A call to repentance on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq

“A call to repentance on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq”,  by Wash DC Catholic Worker Art Laffin, originally published in the National Catholic Reporter – Mar. 19, 2013 http://ncronline.org/news/peace-justice/call-repentance-10th-anniversary-us-invasion-Iraq

Ten years ago on March 19, President George W. Bush ordered the
invasion of Iraq. Following in the footsteps of his father, President
George H.W. Bush, who 12 years before had authorized the Desert Storm
invasion and bombing of Iraq for 42 days, the younger Bush, with the
consent of Congress, initiated “Shock and Awe,” a massive bombing
campaign that led to an occupation that lasted most of a decade.

Hours before the commencement of the Shock and Awe campaign, I joined
a group of 25 peacemaking friends who climbed over the fenced-off area
on Pennsylvania Avenue in front the White House to make a final appeal
to the president to halt this action. Shortly after we offered our
prayers of intercession, we were arrested by Park Police. After hours
of processing, we were released from the Anacostia Park police station
later that evening. As we met our supporters, we learned the invasion
had begun. Heartbroken, I could only pray: God forgive us.News
accounts the next day showed the Baghdad night sky lit up like a
fireworks display. We will never know how many people were killed that
evening.

The protesters were not alone in their demands. Similar pleading
against going to war had also come from the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops and the Vatican in the months leading up to the
invasion. Pope John Paul II made a number of specific appeals calling
for no war. In January 2003, the pope told his Diplomatic Corps: “War
is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity.” And on
March 7, 2003, Bishop John Michael Botean, bishop of the Romanian
Catholic Diocese of St. George in Canton, Ohio, issued a pastoral
letter condemning Catholic involvement in the war: “With moral
certainty I say to you it [the Iraq War] does not meet even the
minimal standards of the Catholic just war theory I hereby
authoritatively state that such direct participation is intrinsically
and gravely evil and therefore absolutely forbidden.”

Many believed then, and the world knows now, that the purported
government justification for bombing and occupying Iraq were based on
lies and deceit. Yet 10 years later, no senior government or military
leader who ordered, directed and carried out this blatantly immoral
and illegal invasion and occupation has been held accountable. No
apology has been made, no public act of repentance or contrition has
ever been offered by any U.S. official for the unspeakable war crimes
committed. The use of white phosphorus anti-personnel weapons in a
massacre in Fallujah in 2004 and the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu
Ghraib are just two cases in point.

What was the human cost of invasion and occupation for the Iraqis? A
survey from The Lancet [1] found that more than 600,000 Iraqis have
died, while the Opinion Research Business Survey concluded that the
number was more than 1 million. An estimated 4 million Iraqis have
been displaced. And an entire society has been traumatized, devastated
and left in a state of upheaval. The reality is that the war will
never be over for the Iraqi people.

Following the invasion of Iraq, Pope John Paul II declared in his 1991
encyclical Centesimus Annus [2]:

I myself, on the occasion of the recent tragic war in the Persian
Gulf, repeated the cry: “Never again war!” No, never again war, which
destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws
into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves
behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more
difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked
the war. [Section 52]

The invasion and occupation has also taken a terrible toll on U.S.
troops. More than 4,400 soldiers died, and countless more were
injured. A vast number of veterans now suffer from post-traumatic
stress disorder, and the suicide rate has been exceedingly high, not
only for soldiers who were in Iraq but also for those who were
deployed in Afghanistan. Pentagon figures show that there were a
record 349 suicides among active duty troops last year.

Regarding the economic cost of the Iraq war, the National Priorities
Project has found [3] that the U.S. has spent more than $807 billion
waging it. And a Brown University report [4] just released ahead of
the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq says the Iraq war
has cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion, including $500 billion in
benefits owed to veterans. It is inevitable that when the government
squanders so much money from the public treasury, it will end up in
massive debt. No wonder there is a “fiscal cliff” and sequester
crisis.

