Books: March-April 2009

April 1, 2009
A Persistent Peace: One Man's Struggle for a Nonviolent WorldBy John Dear '81

A Persistent Peace: One Man's Struggle for a Nonviolent World
By John Dear '81.
Loyola Press, 2008.
437 pages.
$22.95.

During my final semester at Duke, I took a fascinating course on Roman Catholicism. Our instructor, Bill Cavanaugh Ph.D. '96, now a noted scholar at the University of St. Thomas, announced a guest speaker one afternoon. Into the room bounded a boyish-faced Jesuit priest with a big mop of hair and even greater enthusiasm. He'd been a wild party guy at Duke, had undergone a stunning conversion, and at that point he'd been out of prison for less than a year for his role in a peace protest at a U.S. Air Force base. His name was John Dear—and you knew right away he never did things halfway.

All these years later, Dear's provocative and inspiring autobiography, a record of his "experiments in the truth of nonviolence," reminds us his life is as outsized as ever. He doesn't just make average friends; Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and actor Martin Sheen have been among his confidants. He doesn't just dabble in protests on behalf of peace and nonviolence; he's been arrested during them more than seventy-five times. He doesn't just chronicle his thoughts occasionally; he's the author and editor of more than twenty books. And most of all, John Dear remains absolutely fierce in his Catholic faith.

Dear devotes two colorful chapters in A Persistent Peace to his undergraduate years at Duke, when he began his unlikely transformation from a "spoiled, wealthy frat boy" into a relentless spiritual seeker. Dear recounts how volunteering at a local mental institution—to gain extra credit for a psychology class—unexpectedly opened his eyes to a world of terrible suffering and tore the curtain off his insular fraternity world. "Suddenly all of it—the whole way we lived as if nothing mattered—revolted and grieved me," he writes. By the time he graduated from Duke, Dear had a goal that shocked his friends and family: joining the Catholic Church's elite Jesuit order.

Determined to live in solidarity with the poor and forgotten, Dear embarked on a career of priestly service that has included stints in war-torn El Salvador, inner-city Washington, and the deserts of New Mexico. Dear always keeps his eye on his concept of the devil—those systems of violence that are backed by big money, nurtured by mindless patriotism, and perpetuated by power-hungry governments. In more than twenty-five years of protests, focusing especially on the evils of nuclear weapons, Dear has battled—and infuriated—bureaucrats, military brass, and even fellow Jesuits, who once nearly kicked him out of their order.

A Persistent Peace unfolds on one level like an epic adventure, with virtually every chapter describing some new and spectacular confrontation with the powers that be. There's Dear blocking an entrance to the Pentagon as he urges employees to work instead for peace. There's Dear in a canoe, interrupting the dedication of a nuclear submarine in front of astonished onlookers. There's Dear in December 1993, sneaking onto Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina and symbolically pounding a hammer on an F-18 bomber—and landing in prison for more than half a year.

Beneath the veneer of drama, however, another story unfolds: that of Dear's interior journey of faith. While Dear describes his public battles in righteous tones reminiscent of John the Baptist, he explores his own shortcomings with disarming honesty and humor. His reaction, for example, when a wise nun sought to elevate his prayer life: "I tried to explain to her my high level of prayer: thirty minutes every morning for going on ten years. It was special, I assured her. Every day, I told God in no uncertain terms how to get the world in order." Dear recalls lecturing colleagues, including legendary Jesuit priest and activist Daniel Berrigan, on invigorating the peace movement. "The more I talked, the more their eyes glazed over. After a long pause, Dan stepped in with a smile. 'I just think we need to unleash the contemplative springs within.' " Dear lets us see his progress, warts and all, as his faith matures, and this whirling dervish of a man becomes more approachable in the process.

Don't expect to agree with everything Dear says in A Persistent Peace. Don't expect to agree with half of it. His unyielding critique of America's government and military—and most everyone associated with them—has made a lot of Christians mad. They believe they're fighting for democracy and freedom. Dear believes they're badly compromising their faith. It's not surprising he's always in hot water with someone. And yet it's easy to imagine Jesus himself acting exactly as Dear has done for the past twenty-five years. If you're struggling with your faith, you need to read this book. If you're comfortable with your faith, you need to read it even more.

