Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Elvira Arellano Endgame

Published at on August 26, 2007

On rare occasions humble acts of moral courage awaken our souls and reverberate through history. They touch us quietly and intimately, shed light, and profoundly inspire spiritual renewal: Rosa Parks refuses to sit in the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus; an anonymous protester stands up to a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square; Anne Frank writes a diary before her deportation and death in Auschwitz.

On August 19, 2007 the US Immigrant Rights movement had its own historic moment destined to inspire future generations of social justice activists. Elvira Arellano, a Chicago cleaning woman and working mom, was arrested outside a church in Los Angeles. The immigration police immediately deported her to Mexico.

Arellano, who worked maintenance at O’Hare International Airport until she was fired in a post-9/11 purge of undocumented workers, became an unlikely human rights hero last year when she sought sanctuary in a Chicago Methodist church. Her simple Christian purpose was to avoid deportation and separation from her son Saul, a US citizen. Saul was an infant when Elvira was mopping our floors and cleaning our airport toilets. Now he was a second-grader, and his mom was a fugitive, on the run from the dreaded migra.

Like millions of other economic refugees, Elvira and Saul have been subjected to the increasingly stringent enforcement policies of a government hard-pressed by its xenophobic fringe. While some immigration reform efforts in Congress hold out promise to immigrants, most have been blocked by hardliners intent on waging a crusade against immigrant families.

The consequences have been catastrophic:

* The militarization of our southern border has caused a dramatic increase in mortality. Over 4,000 corpses have been found in the desert since 1996, with dehydration and heat stroke among the leading causes of death. 2007 is on track to be the deadliest year on record.

* Mass workplace raids and deportations are becoming terrifyingly commonplace. In December 2006, 1,300 Swift & Co. meat-processing workers were arrested simultaneously in six states. It was the largest raid in immigration enforcement history.

* Raids and round-ups are facilitated by a government program called Endgame. Creepily evocative of the Ultimate Solution, Endgame is the Bush Administration’s plan to “remove all removable aliens” by the year 2012. Its bite has recently been strengthened by a compliant Congress.

The tightening of surveillance, enforcement and prosecution has created a climate of fear in immigrant communities not seen in this country since the 1954 civil rights debacle, Operation Wetback.

Elvira Arellano’s deportation is a wake-up call for America. It’s time to say, ¡Basta ya! We’ve had enough exploitation, abuse and exclusion. It’s time to say “Sí, se puede” – We can do it!” to working families’ rights to healthcare, education, liberty and legalization.

Immigrant working families deserve our gratitude and respect. Demonizing them as “illegals” only serves to inflame our worst ethnocentric impulses at the precise moment in history when we most need to emphasize our best qualities—generosity and inclusiveness.

Addressing the complexities of immigration issues requires a serious multi-national dialogue. Such dialogue cannot commence in earnest, however, without compassionately and effectively addressing the humanitarian crisis on our borders, in our barrios, and at our detention centers.

We have nothing to fear from legalizing several million working families like Elvira and Saul Arellano who are already productive members of our society. On the other hand, we have plenty to fear if we succumb to ethnocentrism and revert to the intolerance of Operation Wetback.

The Elvira Arellano snapshot of the immigrant worker’s dilemma gives us a precious opportunity to reflect inwardly on who we are and what we want to become in the 21st century. Such introspection brings a humanitarian clarity to our political endeavors. It permits us to acknowledge the mothers, fathers and children who are the economic refugees among us. It permits us to love Elvira and Saul. That’s the endgame.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Never Again to Antiwar Battle Fatigue

This article appeared in Online Journal, Political Affairs, Countercurrents and AfterDowningStreet

By David Howard

Online Journal Contributing Writer

Mar 1, 2007, 00:49

An explanation of writer’s block may not be a good way to begin a political essay or to preface an exhortation to protest the infamy of the war on its fourth bloody anniversary. But the truth is the Iraq catastrophe has many of us peace activists despairing, almost to silence. The war, criminal from its inception, has gone on far too long and is increasingly painful and frustrating to write and talk about.

Scores of editorials, op eds and letters to the editor have already been written to express outrage over the invasion, the slaughter and the continued occupation. Those of us who can’t help ourselves scour progressive media outlets and read a half dozen stories of murder and mayhem every day. Why write one more?

Isn’t the immense redundancy of protest by now an exercise in futility? After all, the antiwar movement has already been effective in persuading a majority of the nation that there must be no more escalations, and that going to war in the first place was a grave mistake.

Who is left to convince? Isn’t the 2007 surge the final anticlimactic blunder of a cowboy regime already repudiated by a disgusted electorate?

So why not give in to the peace movement’s battle fatigue, and let the present carnage play itself out until Congress finally emerges from its stupor, grinds the occupation to a halt and brings our soldiers home?

The answer to the temptation of silence is the moral imperative to say, “Never Again.” Over and over again. Forever.

“Never Again” in the peace community is a preventive philosophy rooted in historical experience. We are inspired by our ancestors and elders --Holocaust and Hiroshima survivors, descendants of slavery, genocide and occupation -- who have devoted their lives to bearing witness to violence of such unforgivable magnitude as to teach us all the lesson that fear of redundancy is a luxury we can ill afford. We must awaken each morning from our Iraq nightmares and follow in their brave footsteps.

Just as Holocaust survivors have never stopped telling their stories of the Nazi extermination camps; just as African Americans never forget the narrative of the Middle Passage and nearly 250 years of slavery; just as Cherokees never forget 4,000 dead on the Trail of Tears; we must join our sisters and brothers in Iraq and never stop telling the story of this horrific war. We must tell it today, tell it all our lives long, and teach it to our descendants.

These are the stories of the Shock and Awe campaign that resulted in 6,616 civilians dead in the first three weeks of the 2003 invasion. The stories of waterboarding and porno-torture at Abu Ghraib prison. The stories of perhaps several hundred thousand Iraqi civilians dead and maimed, whose beautiful names we never learned. The stories of over 3,100 dead US service men and women; the stories of our wounded and disabled, including 500 with amputated limbs. The stories of the attacks on young students at Mustansiriya University, killing over 70 on January 10, 2007 and another 40 on February 25. The stories of a suicide bomber blowing up in a Mercedes truck at a Baghdad market, killing 130 people and injuring 300 on February 3, 2007. The stories of a series of attacks on the prayerful at both Sunni and Shia mosques, starting with the 83 dead at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf on August 29, 2003.

From the Holocaust witnesses we have learned to say never again to regimes of racism and fascism. From Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors we have learned to say never again to nuclear weapons. From the Iraq War we must learn to say never again to preemptive war, to torture, and to the insidious ideology of democratizing by the sword.

On the weekend of March 17-19 demonstrations against the war will be held all around the world. Find one in your area at United for Peace & Justice. Join us in stopping the war and ensuring that it will never happen again.

David Howard is a member of the Ventura County California Peace Coalition and serves on the Board of Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions/CPR. Contact him at

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Introductory essay to the book "She Was Murdered"

READ the whole book at Femicide: She Was Murdered

She Was Murdered

by David Howard

By looking at the victims of murder and listening to their survivors, we may find a way out. —Eric Schlosser


You can’t understand until it happens to you.

The families of murder victims—the survivors—often say this with the grave conviction that they are right and the forlorn hope that they are wrong.

They wish we could, but they know we don’t, won’t and can’t understand.

Until it happens to us.

God forbid.

If we could understand, it is reasonable to suppose, we’d do something about their anguish and their plight.

We’d help.

Or at least we’ll show some respect.

“Murder is not entertainment.”


Survivors know we can’t understand, in part, because they remember how they didn’t understand until it happened to them.

They once were us. Unscathed.



But the murderer—-oblivious-—changed them.


All murder is mass murder. The mortal wound seeps to brother, sister, friend, mother, cousin, lover.

Murder infects the bloodstream, dreamstream, soulstream.

All murder is molestation, epitomizing the most inappropriate of touching.


The invasion and annihilation of the heart, mind, voice.


Murder is filthy.






Only the voicelessness of the victim and the imperfect pitch—the murmur and gasp—of the survivor make murder intimate, palpable, audible, human.

Numbers numb. Who can empathize with six million Holocausted Jews, ten million slaves wasted on the Middle Passage to America?

Numbers numb.

We empathize with one.

Or one at a time.

Anne Frank must stand for the Jews.

Kim Phuc, naked, napalmed, on the run, must stand for 4,000,000 Vietnamese.

Let each female here remembered stand for our dead: murdered mother, murdered daughter.

