News Winter 2006

Iraq War: body counts revived

Eager to demonstrate success in Iraq, the US military has abandoned its previous refusal to publicize enemy body counts and now cites such numbers to show the impact of some counterinsurgency operations.

The Pentagon has admitted for the first time that it is counting civilian casualties in Iraq. The figures, slipped into a bar graph in a report to the Congress, show that the number of Iraqi casualties has more than doubled in the past 18 months.

Nearly 26,000 Iraqis have been killed or wounded in attacks by insurgents, with an estimated 26 casualties a day between January and March of last year, rising to 64 a day in the run up to the referendum on the new constitution.

On October 16, the US military reported 20 insurgents killed and one captured in raids on five houses suspected of sheltering foreign fighters in a town near the Syrian border. Six days earlier, the 2nd Marine Division issued a statement saying an estimated 70 suspected insurgents had died in the Ramadi area as a result of three separate air strikes by fighter jets and helicopters.

That statement reflected some of the pitfalls associated with such statistics. The number was immediately challenged by witnesses, who said many of those killed were not insurgents but civilians, including women and children.

During the Vietnam War, enemy body counts became a regular feature in military statements intended to demonstrate progress. But in the end the statistics proved to be poor indicators of the wars course. Pressure on US units to produce high death tolls led to inflated tallies, which tore at Pentagon credibility.

In Vietnam, pursuing a strategy of attrition, body counts became the measure of performance for military units, said Conrad Crane, director of the military history institute at the US Army War College. But the numbers got so wrapped up with career aspirations that they were sometimes falsified.

Italy plans Iraq troop withdrawal

Italy will withdraw 1,000 of its 2,600 troops in Iraq by June and aims to finish its mission there by the end of this year.

Defense Minister Antonio Martino told a parliamentary committee in January that Italy will gradually end its military presence and phase into a presence that would be substantially civilian in nature.

Italy, with the fourth largest foreign contingent in Iraq, faces a general election next April where the unpopular Iraq war is likely to become an issue.

Most Italians and all opposition parties were opposed to the troop deployment.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that all the troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2006.

UN official: terrorism fight hurts torture ban

The US-led fight against terrorism is eroding the international prohibition of torture and other forms of cruel or degrading treatment of prisoners, the top UN human rights official said in December in a statement issued on Human Rights Day.

Louise Arbour, the UNs High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that holding suspects incommunicado in itself amounts to torture.

She also expressed concern about efforts by some US policymakers to exempt CIA interrogators from elements of the UN Convention Against Torture. Vice President Cheneys office has sought to block efforts to subject CIA personnel to the 1984 conventions ban on the use of cruel or degrading treatment of detainees.

Arbours statement said that the absolute ban on torture, a cornerstone of the international human rights edifice, is under attack. The principle once believed to be unassailable — the inherent right to physical integrity and dignity of person — is becoming a casualty of the so-called war on terrorism.

Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice, while not specifically naming the US in her statement, criticized two elements of US counter-terrorism policy: the use of severe interrogation techniques, and the rendition, or transfer, of suspected terrorists to countries known to have engaged in torture.

She questioned the value of obtaining diplomatic assurances from governments that they will not torture such individuals. There are many reasons to be skeptical about the value of those assurances, she said. If there is no risk of torture in a particular case, they are unnecessary and redundant. If there is a risk, how effective are these assurances likely to be?

Arbour said that moves to water down or question the absolute ban on torture, as well as on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are particularly insidious. She added that governments in a number of countries are claiming that established rules do not apply anymore: that we live in a changed world and that there is a new normal.

Bartholomew: the Green Patriarch

Down a narrow alleyway in a quiet corner of Istanbul, is the residence of Patriarch Bartholomew. As a Christian leader living in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey, many Turkish citizens do not even know of his existence or his office. Yet internationally Bartholomew is considered one of the most socially-engaged religious leaders of our time, championing environmental awareness and interreligious dialogue.

The Patriarchate traces its lineage back to St. Andrew the Apostle. It has remained in Constantinople up to the present day, long after the Turkish conquest of Byzantium in 1453. Conditions have often been hard, especially during periods of nationalist conflict between Greece and Turkey. The Greek community of Istanbul, 150,000 strong a century ago, now numbers around 3,500. The Church of Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest churches and architectural masterpieces in history, was first converted into a mosque and now is a museum.

Religious minorities in Turkey have been the victim of statewide stifling of religious pluralism. The famed Greek Orthodox theological school of Halki was closed by the Turkish government in 1971, at the time of the Cyprus crisis, to combat what was claimed to be anti-Turkish rhetoric and religious propaganda.