In the last 10 years, peace organizations worked tirelessly to end the
U.S. occupation of Iraq. We at the Catholic Worker along with many
other communities across the U.S. and in Europe kept vigil and engaged
in many nonviolent resistance actions to demand an end to this war. We
also implored the bishops, who were conspicuously silent after the
occupation, to speak out against it and the Bush administration’s
pre-emptive war policy. On one occasion, I had the opportunity to
speak with military chaplains, including then-Archbishop Edwin O’Brien
(now a cardinal), head of the Archdiocese for the Military of the
U.S., and asked them to call on all Catholic soldiers to leave Iraq
and not participate in this sinful occupation. This appeal was not
well received. It should be noted that Archbishop O’Brien actually
advised soldiers [5] they could participate in this war.

Not all soldiers followed the orders of the commander in chief or the
counsel of Archbishop O’Brien. Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia ended up
serving up to a year in prison for refusing a second deployment to
Iraq for reasons of conscience. Other soldiers deserted or otherwise
resisted and were imprisoned. Iraq Veterans Against the War [6] was
formed to oppose the war and to assist fellow soldiers who had been
physically wounded and mentally scarred for life. And Pfc. Bradley
Manning, Army intelligence analyst and whistleblower, has been
imprisoned for more than 1,000 days for his courageous act of
conscience to let the public know about U.S. atrocities in Iraq and
Afghanistan. He is now being prosecuted for releasing to Wikileaks the
Collateral Murder video that shows the killing of unarmed civilians
and two Reuters journalists by a U.S. Apache helicopter crew in Iraq.
He is also accused of disclosing the Afghan War Diary, the Iraq War
Logs, and a series of embarrassing U.S. diplomatic cables. On Feb. 28,
Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, which
could carry a sentence of up to 20 years. One charge he did not enter
a plea for is the charge of “aiding the enemy,” which could carry a
life sentence.

Even though the occupation has officially ended, the CIA, private U.S.
military contractors and U.S. military special advisers remain in Iraq
while drone surveillance planes continue to patrol Iraqi skies.

What would Jesus, who commands us to love and not to kill, have us do?
Lent is the holy season for repentance and conversion. This would be a
good time, especially for the churches, to take the lead in calling
the nation to truly repent for our war-making in Iraq, to ask
forgiveness from the Iraqi people, to call on the U.S. government to
make substantial reparations to Iraq, and to demand that all CIA,
military advisers and military/security contractors leave Iraq
immediately.

Two years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the first U.S. war in Iraq,
I wrote the following prayer:

Loving God, we beg your forgiveness for twenty years of U.S. warmaking
in Iraq-for destroying Iraq’s infrastructure by massive bombings, for
using highly toxic weapons, including depleted uranium, that
contaminated Iraq’s land and water, and which have caused cancer,
severe birth defects and other illnesses for numerous Iraqis.

Forgive us for imposing economic sanctions that killed over one
million Iraqi’s, mostly children.

Forgive us for invading, occupying and destabilizing Iraq, causing
nearly one million deaths and displacement and long-term trauma for
countless Iraqis.

Forgive us for placing oil interests above human welfare.

Heal us of our moral blindness and fill our hearts with love.

Help us to renounce all killing, torture and violence, to stop
demonizing our adversaries, to value all life as sacred, and to see
the Iraqi people and all Muslims and Arabs as our brothers and
sisters.

Help us to truly repent for the sin of war and to make reparations to
the Iraqi people.

Empower us to engage in nonviolent action calling for an immediate
withdrawal of all U.S. military forces and private contractors from
Iraq, and for an end to U.S. warmaking and military intervention
everywhere.

O God, make us channels of your peace and reconciliation.

Amen.

[Art Laffin artlaffin@hotmail.com is a member of the Dorothy Day
Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C. He visited Iraq in 1998 with a
Voices in the Wilderness delegation.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: