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What follows is a forward to one of  Francis A. Boyle's book. 
It was written while Phil was in prison for the Prince of Peace Plowshares.



Philip Berrigan #14850-056
Federal Correctional Institution at Petersburg 1996-1997
Federal Correctional Institution at Elkton 2001

My suspicions about human law go back 30 years. They began with the trial of The Baltimore 4 following Dr. King's assassination in April, 1968. Our effort, in October 1967, was one of many raids on Selective Service -- some say over 100 -- both standby and covert.

In the Baltimore 4 trial, the federal judge enforced a narrow focus -- did we do the resistance act we admitted doing against the genocidal debacle in Southeast Asia? He suppressed "why" we did it, except by our testimony, which the prosecutor dismissed contemptuously as misguided, even adolescent. But no expert testimony reached the jury about search and destroy operations, napalm, cluster bomb units, Agent Orange, Phoenix Program assassinations, millions of Indochinese dead, the risks of nuclear war against China and the Soviet Union.

I witnessed for the first time an American Court fabricating a legal railroad -- what we call a kangaroo court. On reflection it was pitiful -- a court exposing itself like an exhibitionist snatching his raincoat open. But despite the shameful (and shameless) spectacle, the judge initiated a pattern scrupulously followed for 30 years, departing again from the initial concept of The Founders -- protection of the people against the government and powerful. The judge did the exact opposite -- he protected the government and military against the people.


Such legal machinations are insidious -- they effectively strip people of any non-violent redress against "their" government. We should recall that Thoreau called legal dissent "consent" since he apparently believed that tolerating legal dissent by the regime strengthened its credibility (and injustice). In brief, the government imposes an enormously effective deterrent -- "break the law and you'll go to prison!"

As the years passed and my arrests mounted, setting up a revolving door between prison and "minimum security," I feverishly researched material on law and the judiciary. I read Thomas Merton who likened the legality of Christ's execution -- "we have a law and according to this law he must die" (Jn 19:7) -- to the legality of nuclear war (Hiroshima and Nagasaki and subsequent doomsday adventures). This time, Merton wrote, the death sentence is passed on humankind, The Body of Christ.

 I read further, discovering that the Bible gave human law ample treatment. 1st Samuel 8th chapter, for example, exposes the State as a public, bureaucratic rebellion against God. But how do you distinguish between the State and its law -- Saul's law, Nero's law, Clinton's law? Philosophers of the law don't try, because they are the same thing. One can't imagine the State without its law, or the law without a patron State. They are identities. Therefore, the law, like the State is inherently flawed and violent -- its function to legalize a rebellious State. Can it even -- in cases of conscience -- offer non-violent redress? One can question that.

 Further on still, I reviewed Paul's Letter to the Galatians -- his most sustained indictment of human law. (Some claim that Paul in Galatians was attacking Mosaic Law. Others reject that as superficial -- he was indicting all law.) Paul argued that the law reduced Christ to a curse, necessary to redeem us from the law.

 The genesis of the State then, ancient or modern, is rejection of God, rebellion against God. "They have not rejected you [Samuel], they have rejected me as their King." (1 Sam. 8:7) And God instructs Samuel to tell the elders what a human King, Leader, Premier, Fuhrer, Prime Minister, President would cost the people -- sons for the military, daughters as domestics, crushing taxes, fields, vineyards and flocks confiscated, servants seized, slavery the final, tragic culmination. As the ruling hierarchy told Pilate: "We have no King but Caesar." (John 19:15)

 Paul equates the law with sin and death -- sin because law has nothing to say to sins of omission, and death because most will draw their morality from the law. The morality of most Americans is legalized. To become "law abiding" is to fear the penalties of the law, to become house-broken, domesticated. Morality limited by the boundaries of the law is spiritual death.

 Scholars speculate that the law and its courts (not the prisons) are social yardsticks -- in fact, condensations or crystalizations of the society as a whole. What of imperial America? What do the courts condense and symbolize -- war, profit, corporatism, contempt of the Poor, guns (nuclear and others) domestic violence, racism, discrimination against women, war against the children. The priorities of the empire are so implanted in the courts that arguably, they cannot accord justice to non-violent resisters. Just as the government by itself is helpless to disarm.

