By Sander Hicks
Source: New York Megaphone
This is the investigation that prompted our publication to establish an online conference on Nonviolence, and the Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, Oct. 2, 2020. It’s essential we understand how Pompeo and the GOP justify their violence in the name of Christianity. The future of nonviolence must stand apart from the “Christianity of Brutality.” That’s what Jesus would do.
Earlier this year, President Trump shocked the world by murdering a high-ranking Iranian government official. Pressured by Secretary Pompeo, Trump ordered the assassination of an Iranian general who enjoyed movie-star celebrity status in his home country, General Qassem Soleimani. The killing brought the world to the brink of a major new war. Among the many laws this act broke, it violated Iraqi sovereignty, as it took place in Iraq. It happened in the middle of the night on January 3rd, 2020, using an American MQ-6 Reaper drone.
Dexter Filkins, in the New Yorker, called the hit on Soleimani, “the most consequential act taken against the regime in Tehran in thirty years.” And that’s saying a lot, because the US has inflicted much suffering on Iran over time, from CIA coups, to pushing Iraq to kill a million Iranians in the “Iran-Iraq War,” to today’s harsh economic sanctions. Yet Iran has grown into an influential regional superpower able to stand toe-to-toe with US proxies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, to see through the hypocrisy and the posturing of the War on Terror.
Trump, earlier, wanted to re-open negotiations towards a new Nuclear Agreement with Iran. He was in contact with President Rhouhani. But killing the charismatic Soleimani shut down any chance of a new nuclear deal. Now the Iranians are free to develop their nuclear power capabilities, unhindered.
Trump was left to explain himself. How could the US President justify this attack?
Remember that one year ago, things were boiling over in Iraq/Iran. Various Iran-backed militias rioted in Baghdad and broke the windows at US consulates. An American contractor was killed and US officials feared another Benghazi, or a new Tehran-style Embassy hostage crisis like in 1979. The US Military and Trump responded by killing 25 Shi’a militia members. Pentagon top brass then offered killing Soleimani as an additional option but assumed Trump wouldn’t be so brash. That was like giving a pyromaniac teenager a set of matches and five gallons of gasoline.
Killing a foreign government official is illegal, according to US policy and international law. Trump, at first, asserted Soleimani had plans to target four U.S. embassies, a claim that his own Defense Secretary Esper was not able to substantiate. It “seems to be totally made up,” said Congressman Justin Amash from Michigan.
On Twitter, Trump tried to give the last word by claiming that the US acted in self-defense because Soleimani posed an “imminent threat.” But Trump seemed unconvinced himself, as he tweeted that it “doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past.”
Ah, but it does matter.
Killing people is a crime, you see, and a lot of people think so. The US has written laws that restrain this kind of thing from coming out of the White House, as it does so much damage to the U.S.’s moral standing in the world. (If capitalism and imperialism haven’t mangled that reputation forever.)
Former DA Vincent Bugliosi, in his book The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, showed that presidents could well go to prison for the extrajudicial killings and illegal wars they engage in. The Hague Convention of 1907 and the UN ban the killing of a foreign government official, outside of wartime. Even Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, denounced “assassination, poison, perjury” as brutal statecraft, “held in just horror.”
In the wake of the killings of JFK and MLK and the targeted domestic killings of COINTEL-PRO, the US Congress convened the Church Committee and the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the mid and late ’70s. President Gerald Ford responded by issuing an executive order that has since become standard US policy. No US government employee “shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.”
President Reagan affirmed and expanded this policy against assassination. But back at the Trump White House, the pressure to kill Soleimani came from evangelical Christian Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. CNN reported that White House insiders said Pompeo “was the one who made the case to take out Soleimani, it was him absolutely.” Pompeo also made a claim that Soleimani posed an “imminent threat,” but later backed off that claim, and instead explained that Soleimani had the “blood of American [soldiers]” on his hands from working with the Iraqi resistance.