She needs us; we need her.

We need to pick up her scent.


In 1963 the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was attacked by terrorists.

An eleven-year old girl, Carol McNair, and three fourteen-year-olds, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, were murdered.

Martin Luther King—-five years before his own murder-—spoke at their funeral.

The girls, King explained, “have something to say.”

“They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”

“Death is not a blind alley,” Reverend King told the girls’ parents, “It’s an open door.”


The best among us open a door, close a wound.

We hold a survivor’s hand for as long as it takes.

It takes forever.
* * *

The mediocre among us—me, maybe you—are appalled by murder and its industries, the facile killing porn.

The least we can do is abstain: from the smirk of our culture, infatuated with murderer swagger, blithely sowing murder seed.

We, the mediocre, cringe and cover our ears.

* * *

The good among us labor on. Some are compelled; some are compassionate; some are gifted.

Some are just doing their job: teachers, psychologists, sociologists, criminologists, physicians and nurses, police officers, legislators, chaplains, journalists, attorneys, judges, activists, advocates, counselors, first responders, and—most of all—the survivors themselves.

* * *

The worst among us revel and profit in murder.

Then, the murderer rises: huffing, puffing, snuffing, annihilating.

For every murder there is an implicit lynch mob—lookie lous, investors, pimps, enablers, purveyors.


The survivors guide us, even when they are misguided. Most often they are not. They are just us. Imperfect, dazed, overwhelmed, aching.

Just us, the day after. The decade after. The lifetime after.

Like four Birmingham girls laid out in plain coffins, they have “something to say.”


Is there a light within us capable of healing the pain of life after murder?

Is there a darkness within us capable of reckless disregard, depraved indifference, heinous premeditation with malice aforethought?

Murder one. Murder two. Personslaughter.

How heinous? How depraved? How indifferent?

Jurors in capital cases are instructed to consider and calculate the mitigating and aggravating features of a murder.

The Supreme Court of Florida:

"It is our interpretation that heinous means extremely wicked or shockingly evil; that atrocious means outrageously wicked and vile; and, that cruel means designed to inflict a high degree of pain with utter indifference to, or even enjoyment of, the suffering of others.”

* * *

In 1985 Cristy was a 13-year old paper girl, making her rounds in Tempe, Arizona. Donald, an apartment custodian on her paper route, abducted, sexually assaulted and suffocated Cristy. He kept her body for three days, and when she started to smell bad, he threw her out, behind the building’s trash dumpster.

At death, the body begins to decompose. Bacteria go to work on the tissues and by 24 to 36 hours the smell of rotting flesh appears and the skin takes on a progressive greenish-red color. By 3 days, gas forms in the body cavities and beneath the skin, which may leak fluid and split (Dr. Douglas Lyle).

* * *

In 1998, at a motel in Bullhead City, Michael was babysitting Shelby, his girlfriend’s 19-month-old daughter. Michael told police that Shelby fell out of bed and stopped breathing. Doctors at the hospital, however, reported that Shelby had suffered anal and vaginal trauma. A medical examiner concluded that Shelby died from blunt force trauma or suffocation. Michael then admitted he had placed his index finger in Shelby’s vagina and rectum. Later, he admitted that it had actually been his penis. Finally, he confessed that he also put his hand over Shelby's mouth to “stop her crying.”

* * *

In September of 1994, Eugene claimed that he woke up and found a dead woman in his bedroom. She was 39-year old Karen, the mother of a seven-year-old girl. Karen’s nipple had been cut off. She suffered major trauma to her vagina and rectal area. Her nose was broken and she had a two-inch cut that exposed her skull. She was covered in blood and fecal matter. A bloody steak knife was found on the bathroom sink. A bloodstained brass pipe and a broom handle were found in the living room. These instruments are believed to have caused Karen’s vaginal and rectal injuries. Eugene claimed he had no idea what happened. He said he had been drinking, but his blood samples showed no presence of drugs or alcohol.

* * *

Michael’s murder of Shelby, Donald’s murder of Cristy and Eugene’s murder of Karen all met Arizona’s aggravation standard of being “especially cruel, heinous and depraved.”


Is there—within us—an absolute zero vacuity of conscience? The sociopathic killer.

A relentless sadist? The psychopathic killer.

Will glimpsing—within ourselves—the potential for this sin (what else can we call it?) exorcise it? Keep it at bay? Teach us to forgive? Make us better?

* * *

Should we forgive?


But there is nothing harder.

* * *

Should the murderer live, recover, breathe another 50 years, another 450,000,000 breaths, after her last breath?

Yes. For we have forgiven him.

There is nothing harder.



Serial murder. Spree murder. Rampage murder. Multiple murder. Mass murder. Proxy murder. Contract murder. Drive-by murder. Intimate partner murder. Revenge murder. Thrill murder. Initiation murder. Sexual murder.

Random murder.

The irregular verb: Slay, slew, slain.

Infanticide, fratricide, matricide, patricide, filicide, eldercide, genocide.


Instruments: blunt object, sharp object, firearm, finger, fist.

Murder: Origin Old English morder, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch moord and German mord, from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit mará death and Latin mors; reinforced in Middle English by Old French murdre.— Oxford American Dictionary.


You can’t understand until it happens to you.

But I want to understand, and I don’t want it to happen to me.

I want everyone to understand, so it happens to fewer of us.

I believe that if we do understand, deeply, we will prevent it from happening to others.

If one of us understands, and if that understanding helps prevent the death of another one of us, it’s worth a book of murders.


“A culture of murder surrounds us, like a dark, poisonous cloud,” Schlosser says.

We, in our safety, real or merely presumed, line up to buy a ticket.

We send our children to murder’s amusement park. We buy them toy guns, sporting guns, real guns. We give them murder simulator games for Christmas.

We sing them femicide hymns:

Don’t you get it, Bitch? No one can hear you. Now shut the fuck up and get what’s coming to you. Bleed, bitch, bleed (Eminem).

In the video game Duke Nukem you can shoot naked and bound prostitutes.

In Postal, you can randomly shoot anyone—people coming out of church or members of the high school band.

In Postal 2, you get to chop a woman's head off with a shovel. While another woman begs for her life, you urinate on her.

Vince Desi, the developer of Postal, says he's just trying to make people laugh, provide them with fun.


Do we think our voyeurism, our acting out, our pre-adolescentization of murder is a game, a talisman, a vaccine? Is murdertainment the opium of the masses or the crack cocaine? Stimulant or sedative?

Do we propitiate the murder god by watching televised reenactments, or do we procure future victims for him by rearing assassins? Are we pimps of our grandchildren?

Or, is it all just fun?


Are we inured to murder?

Scared to death? Stun-gunned?

Aroused or de-libidinized?

There is a murder every half hour in the United States.

Who were the 15 slain last night while we slept?

According to Schlosser, there are more murderers in the United States than doctors, college professors or police officers.


Each victim teaches me something different.

But not how to stop bullets or resurrect the dead.

Prevention, intervention, enforcement, litigation, legislation, incarceration, forgiveness, rehabilitation?

Yes, but not now. Not here.

This book is cemetery and sanctuary. A bell tolling for her. A candle.


A Footnote

Empathy precedes and supercedes principles.

Nevertheless, I feel obliged to articulate a principle:

I believe it is morally wrong to intentionally take the life of another human being.

There are three ways to do it: war, capital punishment and murder.

All wrong.

Gandhi said, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

Einstein said, “I believe in taking a holy oath never to participate in any act of violence.”

* * *

This book is not about oaths, objections or lofty moral judgments.

It is about her.


This is a book about femicide in our country. The victims range in age from 3 months to 84 years.

If you count the pregnancies, the age of the fetuses ranges from four weeks to nearly nine months.

The murders occurred between 1926 and 2006.


On what grounds these exhumations?

I mean to respect and love these women.

I mean to apologize.

On behalf of humanity.

We are sorry.


A Note on Method

I started out googling the exact phrase “She was murdered.”

“She was 18 years old when she was murdered and her body burned to ashes.”

“Before she was murdered, [she] was raped and sodomized.”

“She was murdered by her boyfriend…”

“She was murdered by the Klan.”

“Even after 50 years, he can’t understand why she was murdered.”

“She was murdered protecting her land.”

“She was murdered on the Reservation.”

“She was murdered trying to hitch a ride to Boston.”

“She was murdered on Tuesday.”

This is an easy book to write. There is a surfeit of raw material, raw meat.

* * *

In 2004 there were 16,137 murders in the United States.

70% of the murders involved guns.