 Enter Francis Boyle and international law. The U.N. Charter, the Nuremberg Statutes, the Geneva Conventions, the World Court Decision of 1996, ruling that the "threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal." Francis Boyle is perhaps the most competent and impassioned advocate of international law in the U.S. He has as well, noble colleagues like Ramsey Clark, Peter Weiss and Richard Falk.

 Critics of international law tend to dismiss it as toothless, or for some of the reasons argued above. But I tend to support it, and to revere excellent lawyers like Boyle, Clark et al. And I contend that my apparent inconsistency evaporates when one reflects that international law is stateless, and therefore, escapes the moral contamination of nation/state law. Secondly, it coincides in most aspects with the justice of divine law. One can test it for example, against the summation of "the law and the prophets" -- ("Love your neighbor as you love yourself.").

 Finally, international law is a curb on the lawlessness and derangement of nuclear club members, especially the U.S. They have all freely agreed to become signatories, agreeing also to the superseding nature of international law, and its binding power over every court in the land.

 Like all bodies of thought truthful enough to threaten the empire, international law endures an enormous weight of institutional suppression.

 How will the American people respond when they understand that their government is nakedly lawless before its own law? There is, for example, the war in Afghanistan. I wrote the following from federal prison in Elkton, OH after the awful events of September 11, 2001:

 By all definitions, presence in a penal dumpster restricts one. Having no resource for research, I must rely on friends for analyses of current events. Articles by Francis Boyle, Stan Goff, and John Pilger struck chords in me. They appeared true and plausible. Furthermore, none of the three has a hidden agenda, an axe to grind.

 Boyle estimates that the war in Afghanistan was at least four years in preparation, and that around September 11th, the U.S., U.K. and NATO had 60,000 troops on maneuvers in the mid-East and South Asia, with adequate naval support. He comments: "September 11th was pretext, trigger, or both!"

 The Bush family is steeped in oil; there is no disguising that. Nor can one ignore the fact that the Bin Laden family was in "business" with the elder Bush. Bush's Administration is all oil, excepting Powell, who is military and weathervane, quick to adjust to the White Man's wind. After the Taliban chased the Russians, its leaders were wined and dined in Houston by Unocal, a Texas oil company. The deal was to make Afghanistan an American oil colony, where Afghans would protect and profit from pipelines run through Afghanistan from the Caspian Basin, the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world. The Afghans turned down the deal.

 We intend now to construct a pipeline through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean for the Asian market. Niaz Naik, a Pakistani Foreign Secretary, was warned by senior American officials as early as mid July that hostilities in Afghanistan would commence in mid October, as reported by the BBC.

 We need to explode two premises upon which the Bush Administration bases this war:

- that the war is a response to the attacks of September 11th

- that those attacks were conceived, organized and enacted by Afghans.

Neither premise holds water.

 Our leaders intend not just to colonize Afghanistan, but Russia as well, which is a dominant military and economic rival in South Asia. The oil goes east to the Indian Ocean and west to Western Europe through Kosovo. NATO, a force projection of the U.S., inches toward Russia along the 40th parallel, with an American base already in Uzbekistan. Four independent republics of the defunct USSR, cluster around Afghanistan - Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakkstan. From dominating these, the U.S. and NATO plans to reduce Russia to a huge client.

 In this volatile area, six members of the nuclear club pursue their fierce and often unilateral directions - the U.S., Russia, Britain, India, Pakistan and China. Pathological nationalism at best.

 No one in the national media has had the integrity to scrutinize George W. Bush's conduct on September 11th. Four airliners are hijacked in less than half an hour - unprecedented!. All four are tracked by FAA radar. At 8:45 a.m. the first plane crashes into the World Trade Center. No one notifies the commander-in-chief. At 9:03 the second plane slams into the World Trade Center and Andrew Card whispers the news to Bush; he does nothing. At 9:35, the third plane crashes into the Pentagon. No one does anything; no one issues orders; no one scrambles the Air Force. Bush doesn't even leave the Florida elementary school to call an emergency meeting. Was Bush - and his coterie - grossly negligent or deep into criminal conspiracy?

