small wooden cross with the name of the martyred Archbishop Romero, I participated in the solemn procession until the time came when the first group would attempt to enter the base. We walked along the fence and after hugging some of my supporters, Zach watched as I crawled under a portion of the fence that others had lifted for me. Sam Foster, a Veterans For Peace member from Minneapolis followed closely behind. I knelt in prayer and was fairly quickly grabbed by a Military Police, handcuffed, and hauled off. We were processed at two locations on the military base over the course of about six hours before being bussed in cuffs and shackles to the county jail to be booked and processed again as federal prisoners. After a cold and noisy night in the “geezer cellblock” (all the prisoners in this cell area were 50 or older), we were taken to court the next morning for arraignment and a bail hearing. [I will write more about the jail time and courtroom events soon]. I posted a $1,000. bond, promising to return for trial slated to begin on January 30.

I returned from Georgia with David Harris, another Vet For Peace from our AlliantAction circle, who served as Sam and my support person. I’m grateful for all the prayers and expression of support I have received as I continue this journey.

(please check out more information about the opposition to the school and to view pictures of the protest at

following is a local newspaper article:

Protesters get first day in court

36 SOA Watch demonstrators arrested

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Posted on Tue, Nov. 22, 2005
From New York to California and from Wisconsin to Washington D.C., the SOA Watch's weekend protest brought three dozen people to the confines of the Muscogee County Jail.
On Monday, 34 SOA Watch protesters pleaded not guilty to crossing onto Fort Benning over the weekend, with two others pleading guilty. The 36 arrested is triple the number taken into custody last year.
This year's group is significantly older than last year, with 20 of the 36 older than 50. Last year, four of the 12 arrested were older than 50. Trials are scheduled to begin Jan. 30, 2006.
Christine Gaunt, 49, of Grinnell, Iowa, pleaded guilty to re-entering the military installation after being banned for five years after trespassing in 2002. She was sentenced to six months in prison and a $2,000 fine. The maximum punishment for the federal misdemeanor is six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Donald Nelson, 62, of Summertown, Tenn., pleaded guilty to entering the post and was sentenced to 90 days in prison. He said he was motivated to cross over not because of violence, but because of his conscience.
"I've been trying to figure out how to deal with the terrorism the SOA has caused," he said. "I want to take some action. I'm looking for a better way, but I haven't found one."
Nelson was arrested Sunday at the protest, where 15,000 SOA Watch protesters gathered outside the main gate of Fort Benning. For the 16th consecutive year, the protesters demanded the closing of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.
As they have since the demonstrations started in 1990 with six people, the protesters are calling for the closing of the institute, which trains soldiers, police and administrators from Latin and Central America. SOA Watch cites human rights abuses that have been committed by military personnel trained by the U.S. Army.
U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth held arraignment hearings for the protesters, some of whom remained silent and let their attorneys enter not guilty pleas. Others spoke of their personal convictions to protest. The mood was light-hearted, as Faircloth joked with the defendants throughout the daylong hearings in the Columbus Recorder's Court building.
Gail Phares, who pleaded not guilty and was given a $1,000 bond, told the judge she planned on being in court for her Jan. 30 trial and the judge agreed.
"I look forward to seeing you," he said to the Raleigh, N.C., woman. "But you are too far out of the jurisdiction, so I'm going to need (financial) assurance."
Father's offer denied
Faircloth gave a Georgetown University student a break because he told the judge he was financially dependent on his parents and that $1,000 was too "excessive." After a long pause, Faircloth agreed.