At a loss for legal justification, Vice President Mike Pence stepped up with a “Hail Mary” kind of throw. He asserted that there may be a connection between Soleimani and “the 12 9/11 attackers.” (But Mike, there were 19 hijackers on 9/11.) Students of history will note that the NeoCon Right still invokes 9/11 when it’s desperate to justify a crime. 9/11 still has that power 20 years later. It’s like a myth that is eternal. If we allow it.
Who Was Qassem Soleimani
Millions of Iranians poured out into the streets for a three-day funeral in all top Iranian cities and towns. Hamed Ghashgavi in Tehran, told me, “General Soleimani, we know he was popular but none of us thought millions will mourn his death!”
Qassem Soleimani “had a command presence,” CIA Veteran John Maguire said. “He walked into the room and you could feel him.” Maguire had negotiated with Soleimani in Baghdad in 2004.
A native of the more tribal Southern Iranian province of Kerman, Soleimani was born in 1957. He fought at the front lines of the Iran/Iraq war, that nine-year slog fought with chemical weapon assaults, compliments of Iraq. The grinding agony, often in trenches, was compared to World War I. Inside Iran, the conflict is known as the “War of Holy Defense.” But the Reagan White House viewed the Iran/Iraq War as a chance to get aggressive and retaliate for the late 70’s hostage crisis. The US supported Iran‘s biggest rival, Saddam Hussein, as he invaded Iran. The USA gave Hussein several billions in economic aid and military training to help attack the nascent Islamic Republic.
The experience of Iraq invading Iran was deeply formative on young Soleimani, who lost many friends in the war. But Soleimani there became a legend known as “The Goat Burglar” for his talents at slipping behind enemy lines and coming back with live goats to feed his platoon. He regularly volunteered to fight at the front lines. He had a deep camaraderie with his fellows. Before battle, he would kiss each of them on the forehead and pray with them to be martyred.
From the end of the War, to 1997, Soleimani laid low, he didn’t get on well with President Rafsanjanhi. But sooner after that period, he rose to lead the elite “Quds” aka “Jerusalem” Force division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. His power grew, as did his closeness with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Gen. Petreaus once recalled that Soleimani told him, “You should know that I, Qassem Soleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan.”
Soleimani as US Ally Against Terrorism
In the corporate US media, Soleimani’s death was brushed off. He was expendable. A “terrorist.”
But a deeper look past the demonization shows an interesting pattern. Soleimani had a history of working with the Americans. Every time he worked with the USA, it went well for the Americans. In the end, the USA just stabbed him in the back.
When 9/11 happened, the Bush/Cheney regime decided to target Afghanistan and its Taliban regime. Qassem Soleimani saw an opportunity to reduce terrorism in the land immediately to the east of Iran. Soleimani worked with the US attacking forces. He and Iranian diplomats shared intelligence with the US on Taliban positions. The Americans informed the Iranians about an al-Qa`ida agent hiding out in Mashhad in eastern Iran. Soleimani was, “pleased with [the] cooperation,” and spoke at this time that “maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Americans.”
It was not to be.
Bush and Cheney bowed to pressure from their Zionist wing and slapped the Iranians in the face with the “Axis of Evil” speech. It has been a long-standing policy of Israel to block any rapprochement between the US and Iran. Bush named Iran as a leading proponent of terrorism, despite its recent work against terrorism, with the Americans in Afghanistan. Soleimani felt betrayed.
Cut to 2014, and the US is back asking for Iran’s help, when US coalition forces are losing in Iraq. The jihadists were on the offensive, taking territory in Iraq, including the major city of Mosul. Iraq’s leading Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani, issued a call-to-arms to fight the Sunni extremists. Young Shia men volunteered by the thousands. Soleimani and his elite Quds Force helped organize them.
For the next three years, until 2017, Iran helped turn the tide there against ISIS and Al Nusra. On a number of occasions, Americans were hitting Islamic State targets from the air while General Soleimani directed ground forces against the militants.
At the same time, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel were working against Soleimani and Iran in Syria. The US had decided to work against the Ba’ath Arab Socialist, Bashar Assad, who sometimes enjoyed the support of Russia and Iran.
When Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) flew to Syria in 2017, it was to better understand the Syrian civil war. She met Assad and top Syrian officials. In the street, Syrian citizens begged her to stop the US funding of ISIS. She returned to Congress and proposed HR 608, the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. Because at this point, the US was fighting ISIS in Iraq, but working with ISIS in Syria. On the ground in Tehran, in 2017 at the New Horizon conference, when I asked Saudis, Arabs, and other locals from the region, who is funding ISIS? People uniformly named either Saudi Arabia or the USA.
Pop Quiz. Name the only country that has consistently opposed the Islamic State and al-Qaeda?
The Answer? No, it’s not the USA. It’s Iran.
The History of the US/Iran Relationship:
A Crash Course from 1953 to the Present
Iran is a regional superpower in a kind of local “cold war” against Saudi Arabia and Israel. There are a set of facts that no one should do without when trying to figure out the real history of the Iran/US relationship. A deeper understanding of this history could begin to lay the groundwork to re-establish diplomatic ties, which have been suspended since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
In 2000, even Madeline Albright recognized that the CIA’s brutal 1953 coup overthrew the democratically-elected progressive Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, and replaced him with the fickle Iranian king, Reza Shah. With their SAVAK secret police, the Shahs repressed dissidents and communists, and so Islam became the legal method of resistance. When President Jimmy Carter allowed the ailing Shah to travel to the USA to receive healthcare, Ayatollah Khomeini called for a general strike in Iran and flew back to Iran from his exile in France. 98% of the population voted to replace the monarchy with the Islamic Republic, in a referendum vote.
Because of the US’s support of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution resulted in an unplanned take-over of the US embassy. 53 US hostages were kept for 444 days until they were released on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
During the Iran/Iraq War, it’s worth noting that young Qassem Soleimani met the young Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when both were fighting the Iraqi invasion. They would have a long, complicated relationship, as Adhmadinejad would go on to become elected President of Iran, from 2005 to 2013. His politics were “hardliner” compared to his successor, the more moderate Rouhani. Ahmadinejad may be most famous for his 2010 speech in front of the United Nations, in which he questioned the official story about 9/11.
Regarding 9/11/01, Iran was not involved, but US Allies were. The USA’s CIA Counterintelligence Database reports that two Mossad agents were among five Israelis arrested by NJ Police, on 9/11/01, for celebrating the attacks publicly, as they watched the World Trade Center burn. Held in custody for two months by FBI, Bush officials intervened and all five were released to go back to Israel. On Israeli television, they were celebrated as heroes.
15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, including two with ties to Saudi intelligence (Al Mihdhar and Al Hamzi). When Congress’s suppressed “28 Pages” of its own 9/11 Report were released in 2016, they documented Saudi funding of the 19 hijackers, from none other than US Ambassador from Saudi Arabia, Prince Bandar bin Sultan (aka “Bandar Bush”). But even Bandar’s many appearances in the suppressed “28 Pages” have yet to prompt a grand jury investigation in US courts.
Later that month, in September 2001, General Wesley Clark, reported that a senior general inside the Pentagon told him, “Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense [Rumsfeld] outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.’ And he named them…ending with Iran.”
The Iraq War officially started in 2003 and phase one didn’t end until 2011. Similar to the 9/11 official story, the premise for the Iraq War was a loose set of assumptions and insinuations, not hard facts or evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Hussein’s overthrow and execution was another targeted killing on a grander scale, similar to that of Soleimani. The Bush/Cheney “War on Terror” was a colossal waste of money, even by the libertarian think tank Cato Institute. “A recent study…puts the cost of the War on Terror at roughly $5 trillion — a truly astonishing number. Even if one believes American efforts have made the nation marginally safer, the United States could have achieved far greater improvements in safety and security at far less cost through other means.”
In 2007, German news magazine Die Spiegel leaked that Vice President Dick Cheney had a secret plan to invade Iran next.