An average of 8 or 9 females were murdered every day.

Most murder victims know their assailant.

One out of three sleeps with him.

* * *

There is bias in “random” Internet searches. First, there’s the bias of the English language. Second, there’s the bias of notoriety. Or the bias of a “compelling” story that appeals to journalists. White victims are reported on much more frequently than victims of color. Eroticized murder sells; young and pretty victims and killers get more media attention.

On the Internet it’s survival of the fittest. Even among the dead.

There is the bias of sensationalism—the spectacularly brutal.

All murder is spectacularly brutal.

Politics complicates murder coverage. I have been cautious about politicized cases.

The murders chronicled here occurred in the USA or to US citizens outside the USA.

Some cases are settled in law but still disputed by the parties involved. Often the perpetrator’s version differs from the law enforcement version; witness narratives differ. I have tried to avoid cases where “alleged” would have been the most prudent phrasing.

Many of the sources are newspaper accounts. But sometimes I ignored the media in favor of a loved one’s remembrance. Often the strongest voice is the survivor, writing in first person.

The book is divided into six sections: Infants and Toddlers (age three and under); Children (ages four through twelve); Teenagers; Adults (ages 20-50); Elders (over 50); Multiples.

None of the murders are composites. Each is an individual case.

Nothing is embellished. No names are changed.

Often I clicked to additional links and made expanded searches from the “She was murdered” point of departure—to follow-up, fact-check, add detail, learn an outcome.

I experimented with search terms. Eventually, I discovered I could search under virtually any first name and get quite a few hits:

“Maria was murdered; Marta was murdered; Miriam was murdered; Myra was murdered; Myrna was murdered” etc.

Try it with your own name, your mother’s, your daughter’s. It’s quite remarkable.

* * *
The nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in the immediate deaths of perhaps 200,000 civilians. Some of those human beings who vanished—vaporized to carbon dust—left ghostly images on the ground.

I want to show the ghostly images of our slower degradation.

I wrote this book not for a cause but to cause contemplation.

I wrote it to prevent a murder. Myra’s, Maria’s, Marta’s, Miriam’s, Mary’s. My mother’s. Your girlfriend’s. His sister’s. Her daughter’s.

This book is a prayer.


READ the whole book at Femicide: She Was Murdered

Monday, October 09, 2006

Who's Really Preying on Teenagers?

This article was first published in Political Affairs Magazine, online edition, and at the

The scandal of former US Representative Mark Foley hitting on teenage boys pales in comparison to the Pentagon’s serial penetration of our high schools and the Armed Forces’ barely-legal attempted seduction of every 16 to 18-year-old male and female, Congressional page or not.

By virtue of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, military recruiters get the names, addresses and phone numbers of all high school juniors and seniors, unless they or their parents explicitly object.

Military recruiters are also lurking in cyberspace 24/7, using technology like MySpace and Podcasts, and they’re luring unwitting children into lethally dangerous combat liaisons by inducing them to play interactive, first-person-shooter war games on

On the America’s Army website any child still left unrecruited can obtain “hands-on support from army recruiters,” free t-shirts and game discs, or engage in “simulated missions in the war on terror.”

And if that’s not an alluring enough fatal attraction, your unprotected child in cyberspace is just a click away from America’s Army’s “Virtual Recruiting Center.”

All this hi-tech glitter, dazzle, blood and gore costs American taxpayers a good chunk of the $3 billion spent annually on recruitment.

Child recruitment does not lead to Mark Foleyesque Instant Message hookups, but rather to piles of 18 and 19 year-old soldier corpses in Iraq, where the most likely hook-up is to life support equipment and prosthetic devices.

If we don’t let Rep. Foley IM our children, why do we give their cell phone numbers to a recruiter with a rap sheet?

According to the Associated Press, "More than 100 young women who expressed interest in joining the military in the past year were preyed upon sexually by their recruiters. . . . One out of 200 frontline recruiters -- the ones who deal directly with young people -- was disciplined for sexual misconduct last year."

So if your child is really unlucky, she can run into a recruiter who is both a slick, misleading sales rep and a sexual predator.

The No Child Left Behind stealth recruitment requirement conveniently took effect in December of 2002, a year and a quarter before shock, awe and occupation led to a current death toll of 2,748 American men and women and perhaps 100,000 or more distinctly unsimulated Iraqis.

Since public schools face an ultimatum of complying with recruitment abuse or losing all federal funds, it’s virtually impossible to challenge NCLB and survive as an administrator. The only recourse children’s rights advocates have is to interpret the opt-out feature of the law with integrity and care and to restrict recruiters’ advances on our children.

Some school districts make the NCLB opt-out form user-friendly, but at the other end of the spectrum administrators bury opt-out in a stack of bureaucratic gibberish that few parents or students will ever read. Some institutions restrict military recruiters to closely supervised once-a-year presentations at career day, but others let anyone with a snazzy uniform randomly chat up the kids at lunch and recess.

School administrators are up against a very slick, cynical and well-funded operation. Here are a few recruiter tips from an Army handbook published in fall of 2004:

"Cultivate coaches, librarians, administrative staff and teachers."

"Know your student influencers. Students such as class officers, newspaper and yearbook editors, and athletes can help build interest in the Army.”

"Coordinate with school officials to eat lunch in the school cafeteria several times each month."

"Deliver donuts and coffee for the faculty once a month."

"Get involved with the local Boy Scouts.”

"Order personal presentation items (pens, bags, mousepads, mugs) as needed.”
How can we keep the Pentagon from preying on our children? It won’t be easy. The American Friends Service Committee has been working on constructive alternatives to the military since 1917. Their web page provides an excellent start for youth, educators and activists.

But if the idea of your school being obliged to pimp for the Army disturbs you as much as it disturbs me, you probably won’t rest until the recruitment provision of NCLB is repealed and we all acknowledge that child recruitment is as obscene as child pornography.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Lt. Ehren Watada Does His Duty

This article was first published in Political Affairs Magazine, Online edition. Later appeared in the Ventura County Star newspaper, CommonCurrents, OnlineJournal and AfterDowningStreet.
Support Ehren Watada at

US Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada is facing an eight-year term in military prison for just doing his duty: serving our country and protecting the Constitution.

The charges against Lieutenant Watada are conduct unbecoming an officer, missing movement, and contempt toward President Bush. But they boil down to the “crimes” of thinking, speaking and following his conscience.

In June 2006, Ehren Watada refused to deploy to Iraq on the grounds that the Iraq War is illegal. The Army filed charges, held a hearing, and recommended a court martial.

This impending trial will be a test of our president’s authority to wage preemptive war. Lieutenant Watada argues, on our behalf, that President Bush has abused his authority; President Bush argues that Watada is contemptuous for saying so.

The architects of the Iraq War want to punish Ehren Watada for “unbecoming conduct,” but Lt. Watada has only done what any soldier is supposed to do upon receiving an order: exercise moral judgment, determine if the order is lawful, and only then obey it.

As we learned at the Nuremburg trials after the genocide of World War II, an officer is not merely permitted to disobey an illegal order; she or he has a solemn duty to do so, and must not take legality for granted.

How then is a soldier supposed to make the “moral choice” required by the Nuremburg Principles? What 28-year-old Ehren Watada did was educate himself about the conflict and turn to recognized experts in ethics and international law. His subsequent decision not to participate in the Iraq War was pro-Constitution, pro-international law, pro-human rights, and anti-abuse of authority.

Watada stated, “My participation would make me party to war crimes. The Iraq War is not legal according to domestic and international law.”

Many distinguished world leaders and international law experts agree that the war is illegal. They include Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, who in 2004 declared that the US invasion was "not in conformity with the UN Charter, and from our point of view, illegal."

Three experts testified for Ehren Watada at his Article 32 preliminary hearing: University of Illinois Law Professor Francis Boyle, former United Nations Undersecretary Denis Halliday, and retired Army Colonel Ann Wright. They all supported Watada’s claim that the Iraq War is illegal.

Marjorie Cohn, President-elect of the National Lawyer’s Guild and a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, made a similar case at the sentencing hearing in 2004 for Pablo Paredes, a sailor and conscientious objector who refused to board his Iraq-bound ship.

Professor Cohn noted that the Uniform Code of Military Justice establishes that lawful orders must not be contrary to the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Furthermore, the Army Field Manual establishes an explicit duty to disobey unlawful orders: "Following superior orders" is not a defense to the commission of war crimes, unless the accused "did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know that the act ordered was unlawful."

