Author archives: Bill Saunders

Remember the Fallen.

by Bill Saunders

March 30, 2009

On March 4, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Omar Ahmad Al Bashir, the president of Sudan. The warrant charged Bashir with individual responsibility on five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes. Specially, it alleged he is criminally responsibility for a campaign of murder, rape, torture, pillage, and forcible transfer against the civilian, and largely Islamic, population of Darfur. The ICC alleges the campaign, conducted over the 5 year period from April 2003 to July 2008, was planned at the highest levels of the Sudanese government. The attacks were carried out by the Sudanese armed forces, the Sudanese police force, the Sudanese national security service, and allied “Janjaweed” militias. The warrant claims Bashir either coordinated the design of the campaign or, as head of state, used state agencies to implement the campaign.

 

We should recall that before the atrocities began in Darfur, they were widespread in the south of Sudan and in the Nuba Mountains (which I will collectively refer to as “the south”). In fact, the explosion in Darfur essentially coincided with the winding down of the war in the south. Cynics will say that the Sudanese government signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the south, in part, to enable it to divert forces to persecute the people of Darfur.

The genocidal war against the people of the south (recognized as such by the United States government) has been largely forgotten in the justified world-wide outrage over Darfur. But millions of innocent people were killed by the government in the prior war. The government, dominated by the radical National Islamic Front, targeted civilians, destroyed Christian churches, and revived the slave trade through a declaration of “jihad” against the “infidels” of the south.

My point is certainly not to assume the wisdom of having an International Criminal Court. Rather, the occasion of the issuance of the warrant for the arrest of the president of Sudan is an opportunity to remember the dead, many of whom were true martyrs, dying for their Christian faith.

The occasion of the issuance of the warrant is also an opportunity for remembering the living, the millions who live without religious freedom, who are persecuted, who are enslaved, who are tortured, and who are rendered homeless through the destruction of their homes and villages. In the weeks leading to Easter, we should pray for them and do whatever we can to help.

First Freedom Deniers

by Bill Saunders

March 27, 2009

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”), established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (“IRFA”), issued a press release today. It took to task the State Department, which, under President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had failed to release publicly its 2008 list of countries of “particular concern,” that is, countries where the denial of religious freedom is particularly severe. Such a list is required yearly under IRFA; however, it took an official inquiry from USCIRF to get the 2008 list released by the State Department (“DOS”).

The USCIRF issues its own yearly list of offenders.

The two lists are substantially the same, though the USCIRF’s list includes four countries that the DOS list does not. 

One constant between the two lists, however, is China. 

This is no surprise.  Reports of the last several weeks, for example, have recounted increased oppression in Tibet in connection with the anniversary of the invasion by China of that land. 

China had a great opportunity to improve its public image by changing the facts on the ground in connection with the 2008 Olympics.  As we noted at the time, the sad fact was that repression of religious believers of all stripes, including Protestant and Catholic Christians, actually increased during the year-long run-up to the Olympics, despite promises by China that it would do the opposite. 

Tomorrow, March 27, China will inaugurate a new holiday, “Serf Liberation Day.”  China claims the life of ordinary Tibetans has improved greatly since they intervened 50 years ago.  However, this claim shows China continues to miss the point.  Whether or not ordinary life has improved is beside the point.  Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, secured in America, of course, under the First Amendment.  It is not up to China to tell the people of Tibet what to believe. 

 

All human beings are persons

by Bill Saunders

February 24, 2009

Earlier this week North Dakota passed a bill to recognize the “personhood” of the unborn embryo or fetus. Several other states are considering similar measures.

Such laws, among other things, seek to correct a philosophical mistake. That is, they seek to correct the dis-unity between “person” and “human being” that philosophers such as Peter Singer make. There is no difference. All human beings are persons. Creating a distinction between some human beings, who are persons, and some who are not is a dangerous game.

It is the powerful, after all, who will decide which human beings are persons, and you can bet your last dollar they won’t leave themselves out. But, as history proves, they will leave others out - the weak, the voiceless, the outsiders. The whole history of our United States may be understood as a struggle to recognize, and to guarantee in law, that all human beings are equal. State “personhood” laws are well within this tradition.

New Paper on Adult Stem Cell Research

by Bill Saunders

January 26, 2009

The results keep coming in, and the results are great. Research using adult stem cells continues to yield success in treating living human beings. While the media is all agog over a new (the first) FDA approved trial for embryonic stem cells, the real story is the continuing success with adult stem cells, which can be isolated and used in treatments without any ethical problems. In our semi-annual update, David Prentice and I collect and discuss only such successes from the last 6 months, and they are impressive.