Barack Obama was elected as a symbol of hope and change, but his pick of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was tragic for Iran. Hillary Clinton removed the Iranian terrorist group MEK from the State Department’s “Terrorism Watch List” in 2012. The media crowed that the lobbyists had done it again, as MEK represents big money ex-patriate Iranians who would like to see violent regime change in Iran. MEK was once a bizarre culty Islamic splinter group, banished to Albania, and hated in Iran for backing Iraq in the Iran/Iraq War. But money changes everything, and now with lavish funding, these days the MEK throws huge gala events in DC and NYC and pays Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton to come speak.
After President Barack Obama jettisoned Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, he did some ground-breaking work by working with moderate President Rouhani and signing the “Iran Nuclear Deal,” the JCPOA in 2015.
In 2017, with Trump in Office, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and others routinely ignored the Trump White House’s multiple calls to pressure Iran militarily. Their belief was that Syria’s Assad had effectively won the Syrian civil war, thanks to Iran and Russia, and now the war on ISIS took priority. Mattis quit at the end of 2018 when Trump demanded US withdrawal from Syria.
In 2018, former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson quit as Secretary of State, and Mike Pompeo succeeded him. Pompeo lost no time in focussing a target on his longtime nemesis, Qassem Soleimani. It started in April of 2019, with the shocking designation of Iran’s entire Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) as a “terrorist organization.” According to The Iran Agenda book by Reuters reporter Reese Erlich, the IRGC is a huge economic entity in Iran, and it controls about 10% of the entire Iranian economy. So declaring IRGC a terrorist organization would be like declaring Amazon a terrorist organization in the US.
But there were more than words in the declaration. The knives were coming out. “Bolton and Pompeo knew that that designation opened up the targeting aperture,” one former senior Trump administration official said.
In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution. It requires the President to report to Congress whenever armed forces are introduced “into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated,” and to terminate any hostilities after 60 days unless authorized by Congress.
But since 1973, Congress has done little to reclaim its constitutional responsibility to control the war machine. Professor Jack Goldsmith points out, “Our country has, quite self-consciously, given one person, the President, an enormous sprawling military and enormous discretion to use it in ways that can easily lead to a massive war.”
If there’s any one issue that may someday inspire a US Constitutional Convention, it may be the long history the USA has had with a “unitary executive” who abuses their powers to wage undeclared wars on smaller, weaker nations. Our system is running contrary to the spirit and the letter of the US Constitution. What happened in the Soleimani case is more than just the murder of one man. It shows that our current class of leadership, from Clinton to Trump, is so in love with violence, it crosses a line into contempt for the Constitution. The love of war is all.
What could possess their souls?
The Christianity of Brutality
The flaws of the American brand of evangelical Christianity led directly to Soleimani’s fiery death with nine others. The dominant religion in America birthed a bloody global trauma that caused the whole planet to smell the stench of World War III. However, any student of the New Testament will notice that Jesus actually stood against the nationalism and the exclusionary practices of the Jewish leadership. He called the Pharisees and Scribes, “vipers” and even worse, “lawyers.”
Jesus’s pivotal lesson about the Good Samaritan exposes the hypocrisy of the “purity” of the High Priests. They were so obsessed with purity, they wouldn’t help a man beaten up in the street. Their religion blinded them to the basic humanity in all of us. At a time of crisis, when we need something to unite us, religion could reveal an inner light within us all. The Good Samaritan story holds up the forgotten and hated people of our day. The one who is hated most by society turns out to have the most heart. The outsider, the Samaritan ignores all the codes of the day and stops to care for the crushed and bloodied man. That’s the path. Actions of compassion and healing are the true way, not a religion of showiness, prestige, and power.
Mike Pompeo and the neoConservative Christians are super Pro-Israel, because their Christianity is based in the Old Testament, where God is oftentimes a violent, nationalistic force who favors his “Chosen People” in their many wars. Pompeo has compared Trump to King Cyrus, and likes to dwell on the Book of Esther, in which the Jewish people commit genocide on the Iranians/Persians, killing over 5,000 in one fell swoop. (An event celebrated every year with the Jewish feast of Purim.)