"Just because of the way Georgetown plays basketball, I'm going to reduce your bond to $500," he told Donté Smith, 19. "But don't tell anyone."
Thirty people received a $1,000 bond, Smith got a $500 bond and two men got bonds of $1,500 and $2,500. John LaForge, 40, of Luck, Wis., received a $1,500 bond because of an extensive past of unlawful entry to other military bases, as well as the White House, dating back to 1981. Faircloth placed a bond of $2,500 on James Walters, 41, of Columbia, Mo., because of his criminal past, which includes nine felony and 11 misdemeanor charges, although the number of convictions was disputed in court.
Father Jerome Zawada of Cedar Lake, Ind., offered to stay in jail on behalf of his "companions" who were already sentenced. Zawada was the last defendant to have a hearing Monday and the judge had already set bond for the others, so Faircloth rejected it.
"Your offer is impressive, and I hope they know you offered to do that for them," Faircloth said. "At the same time, I cannot accept it."
Zawada told the judge he wasn't going to post bond and intended to stay in jail until his trial.
"We are very eager to return to the trial to continue our message," he said.
Sentenced after pleading guilty on Monday :
• Christine P. Gaunt, 27, Decatur, Ga. -- 6 months in prison, $2,000 fine; • Donald W. Nelson, 62, Summertown, Tenn. -- 90 days in prison.
Pleading not guilty; bond set for release pending trial :
• Buddy R. Bell, 23, Wood Dale, Ill. -- $1,000 bond; • Frederick C. Brancell, 79, Madison, Wis. -- $1,000 bond.
• Robert S. Call, 72, Hasbrouck, N.J. -- $1,000 bond; • Charles F. Carney, 47, Kansas City -- $1,000 bond.
• Stephen D. Clemens, 55, Minneapolis -- $1,000 bond; • JoAnne N. Cowan, 56, Boulder, Colo. -- $1,000 bond.
• Anika D. Cunningham, 26, Bowling Green, Ohio -- $1,000 bond; • Scott J. Dempsky, 30, Demark, Wis. -- $1,000 bond.
• Joseph Deraymond, 55, St. Fremansburg, Pa. -- $1,000 bond; • Kenneth F. Crowley, 65, Washington, D.C. -- $1,000 bond.
• Samuel O. Foster, 70, Minneapolis -- $1,000 bond; • Jonathan P. Robert, 49, Grinnell, Iowa -- Bond deferred pending state hold.
• Michael Lee Gayman Jr., 26, Davenport, Iowa -- $1,000 bond; • Sarah C. Harper, 36, Emoryville, Calif. -- $1,000 bond.
• Rita O. Hohenshell, 30, Des Moines, Iowa -- $1,000 bond; • Jane M. Hoskings, 37, Luke, Wis. -- $1,000 bond.
• John M. LaForge, 49, Luck, Wis. -- $1,500 bond; • Elizabeth A. Lentsch, 68, Oak Ridge, Tenn. -- $1,000 bond.
• Robin Lloyd, 57, Burlington, Vt. -- $1,000 bond; • Linda O. Masburn, 63, Brevard, N.C. -- $1,000 bond.
• Liam O'Reilly, 22, Durham, Maine -- $1,000 bond; • Dorothy Parker, 76, Chico, Calif. -- $1,000 bond.
• Gail S. Phares, 66, Raleigh, N.C. -- $1,000 bond; • Judith Ruland, 47, Springfield, Mass. -- $1,000 bond.
• Delmar J. Schwaller, 81, Appleton, Wis. -- $1,000 bond; • Donté Smith, 19, Washington, D.C. -- $500 bond.
• Edward J. Smith, 38, Harrisburg, Pa. -- $1,000 bond; • Cheryl F. Sommers, 68, Berkeley, Calif. -- $1,000 bond.
• David A. Sylvester, 55, Oakland, Calif. -- $1,000 bond; • Priscilla K. Tresca, 66, Cleveland, Ohio -- $1,000 bond.
• Louis J. Vitale, 73, San Francisco -- $1,000 bond; • James L. Walters, 41, Columbia, Mo. -- $2,500 bond.
• Francis H. Woolever, 72, Syracuse, N.Y. -- $1,000 bond; • Jerome Zawada, 68, Cedar Lake, Ind. -- $1,000 bond.
Protesters from the November 2004 SOA Watch demonstrations who were convicted of misdemeanor trespass and sentenced in January in U.S. District Court by Judge G. Mallon Faircloth:
• Alice Gerard, 48, Buffalo, N.Y. -- six months in prison, $500 fine; • Robert N. Chantal, 52, Americus, Ga. -- 90 days in prison, $500 fine.
• Elizabeth A. Deligio, 28, Chicago -- 90 days in prison, $500 fine; • Brian D. DeRouen, 26, Dayton, Ohio -- 120 days in prison, $500 fine.
• Meagan Elizabeth Doty, 22, Dayton, Ohio -- 90 days in prison, $500 fine; • Ronald E. Durham, 24, Chicago -- 90 days in prison, $500 fine.
• John Thomas MacLean, 79, Ashfield, Mass. -- 90 days in prison; • Lelia J. Mattingly, 63, Maryknoll, N.Y. -- six months in prison.
• Elizabeth K. Nadeau, 27, Minneapolis -- 90 days in prison, $500 fine; • Michael P. Ring Sr., 65, Wall, N.J. -- 12 months probation, $1,000 fine.
• Daniel J. Schwankl, 31, Siler City, N.C. -- 90 days in prison, $500 fine; • Aaron Peter Shuman, 32, Oakland, Calif. -- 120 days in prison, $500 fine.