In our 12 page report, you’ll meet people who have been helped with adult stem cells, such as 9-month old Chole Levine, who made a 50 % recovery from cerebral palsy, Susan Fister who overcame leukemia, 12 year-old Michael Wenman  whose digestive tract had been destroyed by a malfunctioning immune system prior to his ASC treatment, among many others. Their stories show that we can provide highly successful treatments to suffering human beings without engaging in unethical embryonic stem cell research. In embryonic stem cell research, human beings in the embryonic state must be destroyed; with adult stem cell research, on the other hand, we can use stem cells in a person’s own body, or from cord blood “banked” at birth, to treat them. This is ethical science and medical at their best.

Change Watch Backgrounder: Gregory Craig

by Bill Saunders

December 16, 2008

Position: White House Counsel

NOMINEE: Gregory Bestor Craig

Born: Norfolk, Va., March 4, 1945

Family: Wife, Derry Noyes, and five children.

Occupation: Partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm Williams & Connelly

Education: A.B. Harvard College, J.D. Yale Law School

Senate Work: Senior Advisor on Defense, Foreign Policy and National Security to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) for 1984-1988

Clinton White House: Director of Policy Planning, State Department, 1997-1998; special coordinator to monitor China’s suppression of Tibetan culture and religion, 1998; Assistant to the President and Special Counsel 1998-1999 (impeachment team “quarterback”)

Famous Clients: John J. Kearney (FBI agent accused of illegal wiretapping during the investigation of the Weathermen terrorists), 1977; Richard Helms (CIA Director accused of perjury before the Senate concerning General Pinochet’s 1973 coup in Chile), 1977 (with Edward Bennett Williams); John Hinckley, Jr. (attempted murder of President Reagan), 1981; Sen. Edward Kennedy (testimony relating to the rape trial of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith), 1991; Juan Miguel Gonzalez (custody battle over his asylum-seeking son, Elian), 1998; Kofi Annan (Volcker Committee investigations over Oil-for-Food), 2004; Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (former leftist President of Bolivia, accused of involvement in the killing of 67 further left-wing protestors in 2003), 2008.

Testimony: “He has the ability to look at issues from a different perspective and he’s very pragmatic and very smart.” - Madeleine Albright

There’s no one I’d rather be with in a crisis. He’s just wonderful and very comforting, no matter how tough the problems you’re dealing with. He never kind of loses it. He’s so rational, says what he has to say very clearly, and he’s always on your side.” - Ethel Kennedy

Nicaraguan Communism

While serving as Senator Ted Kennedy’s Senior Advisor, Craig orchestrated hearings about alleged human rights abuses by the American-backed Nicaraguan rebels, the Contras. During these hearings he brought a number of communist Sandinista sympathizers to testify before Congress. Their politically motivated accounts of the situation in Nicaragua brought significant bad press to the freedom fighters, thus complicating stated administration policy on Nicaragua. Following the hearing, however, after having been criticized in The New Republic for aiding communists, Craig expressed regret, insisting that he did not realize how biased his witnesses were. He subsequently traveled to Nicaragua himself and criticized the manifest human rights abuses of the Sandinista government. [source]

Elian Gonzalez

While technically not a government employee at the time-having returned to his partnership at Williams & Connelly-Craig played a decidedly active role in the entire Elian Gonzalez affair, ostensibly representing his father, Juan, who was under the control of Fidel Castro and his aides. From an article in National Review:

Accounts of pre-raid negotiations between Elian’s Miami relatives and the Justice Department suggest that Reno wasn’t trying to bring peace to the warring Gonzalez family so much as taking orders straight from Craig. It appears that the Miami Gonzalezes had agreed to transfer custody of Elian to his father, as long as they could live with the boy and his father in an environment free of U.S. and Cuban officials. These negotiations dragged on through Good Friday and into the next morning, with Craig reviewing documents in his office past 2:00 A.M.- and ultimately vetoing the proposed settlement.

Craig had been pushing the government to take Elian from his relatives “immediately” for some time prior to the raid. For his efforts Craig was paid $100,000 through a “voluntary fund” set up by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and administered by the National Council of Churches.

Clinton Impeachment

Part of why Craig’s time at State was unremarkable was his short tenure, since he had to leave that position to head Bill Clinton’s impeachment defense team. It is worth noting that Craig was originally cool to the idea. The Washington Post reported at the time:

I hope you won’t think it amiss if I tell you I’m not enthusiastic,” [Craig] recalls telling John Podesta, then deputy White House chief of staff, when Podesta asked him in early September to consider leading Clinton’s defense team in the impeachment inquiry. “John said, ‘Well, just think about it.’ So I kept thinking about it — and my enthusiasm didn’t grow.”

Even after meeting with Clinton, Craig was not sold on the idea:

[Clinton] was in great pain,” Craig recalls. “He was, I think, profoundly troubled at his own failures, at his own shortcomings, and really at a loss about what to do, how to handle it. And I told him he really needed to talk about it. And he asked for my help. And I said I’ve got to talk to my wife.”