Cohn argued that the United States has not only endorsed the Nuremburg Principles, but also has ratified both the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions, making them legally binding according to Article 6 of the Constitution: “All Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”

As Ehren Watada puts it, “As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must, as an officer of honor and integrity, refuse that order."

As citizens of honor and integrity, we must support Ehren Watada.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

5th Anniversary of 9/11/2001

Five Years from 9/11: Our Peace Mission Remains Unaccomplished

Today, as we reflect on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and remember what it is like to be the victims of a murderous attack, we have before us a solemn peace mission that remains tragically unaccomplished. It’s time to end the war in Iraq.

When war waged in our name takes place on a distant continent and afflicts a people whose language we don’t speak, whose religion we don’t practice, and whose customs we don’t understand, our capacity for empathy is diminished. Empathy, however, is spiritual strength; without it we are morally enfeebled.

As empathy withers, ethnocentrism and xenophobia flourish. The Other--in the current war, the Iraqi--is perceived as threateningly exotic and entirely unfamiliar, outside the human family. Or she is not perceived at all. She’s anonymously hidden under the rubble of collateral damage.

What most debilitates empathy is toxic mass media. We are mesmerized by celebrity worship, sensationalism, consumerism and the self-righteous cant of political entertainers posing as journalists. We are inspired by banal slogans, entertained by perpetual one-click shopping opportunities, and titillated by the gore and glam of the rich and blonde.

We Americans recognize the names Natalee Holloway, Jonbenet Ramsey and Paris Hilton immediately, but we couldn’t name one Iraqi casualty of war if our lives depended on it.

Iraqi lives do depend on it. The war in Iraq won’t end unless we get our ethical bearings and recover our empathy. It won’t end unless we learn the names Roesio, Khadem and Hosam as well as we have learned Paris, Natalee and Jonbenet. It won’t end unless we care as much about “their” dead in Baghdad as “our” dead on 9/11.

What we have done to Iraqis is no secret; we cannot plead ignorance. Real American journalists like Kathy Kelly of “Voices in the Wilderness” have been reporting from Iraq’s hospitals since Shock and Awe began on March 19, 2003.

Kelly told us about Roesio Salem, a 10-year-old girl from a place called Hai Risal, severely wounded by our weapons on the first day of the war.

She told us about Fatima, a 10-year-old from Radwaniya, who suffered multiple fractures when a wall fell on her as she ran from our bombs.

She told us about Khadem, 63, who was shopping for food when shrapnel punctured his intestine and wounded his leg.

She told us about Hosam, a 13-year-old who was wounded in the stomach and now has a colostomy bag.

This killing and maiming has continued under our watch for three and a half years.

Just days before the 5th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, CNN reported that we reached another macabre milestone in the Iraq War. US military dead surpassed the number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks. The civilian death toll is, of course, very much higher. The Defense Department reports that over the past quarter, Iraq has averaged 3,000 war deaths per month.

Iraq has about one tenth of the population of the USA. An equivalent disaster for our population would be the death of 120,000 Americans between May and September. That’s twice the number of soldiers who died in the entire Vietnam War. That’s forty 9/11s.

If Americans were being killed at the rate Iraqis are, we’d be losing almost 30,000 citizens each month, 1,000 per day.

The dead wouldn’t be thousands of miles away in Baghdad or Falluja; they’d be people we know from church, school and soccer practice. They’d be children from our daycare centers. They’d be seniors on park benches. The maimed and wounded would fill up our hospitals and long-term care facilities from Maine to California. We would know their names.

The Iraq war never should have happened. It has brought misery, poverty, pain and death to a people who deserved only our love and humanitarian assistance.

Now, as we reflect on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and remember what it is like to be the victims of a murderous attack, we have before us a solemn peace mission that remains tragically unaccomplished. It is time to forget Paris Hilton and remember Roesio Salem. It’s time to end the Iraq War and occupation. There will never be a better time.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Fed Up with the Iraq War

This article appeared on and on August 1, 2007.

On July 4, Gold Star Families for Peace and Code Pink began a fast to end the war in Iraq. Hundreds of pro-peace supporters marched from the Gandhi Memorial statue in Washington, D.C. to the White House to call upon President Bush to bring the “Troops Home Fast.” The fast will continue until September 21, International Peace Day.

Our Ventura County California Peace Coalition contingent joined the fast on July 30 and will continue in solidarity through Friday, August 4.

The fasters ask the US to withdraw all forces from Iraq and refrain from building permanent military bases on Iraqi soil.

Troops Home Fast has participants in 22 countries and includes such peace heroes as US Army Colonel Ann Wright, Daniel Ellsberg, Dolores Huerta, Cindy Sheehan and US Congressional Representatives Cynthia Mckinney and Lynn Woolsey. They are now joined by over 4,000 ordinary citizens, many of whom served in the armed forces or are surviving family members of Iraq War veterans.

We know that on every day of this fast the news from Iraq will be grim. US soldiers will die, adding to the 2,578 already dead. Iraqis will be blown up, kidnapped, shot and beheaded, adding to the at least 39,593 civilians who have perished since the war began. Prisoners will be tortured. Children will be displaced, impoverished and terrorized.

Yesterday, for example, a car bomb near a gas station in Kirkuk killed six people and wounded 17. It was the fourth time this month that drivers and passengers were attacked while waiting in line at a gas station. The decapitated and tortured corpses of four policemen were found 30 miles south of Kirkuk, and four US marines died in Anbar province, including Tony Butterfield, a 2005 graduate of Buchanan High School in Clovis, California.

This is why we fast: to end the immense horror and suffering for Iraqis and to ensure that our high school graduates of 2006 and 2007 don’t end up dead, like Tony Butterfield.

The paradox of fasting is that although the lack of nourishment weakens the flesh, it strengthens the spirit. Gandhi said that fasting for peace comes from the depths of the soul.

Fasting is an important component of our Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious heritage. Jesus and Moses both fasted for 40 days in the wilderness; Muslims all over the world fast each year in the month of Ramadan. The prophet Isaiah exhorted his people to fast in order to “release those bound unjustly” and “set free the oppressed.”

Those who fast bear witness to wrongdoing, and their refusal to partake in food is a refusal to participate in the wrong. A Gandhian fast is also a demand for change. The faster’s message is, “Just as I can withstand the impulse to nourish my body, politicians and generals can resist their impulse to affirm and sustain violence.”

The wrong our fasters protest is the debacle, tragedy and atrocity of the Iraq War. The fasters are fed up with the deception, propaganda and cruelty of this war. They are fed up with torture, secret prisons, abrogation of the Geneva Conventions, fabricated stories about weapons of mass destruction, ruthless campaigns of “shock and awe,” war profiteering, the seeding of terrorism, the squandering of our wealth, and the profaning of our good name among the peace-loving peoples of the world. They are fed up with the daily bread of car bombings, beheadings and executions that have plunged Iraq into a US-induced darkness, perhaps for decades to come.

The Iraq War is an outrage, an obscene feast of aggression. Here’s how US citizens can help end it: Write, call or e-mail Congress and the President; sign the Voters Pledge to refuse to support pro-war candidates at Support the fast and learn more about waging peace in the Middle East at

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Immigrant Rights, Not Immigration Reform

This article was published in Political Affairs Magazine ( on June 12, 2006 and in the Ventura County Star on June 13.

One thing everyone agrees on regarding immigration is that the current system demands our attention. The critical question is, what kind of attention? Compassionate, inclusive and sustainable? Or just a quick and dirty political fix euphemistically called “comprehensive reform”?

Will we enact draconian remedies that turn 10 million hardworking human beings into instant felons, that erect the longest ghetto wall in history, that supply wage-and-benefit slashing labor to potentially unscrupulous employers? Or will we go beyond tinkering, bungling and punishing to forge a new immigrant rights vision?

The immigrant rights agenda is not the Congressional immigration reform agenda. Solutions to the challenges we face are unlikely to be drafted by legislators beholden to special interests and prone to pandering to the xenophobic right. Instead, the immigrant rights vision is being articulated by community organizations of working families.

These grassroots groups are calling for equal rights for all undocumented immigrants now in the US and a long-term partnership with Mexico to eventually allow the free flow of human beings, not just commodities, across our common border.

The immigrant rights movement is coalescing around four important ideas:

1) Undocumented immigrants from developing countries are, almost invariably, economic refugees. They are not “illegals” and they are not “aliens.” Rejecting the pejorative label is not merely a matter of cleaning up dehumanizing language. It also implies a genuine recognition of the plight of impoverished immigrant families.