Risking Arrest at The School of the Americas. November 2005

A Prayer For Peace –by Steve Clemens. November 2005

On November 20th I join more than 10,000 fellow citizens at the entrance of Fort Benning in Columbus, GA, adding my voice to the growing chorus calling for the closure of “The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)” aka “School of the Americas (SOA)”. This peaceful/prayerful witness has been taking place in November for the past 15 years to coincide with the anniversary of the martyrdom of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in San Salvador in 1989. The U.N. Truth Commission set up after El Salvador’s long, bloody civil war concluded that responsibility for the assassinations of these people of faith (as well as countless others) was directed and carried out by military personnel who had been trained at the SOA before committing these murders of unarmed advocates for justice in El Salvador.

I had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador this past April with the Center For Global Education at Augsburg College to be present for the national recognition of the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom/assassination of the Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero. I had read several books that have been written about his life, collections of his sermons and pastoral letters, and had viewed the motion picture released about his life and death. The love of the common people for his life and witness in El Salvador gives evidence that he has become a patron saint for the church in that small Central American nation. His murder has also been determined to have been ordered by a graduate of the SOA.

Our group also made a pilgrimage to two other sites during our week in El Salvador besides the places where Romero and the Jesuits were killed. We traveled to the chapel in the countryside built on the site where the bodies of three Maryknoll nuns and a lay religious worker were hastily buried after their rape and murders in December 1989. Again, the murders and human rights abuses to Jean Donovan, Maura Clark, Ita Ford, and Dorothy Kazel were linked to graduates of this school. We prayed for forgiveness for our complicity as citizens of the nation that trained and paid for their killers. We also were blessed to spend time with the survivors of the massacre of Copapayo, a small village outside of Suchitoto. After visiting the site of the original village and the ravine/lake shoreline where more than 150 were gunned down by the Salvadoran military, we were invited to visit their new village up-lake from there to share a meal with some of the survivors. Again, these murders of the peasants was directed by, and carried out by, SOA graduates.

As the annual litany of names of the thousands killed in Central and South America by SOA graduates is sung in the prayerful, solemn memorial remembrance, it is my intent to carry a small cross painted with the name of Monsignor Oscar Romero on to the military base and to walk toward the location of this school of torture and assassination. It is my intent to “give legs” to my prayers for peace and an end to the violent oppression that this school symbolizes. It is likely that I will be arrested by military police before I am able to reach the SOA buildings but I will walk as far as I am able, each step a prayer for both the victims and the perpetrators, for our governmental leaders and all of us taxpayers who are complicit in the on-going crimes committed by the product of this institution.

The SOA/WHINSEC is a symbol of our national foreign policy which has led to the tortures of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and many other prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and many secret locations run by the CIA around the world under the misguided aim to quell “terrorism” by violence and intimidation in order that the “beneficiaries” of the American Empire can continue a standard of living at the expense of the world’s poor. The SOA continues to train military officers of Colombia who have been implicated in human rights abuses. I go to Fort Benning and the SOA confessing my own failure to more fully follow the life and teaching of Jesus who calls us to a lifestyle of justice and compassion. My prayers and act of civil resistance to these powers of death are a small attempt to give a voice to the voiceless, to speak and act in solidarity to the victims of our national policies which are embodied in this institution which has produced so much evil over the years. I pray that this saying “NO” to the powers of death is swallowed up in the “YES” embodied in the life and teaching of Jesus and I will continue to work for a world of justice, compassion, and equal opportunity. I ask all of you to join me as you are able to work and pray to close this school and change our policy. (You may learn more about this “school” at , including the call for cessation of all classes at the school by Amnesty Int’l. USA and an investigation of human rights violations connected to the school).