In order to enter the Patriarchal Residence, one must walk through a metal detector because of bomb attacks by Muslim zealots and Turkish nationalists.

These conditions, Bartholomew says, give him the resolve to encourage interreligious dialogue with his fellow Muslim neighbors and to transform his church into a global institution.

Since his inauguration in 1991, Bartholomew has been an outspoken critic of environmental abuse and has worked closely with scientists and ecologists to make environmental concerns a central religious concern. Pollution, he says, is a sin against creation and a sacrilege of the duties given to mankind to protect earth and nature.

In an address given in Venice in 2002 before signing a declaration for environmental awareness with Pope John Paul II, Bartholomew argued, We are to practice a voluntary self-limitation in our consumption of food and natural resources. Each of us is called to make the crucial distinction between what we want and what we need. Only through such self-denial, through our willingness sometimes to forgo and to say, No or Enough will we rediscover our true human place in the universe… Greed and avarice render the world opaque, turning all things to dust and ashes. Generosity and unselfishness render the world transparent, turning all things into a sacrament of loving communion — communion between human beings with one another, communion between human beings and God. This need for an ascetic spirit can be summed up in a single key word: sacrifice. This exactly is the missing dimension in our environmental ethos and ecological action.

He backs efforts to combat global warming. Climate change is more than an issue of environmental preservation, he said at a UN conference in Montreal in November. It is a moral and spiritual problem. Unless we take radical and immediate measures to reduce emissions stemming from unsustainable — in fact unjustifiable, if not simply unjust — excesses in the demands of our lifestyle, the impact will be both alarming and imminent.

Environmental destruction also takes place within our own bodies, he says. Whether we commit physical acts of self-inflicted violence in the form of drug abuse or mental violence in the form of over-consumption and vainglorious narcissism, we pollute our bodies as much as our rivers, oceans, forests and air.

He also condemns the pollution of religion in the form of selfish and unscrupulous theologians and demagogues of all faiths who dump religious waste into our churches, mosques and synagogues.

In 1994, the Patriarch spearheaded what has become known as the Bosphoros Declaration, denouncing all forms of religious fundamentalism that embraces violence, xenophobia, warfare and the physical harm of others, especially toward women and children. Standing with Muslim and Jewish colleagues, Bartholomew called for an end to all violence perpetrated in the name of God, declaring that a crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion.

Turkish Istanbul, much like Byzantine Constantinople, stands as a bridge between Europe and Asia, between Greece and Turkey, between East and West, between Christianity and Islam. Bridges, the Patriarch says, do not divide people, but unite them. [Michael Rossi]

Patriarch Theophilos enthroned in Jerusalem

The new Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine, Theophilos III, was enthroned in November in a ceremony at Jerusalems Church of the Ascension.

The enthronement was attended by Greek President Karolos Papoulias and representatives of all the Orthodox Churches and Patriarchates, including Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens.

In his enthronement speech, Theophilos referred to the recent problems experienced by the Jerusalem Patriarchate and stressed the difficult task that lay before him in his efforts to emerge from the sea of corruption and fraud.

President Papoulias said the day marked the start of a new course. The Jerusalem Patriarchate recently underwent major upheavals that momentarily threatened to turn it aside from its path. Your unanimous election trumpeted the desire of the Holy Sepulchers Brotherhood to fight to restore it to the glorious position it deserves in the modern world, Papoulias said.

The ousted former Patriarch Irineos, who remains shut in his quarters at the Patriarchate, issued a statement claiming that he was still the rightful Patriarch and that those putting a new Patriarch on the throne were acting illegally. Irineos was removed by the Jerusalem Patriarchates Holy Synod following a scandal that implicated him in the long-term lease and sale of Patriarchate land in the Old City of Jerusalem to Israeli interests.

Theophilos is the 140th Patriarch of Jerusalem, Palestine, Syria, beyond Jordan River, Cana of Galilee and Holy Zion.

He was born in 1950 in Messinia, Greece. In 1964, he went to Jerusalem. He served as archdeacon for then Patriarch Benediktos. From 1991 to 1996, he was a priest in Cana in Galilee, which had a predominantly Israeli Arab flock.

In 1996, he was one of the first Christian clergymen in centuries to develop a relationship with the Wahhabi Islamic society of Qatar, historically under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.

He subsequently served as Exarch of the Holy Sepulcher in Qatar. From 2000 to 2003, he was church envoy to the Patriarchate of Moscow. Before becoming patriarch, Theophilus served for a short time as the Archbishop of Tabor. He was consecrated to the episcopacy in January 2005.

