Category Archives: laws and legislation

“If Certain Acts and Violations of Treaties are Crimes, They are Crimes…” Trump Pardons Convicted War Criminals


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A day after President Trump pardoned three convicted American war criminals against the strong objections of the Department of Defense and the military services. With one stroke he took back military justice to the day when President Richard Nixon for all practical purposes overturned the military Justice system’s conviction of Lieutenant William Calley for the My Lai massacre by commuting his sentence to house arrest. It took decades for the United States Army to recover from the stain of what it had done in Vietnam, and the Presidency years to recover from the stain of Richard Nixon.
This happened during a week where I have been doing a lot of reading on the Japanese War Crimes during the Second World War, reviewing my previous studies about the Nazi War Crimes, and watching a mini-series about the Tokyo War Crimes Trials.
I am appalled at the President’s despicable defense and pardoned three men convicted of war crimes by U.S. military courts. Truth matters, law matters, and justice matters.

These pardons have the potential release unprecedented evil by otherwise honorable men who either believer that they are just following orders or approved by God through the words of their leader.

I take this very seriously. War Crimes are war crime whether committed by Nazis, Communists, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, or American soldiers. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who organized the Nuremberg Trials and prosecuted the leading Nazis noted before the trials began:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

The fact that the United States Congress has never approved U.S. membership in the International Criminal Court means that we do not take war crimes seriously if they are committed by our soldiers. We make a mockery of justice, and even when our own military seeks justice, now the President is overturning the our military justice system to set convicted war criminals free. The President has dishonored the country and the military that is sworn to obey the law and the Constitution.

That is what it comes down to. How does one speak for human rights and against war crimes and crimes against humanity, yet watch the President of the United States make a mockery of justice.
Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Public Impeachment Hearings: Damning But Not a Sure Thing

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This week we witnessed something that hasn’t been seen since I was in 9th grade, televised public impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives, and we saw the President’s defense shredded as witnesses, all members of the State Department gave damning testimony without a creditable defense, either by his Counsel, or by House Republicans. To make matters worse, the President began tweeting attacks against the woman he had appointed as Ambassador to the Ukraine, which only could be construed as witness intimidation.

Unfortunately for the President he ran into a Congressman who is an experienced and sharp prosecuting attorney, Representative Adam Schiff of California. Instead of letting the President’s unhinged Twitter assaults go, Schiff quoted them in real time allowing the former ambassador the chance to rebut them in real time.


It was something that we will probably never see again because no future President would lack the self control to avoid further incriminating him or herself and adding charges against themselves. But this is Donald Trump, a pathological narcissist who cannot shut his mouth to save himself. Today in real time he threatened and attempted to intimidate former Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in real time, something that Congressman Schiff was quick to point out and read those tweets within seconds during the hearing. This is something that has never happened before.

What happens next? More hearings, both public and secret, and then a vote on whether to move to an impeachment trial.

After that the drama moves to the Senate. In normal times, Senators like Barry Goldwater would go to the President and demand he resign in the face of certain conviction, as he and others told Richard Nixon in August 1974. but these are not normal times. Instead of principled men like Goldwater the GOP Senate is stocked with spineless men without any ethics who will only break from supporting Trump if their constituents show a clear indication to do so or face defeat in their respective Senate races in 2020.

I for one do not know how it will end, but I do know that the President is not coming across well.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“To Abandon Facts is to Abandon Freedom” The Trump Effect

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After a long day yesterday we went out and hung out with friends for quite a while at Gordon Biersch. Then we came home and just watched television and read. I waited until this morning to check the election results and was quite pleased for the State that I will officially be a citizen of once I retire from the Navy, the Commonwealth of Virginia. So I didn’t write anything.

Tonight is kind of a reflection on the words and actions of President Trump, his family, and his cult like followers have been conducting themselves as public impeachment hearings loom in the wake of very unfavorable results for Trump and the GOP. I began to think of Historian Timothy Snyder’s words from his book On Tyranny which was published not long after President Trump’s election in 2016. Snyder wrote:

”The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.”

Dissent is not disloyalty, opposing the President’s policies, obeying one’s oath of office when seeing criminal or potential criminal actions being undertaken is not being a communist or enemy of the state. Asking such questions is not treason. Our founders wrestle with this. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.“

In spite of the Democrat victories in 2018 and 2019 and the upcoming impeachment hearings, neither the President, nor his supporters in Congress, nor his propaganda department or his cult led by charlatan preachers like Paula White, the new spiritual advisor at the White House will stop the lies and will stoop to no low in order to retain power. For them neither the law or the Constitution have any meaning. Trump is the law, and what he says is coming directly from God according to Reichsbishofin Paula White.