Martyr or Victim?

Martyr or Victim?
Steve Clemens. March 2005

On my recent trip to El Salvador to participate in the commemoration of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a question arose for me- who is classified a “martyr” and who is “merely a victim”? The early definition of martyr is “witness” and the term was often applied to someone who “witnessed” for his/her faith by the sacrifice of their life. The deacon Stephen is identified as the first Christian martyr, followed by many others in the early days of the Christian Church until it became part of the empire and began to turn the tables and persecute (and kill) others who did not follow what those in power decried as “orthodoxy”. In church lore, martyrs are considered “innocent” (at least before God) and are killed because their attempts to follow God or voice their beliefs came in conflict with others in power who felt the need to shut them up. Although it may have proved successful for the powerful in the short term, in the long run, the martyrs of the church continued to inspire the faithful. Tertullian, one of the Early Church Fathers said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

But how does one distinguish between a martyr and a victim? As we look back on the three year period of the archbishopric of Oscar Romero, there are clear signs that he anticipated his own death at the hands of the death squads or the military. He knew there were serious consequences for publicly challenging the government and military for their oppression of the poor. He has witnessed the consequences to his friends Rutilio Grande and Fr. Navarro who were assassinated soon after he was elevated to Archbishop. He heard the stories, first-hand, from the campesinos who came to him for help in locating the bodies of their dead or disappeared. And he received more direct threats as he continued to utter his prophetic word, a call to repentance, to the violent, the rich, and the powerful. He even moved from his small house near the highway to a small bedroom behind the chapel several days before his death so as not to be too accessible to his would-be assassins. There is little doubt his death was not incidental, his was a martyrdom because of his outspokenness on behalf of his faith and his defense of the poor.

Eight months later, four women religious were raped and killed as they drove back from the airport. They had been stopped at a checkpoint - the complicity of the government/military in their deaths was evident. Because two of the nuns had been in Nicaragua, it seemed apparent that they were targeted for “political” reasons. Given their commitment to Liberation Theology, the churchwomen’s “religious” convictions were seen as political by their assailants. Because they were killed for their beliefs/actions, they too have been appropriately given the mantle of martyrdom.

When six Jesuits were killed at the seminary which was part of the University of Central America, their military assailants made it clear why: after entering the compound where these seminary professors lived, a soldier fired his weapon at a large photo of the slain Archbishop, shooting the photo in the place where his heart would be, imitating his assassin. Other photos and remembrances of Romero kept at the seminary were also attacked and burned in the assault in November of 1989. These Jesuits were targets because of their propagation of Liberation Theology’s “preferential option for the poor”. The Jesuit’s housekeeper and daughter were also killed, possibly because they worked with these priests, possibly just to prevent any eyewitnesses. If we don’t know why they were killed, are they victims or martyrs?

We met with the priest who was the Provincial for the Jesuits in 1989. Jose Maria Tojeira SJ was living in a house just 40 meters from where the 6 priests were assassinated. He heard the gunshots but thought it was just fighting in the nearby street during the time the guerillas had an offensive in the city of San Salvador. After he discovered the bodies of his six colleagues, he told us he waited for “his bullet”. He assumed that he would also be targeted for his stand for justice and nonviolence. For the next several days, he acted as if he knew his life could be terminated at any moment. Yet he knew that he had to continue the “witness” of Romero, the women religious, and his slain friends. Although he wasn’t killed, he continued to act, talk, and believe in a way which had led to the martyrdom of others he knew. Because death was so close and so real, his courage and convictions elevate him to the status of martyr in my eyes.

And so for the life and witness of Sister Peggy and Sister Patty, two nuns who accompanied the refugees from the massacre of Copapayo to their new village, El Sitio Cenicero. These committed women knew that they risked a similar fate to that of other priests, nuns, teachers, and union organizers. Yet they continued their “witness” to a God who comforts, reconciles, and years for justice. While not killed, they are “living martyrs” for us today.