Immigrants get swept up in the maelstrom of globalization. Some are pushed across the border because NAFTA permitted US taxpayer-subsidized corn to wipe out their livelihood, because drug lords in business to satisfy suburban US demand for psychotropic drugs terrorize their barrios, because pollution created by our country-the world leader in greenhouse gas emissions- makes their air unbreathable, because global warming from our Hummer culture of extravagant waste is turning their lettuce patches into deserts. Such families are no less worthy of refugee status than those fleeing despots, civil war or religious persecution.

2) Immigrant labor is an indispensable component of our economy. There is an immense number of entry-level jobs in agriculture and service industries that only immigrants on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder are ready, willing and able to take. Let’s be grateful.

3) Deportation or forced repatriation is wrong. Such measures should be limited exclusively to convicted and unrehabilitable criminals. Repatriation disrupts and often destroys families. Currently, we have a large population of children who live under imminent threat of detention and deportation. Summarily returning them to their country of origin is a form of child abuse we cannot countenance. Not if we still want to honor the words we have inscribed on the Statue of Liberty; not if we still want to pride ourselves on the blood, sweat and tears of the immigrants, slaves, indentured servants and dispossessed natives who built our country. Just as the presumption of innocence is a right granted to criminal defendants, the presumption for undocumented immigrants should be that they merit the opportunity to contribute productively to our society.

4) We need to fund the immigrant rights vision. Unlike the Iraq war we squander our wealth on, an investment in a partnership with Mexico’s working families is honorable and worthwhile. When Europe decided to open its borders, it quickly overcame centuries of ethnocentrism and xenophobia. The richer northern nations invested in fortifying the developing economies of the south. We too can overcome.

Inspired by the wisdom of leaders like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, we must keep our eye on the prize of a world without borders, while respecting and expanding immigrant rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We must learn to view immigration not as a health hazard to control, contain or eradicate, but rather as a precious asset-the living, breathing humanity that brings out the best in us.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Open Borders

Here’s a two-word proposal for solving the immigration crisis in the USA: open borders. Before you mouse-click me into oblivion or crumple up your newspaper in disgust, hear me out.

In 1870, when Victor Hugo, a pacifist writer and social critic, proposed that Europe form a union based on principles of free commerce, peace and universal justice, the idea was dismissed as naive, preposterous and undesirable. A couple of decades after Hugo died, however, traditional European rivalries and chauvinism drove the continent into two world wars with an estimated death toll of 70 million people.

In the aftermath of the carnage, Europeans began to think more radically. What if a democratic union really could be formed to live in peace without borders?

The project began humbly in 1951, when a few nations established the European Coal and Steel Community. From that small success, inspired idealists worked diligently for another half century.

Today, Hugo’s dream is reality. Europe has a common market and currency. Customs and passport checkpoints have been abolished at many internal borders, resulting in a peaceful and democratic free zone for travel, work and investment. There are 20 official European languages, spoken by a total of 460,000,000 souls, roughly the population of North America.

The EU is hardly paradise, but it is a model for how many fiercely nationalistic groups, long accustomed to slaughtering each other over the most trivial of pretexts, can create a new and better world from the ashes of devastation and atrocity.

What prevents the US, Mexico and Canada from embarking on a similar road to borderless unification?

It wouldn’t be easy. First of all, it would cost a fortune. We’d need the equivalent of a Marshall Plan to aid Mexico. But if we’ve got $275 billion (and counting!) to wage war and remake Iraq in our image, why not find the funds for waging peace and providing health, education and social welfare for our fellow inhabitants of North America?

There would be countless other obstacles, not the least of which is winning the trust and partnership of the various native cultures and Indian nations with whom our credibility, as well as Mexico’s, is stretched almost beyond repair. We’d also need to address legitimate security and counter-terrorism concerns. We’d need to respect cultural, historical and religious differences. We might have to give up on the idea of military dominance over the rest of the world. But Europe faced similar challenges and is prevailing.

If, like the critics of Victor Hugo, you think a North America without borders is utopian, consider the perils of the anti-utopia currently under discussion: a 2000-mile wall, an ultra-militarized border zone, ghettoization of the Mexican labor force, and criminalization of their presence north of the border. Such a system is a throwback to an age of runaway slaves, collective punishment and debtors prisons. It is impractical, immoral and unsustainable.

Mexican workers arrive in our country as economic refugees, organically following the job market. They are here because US employers have put up several million Help Wanted signs, and because, for one reason or another, their opportunities have eroded at home.

Denying the facts of job shortage there and job surplus here is a fundamental error. As a nation we have said, “We want you, need you and love you; but we also want to incarcerate or deport you whenever we feel like it.” This schizoid message has millions of workers in the streets protesting: “We clean your toilets, pick your vegetables and serve your hamburgers. This is the thanks we get?”

We need to address immigration and dozens of other problems at their source on both sides of the imaginary lines we draw in the sand. We can’t do it overnight. It may take a decade, and it may take a century. May 1, the National Day of Action for immigrant rights, is a good time to begin the conversation.

Victor Hugo said, “There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” A North America without borders is such a dream. On the other hand, raids, walls and the criminalization of honest labor are vile nightmares.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Citizen Healer, Do No Harm, Published in Ventura County Star, 3/5/06

March 1, International Death Penalty Abolition Day

In 1828 Patrick Fitzpatrick of Detroit was executed for the rape and murder of an innkeeper’s daughter. Seven years later, his roommate confessed to the crime.

As a result of this and other travesties of justice, the first official act of the new state of Michigan’s legislature was to ban the death penalty.

On March 1, 1847, Michigan became the first English-speaking government in the world to outlaw executions. Now we commemorate March 1 as International Death Penalty Abolition Day.

The struggle to abolish the death penalty began around the same time as the movement to abolish slavery. The first independent government in the world to ban the death penalty permanently was the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1786. Today slavery is a crime everywhere on Earth, but the struggle to abolish the death penalty continues.

The US remains one of the few remaining bastions of democratic support for the death penalty. One hundred and twenty nations, from Angola to Nepal to Venezuela have no capital punishment. No European country executes its citizens, nor do our neighbors, Canada and Mexico. The UN has repeatedly endorsed an international moratorium on capital punishment.

Eventually, we as a nation will learn to respect the universal human right to life. We too will reject execution as a form of torture.

There are reasons for national optimism. In 2002 the Supreme Court declared the execution of the mentally disabled unconstitutional; the execution of juveniles was abolished in 2005. Like Michigan, twelve states have no capital punishment statute; Illinois and New Jersey have moratoria in effect, and the death penalty laws of Kansas and New York have been nullified. Many mainstream religious institutions in the US oppose capital punishment as a violation of the right to life. Recent polls suggest that voters prefer life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty, and as we saw last week in California’s Michael Morales case, the medical profession finds it ethically unacceptable for a healthcare provider to participate in executions.

The arguments in favor of capital punishment in the US are weak. It is excruciatingly obvious that executions do not deter capital offenses, are frequently meted out to factually innocent individuals, are racially biased, and function as a macabre lottery stacked against the most destitute defendants.

But the best argument against the death penalty may simply be what Jesus, the archetypal victim of the death penalty, taught: love thy enemy.

When we choose instead to wage “war on crime,” to hate and seek revenge, our empathy atrophies and we neglect to provide the early intervention alternatives to guns, drugs,
unemployment and gangs that are indispensable to sustaining a just and peaceful society.

A society committed to nonviolence and human rights would not be a leading purveyor of capital punishment, rivaled only by the likes of China, Vietnam and Iran. It would not be the world’s leader in per capita incarceration; nor would it have a homicide approximately every 30 minutes, as the US does today.

As we mark Wednesday’s International Death Penalty Abolition Day, let us contemplate what it would be like to wage peace, instead of war, on crime. What if our guiding principles were compassion and rehabilitation instead of vengeance and punishment? What if we all considered ourselves the healthcare providers of future generations, nurturers of the sanctity of human life, citizen healers who refuse to participate in any killing, even when authorized by the state?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Waging Peace on the Death Penalty, Published 2/20/05

NOTE: Mr. Morales was given a last-minute reprieve when two anesthesiologists refused to participate in the execution. He remains under a death sentence as a Federal Appeals Court considers the protocols of execution in the state of California.

Waging Peace on the Death Penalty

At 12:01 a.m. Tuesday morning Michael Morales is scheduled to die for the 1982 murder of Terri Winchell, a 17-year old Lodi, California high school student.

The trial took place in Ventura County, where I live.