Nevertheless, Craig did take the job, and by all accounts performed competently.

FRC brief in Irish abortion case

by Bill Saunders

November 18, 2008

Last week, FRC filed a friend of the court brief in a case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR is considering a challenge to Ireland’s laws on abortion, which restrict access to abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger. FRC was one of 3 groups invited to file an unusual “joint” brief by the ECHR, and the only pro-life group in the USA invited to do so. (The others were SPUC of the United Kingdom and the European Center for Law & Justice from Brussels.)

The case is important because the European system of jurisprudence is quite limited when it comes to social issues. In other words, though there is a European Convention of Human Rights that binds all European nations that have ratified it (including Ireland), the resolution of “social issues” is left to the laws of the individual state to decide. Thus, it should not be possible for the ECHR to create a European-wide “right” to abortion.

Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court created a right to abortion where none existed under our Constitution. Thus, just as our Court ignored the wording of the Constitution and principles of federalism to overturn the laws of all 50 states on abortion, it is conceivable the ECHR could do the same thing. In fact, pro-abortion groups have filed briefs urging it to do so. Thus, it was important for FRC - in alliance with our good friends of the Alliance Defense Fund - to file a brief urging the ECHR to stay out of these matters and to leave the resolution of the issue to the member states. Click here for the brief itself.

Little Hope for Religious Freedom in China after the Olympics

by Bill Saunders

August 21, 2008

As we saw in the Olympics the problem is not the wonderful Chinese people it is the woeful Chinese government. The government increased persecution in the lead-up to the Olympics and there is no reason to think it will change after the Olympics. See my new paper about the increase in religious persecution before the Olympics, which is a true prediction of what will happen afterwards.

No prize for religious freedom at this Olympic Games

by Bill Saunders

August 6, 2008

On the cusp of the Olympic games, we should pause to recall that, in order to win the right to hold the Games, China argued that hosting the Olympics would help it move toward democracy and respect for human rights. Now, the day before the Olympics, we know that is not the case. Human rights have deteriorated in the year leading up to the Games. In particular, religious freedom - for all religions - has been curtailed. Christians have suffered as well.

In a case in which FRC got involved last December, over 200 pastors were arrested, beaten, and 21 imprisoned for multi-year terms. Their crime? Holding an unauthorized Bible study. “House churches” have been targeted in a crackdown called the “strike hard” campaign. Likewise, Catholic members of the underground or unregistered or unofficial Catholic church have been imprisoned.

China remains a “country of concern” for violating the right to religious freedom on the short lists of the State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. One Chinese Muslim likened these Olympics to Hitler’s - both showcased a totalitarian regime. It will be a sad day for human rights and religious freedom when the Games open tomorrow in Beijing.

Sitting on the bench (in more ways than one)

by Bill Saunders

July 25, 2008

A week ago, July 17th marked the 365th day that Chief Judge Robert Conrad has been nominated for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and has not had a hearing in the Senate. That is one year, without the basic courtesy of Senate Democrats telling him to his face why they do not want him on court. It is also one year in which the 4th Circuit has languished, short-handed, with over a quarter of its seats vacant. A recent hearing in the Senate, convened by Sen. Alexander of Tennessee, brought a distinguished panel of witnesses to show why this is unfair to Judge Conrad and the American people.

Judge Conrad is eminently qualified to sit on the 4th Circuit. In fact, as recently as 2006 the Senate deemed him qualified to head the Federal Western District Court of the North Carolina, and a year before that appointed him to that court without opposition. As the representative of the North Carolina Bar Association told the Senate panel, Conrad is a superb lawyer who deserves to be put on the court, not left in judicial limbo. (He also noted that North Carolina, the most populous state in the 4th Circuit, has only one judge on the court—a misrepresentation that Judge Conrad’s appointment would help to remedy.)

Perhaps the worst part about what is going on is the dishonesty of it all. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has already unfairly smeared Judge Conrad by wantonly mischaracterizing his religious beliefs. Now he has taken refuge behind the so-called “Thurmond Rule” in holding up the nomination of Conrad and others like him. Leahy alleges that Republicans, led by deceased Sen. Strom Thurmond in 1980, purposefully obstructed the nominations of President Carter’s federal judges since it was an election year, so, in the words of Leahy, they might “remain vacant in order to be filled with the nominations of the next president.” The Congressional Research Service debunked that claim. In fact, in September of 1980 the Senate confirmed 12 judicial nominations. The Senate even confirmed Stephen Breyer (now an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court) to the 1st Circuit after Reagan’s election. All in all, of the 14 nominations pending in 1980 12 received hearings, 10 were reported, and 10 were confirmed—71.4%. Compare that to the 35% treatment Bush has received.

Sen. Leahy should be honest about the Thurmond Rule, and follow Sen. Thurmond’s example by holding hearings on 8 more judges—starting with Robert Conrad.

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