Two Women “Shakers” Rock Minneapolis Dinner

On May 19th two of Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Shake the World”[1] highlighted the annual fundraising dinner of Minneapolis’ Advocates for Human Rights[2] that was attended by over 600 people.

One was Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s first women judge and the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for 2003 for her courageous work supporting democracy and human rights in her country.[3] Her human rights work began with the Islamic Revolution in 1979 when she was dismissed as a judge because she was a woman. In 1992 she began a private law practice in Iran that concentrated on taking child abuse cases and representing political dissidents, members of the minority Bahai faith, journalists and families murdered by the government. In 2009 threats against her and her family forced them to leave Iran. Dr. Ebadi received Advocates’ highest honor, the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award.

Dr. Ebadi was introduced to the audience by the other “Shaker,” Cheryl Thomas, Advocates’ own Director of Women’s Human Rights.[4] Newsweek praised Thomas for her work with local partners around the world writing laws that better protect women and girls. For the last two decades, she has improved legal protections for women suffering from domestic abuse and other forms of violence in places as diverse as Central and Eastern Europe, South Asia, the former Soviet Union, and Morocco. Thomas is an attorney and the founder in 1993 of the Women’s Human Rights program at Advocates.  She previously has been honored as a Changemaker by Minnesota Women’s Press and as one of 15 experts from around the world to participate in a United Nations Expert Group Meeting on good practices in legislation on violence against women.

At the dinner Advocates also granted a Special Recognition Award to the Islamic Resource Group that has been a strong and positive voice for Muslims in Minnesota.[5] The Group seeks to eliminate stereotyping of Muslims through educational programs. Its new video “Muslims in Minnesota” was shown. It documents a Muslim presence in Minnesota going back to the 1880s. Now there are an estimated 140,000 Muslims in the State. They are making an ever growing impact on the state and on the nation–from the first Muslim Congressman to the largest Somali Muslim population in the U.S.

Founded in 1983, Advocates helps individuals fully realize their human rights in the United States and around the world. Its innovative programming has touched the lives of refugees and immigrants, women, ethnic and religious minorities, children, and other marginalized communities whose rights are at risk. The Advocates strengthens accountability mechanisms, raises awareness, and fosters tolerance.


[1] Newsweek, 150 Women Who Shake the World (Mar. 14, 2011).

[2]  Advocates for Human Rights, http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/.

[3]  Wikipedia, Sharin Ebadi, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirin_Ebadi.

[4]  AHR Press Release, The Advocates’ Cheryl Thomas Named One of 150 “Women Who Shake the World” by Newsweek  (Mar/ 9, 2011), http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/cheryl_thomas_-_150_women_who_shake_the_world_3-9-11.pdf.

[5] Islamic Resource Group, http://www.irgmn.org/index.php ( the video mentioned in the text may be purchased from the Group).

The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

The U.S. State Department, pursuant to legislative authority, annually identifies countries that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” and designates them as “state sponsors of terrorism.”[1] The U.S. currently designates the following four countries as “state sponsors of terrorism:” Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.[2] Note that Libya and North Korea, which were previously on the list, are no longer present; these are two stories for others to pursue.

The following is the complete text of the State Department’s rationale for its most recent designation of Cuba:[3]

  • “The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates, while at the same time remaining critical of the U.S. approach to combating international terrorism. Although Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world, the Government of Cuba continued to provide physical safe haven and ideological support to members of three terrorist organizations that are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States.”
  • “The Government of Cuba has long assisted members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN), and Spain’s Basque Homeland and Freedom Organization (ETA), some having arrived in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Colombia and Spain. There was no evidence of direct financial support for terrorist organizations by Cuba in 2009, though it continued to provide safe haven to members of the FARC, ELN, and ETA, providing them with living, logistical, and medical support.”
  • “Cuba cooperated with the United States on a limited number of law enforcement matters. However, the Cuban government continued to permit U.S. fugitives to live legally in Cuba. These U.S. fugitives include convicted murderers as well as numerous hijackers. Cuba permitted one such fugitive, hijacker Luis Armando Peña Soltren, to voluntarily depart Cuba; Peña Soltren was arrested upon his arrival in the United States in October.”
  • “Cuba’s Immigration Department refurbished the passenger inspection area at Jose Marti International Airport and provided new software and biometric readers to its Border Guards.”[4]

One of the factual predicates for the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” is true: FARC, ELN and ETA have been designated “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” by the State Department, and such designations presumably are well founded. But what has Cuba done with respect to these three organizations? It has provided “physical safe haven and ideological support to [an unspecified number of their] members.” How many members? What were the particulars of the safe haven?  We are not told other than “living, logistical, and medical support.” And some of these members, the State Department concedes, were in Cuba to participate in peace negotiations with the governments of Columbia and Spain. Moreover, by the State Department’s own admission, there “was no evidence of direct financial support [by Cuba] for [these three] . . . organizations in 2009.”

Further qualifications to this basis for the designation were made in the State Department’s prior annual antiterrorism report, which said that “on July 6, 2008, former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding [in Colombia] without preconditions.”  Fidel  “also had condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians [in Colombia] who had no role in the armed conflict.”[5]

The other factual predicate for the most recent designation, I submit, is outright insufficient. Cuba, the State Department says, has continued to permit an unspecified number of U.S. fugitives (“convicted murderers and numerous hijackers”) to live legally in Cuba. Even if true, it is difficult to see how this is support of terrorism. Moreover, we are not told how many such fugitives there are and the circumstances of their cases. The State Department does not even call them “terrorists.” Again, the State Department’s prior annual antiterrorism report on Cuba provides details further undermining this charge.  It stated, “The Cuban government continued to permit some U.S. fugitives—including members of U.S. militant groups such as the Boricua Popular, or Macheteros, and the Black Liberation Army to live legally in Cuba. In keeping with its public declaration, the [Cuban] government has not provided safe haven to any new U.S. fugitives wanted for terrorism since 2006.”[6]

The balance of the State Department’s most recent “rationale” is, in fact, complimentary of Cuba. “”The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates.” “Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and        other parts of the world.” “Cuba cooperated with the United States on a limited number of law enforcement matters.” “Cuba’s Immigration Department refurbished the passenger inspection area at Jose Marti International Airport and provided new software and biometric readers to its Border Guards.” Another complimentary comment was made in the prior annual report:  there is “no evidence of terrorist-related money laundering or terrorist financing activities in Cuba.”[7]

The designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” has been reviewed by the Congressional Research Service, which said in 2006: Cuba was first designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982. Although it has ratified all 12      counterterrorism conventions, it has remained opposed  to the U.S. global war on terrorism. The CIA judged in August 2003 that ‘We have no credible evidence, however, that the Cuban     government has engaged in or directly supported international terrorist operations in the past decade, although our information is insufficient to say beyond a doubt that no collaboration has occurred.'”[8]

Some prior U.S. antiterrorism reports talked about Cuba’s alleged weapons of mass destruction program, but note that there is not any mention of such an alleged program in the most recent report. This canard was also rebutted by the Congressional Research Service: “The Administration’s assertions concerning Cuba’s WMD programs, which some observers dispute, focus on limited biological weapons research and development. Construction at the Juragua nuclear facility (two incomplete Russian nuclear power reactors) was indefinitely postponed in 1997.”[9]

The State Department’s best case for calling Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism,” upon analysis, is ridiculous. The designation should be rescinded, and the U.S. and Cuba should get down to the real business of engaging in face-to-face, serious negotiations to resolve their many long-accumulated differences.


[1]  Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act. (U.S. State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2009 (Aug. 5, 2010), http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2009/index.htm.) Such designation results in the following sanctions by the U.S.: (1) a ban on arms-related exports and sales; (2) controls over exports of dual-use items, requiring 30-day Congressional notification for goods or services that could significantly enhance the terrorist-list country’s military capability or ability to support terrorism; (3) prohibitions on economic assistance; and (4) imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

[2]  Id.

[3]  Cuba is the oldest member of the list; it has been on this list since January 1, 1982. Id.

[4]  Id.

[5]  U.S. Dep’t of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2008, ch. 3 (April 30, 2009), http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2008/122436.htm.

6]  Id.

[7]  Id.

[8] CRS, Globalizing Cooperative Threat Reduction: A Survey of Options (Oct. 5, 2006), http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/74901.pdf. See also CRS, Cuba and the State Sponsors of Terrorism List (May 13, 2005), http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL32251.pdf.

[9]  Id.

Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Changing Your Mind”

At the Homiletics Festival on May 17th,[1] Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence presented a lecture on why people of faith change their mind.

She said she has been doing a lot of thinking on this topic. Here are some of the emerging answers to that question. An individual feels the call of the spirit. An individual recognizes himself or herself in a story of the Bible. An individual commits his or her life to a life in the sacred text. An individual decides that he or she has a script from the sacred text.

When someone is called by God to do a difficult thing, he or she usually balks. But then a sacred script comes to mind, and the individual changes his or her mind.

An individual of faith has to become a witness and give testimony.  Being a witness is not easy. You have to give your account of what happened and your belief as to what it means. There are often conflicting stories or testimonies. Some witnesses are discredited. An individual has to come to a verdict on which version to believe. The person has to stand and say what he or she believes about God.

Such testimony is contrary to the world’s “mean” script. Power. Might makes right. Do not share what you have. Be successful, beautiful, strong.[2]

The emphasis on witnessing and testimony prompt me to make comments drawn from my lawyering days. Being a witness in a U.S. judicial proceeding is not easy. A witness first has to be sworn: “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me God.” [3] This oath, in my opinion, should also be kept in mind when a person witnesses to matters of faith. Our law has a well established principle to ensure that a witness is competent to provide testimony on a particular subject. Our law provides for cross-examination to test the validity of a witness’ testimony. Our law also has principles to help a jury or a judge evaluate often conflicting testimony. In a religious context, testimony should be subject to similar procedures. One such procedure is the tradition of discernment in honest discussion with fellow Christians.


[1] The Festival seeks to bring together a wide variety of outstanding preachers and professors of homiletics; to inspire a discourse about preaching, worship, and culture; to engage issues related to church in the 21st century; to engage theologically the practices of preaching and worship; to invite individual preachers to consider various styles and methodologies of preaching; and to inspire preachers in their roles of proclaiming the gospel. Festival of Homiletics (May 16-20, 2011), http://www.goodpreacher.com/festival/index.php. See Post: Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Skinny-Dip Sermon” (May 19, 2011).

[2]  The discussion of testimony and witnessing is drawn from Florence’s  book Preaching as Testimony. See Post: Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Preaching as Testimony” (April 6, 2011).

[3] Alternatively a witness may affirm to tell the truth without reference to God.

Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Skinny-Dip Sermon”

The Biblical text for this unusually titled sermon by Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence[1] was John 21:1-19.[2]

For Christians this is the familiar story of the unsuccessful post-crucifixion fishing trip by Peter and six other disciples. When they returned to shore, a man on the beach told them to go out again and put their net on the other side of the boat. They did and caught a lot of fish. Then one of the disciples recognized the man on the beach as Jesus and said, “It is the Lord.” Peter, who was naked presumably to avoid catching his clothes on the fishing gear, immediately put on his clothes and jumped in the lake. When they all were back on the beach, Jesus had started a charcoal fire to cook fish for breakfast and to warm Peter. After breakfast, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Three times Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” After each response, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Finally Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me!”

Florence said this was another example of Peter as the lone ranger, as the one who always changes the subject from Jesus to himself, as the one who forces Jesus to intervene, as the one who always wants to be the best at everything. Peter is always making “I” statements. We all are like this Peter.

Peter’s immediately putting on his clothes and jumping in the lake, at first glance, is strange behavior. If you want to swim, you do not put on clothes. But it is like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit and needing to clothe themselves when God cries out for them.[3] No one wants to be naked before God and exposing all of his sins. It is really difficult to be forced to look at your own shortcomings.

And Peter did have shortcomings he did not want exposed. Jesus’ asking Peter three times if he loved Jesus while Peter was warming himself by the fire on the beach was telling Peter that Jesus knew that after his arrest, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times in response to direct questions, all while Peter was warming himself by a fire in a courtyard.[4]

Yet Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.” Jesus chose Peter to start the church. And Peter chose to accept this call. It is another example of God’s choosing a flawed human being to do something new and of that human being’s choosing to accept the call of God.

This sermon on May 17th was part of the Festival of Homiletics to bring together a wide variety of outstanding preachers and professors of homiletics; to inspire a discourse about preaching, worship, and culture; to engage issues related to church in the 21st century; to engage theologically the practices of preaching and worship; to invite individual preachers to consider various styles and methodologies of preaching; and to inspire preachers in their roles of proclaiming the gospel.[5]


[1]  See Post: Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Preaching as Testimony” (April 6, 2011).

[2]  Bible, John 21: 1-19.

[3]  Bible, Genesis 3: 10-11.

[4]  Bible, Matthew 26: 69-74; Mark 14: 66-71; Luke 22: 54-60; John 18: 15-18, 25-27.

[5]  Festival of Homiletics (May 16-20, 2011), http://www.goodpreacher.com/festival/index.php.

Dinner at an Oxford High Table

Worcester College Hall

In the late 1990’s I was a guest for dinner at High Table at Oxford University’s Worcester College. My host was the Provost, Richard Smethurst.

Each of Oxford’s colleges has a High Table in its dining hall. It is a table on a raised platform at the far end of the hall that is reserved for the college’s dons and their guests. The rest of the hall has tables for the students on the floor of the hall. Many English novels set in Oxford or Cambridge have High Table scenes.

On the evening of the dinner I reported to one of Worcester’s Senior Common Rooms, which are rooms exclusively reserved for the dons’ communal gatherings. I was given an academic gown for the evening to wear over my business suit, shirt and tie.

We then marched to the dining hall, and upon our entry all of the students rose. We then proceeded to the High Table and our assigned seats. One of the students said grace (in Latin). Then everyone sat down, and service of the meal began.

The food that evening was excellent, and I said to the Provost that the food was much better than what we had when we sat at the other tables as students. Richard agreed, but said that the students’ food that night also was excellent. He explained that after Worcester had become a coeducational college (long after Richard and I were students), the father of the one of the female students was her dinner guest and was appalled at the poor quality of the food. The next day he made a special gift to Worcester to finance better food for the students once a month. (Once again I wish that I had kept a journal so that I could faithfully report exactly what was served for dinner that night.)

Once the meal was finished, everyone at the High Table rose and marched out of the dining hall while the students stood in homage. We repaired to another Senior Common Room. There snuff was passed around. I did not take any. We also were served port or sauterne wine. I imbibed the port.

The evening was not over. Another Senior Common Room was the next destination. Now it was coffee, brandy and cigars. I did not smoke, but had coffee and brandy.

It was a very pleasant to experience dinner at High Table after so many meals as a student for two years at Worcester seated at the other tables. (Again, if only I had a journal, I could decorate this essay with the details of the witty conversations that evening.)[1]


[1]  See Post: Oxford in New York City (May 27, 2011) (retirement dinner for Richard Smethurst.)