This evening, as Michael is strapped to the executioner'’s table, Amnesty International and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions will hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Ventura County Government Center, where Morales was condemned to death. We will call for the abolition of the capital punishment.

Michael Morales has lost his struggle to survive, but eventually we death penalty abolitionists will prevail in the United States as we have prevailed in 120 other countries, from Angola to Nepal to Venezuela. Eventually, we as a nation will learn to respect the universal human right to life. We will reject execution as a form of torture.

There are signs that the tide is turning against capital punishment. In 2002 the US Supreme Court declared the execution of the mentally disabled unconstitutional; the execution of juveniles was abolished in 2005. Twelve states have no capital punishment statute, and Illinois and New Jersey have moratoria in effect. Recent polls suggest that voters prefer life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty.

The rational arguments in favor of capital punishment are weak. It is excruciatingly obvious that executions do not deter capital offenses, are frequently meted out to factually innocent individuals, are racially biased, and function as a macabre lottery stacked against the most destitute defendants.

But the best argument against the death penalty may simply be to see Michael Morales as a fellow human being worthy of our care and compassion. Although these humanistic arguments were ignored by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger when he rejected Morales'’ clemency petition, Michael is remorseful and rehabilitated. He is a talented and sensitive artist. He has a mother, a father, two brothers, a sister, three children and young grandchildren who will be no less devastated by his murder at the hands of the state than Terri Winchell'’s wonderful and loving family has been by her murder at the hands of Michael and his accomplice.

I will hold two candles tonight—one for Terri and one for Michael. I believe it is only through honoring both these lives, loving both these souls, that we can finally come to grips with our residual national resistance to abolition.

It easy to love a young woman like Terri Winchell; I know because I have two equally lovable teenage daughters. It'’s a lot harder —but just as important—to love Michael Morales. When instead we hate Michael and men like him, we neglect to provide early intervention alternatives to guns, drugs, unemployment, gangs and prison.

Father Gregory Boyle, who has devoted his life to working with youth at risk for violent crime, particularly minority males like Michael Morales, says that Jesus always represented "the poor and excluded, the easily despised, the demonized, and those whose burdens were more than they could bear."

Michael Morales—so easily despised and demonized for the horrific murder he committed at age 21 while stoned on marijuana, PCP and embalming fluid—fits the profile perfectly.

Father Boyle says such youth don'’t need a second chance; they need the first chance that no one ever gave them.

Our "war on crime"” has made us the world'’s number 1 per capita incarceration country with over 2.1 million prisoners. We are a leading purveyor of capital punishment, rivaled only by the likes of China, Vietnam and Iran. We have implemented astonishingly draconian measures like California'’s heinous Three Strikes Law which provides a life sentence for offenses as minor as stealing a couple of DVDs or lying on a driver's license application.

As we mourn Terri and Michael'’s death, and as we approach March 1, International Death Penalty Abolition Day, let us contemplate what it would look like to wage peace, instead of war, on crime. What if our guiding principles were compassion and rehabilitation instead of vengeance and punishment?

Our first step would be to abolish the death penalty and to give Michael Morales his first chance.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Posthumously Yours, Stanley Tookie Williams, Published 12/20/2005

Posthumously Yours,
Stanley Tookie Williams*

Dear Arnold,

I’ve been dead for a few days now. You’ve probably already forgotten about me and moved on to more important matters like condemning gay marriage, helping the Minutemen keep Mexicans out of California, and preparing another diatribe to deny clemency to Clarence Allen, the 76-year-old blind Choctaw Indian you’ll execute on Jan. 17.

Still, I beseech you—once again—to take just a moment from your busy schedule. I have something important to tell you:

I forgive you for murdering me.

Here’s why:

First of all, Arnold, I forgive you, because I realize you are a kind of ventriloquist’s puppet, a stooge for special interests that couldn’t care less about individual lives like mine or those of the at-risk youth I would have continued to help had I lived.

You, Arnold, merely gang-bang for the military-industrial-prison complex that has turned the US into the per capita incarceration capital of the world, a country only outdone in executions by Iran, China and Vietnam.

Secondly, I forgive you because I understand that shallow and craven men can’t really be blamed for lashing out as you did.

That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Forgive them; they know not what they do.” You know not what you do. You don’t get it. You don’t get what’s wrong with state-sanctioned ritual murder. You don’t get why rehabilitation and redemption are better than blood vengeance and draconian punishment. And you don’t get why so many people thought my trial was hopelessly tainted by racism.

Third, I forgive you because it’s not for me to judge. Ultimately, Arnold, you don’t answer to Stanley Tookie Wiliiams. You answer to history. Time will tell who will be redeemed and who condemned. My legacy is a series of beautiful children’s books. What’s yours?

Fourth, I forgive you because I too must take responsibility for your empowerment. There’s some wisdom in the proverb, “The people get the government they deserve.” Our apathy, lack of political organization, appetite for simpleminded diversion, misdirected rage and despair have helped you win an election and promote the political agenda that brutalizes us all.

Fifth, I forgive you because I refuse to seek revenge on my fellow human beings. After my redemption, I lived for reconciliation, healing and justice. I took a vow never to hurt anyone. That’s something you, Arnold, might also consider.

Sixth, I forgive you because I never give up hope. Even though you murdered me to serve your petty ambitions and uphold the perverse values of your cronies, I hope and pray you may still learn to do the right thing. Trust me, there are always opportunities for redemption, even for you. It’s never too late to renounce violence and injustice.

Finally, I forgive you, Arnold, because I have compassion for your soul. I know that deep down inside you there is a goodness that suffers because you murdered me. I no longer have time to figure out how you became the wounded narcissistic megalomaniac that you are, but I know it’s not the real you. You’re better than that, Arnold. May God have mercy on your soul.

*Stanley Tookie Williams was channeled by David Howard, a peace activist and writer who held a candle for Tookie at the Ventura County Government Center on the night of the execution.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

In Honor of Terri Winchell, Don't Execute Michael Morales, Published in VC Star, 1/22/06

On Thursday, Jan. 8, 1981, Barbara Christian was sick in bed. Her 17-year-old daughter, Terri, a senior at Tokay High School in Lodi, went out to buy dinner. She never came back.

At 2:00 a.m. Saturday, police found Terri’s body in a vineyard on the outskirts of town. She was naked from the waist down; her shirt and bra were pulled up over her chest. She had been hit in the head 23 times, mostly with a claw hammer. Her skull was shattered. Her cheekbones and jaw were broken. She had four stab wounds in her chest.

Terri Winchell should be 42 years old today. She should have gone to college; she should have had the opportunity to be a mother, an aunt, a friend, a lover. She should have had a rich, meaningful life. Instead, she never saw her 18th birthday.

Michael Morales and Rick Ortega were found guilty of this heinous crime. Ortega got life in prison and Morales—tried and convicted in Ventura County—is scheduled to be executed on February 21 at San Quentin Prison.

We cannot know what it’s like to be Barbara Christian, to survive the murder of a daughter. It’s almost obscene to ask.

So we must mourn for Terri and all the other victims of our national homicide epidemic. We must listen carefully to the families of murder victims. We must provide them the special services they need; we must help them heal, and we must protect society from other murderers.

But we must not execute Michael Morales. Or anyone else.

We need no longer dispute the troubling aspects of the Morales case. Let’s assume there was no jailhouse informant conveniently placed in a cell opposite Morales’ and rewarded with a sentence reduction. Let’s assume there was no perjured testimony given under duress and recanted 10 years later. Let’s assume the dissent to overturn this verdict by a State Supreme Court justice on grounds of a racially discriminatory jury pool is irrelevant. Let’s assume it’s just a coincidence that among the three California executions over the past three months one was an African American, one an American Indian and one a Latino. Let’s assume that indigents get the same quality of legal representation as wealthy people. Let’s assume that Morales should get a death sentence, while his cousin who planned and helped carry out the crime, should not. Let’s assume that a quarter of a century between arrest and execution is not too long. Let’s assume that there is nothing better to spend our billions of taxpayer dollars on than sustaining this whole macabre and excruciatingly painful process.

Let’s assume there is no reasonable doubt.

The question remains, should we, at the execution hour of 12:01 a.m. on February 21, care if Michael Morales lives or dies?

The answer is yes. We cannot ignore the intrinsic immorality of state-sponsored murder. If the right to life is a fundamental human right, it must apply universally, to all human beings.

We will always fall short in our efforts to honor human rights, to forgive, to reconcile, to rehabilitate and to heal. But we cannot, must not, institutionalize murder.