 Given the military buildup in the mid-East and South Asia, it seems safe to conclude that the Administration orchestrated a gigantic swindle on people at home and abroad - namely, the war against terrorism, Al Quaeda, and Osama Bin Laden. By shifting blame, Bush also shifted attention to an administration notable for its bumbling and myopia. Suddenly he had no problems of legitimacy, or recession, or world-wide resistance to globalization, and could, with impunity, silence dissent with an anti-terrorist bill. September 11th raked many a Bush chestnut out of the fire.

 Our bombing goes on relentlessly in Afghanistan, pulverizing a poverty-stricken country, decimating its people, creating tens of thousands of refugees. Food relief is negligible - the bombing has driven out Oxfam and other agencies.

 In the 8th chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus links lying and murder and identifies both with Satanism. That is to say, the mass murder of war is always justified by lying. Watch Bush's lips - if he reflects on the war, know that he is lying.

 Lawyers should take strict notice of this book. Hopefully, they will respond two ways: begin to educate themselves on this law of the U.S., and secondly, join and/or defend resisters to these hellish weapons. I have known lawyers who for years, resisted nuclear weapons and went to prison. Other lawyers gave strenuous defense to resisters pro bono. They rearranged their priorities, concluding that their humanity and religion were immeasurably more important than their law.

 This title does much to suggest to me the broad impact of Francis Boyle's work. He teaches international law at the University of Illinois at Champaign. Not many law colleges boast such a course, and fewer still have such a professor to teach it. Secondly, he has written several books on international law -- all given authority by teaching and courtroom test. Next, Francis Boyle is one of those rare Christians who understand the critical significance of Plowshares, i.e., based on Isaiah's prophecy of disarmament, reinforced further by the Sermon on the Mount. He recognizes that these Scriptures, as the Word of God, have the potential to bring the nuclear club to heal, suddenly disarming its nuclear weaponry. As long as there is a remnant of Christians, faithful, free and daring enough to take hammers and blood in hand to invade the hellholes and disarm the First Strike obscenities, The Word has flesh that will threaten the Killing Machines of the World.

 Lastly, Francis Boyle is, like Ramsey Clark, a legal globetrotter, who responds to critical need everywhere -- South Africa, Hawaii, the Middle East, Germany.

 This book could restore some dignity to a profession jaded by greed, corruption and the politics of ward heelers. Talk to The Poor and to the crooks of the Superrich about their lawyers. The Poor will tell you that their lawyers have learned to draw blood from stones. The Superrich will tell you that if their lawyers must bring their cases to court, they consider it an insult and a failure.

 Francis Boyle is a lawyer of the quality of Thomas More or Gandhi. I treasure him as fellow Christian, friend and brother.


Biographical sketch

  • Catholic priest married to Elizabeth McAlister.
  • Three children: Frida 27, Jerome 26, Kathleen 20 – all dedicated to nonviolent resistance and to justice and peace.
  • Lives at Jonah House, a nonviolent resistance community in Baltimore, MD. All our eight adult members are Plowshares veterans save one, and, by definition, veterans of prison as well.
  • Began nonviolent resistance to U.S. wars in 1966, breaking laws legalizing the Vietnam war. In the last 35 years imprisoned nearly 1/3 of the time or 11 years. Newly home from federal prison, being released on December 14, 2001.
  • Participated in six Plowshares witnesses, all disarmaments of first strike nuclear weapons. (Plowshares takes its authority and inspiration from Isaiah 2:4 where the prophet explains that those who beat swords into plowshares, abolishing war as institution and politic are beloved of God.)
  • Published eight books, invariably about nonviolent issues and war and peace.
  • Lectured on modern war and peace, nuclearism and interventionary war in most of the American States, and across Canada and Western Europe.
  • With Daniel Berrigan, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at least six times.