Between White’s outright heresy and Trump’s lies, supported by those of his family, his partners in the GOP and the blind faith and belief of his propaganda network and cult the truth does not matter. Oaths of office don’t matter, only loyalty to Trump. Snyder wrote:

“To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis to do so. If nothing is truth, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”

I figure that even if Trump is legally removed from office through impeachment or loses the 2020 election that the damage is done and that it will take a generation for the country, it’s laws, and institutions to recover. Thirty years ago when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet system fell apart it would bring forth universal democracy and freedom. I figured that the dictators were on their last legs, but I was wrong, even the United States is not immune to the lure of authoritarian rule. I believe that the next year will be very dangerous. Some of Trump’s preachers have promised that she he be turned out of office that they will kill those who opposed him.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Functionaries Ready to Believe and Act Without Asking Questions” Trump’s Orwellian Administration

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I have thought about the actions of President Trump of the last week or so that I remembered the words of historian Timothy Snyder. He wrote in his book The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America:

“Authoritarianism begins when we can no longer tell the difference between the true and the appealing. At the same time, the cynic who decides that there is no truth at all is the citizen who welcomes the tyrant.”

Sadly it seems that there are many Americans, a vocal minority who can no longer tell the difference between truth and what they find appealing. Much of this cannot be ascribed to any other motive than racism, admitted or not. Likewise, there is probably a larger number of Americans who have become so cynical that they have made the decision that there is no truth. They are the people who really make authoritarian regimes possible.

Hannah Arendt wrote:

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction ( i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false ( i.e ., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

That is a big part of the danger that we face today. Such people become the willing functionaries who drive the machine of the criminal state.

The late and great Auschwitz survivor, Primo Levi wrote:

 “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

Last night I quoted from the book The Participants: the Men of the Wannsee Conference in the chapter dealing with Friedrich Kritzinger, State Secretary for the Reich Chancellery, whose job it was to make the bureaucracy of the Third Reich run as smoothly as possible. The writers of that chapter noted:

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?” (St. Augustine). This might not be a quote from Kritzinger, but it serves as a reminder that, by working as a lawyer for a regime, which he has known from the start to be criminal, he made himself a stooge.” (The Participants p.217”) 

I wonder how many like Kritzinger are currently serving in the Trump Administration, or in Congress defending his every misdeed. From my perspective I could name more than a dozen without blinking an eyelash, men an women who purposely subvert the law and Constitution in the name of Trump, as if loyalty to him is more important than their oath, or if his word “trumps” the law and Constitution. In the Third Reich it was said by many leading Nazis that Hitler’s word was above the law and that it was the law.

Be it whether they are true believers of lies, or cynics who have stopped believing in truth, they make possible the existence and functionality of the criminal authoritarian state. Both the true believers and the cynics refuse any personal responsibility and commit themselves to a system that knows no bounds of cruelty or lawlessness. Hoffer wrote:

“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.”

So anyway, I am tired. It has been a long day.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Of Demagogues and Tyrants: The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Current President


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the Declaration of Independence these words stand out. “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

I cannot think of an American President who these were more pertinent to, then  Donald Trump. He is the man who Alexander Hamilton warned us in his words and in the Federalist Papers.

“Of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”

From the beginning of his campaign in 2015 the President has been nothing more than a demagogue, charlatan, and compulsive liar. Additionally, he has shown contempt for the Constitution, the laws, and the institutions of this country in such a myriad of ways it is hard to list them all here; but they include domestic, and foreign affairs which certainly Hamilton and the other Founders believed would eventually happen in our land.

This is all exploding on us now. Those who warned us were derided by Trump’s loyal Army conservative Evangelical Christian supporters, members of White Supremacist groups, and Neo-Nazis; as well as the unofficial, yet official State Propaganda television network, Fox News, and hundreds of right wing television and radio pastors, and other propaganda pundits, many with dubious records of personal and legal conduct.

We are living in a dangerous time. Based on his long history of unfaithfulness to wives, children, employees, investors, and contractors it would be foolish to believe that this President would be faithful to the oath that he took when he was inaugurated as President in 2017.

I am tired and will sign off for the night and continue my series on the Battle of Leyte Gulf tomorrow since I got ahead of myself last night.
So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Limits Of Obedience: The Lessons Of Ludwig Beck, Claus Von Stauffenberg, and Government Officials In Authoritarian Times

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

While we were in Berlin last year I visited the German Resistance Memorial Center. The museum is located in what was the headquarters of the German Army in World War One, the Weimar Republic, and during the Nazi Era. On July 20th 1944, German Army officers attempted to kill Adolf Hitler, overthrow the Nazi regime, and end the war. Sadly, they failed in their attempt and most of those involved were tried and executed for what their criminal government considered treason.

Of course by the law of their times their act was treasonous, but morally it was all that men and women committed to the rule of law and human rights could do.

One of the conspirators, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was well aware of how their actions would be categorized under current German law. The man who planted a bomb and attempted to assassinate and overthrow Hitler noted:

“I know that he who will act will go down in German history as a traitor; but he who can and does not, will be a traitor to his own conscience.” 