The only legitimate question to ask for Terri Winchell’s sake is how can we prevent the next rape, torture and murder of a 17-year-old girl. The answer is the hard work of education, prevention and intervention among both our at-risk and general population. Our disadvantaged communities in particular lack basic social services from pre-natal care through birth, infancy, childhood and adolescence. If we nurture our young in the ways of love and nonviolence, our violent crime rates will plummet.

“An eye for an eye,” said Gandhi, “makes the whole world blind.” He meant not only that warfare perpetuates a cycle of violence, but also that killing deprives us of a vital social sensibility—compassion. Capital punishment dehumanizes us. In avenging the murder, we become the murderers.

There are only three ways to deliberately kill another human being: murder, war and the death penalty. With a little effort we could quickly eradicate one of these scourges forever. Let’s do it in honor of Terri Winchell.

Amor for Fatima, Andrew and Anthony

Published in the Ventura County Star on 3/4/2005

AMOR means “Love” in Spanish. The acronym stands for Alternatives to the Military: Options and Resources. The AMOR group is composed of community activists, deeply troubled by the war in Iraq, who meet at Oxnard’s Café on A. We range in age from 20 to 80, and we include concientious objectors as well as veterans of WWII, Vietnam and other conflicts.

What we have in common is respect for the dead. Like Andrew Aviles, age 18, dead in Baghdad. Or Anthony Roberts, 18, dead in Al Anbar Province.

The long list of American teenage soldiers who have perished in Iraq demands our loving attention, but it would be obscene to memorialize their deaths without also acknowledging those who died by their hand. By our hand.

There is no list of Iraqi dead. Just estimates. Five thousand? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? The Iraqi dead are nameless to us, faceless, almost incorporeal. Iraqi civilian dead are “collateral damage.” Accidents. Nobody’s responsibility. “Co-lateral” means off to the side. Not at center stage, not at the heart of the matter, not where the flag flies and the band plays. Extraneous. Out of sight, out of mind.

For months before the war many of us tried to remain mindful of the still-living Iraqi civilians. We wore buttons with the name and age of an Iraqi child: “Fatima, age 2.” A faith-based group in Massachusetts distributed the buttons. Pray for these children, they said.

In contrast to the nameless Iraqis, CNN has a website with our dead soldiers’ photos, names, hometowns and ages. It looks like a high school yearbook. Except the graduates are dead. It is those deaths that AMOR addresses. Pray for them too. And consider why they died.

Not why we waged war under false pretenses and in defiance of international law. Not why we elected a president too eager for battle. You already know that. What you may not know, however, is how our children were lured to this war.

Under a provision of a law whose very name, “No Child Left Behind,” is an unintended tribute to the atavistic evil of conscripting the young, every high school in the US is required to submit the names, addresses and phone numbers of all boys and girls in 11th and 12th grade for military recruitment purposes. It is possible to “opt-out” of the Defense Department’s recruitment hit list, but most kids and their parents don’t know that. Oxnard let two years lapse before they even began to inform parents that the Pentagon was compiling data about their children.

The military spent about four billion dollars of taxpayer money last year to recruit our children to the killing fields. Professional recruiters charm impressionable teens with glossy mailers and unsolicited phone calls. No Child Left Behind guarantees recruiters a competitive edge over other post-high school employment and education alternatives that are required by law to honor children’s privacy.

Military recruiters are also on our campuses with Junior ROTC programs. They show up for job fairs and career days, and at some schools they’re allowed to just “hang out,” schmooze the kids and give away trinkets: t-shirts, baseball caps, miniature toy rockets.

The military targets the poor and minorities for its bloody missions of putative glory. Jessica Lynch joined up and went to Iraq after she had been turned down for a job at Wal-Mart.

Recruiters promise kids job training, a college education, adventure and excitement. They promise to build character. Most of these promises are inflated and misleading. As Mose Allison used to sing, “Life is short and talk is cheap. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

Life was 18 years short for soldiers like Andrew and Anthony. What promises did recruiters break to them?

There are better, nonlethal ways to get job training and a college education, and there are peaceful ways to serve your community and your country. There is nothing glorious about war. War is a trick we play on our children, the quintessential broken promise.

Chris Hedges writes, “War is always about betrayal. It is about the betrayal of the young by the old, idealists by cynics, and finally, soldiers by politicians. Those who pay the price, those who are maimed forever by war, are shunted aside, crumpled up and thrown away. They are war’s refuse.”

AMOR challenge the notion of teenagers as refuse. We provide walk-in, telephone and online counseling services to youth looking for alternatives to the military, and we work to create peaceful employment, education and service options on high school campuses.

We do it for Andrew and Anthony, and we do it for Fatima.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Cafe on A

The paradox of holy places: they exist—spatially, materially,—but they’re also all in your mind. And heart.

This is a reflection on our sacred space in the heart of Oxnard—Café on A.

On March 14, 1979, twenty-five years before I met Café on A co-creators Armando Vázquez and Debbie De Vries, a pre-dawn earthquake off the coast of Guerrero rumbled through Mexico City and destroyed much of the Iberoamericana Univeristy where I worked. Had it struck a couple of hours later, the campus would have been teeming with students, teachers and staff. Because of the fortuitous timing hundreds of people lived who would otherwise have died.

When I got off the subway and arrived on campus that afternoon, I was shocked by the devastation. My classroom had been reduced to rubble. But more than the material catastrophe, what I remember most vividly are the signs posted and painted on the walls that remained standing. Anonymous muralistas had gone to work immediately to bring forth image and poetry from the ruins.

One graffiti was seared into my brain forever: La universidad no es un edificio. The univeristy is not a building.

It was the perfect aphorism for the campus existential crisis. We read it and went about the work of sustaining what the university really was—a community. I like to think that no one who experienced the jolt of earthquake and poetry that day ever again confused a building with its meaning, existence with essence.

The Jesuit founders of the Universidad Iberoamericana knew something about sustaining institutions. The best among them knew the secret of sacred space: build it with your heart, your soul and your integrity, and it will last. Earthquake proof. Even if it all falls down.

Paradoxically, the institutions that are built in full consciousness that they are not (merely) buildings tend to be the most beautiful, the most soulfully imperishable. Build them of brick, steel, silver and gold; or build them of wind, sand, mud and straw. The materials don’t matter. The heart of the matter matters.

Debbie and Armando have designed our beloved Café on A as a sacred space that’s in a building, but not of a building. And thus Café on A becomes the molten core, the epicenter of a different kind of earthquake. The kind that shakes asunder the foundations of injustice, that inspires artists to rock our world, that releases underground tectonic energy to radiate in mystery and transform lives.

Café on A is exactly where it’s supposed to be: on Oxnard’s spiritual faultline, on the frontera, in the circle whose center is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere.

Que dure mil años. May it last a thousand years.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Last Gospel, a historical novel published in 2000 by Discus Books

Combination thriller, wisdom quest, and futuristic love story, David Howard’s The Last Gospel is a richly textured and meticulously researched novel that infuses ancient religion with new meaning for a new millennium.

The Last Gospel takes the reader on a riveting journey that shifts on parallel plot lines from the 1st to the 21st century, juxtaposing the heroes, sages and villains of ancient Palestine with those of tomorrow’s hi-tech California.

In the year 2020 Pope Juan Diego, under the Vatican’s glasnost policy, releases a set of ancient scrolls the Catholic Church has held in secret for a thousand years. The documents contain first person accounts of the life of Jesus, told by those who knew him best.

Providing new and credible testimony, the "Isaac Scrolls" challenge core Judeo-Christian beliefs: Jesus had an Indian lover, a vengeful brother, a mother who was both sensuous and wise. Judas was framed by Peter. Mary Magdalene had an affair with Thomas, and Jesus leaves a final message for humanity in the hands of a teenager.

Just as Christians prepare to re-examine their most cherished beliefs, one of the key researchers on the project, Rafaela Baruch da Costa, a Sephardic-American Jew, pregnant by her expatriated African-American lover, begins to uncover prophecies encoded in the Scrolls. As her love life, career and family life careen out of control, and as she is menaced by Fundamentalist terrorists, Rafaela is inexorably led to the conviction that she must act resolutely to avert Middle Eastern catastrophe.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Project Emancipation, Published in VC Star, 3/30/05

Project Emancipation

Gang injunctions must not be perpetual

The Oxnard gang injunction trial has come to an end, and the verdict is in the hands of the judge.

Public Defender Neil Quinn and civil rights attorney Gabriella Navarro-Busch have presented a compelling case to challenge the wisdom, constitutionality and effectiveness of the Oxnard injunction. It is my view that their arguments should prevail and the injunction should be rescinded. The injunction was a bad idea to begin with—the brainchild of an overzealous police chief who has since resigned.