The International Criminal Court: Investigation of Gang-Rape in Libya

The ICC Prosecutor is investigating allegations that the Gaddafi regime is systematically engaged in gang-raping of women with rebel flags.  Men in the regime’s security forces allegedly are using sexual enhancement drugs as a “machete” for these rapes, some of which allegedly occurred in police barracks.[1]

This investigation is part of the Prosecutor’s investigation of possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Libya since February 15, 2011. This situation was referred to the ICC by the U.N. Security Council.[2]


[1]  CNN, ICC to investigate institutionalized gang-rape of women in Libya, (May 17, 2011), http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/05/17/libya.rapes.icc/index.html?hpt=T2; Mackey, Libyan Woman Describes Rape by Qaddafi Forces, (May 16, 2011), http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/16/libyan-woman-describes-rape-by-qaddafi-forces/?ref=world; Fahim, Claims of Wartime Rapes Unsettle and Divide Libyans, N.Y. Times (June 19, 2011).

[2]  See Post: The International Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Libya Investigation Status (May 8, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court and the Obama Administration (May 13, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court: Three Libyan Arrest Warrants Sought (May 16, 2011).

Oxford in New York City


Richard Smethurst

Two months ago I attended a dinner in New York City in honor of Richard Smethurst, [1] the retiring Provost of Oxford University’s Worcester College.[2]

Richard and I were students together at Worcester, 1961-63, and studied together (or revised together, as they say at Oxford) for the final examinations (or Schools in Oxford parlance) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). Richard recalled that our economics tutor told us and the other PPE students at the College that when he “took Schools” he had answered the first four questions on the examination paper to show the examiners that he knew everything. Richards also remembered that I thought our tutor’s suggestion was stupid or silly and instead said we should select the four questions out of the 12 to 15 on the paper for which we were best prepared.

Richard and I then embarked on our own revision together in the spring of 1963. In that effort I prepared the answer to a possible question on Public Finance that luckily turned up on the actual examination. Richard and I both answered that question, and we both received Firsts (the highest mark).

In New York I recounted this story in after-dinner comments to the group and joked that I was responsible for Richard’s receiving a First.

Also at the dinner was Bill Bradley, the former basketball player and U.S. Senator, who was a Rhodes Scholar and PPE student at Worcester, 1965-68, and who had Smethurst as his economics tutor. [3] Bradley told the group that while he was in the Senate, Smethust spoke at a dinner in Washington, D.C. and said that Bradley was the best economics student he had ever had . . . who became a U.S. Senator. Left unsaid at the earlier dinner, Bradley told us in New York, was the fact that he was Smethurst’s only economics student who had become a U.S. Senator.

At my dinner table were Bill Sachs, who was the brother of Daniel M. Sachs, and Dan’s widow, Joan Sachs Shaw. Dan was an all-Ivy League football player at Princeton University and a Rhodes Scholar at Worcester, 1960-63. Dan played for the Oxford University rugby team, but in 1961 was”aced” out of playing against the Cambridge University team for the all important “Oxford Blue” honor when the Oxford captain prevailed upon Pete Dawkins to return to the team for the Cambridge match. (Dawkins was a running back for Army who in 1958 won the Heisman Trophy for the best football player in the U.S. and who was a Rhodes Scholar PPE student at another Oxford college, 1958-62.[4])

Dan Sachs was a friend of mine during those Oxford days, and In June 1963 he was my best man when Mary Alyce and I were married in Oxford.

After Dan’s untimely death in 1967, friends established in his honor a Sachs Scholarship for a Princeton graduate to attend Worcester College.[5] The most famous Sachs Scholar so far is Elena Kagan, now U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice.[6]


[1]  Wikipedia, Richard Smethurst, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Smethurst.

[2]  Worcester College, University of Oxford, http://www.worc.ox.ac.uk/.

[3]  Wikipedia, Bill Bradley, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Bradley.

[4]  Pete Dawkins, http://www.petedawkins.com/.

[5]  Princeton University, Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Scholarship, http://www.princeton.edu/sachs/index.xml.

[6]  Wikipedia, Elena Kagan, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elena_Kagan.