The Old Testament also has eternal wisdom, great laws, and lessons in it, like “Thou Shalt Not Kill” from the Ten Commandments. The Wisdom literature, such as Psalms and Proverbs, show the universal conception of God, evolving into a more compassionate, loving vision over time. But to rely on the Old Testament as a true book of history is shaky ground. To base US Foreign Policy on it is ahistorical. Most of the Old Testament is war stories, in which genocide and exclusion are held up as ideals. A little-known fact is that some early Christians didn’t at first want to include the Old Testament in their Bible. They felt that the teachings of Christ were complete: be humble, be of service, make your life about truth, integrity, and nonviolence. These were so much more substantial than the old books, which had led directly to the superficial posturing of the Pharisees, and the “Simple Way” resistance of Jesus of Nazareth.
It seems that with the killing of Soleimani, something has hijacked the spirituality of a man like Mike Pompeo. He became a “born-again Christian” inside the super-powered pressure-cooker of West Point US Military Academy. It’s like someone only gave him half the story. The American right-wing wants the righteousness of religion without doing the real work of Jesus’s core command, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
The story of the New Testament is really this: a young, passionate, former carpenter from the sticks, Jesus of Nazareth, picks up the oral traditions of a “street rabbi.” Able to quote the prophets, see people’s problems, and inspire people to change, he becomes a traveling street preacher, able to talk about the love of God in a radical new way. He challenges the aristocracy of the high priests and denounces their rigidity and formalism. He gathers a wide range of people “from below.” He teaches and heals among the peasant and working classes (without excluding Roman soldiers). Drawing on the Wisdom literature, he expands and radicalizes his message, in a time in which occupied Palestine was seeking ways to resist the violence of the Roman Empire. Influenced by the Zealots, and tempted by the lure of political power, Jesus ultimately rejected that path. He did consider it but rejected driving Rome out of Palestine with a sword. He even welcomed Pharisees at his gatherings and teaching sessions. His challenge to “love our enemies” was really a challenge to see that there is a light within all of us, including Americans, Israelis, and Iranians, and that it’s a common love of the truth. The historical Jesus never endorses killing people. He says we should “turn the other cheek” rather than retaliate with violence.
Essentially we have here an avatar, one of history’s most dynamic and radical figures, revered today in both Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam, because he opened up a new space of what is possible for humanity: living in a place of dialogue, a love for the Word, sharing, truth, eating together, healing each other, reveling in our common humanity, and working out problems without violence. That is the space of God.
The violent Christianity of Mike Pompeo feels about as authentic as his boss, Donald Trump, wielding a Bible like a weapon, as a vague warning to protestors and radicals fed up with racism and police brutality.
They need to look deeper, because 2000 years ago, Jesus would have been among those protestors. According to the book Rabbi Jesus by Bruce Chilton, when Jesus cleared the Temple in Jerusalem, he went in with an affinity group of 50-100 followers. It was an “Occupy the Temple” action, in which Jesus stood up to capitalism: the money-changers, animal-sellers, and merchants who had turned religion into a business. Jesus and crew literally pushed over the tables and set the doves free. It clarified Jesus’s work and became one of his last public acts of direct action.
In their zeal to make Christianity about violence and Old Testament rivalries against Iran, Pompeo and Trump totally miss the revolutionary spirituality of compassion for all beings and the essentially anti-capitalist message of Jesus. I am reminded of the young, rich kid who comes up to Jesus in the New Testament and says, “Hey, I have followed all the rules, but nothing is working for me!” So Jesus says, You must give up all your wealth, your power, your status, all you cling to, and get on the road with us, follow this path, be inside our movement, follow me. But the kid couldn’t do it because he was too attached: to luxury, to his self-concept, to his fragile and tender illusions, to a status quo of empire, class, and power.