What about the villagers of Copapayo, the 150 who were massacred by the army in 1983? Were they killed for their faith and beliefs? Were they killed because they wanted to farm their own land and in so doing were considered subversive? Was it a way to deny potential recruits for the guerilla/revolutionaries? We don’t know why they became the object of the military repression but does that mean they are “just victims”? Are they martyrs as well? Their attachment to the land and their desire to return to it led to the attack on their village. Their death continues to be a witness to the survivors and the next generations. It is crucial to continue to tell their story, to not let their suffering be forgotten. Is their suffering and death also redemptive in a way that the martyrdom of Romero and his compatriots was?

Hopefully these questions will continue to haunt me as I strive to find a way to work for a world where these murders and martyrdoms can be a thing of the past. I pray that I too will be found worthy to be a “witness” for the peace, justice, and radical discipleship of our teacher and model, Jesus of Nazareth.

Pilgrimage To El Salvador.

Pilgrimage to El Salvador
Steve Clemens, March 2005

“You didn’t come to be a tourist but to be on a pilgrimage”, Sister Peggy of the Sisters of Charity told us. She reminded us of the words of Gustavo Gutierrez: “Woe to you who come dry-eyed.” We were told by several speakers who addressed our 21-person seminar sponsored by Augsburg College Center for Global Education that the social and economic conditions in El Salvador today are as bad as or worse than before the civil war which ripped this Central American nation apart during the 1980s. Our pilgrimage coincided with the Christian Holy Week and the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero.

Why did God choose this “flea of a nation” as the place to raise up a prophet to the wealthy and powerful and a pastor and shepherd to the poor? Does the life, ministry, and witness of Archbishop Oscar Romero deserve canonization by the church? Is his martyrdom relevant today or was he killed for meddling in political affairs that shouldn’t concern him as his fellow bishops warned him?

The parallels to Jesus of Nazareth are striking: both men were raised in the rural countryside by working-class parents. Both had a public ministry of three years. While criticized by the religious hierarchy, both of these prophets spoke directly to the poor, insisting that God has a special concern for them. And both were killed by the powers who wanted to silence them.

As an Anabaptist whose tradition scorned icons and discounted the claims to “sainthood” of many by the Roman Catholic Church, I found myself wanting to touch the altar and the place on the floor of the Divina Providencia Chapel where Romero was shot while celebrating the Eucharist in 1980. After hearing the words of many Salvadorans who lived and walked with Romero, I knew I was standing on holy ground. I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift that this prophet and pastor has been since his “conversion” in 1977 after being selected as the new archbishop. Because of his writings and eloquence in his homilies and radio broadcasts which have been preserved, Romero continues to inspire and challenge people of faith around the world today.

Part way through the 5 km march from the site of his murder, past the statute to the patron saint of the country, Salvador del Mundo, a sculpture of Jesus astride the globe of the world recalling his transfiguration, we came to a park where we encountered the Memorial Wall for Truth. Reminiscent of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC, this monument for the victims of the 12 year civil war listed by name those killed and “disappeared” in columns, alphabetized by year. There, amidst thousands of other names, I found the names of not only Romero, but also Rutillio Grande and Alfonso Navarro, two of many priests and women religious who were targeted by the notorious death squads, financed and armed by the U.S. government, whose murders compelled Romero to speak. Those who worked with this new archbishop said that he daily made himself accessible to the poor who traveled from the rural countryside to tell him about a relative, friend, or loved one who was killed or disappeared. In this processes, he truly became a bishop, a shepherd, one who tried to protect and comfort his “flock”.

The life, witness, and martyrdom of Romero, powerful as it was, was repeated over and over again by others in this nation who, inspired by the Gospel and its application encouraged in their daily lives by “Liberation Theology”, continued to try to work for justice despite the obvious risks and costs. If the death squads were willing to target the archbishop, not one who spoke out on behalf of the poor was “safe”. Yet, despite the growing numbers of the martyrs of the church, others continued and more voices arose demanding an end to the killings and repression. Father Tojeira, the Provincial for the 6 martyred Jesuits at the university seminary, told us that he expected his bullet would come “any day” for the next several years until the war ended – yet he had no option except to continue his call to mission that had been shared by his fellow priests.