Israeli authorities have not yet acknowledged the new Patriarch. Under Church law and custom, any new patriarch must be approved by the governments of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Palestine and Jordan approved Theophilos election in September.

Monks on Mount Athos trade blows in latest siege

On Mount Athos in Greece, violence erupted between monks during the latest attempt to evict a group of Orthodox monks who are bitterly opposed to dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church.

A police spokesperson said no one was injured in the fight. Footage shown on Greek television depicted the rival groups of monks trading blows, kicking one another and pulling each others hair.

A spokesperson for the Esphigmenou Monastery said workmen and rival monks tried to knock down the monastic communitys offices at Karyes on Mount Athos.

They used pickaxes, spades and crowbars to try to break down the door, the spokesperson, Fr. Neophytos told journalists after the fracas on 24 November. They were trying to throw us out.

The dispute dates back more than 30 years. The rebel monks have been accused by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos of attempting to create a schism in the church. They in turn have called him a heretic for the Orthodox churchs policy of engaging in dialogue with the Vatican.

The rebel monks were ordered to leave Mount Athos in 2003 but refused to do so.

Conference on Violence

Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, held a weekend conference in October on Violence and Christian Spirituality. Topics ranged from Nonviolence in Orthodox Tradition, Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Patristic Tradition, Ecumenism, Inter-religious Dialogue, Human Rights, to Domestic Violence.

Archbishop Demetrios, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, delivered the keynote address on A Christian Spirituality of Peace and Justice in a Violent World. His condemnation of violence was based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the early church and such saints and martyrs such as Stephen, Paul and Silas. He noted that justification of violence leads to greater violence.

One of the most concrete sessions was the time allotted to the crucial issues of domestic abuse by a panel of four speakers. They noted that abused women are often told to go home and pray or go home and be a better wife by those they seek counseling from inside the church structure. Dr. Kyriaki FitzGerald also referred to the problem of clergy misconduct and sexual abuse and noted that for systems of violence and abuse to change, each individual within the community needs to change, as these types of betrayal are a problem of the heart.

It was noted that the primary vehicle for the transfer of violence from one generation to another is the abuse of the mother. In homes where the mother is abused, there is often child sexual abuse. We were told that on Super Bowl Sunday more domestic abuse occurs than any other day of the year and that more animal shelters exist in the US than shelters for abused women.

Paulette Geanocopoulos reported that hospitals have developed systems to screen incoming patients for signs of domestic abuse. This can and should be done in other contexts, including the Church. Victims have a better chance of healing, she said, when the legitimacy of their grievances are recognized by the Church. [Renee Zitzloff]

Orthodox witness at rally for life in US capital

Metropolitan Herman, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America and veteran spokesman for the sanctity of life, once again lead hundreds of Orthodox Christian marchers at the 33rd annual March for Life in Washington, DC, on January 23, 2006.

Metropolitan Herman addresses March for Life rally

The annual march laments the US Supreme Courts Roe v. Wade decision of January 22, 1973, that legalized abortion on demand in the US.

Metropolitan Herman has participated in the event for nearly two decades, leading hundreds of Orthodox Christians in prayerful witness to the sanctity of life from the moment of conception.

Perhaps the greatest gift God has given us is life, Herman said in an encyclical letter. When He spoke to Moses in the burning bush, God revealed that He is the very Source of Life — Life and Existence Itself.

All life is an extension of and a participation in His life.

As such, life must be respected, honored, seen for what it is: a revelation of the One Who is Life Itself, a gift given to mankind that ultimately leads us to become partakers of his divine nature, as Saint Peter reminds us.

As Orthodox Christians, we are called to wisely steward the precious gift of life.

This means … that any diminishing of lifes importance must be shunned, any willful acts that prematurely or unnaturally bring human life to an end must be loudly rejected and condemned.

One cannot be a wise steward of Gods gift of life while, at the same time, supporting agendas that minimize this gift or see life as something expendable, unimportant, or cheap.

An entire generation of Americans has experienced — and, sadly, has come to accept — the notion that life is something held in mankinds hands, rather than Gods.

Every day, the number of innocent children being aborted grows. The acceptance of euthanasia as a means of providing death with dignity for those who are beyond medical help or terminally ill is gaining momentum.

The call to expand the use of capital punishment is growing louder by the year. In the meantime, appropriate care for the elderly, the poor, the institutionalized, and the disenfranchised is becoming harder to find and is seen as a secondary issue.

More photos of the rally as well as the full text of the encyclical are on the OCA web site.