It’s like that kid today is Mike Pompeo, and all the American Christians who do what he does. They want to follow Jesus, but can’t escape their formalism, their illusions, they can’t give up the habits of easy nationalism, their remote-control high tech violence, their sloganeering and stereotyping. Jesus says something truly radical – it’s not too late to turn around – give up all you have and follow me.
Instead the modern day Pharisees have been sending the FBI out to harass American activists.
Summer of 2019: FBI at My Front Door
I have been researching this article for six weeks, but I began to write the first draft on August 6, 2020. That date is actually the one year anniversary of the FBI visiting my home to stifle my international travel plans to advocate for peace with Iran. It seems that calling for peace has become something of a crime, in the time of Trump and Pompeo.
The FBI also visited such US dissidents as former Pentagon official Michael Malouf, and former US-Saudi diplomatic attaché Michael Springmann, and about fifteen others. What we all had in common was that we had previously attended the Iranian’s New Horizon conference, where dissidents from the USA and other countries were able to gather, share views, network, and brainstorm solutions to the problems of aggression, imperialism, and world peace.
When the FBI was at my house, they handed over a copy of a recent indictment of an American who had defected to Iran. But this situation had nothing to do with the New Horizon conference. The US Treasury, however, had sent the FBI to enforce their recent harsh economic sanctions against New Horizon. Four Iranians from New Horizon were sanctioned for hosting this international think tank, a kind of “Davos of the Global South.”
The FBI home visit was a gross violation of my core rights to free speech, religion, and the right to peaceably assemble and tackle grievances. The Bill of Rights took a backseat to an obsession with killing. We had been planning to attend the next New Horizon in Beirut that Fall.
This was certainly a nadir for US activists, but shortly thereafter, there was a bit of a thaw, when in September 2019, President Trump fired his White House war-monger, John Bolton. And then, the next month after that, the “mastermind” of the Trump White Houses’s sanctions on Iran, Sigal Pearl-Mandelker, resigned after being harassed by peace activists at a public event.
Against the Balance of Power, Towards the Balance of Peace
President Woodrow Wilson, once said, “Peace cannot…rest upon an armed balance of power.” Lasting peace, he maintained, required “not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.”
So instead of old religions, old rivalries, and old prejudices being given all of the power, what if the world could coalesce around a new vision, in which political assassination was banned, and just not required, because the balance of power was no longer based on violence.
The next step would be to map out a path to a place where we as one people on Earth can declare that war itself is simply out of date. How can we get to a place where we have outgrown it? The answer is to grow. We are close to being capable of global nonviolence. Gandhi said that the roots of nonviolence were already in the heart of all the world’s great religions.
The words of President Wilson ring true, “There is only one power to put behind the liberation of mankind, and that is…the power of the united moral forces of the world.”
“The power of the united moral forces of the world” is a power that peoples of all religions, and no religions, could get behind, support, and live.
Practical Proposals for Global Social Change
It’s time for a Truth and Reconciliation Conference around the murder of Qassem Soleimani. It will be a way to start to talk about the truth behind the “balance of power” and begin the healing among the peoples of the world.
So that’s why, this article is not just some investigative journalism about a criminal act, I have created a way for you to get involved, in an international dialogue, with Iranian and American activists, on Zoon, this Friday, on October 2, the International Day of NonViolence. From 4 PM to 9 PM, we will have political and spiritual speakers from Iran, and the USA, and other countries.
We will hold a global Truth and Reconciliation Conference, to talk about a global cultural shift, to change the entire system. We have a great bunch of speakers: everyone from Lt. Col. (Ret.) Lawrence Wilkerson, to radical priest Fr. John Dear, to Iranian film-maker Nader Talebzedeh.
Qassem Soleimani did not die in vain. He wanted to be a martyr. Now, let us work to have his death help to transform the world.
Come Celebrate Peace and Nonviolence, Celebrate Gandhi’s Birthday.
4PM – 9 PM Oct. 2 on Zoom. More Info:
The author of the article above wishes to acknowledge Porsché Mysticque Steele for her editorial work, and thanks also to C. Maupin for advice.