It is quite evident in the way the common folk of El Salvador commemorate “Good Friday” that this is a people that understand suffering and can relate much better than I what the arrest, trial, and crucifixion was really about. Yet resurrection also abounds: before his assassination, Romero clearly understood the risks he was taking on behalf of the people. He told the people that if he was killed, he would “rise again in the people” of El Salvador. This is quite evident when you see how precious the memory of this saint is to the poor. He is risen every time another person speaks on behalf of those with “no voice”. He is risen every time the base Christian communities read, reflect, and act on the scripture, recognizing that “God has a preferential option for the poor”.

The present hierarchy of the Catholic Church in El Salvador did not wish to adapt or change their traditional observation of Holy Week, finding it “disruptive” of their Maundy Thursday, to endorse the public march in honor of the slain archbishop. One bishop in the countryside has declared that Romero’s name is not to be mentioned in the Department of San Vicente. The Opus Dei right-wing sect within the church has taken over control of the seminary, blessing the status quo and making religion a way of coping until one gets to heaven. So the push for sainthood has its opponents in both Rome and El Salvador. Cannonization for Romero raises the ugly question of who is responsible for his death and why was he killed? Two questions whose answers critique and question not only the status quo in San Salvador but also our nation as well. While many of the perpetrators of the violence today live in luxurious self-imposed exile in Miami, some of the architects and promoters of the anti-communist foreign policy which led to the U.S. support of the military repression throughout Central America in the 70s and 80s continue to be named to high positions within the U.S. government today.

While the death squads were used to keep the rich protected then, bankers and other financiers are able to do the same today through trade and loan agreements. The poor, whether in the countryside or working for the internationally-owned maquilladoras, are being killed with ink pens rather than bullets today. God is calling us to take up the fallen mantle of Romero and be a “voice for those who have no voice”.

The Case Against Canonization of Oscar Romero.

The Case Against Canonization of Oscar Romero
Steve Clemens. March 2005

Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, was assassinated on March 24, 1980 while celebrating the Eucharist at the Divina Providencia Chapel, part of a hospital complex run by the Carmelites for cancer patients in the capitol city. Romero, who had been named Archbishop only three years previously, resided in a very modest three-room house a block from the chapel. Due to increased threats on his life, he moved into a small room of the chapel so as to not be so close to a nearby roadway. Romero had previously resided in that small room before the nuns insisted that they build the small house for him. A quiet, scholarly priest and bishop before being thrust into his prominent position within the church hierarchy, Romero was considered a “safe” choice for Archbishop. It was not likely that he’d rock the boat or disturb the status quo.

Romero took seriously his new role as “shepherd” for his people. He practiced an open door policy and regularly, if not daily, invited in those who came to meet with him. He daily visited some of the cancer patients in the hospital across the street before his breakfast. In this role as pastor, he grew in his love and concern for the people of the small nation, especially the rural poor who were increasingly under economic and military pressure. When Romero’s close friend, Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest, was assassinated while en route to say mass at a small town in the countryside, Romero came to realize that he could not remain silent in face of the repression and grinding poverty of his people.

In the following months, as more campesinos, priests, nuns, teachers, and union organizers were targeted by the death squads and the military, Romero grew increasingly vocal, denouncing the violence and repression, even publicly criticizing the President several times. His Pastoral Letters were clear in their opposition to the oppression. Wherever he went throughout the country, crowds of the poor would greet him with applause. Romero used the radio station to send out messages, including his Sunday homilies. His courage inspired many others to take a stand for justice and that, in turn, inspired Romero. Throughout it all, Romero remained steadfast in his commitment to nonviolence.