Instead, we should devote our energies to providing the full range of educational, health, employment and rehabilitative services that we know can not only dramatically reduce crime rates but also improve the quality of life for all of us.

I was among a group of community activists who attended the injunction trial in Ventura County Superior Court. One interesting thing we observed is that every single person involved in this case was appalled by the extent of violent crime in Oxnard. That includes police officers, district attorney, civil rights activists, relatives of victims and alleged gang members, attorneys for the enjoined individuals, and expert witnesses for both sides. Everyone who set foot in Judge Byssche’s courtroom is strongly committed to reducing the murder and violent crime rate in Oxnard.

Our profound disagreement is not over the goal, but the means of achieving it. The proponents of the injunction have emphasized punitive measures, while the opponents have stressed social services and rehabilitation. We activists have argued that law enforcement must do its job without violating anyone’s civil rights. The district attorney insists, however, that some rights—like freedom of association— are worth circumscribing in pursuit of winning the “war on gangs.”

Despite these diverse approaches and philosophies, and despite the inherent adversarial nature of a trial, I hope we can find some common ground.

One area in which we may get consensus between community groups and law enforcement is Project Emancipation.

Activists for several peace and justice organizations have presented a proposal to the Court that provides a rehabilitative exit from the injunction. The need for such a strategy can be gleaned from District Attorney Karen Wold’s statement in the Star on 3/25/04: "People who are not even born yet can be served with this order 20 years from now.” The Oxnard Police Department’s Q&A on their website has a one-word answer to the question of how long the injunction will last: forever.

If you’re not alarmed, you ought to be. Consider this: Nothing prevents the Oxnard Police Department under current leadership or under whatever leadership it may have ten, twenty or fifty years from now, from jailing citizens for driving home from the movies after 10:00 pm or for crossing the street to visit a neighbor. There is no requirement that such a citizen have a criminal record. Indeed, Californians have already been enjoined by similarly crafted injunctions without ever having been arrested or even having been a suspect in a crime. All the police have to do is document that someone has accused you of being a gang member. A witch hunt? Potentially.

Project Emancipation would establish a rehabilitative alternative to incarceration and eternal surveillance. Enjoined individuals would be offered the opportunity to participate in a community-based program like Oxnard College’s KEYS Leadership Academy. The award-winning KEYS program has been enormously successful with Ventura County’s most challenging youth. KEYS gets at-risk young men and women enrolled in school, gainfully employed and involved in productive community-improvement projects.

The injunction would be temporarily lifted while alleged gang members are enrolled in an approved rehab program like KEYS and permanently lifted upon successful graduation. Respected community organizations like CAUSE and El Concilio, along with representatives from the police and probation departments, would provide oversight for Project Emancipation.

Currently, gang injunctions provide no incentive for enjoined individuals to get a job, go to school or contribute to the community. Project Emancipation does. Even if the injunction is rescinded in Oxnard, Project Emancipation can provide a rehabilitative model for past and future injunctions throughout the state and country.

Can anyone argue that jobs and college credit are not a more desirable outcome than jail?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Oxnard Gang Injunction, A Distraction, Published in VC Star, 12/14/04

Oxnard Police Chief Lopez dismisses civil rights activists' objections to the gang injunction by claiming, "Our highest court does not contend the injunction is a violation of the rights of gang members." This misleading presumption of constitutionality deserves some scrutiny.

The Oxnard injunction, in citing more than 1,000 unnamed "Joe Does" and covering a vast expanse of the city, goes much further than the very narrow injunction against 33 named defendants that was upheld by the State Supreme Court in Gallo vs. Acuña. But even in the Acuña case, several justices were troubled by the limits on freedom of association. Justice Stanley Mosk, in fact, was outraged. He concluded his impassioned dissent by quoting U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren: "Unfortunately, there are some who think the way to save freedom in this country is to adopt the techniques of tyranny."

In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the use of such techniques of tyranny, even against gang members, ruling 6-3 that Chicago's anti-loitering laws were unconstitutional. The court determined -- with only Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and William Rehnquist dissenting -- that in a free society, police cannot be given unbridled authority to arrest citizens.

Police officers, the court said, need some evidence of wrongdoing before they intervene. There is, however, no wrongdoing in the behavior that has been arbitrarily criminalized under Chief Lopez's injunction. In his world, you can go to jail for wearing a Dallas Cowboys T-shirt. If the police chief wants to push the envelope on our civil liberties, he should be mindful of the consequences. The 1992 loitering law in Chicago resulted in 42,000 wrongful arrests of alleged gang members. Most of those arrested were black or Latino.

Is that the way to prevent violence in Ventura County? The experts in education and healthcare say no.

The gang injunction is a costly and counterproductive distraction from the violence prevention programs that nurture our children to grow up peaceful, loving, productive members of society.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Gang Injunction is Bad News for Oxnard, Published in VC Star, 11/21/2004

No más mano dura

There's good news and bad news about the sweeping civil gang injunction imposed on 6.6 square miles of Oxnard.

If you view the glass as half empty, the situation may look pretty grim. Litigation is likely to cost the county a fortune; citizens misidentified and harassed as gang members are outraged, insulted and intimidated; constitutional guarantees like freedom of association and freedom of expression are eroding; and, worst of all, our persistent epidemic of violence is being treated with a placebo of hot air about "urban terrorists" and a counterproductive bludgeon of "tough-on-crime" ideology hellbent on celebrating our national disgrace of shattering the world's record in per-capita incarceration.

Rather than face the shame and failure of our disastrous policies of warehousing mostly minorities for mostly nonviolent crimes, our district attorney, who finds nothing objectionable in a law that provides life prison sentences for stealing a box of diapers, has cut and pasted a crude Los Angeles gang injunction on Oxnard.

The injunction hopes to achieve sweep-the-barrio incarceration of some 1,000-plus "John Does."

Today, young Oxnard Latinos can go to jail even for nonexistent "crimes" such as wearing a Dallas Cowboys T-shirt.

So what's the good news? Simply put, a grass-roots movement of violence prevention and rights protection has mobilized in powerful opposition to the injunction.

On the legal cutting edge of Oxnard's violence prevention movement, the Ventura County public defender is collaborating with pro bono attorneys to protect those served with the injunction and to address the troubling constitutional issues.

The judge, rather than compliantly issuing the blanket injunction that the district attorney pitched, has scheduled the case for January trial, denied a motion to expand it, and ordered mediation between community leaders and law enforcement.

At the same time, community activists who understand the root cause of street gang violence -- the failure to address marginalization at every critical juncture of a child and adolescent's life -- are educating public officials through demonstrations, neighborhood meetings and weekly appearances in City Council chambers.

New organizations such as Colonia Civil Rights Coalition and Chiques Community Coalition Organizing for Rights Education, Employment and Equity (CORE) have formed to help, rather than punish, at-risk youth before, during and after they get involved with la vida loca (the crazy life).

As a result of these organizing efforts, city and county officials have begun to take a second look at underfunded programs that are proved to reduce violence, like Oxnard College's KEYS Program for at-risk youth.

What the community activists understand is neither rocket science nor an assiduously guarded state secret. It is public knowledge, common sense and the hard science promoted and promulgated by the surgeon general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health.

All those sources agree that youth violence must be addressed comprehensively by the entire "village" of healthcare professionals, educators, community activists, parents and survivors.

While popular media often delight in portraying gang youth as murderous scum beyond redemption, the profile of the gang banger is more typically a child hurt by racism and poverty, economically disadvantaged, learning-disabled, from a single-parent, immigrant home, or a succession of foster homes, where he or she may have been physically or sexually abused.

On the law-enforcement front, some Oxnard police officers are showing signs of understanding what Boston police chief Mickey Roache understood more than a decade ago when he participated in a community-based effort to reduce that city's juvenile murder rate to zero for the year 1996.

Chief Roache was honest and smart enough to publicly acknowledge, "You can give me all the police you want and build all the prison cells you can afford, but until you stop the flow of kids into violence, I cannot fix the problem."

Boston was successful because the experts viewed violence as a public health crisis, like tobacco addiction or automobile safety. The treatment included education, recreation, healthcare, substance-abuse rehabilitation, living-wage jobs, parenting workshops and psychological services.

To implement such a program, you don't need to build more prisons, criminalize freedom of association or enact draconian laws; you just need the compassion, creativity and commitment of concerned citizens like you and me.