 
Enemy of the State: The Trial and Execution of Saddam Hussein By Michael A. Newton and Michael P. Scharf '85, J.D, '88

Enemy of the State: The Trial and Execution of Saddam Hussein By Michael A. Newton and Michael P. Scharf '85, J.D, '88.
St. Martin's Press, 2008.
305 pages.
$27.

At 6:10 a.m. on December 30, 2006, Saddam Hussein fell through a trapdoor in a gallows at the old military intelligence headquarters building in Baghdad. He died instantly. An unauthorized cell-phone video of his execution, which included the voices of guards taunting and cursing the former leader just before he died, was soon aired on television networks throughout the world. To many who watched the spectacle, Saddam's undignified death on that cold morning culminated a "sham" trial process with one predetermined result. To others, the trial was fair and the verdict just. But was it, and will history judge it a success? Enemy of the State: The Trial and Execution of Saddam Hussein helps provide the answers.

Michael Newton and Michael Scharf, law professors with extensive backgrounds in international criminal law, were heavily involved in training the judges who heard the case of Saddam and other defendants charged with atrocities against the Iraqi people. Newton gave assistance throughout the proceeding as well. From their unique perspective, they provide a glimpse of the debate surrounding the creation of the Iraqi High Tribunal, a debate that started long before Saddam was even captured. Some argued that he should be prosecuted for his crimes before a purely international tribunal under the authority of the United Nations, such as the tribunal at The Hague that tried Slobodan Milosevi´c. Another view was that Saddam should face justice in an Iraqi national court composed of Iraqi jurists with no international control involved.

In the end, the Iraqi High Tribunal became a so-called "internationalized domestic tribunal." Its rules of procedure were modeled on international war-crimes tribunals, but all the judges were Iraqi, it held its hearings in Baghdad, and it had jurisdiction over select crimes from the Iraqi criminal code as well as internationally recognized crimes.

The authors chronicle the first of several scheduled trials, one involving charges against the former president and those against seven other defendants relating to the 2004 execution of 148 townspeople from Dujail and the destruction of fields and orchards surrounding that town. Because Saddam was convicted and executed so quickly after this first trial ended, he was not involved in any of the others. This book is therefore limited to an extremely detailed account of the thirty-eight courtroom days in the Dujail trial, which actually spanned a period of some thirteen months.

Besides the evidence presented, Newton and Scharf set forth the myriad problems that occurred during the trial, including the assassination of three of the defense counsel involved in the case, the resignation of the presiding judge, the boycott by the defense team, and the disruptive courtroom conduct of the defendants. These incidents, coupled with the undignified execution of Saddam, make it difficult to accurately assess whether the trial achieved its purpose. The authors suggest that it did, although because of their personal involvement in the pretrial process and assistance given during trial, they acknowledge a possible bias in their conclusion. Ultimately, the reader is left to make his or her own assessment.

Newton and Scharf highlight one of the most interesting aspects of the Dujail case, involving capital charges against one of the defendants, Awad al-Bandar, former chief judge of Saddam's Iraqi Revolutionary Court. He conducted a trial of the 148 Dujail townspeople who had been interrogated and detained; and his written verdict stated, falsely, that all the defendants had appeared in court, were represented by counsel, and had confessed to an assassination attempt against Saddam. Awad al-Bandar's verdict then sentenced all 148 to death by hanging, and that sentence was carried out. The charges against him before the Iraqi High Tribunal were that the Revolutionary Court trial over which he presided was, in reality, a sham that perverted the law and that was used as a weapon against political enemies of the regime. Therefore, he could be held criminally responsible as an accomplice to a crime against humanity. His conviction of the charges and death sentence were the first since the World War II Nuremberg tribunal in which a judge was held criminally liable for using his court as a political weapon.

Enemy of the State is a good and easy read for lawyers and laypeople alike. Its pages provide a detailed and accurate historical record of one of the most controversial criminal tribunals of our time. In doing so, it is a most valuable resource.