His commitment to justice was clear: he stopped all construction on the cathedral in San Salvador, refusing to spend the church’s money on it until “peace and justice were established.” He welcomed displaced, hungry, and homeless, the victims of violence to the grounds of the seminary in the capitol city. Romero said what “all Christians must do is to be converted to the preferential option for the poor.” Although the church must side with the poor, his call to conversion was directed to both the rich and the poor. As he continued to speak in stronger terms against the injustice he witnessed, he also went with families who searched the garbage dumps for the bodies of their loved ones. His defense of the poor didn’t stop at national boundaries; he wrote a letter to President Carter asking him not to send any military aid to the government of El Salvador.

The day before his assassination, Romero made a direct appeal to members of the military and the police to refuse to kill “your own campesino brothers and sisters”. He ordered them in the name of God: “Stop the repression!” While celebrating mass on March 24, 1980, Romero read from John’s gospel about a grain of wheat – when it falls to the earth and dies, it bears much fruit. He talked about giving oneself out of love for Christ in the service to others. As he blessed the elements of the Eucharist, Romero prayed that Jesus’ sacrifice would nourish us so that we too could “give our body and blood to suffering and pain … to bring about justice and peace for our people.” As he prayed, he was shot in the heart and fell behind the altar, at the foot of a large crucifix. At his funeral, government troops fired into the massive crowd, killing and injuring hundreds so his body was buried with haste in the dirt of the unfinished Cathedral basement.

Two weeks before his martyrdom, Romero spoke to a reporter from Guatemala. He told of the death threats and said if he was killed, he pardoned those who would do it. He wanted his blood to serve as a seed for freedom and a sign of hope for a new reality. “If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.” It is evident today that this has come true: Monsenor Romero remains an inspiration to the campesinos not only of El Salvador but throughout Latin America. He already is seen as a saint – his canonization has come directly from the people, no church hierarchy has been able to stifle or thwart the love of the people for this servant of God. Yes, the institutional church and its hierarchy have tried to put a damper on the radical call for love and justice of this Archbishop. If he is canonized by the church, the inevitable questions will arise: Who killed him? And why was he killed? To answer those questions will necessarily expose the complicity of the church in the continuing oppression of the poor. Much of the present day hierarchy of the church in El Salvador is comprised of Opus Dei members, a conservative, secretive order which has often sided with the rich and powerful. One bishop has ordered that Romero’s name not be uttered within the Department (State) of San Vicente.

For a church which remains complicit with the evil which killed Romero to name him a saint would be as ironic as the Reagan Administration’s signing into law a day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The church needs to once again reaffirm its “preferential option for the poor” and embody that commitment within its own leadership in Latin America and around the world before it can proceed with the canonization of Oscar Romero with any credibility. Until then, he will remain a Saint of the People. Thanks be to God for this, God’s Servant to the Poor and Prophet of Justice, Saint Oscar Romero.

Indiscriminate Weapons and International Law

Indiscriminate Weapons and International Law
By Steve Clemens. March 2005

In defending oneself against charges related to “criminal trespass” at a military base, a weapons manufacturer, and/or federal facility/office, a civil resister can choose either an offense or a defense. The former argues that you were compelled to act and often references obligations assumed under International Law and the precedence set by the Nuremberg /tribunals. The latter argues what one did not do.

Being proactive: an offensive “defense”
Some very successful sport coaches push the concept – the best offense is a good defense – or good pitching always beats good batting … encouraging players to see how “defense” can be an aggressive way to win. In the area of civil resistance to the manufacture and use of weapons of indiscriminate destruction, some activists strive to show the court that they have responsibility as moral human beings, as citizens, as “Good Samaritans”, to take nonviolent action against organizations which promote or use these weapons. To use this “defense”, nonviolent actors strive to demonstrate that existing law compels them to address what is clearly a violation of both the spirit and letter of those laws.

In the United States, the federal Constitution provides the basis for determining what is legal (or not) for the national government, the states, and its citizens. In the U.S. Constitution there appears what has been referred to as “the supremacy clause”. Article VI contains the provision “…and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby…”. This provision implies that international treaties which have been signed by our government and ratified by the Senate essentially “trump” all other local and national law. If an activity done by a manufacturer or behind the fenced-in area of a military base is illegal, that entity cannot hide behind the “protection” of private property laws to remain unaccountable for its wrongdoing.

