Southern Methodist University faculty uneasy about a Bush Presidential Library
Southern Methodist University is the front runner to be the site for the Bush Presidential Library, and is favored by President Bush because of his United Methodist religious affiliation. The administration at SMU has been pushing to win the project.
Faculty at SMU are starting to protest, and United Methodist leaders are also questioning the relationship. Why? They tend to view Bush’s policies and decisions as antithetical to their faith. Some are also worried about the emerging discussion about turning the Bush Presidential Library into an academic center that would advance Bush’s political philosophy using SMU as a vehicle.
Other sites in contention are Baylor University and the University of Dallas. Some universities would be friendlier to a Bush Library than others, but I think it is undeniable that Bush’s own attitudes about learning and intellectuality would naturally make university faculty anywhere anxious about a Bush Presidential Library at their institution.
One comment on “Southern Methodist University faculty uneasy about a Bush Presidential Library”
Methodism, Torture and the Presidential Library
Methodism began as an 18th century spiritual renewal movement in the Church of England. At the time of the American Revolution only a few hundred Americans identified with Methodism. By the Civil War, Methodism was by far the largest church in the United States with one in three church members calling it their faith community. No other institution has done more good in shaping the ethos of American religion and culture than the Methodist Church.
Southern Methodist University is one of 123 educational institutions that are related to the modern day United Methodist Church. SMU is the only major university that has Methodist in the name. Because of this fact we were particularly troubled to read the November 27, 2006, report by United Press International that associates of George W. Bush are in the process of raising $500 million for his presidential library and think tank at SMU.
Anyone who thinks that the name Methodism or Southern Methodist University should be associated with George W. Bush needs to read the book, Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror by Dr. Steven Miles, professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota.
Professor Miles has based this volume on painstaking research and highly-credible sources, including eyewitness accounts, army criminal investigations, FBI debriefings of prisoners, autopsy reports, and prisonersâ€™ medical records. These documents tell a story strikingly different from the Bush administration version presented to the American people, revealing involvement at every level of government, from the Presbyterian Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to prison health-care personnel. The book also shows how the highest officials of government are complicit in this pattern of torture, including Episcopal Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, United Methodist Vice President Dick Cheney and United Methodist President George W. Bush.
While much of the use of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency and Special Forces troops remains concealed, Dr. Miles documents how nineteen prisoners have been tortured to death by American military personnel. The book tells of an Afghan prisoner named Dilawar, an innocent 22-year-old, who drove his taxi to the wrong place at the wrong time. At the U.S. detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, in December 2002, Dilawar was smothered, shackled and then suspended by his arms. When he was beaten with a baton, he cried out â€œAllah, Allah,â€ which amused the soldiers and triggered more merciless blows. The official report reads that he was beaten over a five day period until his legs were, in the words of the coroner, “pulpified.” He was then chained to the ceiling of his cell, where he died. Although an autopsy stated that Dilawar’s death was a homicide, General Daniel McNeil told reporters that Dilawar had died of natural causes on the grounds that one of his coronary arteries was partly occluded. The words “coronary artery disease” were typed in a different font on the prisoner’s death certificate.
Up to 90 percent of the prisoners detained in the Bush â€œwar on terrorâ€ have been found to be unjustifiably imprisoned and without intelligence value. In addition, much of the hideous work of torture is out-sourced by the Bush administration to countries like Uzbekistan, Syria and Egypt, where torture is a long-standing and common practice. In July 2004, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who grew up in a devout Methodist home, protested the Uzbek intelligence service’s interrogation practices: “Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the U.S. and U.K. to believe. . . . This material is useless — we are selling our souls for dross.”
Torture is a crime against humanity and a violation of every human rights treaty in existence, including the Geneva Conventions which prohibit cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. Torture is as profound a moral issue in our day as was slavery in the 19th century. It represents a betrayal of our deepest human and religious values as a civilized society.
David Hackett Fischer describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Washington’s Crossing, how thousands of American prisoners of war were â€œtreated with extreme cruelty by British captors,â€ during the Revolutionary War. There are numerous accounts of injured soldiers who surrendered being murdered and Americans dying in prison ships in New York harbor of starvation and torture.
After crossing the Delaware River and winning his first battle at Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas Day, 1776, George Washington ordered his troops to give refuge to hundreds of surrendering foreign mercenaries. “Treat them with humanity,” Washington instructed his troops. “Let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army.”
Contrast this with the September 15, 2006, Washington Post lead editorial titled â€œThe president goes to Capitol Hill to lobby for torture.â€ â€œPresident Bush rarely visits Congress. So it was a measure of his painfully skewed priorities that Mr. Bush made the unaccustomed trip yesterday to seek legislative permission for the CIA to make people disappear into secret prisons and have information extracted from them by means he dare not describe publicly.â€
If the Bush Library and think tank are placed at SMU, The United Methodist Church should withdraw its association from the University and demand that the good name of Methodism be removed from the name of the school. If The United Methodist Church cannot take a stand against the use of torture and those who employ it, including President Bush, what does it stand for?
Andrew J. Weaver, Ph.D., is a United Methodist minister and research psychologist living in New York City. He is a graduate of The Perkins School of Theology, SMU. He has co-authored 12 books including: Counseling Survivors of Traumatic Events (Abingdon, 2003) and Reflections on Grief and the Spiritual Journey (Abingdon, 2005).
Fred W. Kandeler M.Div. is a retired United Methodist pastor living in New Braunfels, Texas. He was the founding pastor of Christ UMC in Plano, Texas and a United Methodist District Superintendent. He is a graduate of the Perkins School of Theology, SMU.
Comments are closed.