He was correct by the law of the times. All of the officers involved had all sworn a personal oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler as the Führer and Reichskanzler of Germany in 1934. At the time most of the men who swore that oath did not anticipate what would come. Many of the older officers had served in the Imperial Army and sworn an oath to the Kaiser and their dynasties of the lands where they entered service. That changed in 1918 when the Weimar Republic came into existence and military officers as well as civil servants swore an oath to the constitution rather than a person.

A year after Hitler came to power as Reichskanzler, President Hindenburg died. Hitler, seized the opportunity used the occasion to swear the military, as well as the civil service to a new oath. This oath was not to the Constitution, or to Office of thePresidency or Chancellor, but to him personally as the Führer and Reichskanzler.

Most officers and civil servants, even those uncomfortable with Hitler’s policies obeyed their oaths and simply stayed in their lanes and did their jobs, even when they had incontrovertible evidence of Nazi atrocities.

Yet there were others who for a number of reasons, in some cases noble, and in others pragmatic, or even base, decided to break the oath they had sworn to Hitler in 1934. Among these men was General Ludwig Beck. Beck noted:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

Beck also wrote something that is all to important to any military officer, intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as diplomats in such times as we live today:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.” 

With the rise of legally elected authoritarian rulers in Europe and the Americas should concern men and women who have sworn to uphold the constitutions of their countries. These leaders campaigning against democratic institutions, and upon gaining power purge those institutions of opponents and use them to solidify their own power. The veneer of democracy is maintained while the soul of it is crushed. Too often those charged with guarding it are willing participants in its death, soldiers, civil servants, judges, and legislators.

That is what Beck understood. He resigned his office as Chief of Staff of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s plan to invade Czechoslovakia, became a member of the anti-Hitler resistance and died in the failed attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20th 1944. He was a career Army officer and a conservative, but he realized that there are limits to obedience in the face of evil.

I fear that there are many men and women in nations whose democratic institutions are being subordinated to authoritarian rulers who will not rise to the occasion and allow those institutions and eventually their nations to perish. Sadly, that also includes those in the United States.

I will leave you with that thought for the evening.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The First Rule: Above All Thou Shall Not Be a Bystander

Jewish Men being Rounded Up in Baden with Citizens looking on  

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”  These words from his book Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 serve as a warning to members of a society where various minority groups are being labeled as enemies of the state and often less than human.

Two years ado we have watched as a rabid Trump supported sent pipe bombs to a dozen men and women who the President has personally attacked in speeches, interviews, or on his Twitter account. We have watched as a White man gun down two Black senior citizens in a Louisville, Kentucky Kroger store after failing to gain access into a Black Baptist Church. Last year have watched as a hate filled anti-Semite kill eleven Jews, mostly senior citizens in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Likewise we watch as the President turns a caravan of Honduran refugees, mostly women and children, nearly 1,000 miles from the US border into a terrorist caravan full of MS-13 and ISIS killers, something that he reprises at nearly every rally that he headlines.

The President has blamed the intended victims for the actions of a very real terrorist who happened to be one of his most stalwart supporters. He ignored the racially motivated murder of Black senior citizens. He made jokes about having a “bad hair day” within hours of the massacre at Tree of Life on his way to a political rally where he again excoriated the press and his political opponents blaming them for the violent acts of his supporters or men who have fully bought in to the President’s racial conspiracy theories.

Many people wonder how this can happen, but it happens all too easily. All that is needed is a population that has been conditioned by propaganda, based on historical myth, untruth, a prevailing climate of fear, and in which the threat of crisis, real or imagined, can delude even good, able, and even extraordinary people to commit crimes that if they were not real, would be incomprehensible to the mind.

In such times decisions have to be made, difficult decisions, the decision to stand for what is right, even if the country’s leaders, and their most vocal followers threaten violence and the use of government force against those who dissent.

Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived Auschwitz wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

The excuse of just following orders has been shown to be no excuse. Men and women who follow such orders under a thin veneer of technical legality will be condemned by history. The men of the Wehrmacht who gave logistic, communication, and security support to the Einsatzgruppen that were committing genocide in the Soviet Union were as guilty as the trigger pullers.

Genocide begins when those who know better turn their backs on crimes committed against a few. The last lines of the classic film Judgement at Nuremberg are illuminating when it comes to understanding men and women who do just that. In the film, Burt Lancaster playin the convicted Nazi judge Janning asks Judge Heywood played by Spencer Tracy to visit him. In that closing scene Janning implored Heywood to understand that he never believed that things would go so far.

Ernst Janning: “Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!”

Judge Dan Haywood: “Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

Being a perpetrator is one thing, but being a bystander is worse. As Hannah Arendt noted: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil. 

Until Tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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