So the question turns to “what are the provisions of treaties made under the authority of the U.S.?” At least since the appearance of the new killing technology of the Gattling gun in the U.S. Civil War, ethicists and diplomats have wrestled with the issue of “the rules of war” or what limits must be placed on this mass killing done by nation-states. Near the turn of the 20th century, a group of nations convened talks in The Hague, Netherlands to discuss these very issues. The resulting Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 became treaties whereby the countries party to the treaty or convention agreed to place limits on the types of weapons which could be used in warfare. While most parties self-righteously decried the brutality and immorality of modern warfare, they wished to continue to allow themselves the option to go to war, restricting, in this case, what weapons and tactics must be forever outlawed by the world community. Included in the Hague Convention of 1907 are provisions which state “The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited.” (Section II, Chapter 1, Art. 22). Article 23 gets more specific: it is especially forbidden “to employ poison or poisoned weapons” and “to employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering” among other prohibitions.

In the aftermath of WWI and WWII, the community of nations gathered in Geneva to continue to find ways to limit war and protect civilians. Out of these efforts arose the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, Geneva, June 17, 1925 and the Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva, 1949. Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions have been adopted over the years including Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I of 1977). This protocol, while repeating previous prohibitions on weapons and tactics in war, also prohibits as well the employment of “methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment” (Article 35, paragraph 3; also: Article 55). There are also explicit regulations regarding the protection of civilian population against effects of hostilities (Article 48; Article 51, paragraphs: 1, 4-c, 5-b; Article 57, paragraph 2-a-ii). These provisions make it clear that “the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants”, “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack”, and indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. “Indiscriminate attacks are: … (c) Those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.”

In 1980 another treaty nicknamed “CCW” was adopted. The Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects. Geneva, 10 October 1980 stated that the “High Contracting Parties” wished to prohibit or restrict the use of certain conventional weapons with a goal of “putting an end to the production, stockpiling and proliferation of such weapons”.
In 1996 and 1997, the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights passed resolutions which found “production, sale and use” of nuclear weapons, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium weapons “incompatible” with existing humanitarian and human rights law and identifying them as “weapons of mass destruction”.

When the United States signed the treaty establishing the United Nations, it also adopted the work of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal. These principles make clear that “I was only following orders” is not a defense against war crimes (IV). The fact that a local or national law does not prohibit an act also does not relieve one of responsibility under international law (II). And “complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity … is a crime under international law” (VII). To remain silent and inactive when one is aware that a company is manufacturing and selling illegal, indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction, or that a military base is stockpiling them, or a nation is using (or plans to use) them, is to be complicit and in a participatory democracy one’s silence implies consent. One therefore is compelled to take nonviolent action to prevent these war crimes from being committed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is the organization that is charged with the education and implementation of “International Humanitarian Law” – these treaties which are also known as “the laws of war”. It calls “preventive measures” which include spreading knowledge of humanitarian law, “repressive measures” to put a halt to all violation including “the obligation to repress, by the national courts, grave breaches considered as war crimes”, and “other measures of implementation for prevention, control, and repression” which include “diplomatic efforts and pressure from the media and public opinion [to] help ensure implementation of humanitarian law.”

The lack of criminal intent
In order to be found “guilty” of a charge of criminal trespass, one must have the “mens reas” (guilty mind) or the mindset to know that what one is doing is wrong. It is necessary to show that those accused of this crime have a “criminal intent” or know what one is doing is wrong yet does it anyway. It is clear from the above listing of International Laws and Treaties that if one is attempting to honor (and implement) the intent of those “supreme” laws, one does not have the criminal intent to be found guilty of the trespass law. The Nuremberg Principles make it clear that the weapons manufacturers, the military bases, and the governmental offices cannot hide behind private property laws when they are in the process of committing what international law has labeled war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity. One does not have to be an “expert” in international law to avail oneself of this defense; one needs to hold this belief sincerely and it needs to be understood as “reasonable” according to a jury of one’s peers.

Until or unless the world community finds better ways to “enforce” International Law against powerful nations which flaunt their disobedience, it is left up to actors of conscience to raise these issues in the public forum, risking arrest (and possible conviction) to move us in the direction we have pledged ourselves to when those treaties were approved by our constitutional process.