Monday, November 07, 2005

All Torture, All The Time

The President and His Vice: Torturers' Puppetmasters
By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 07 November 2005

The dots have finally been connected and the picture is not a pretty one. It is the face of the president of vice, Dick Cheney. The policies on the treatment of prisoners emanating from Cheney's office triggered the abuse and torture, according to Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff.

"It was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the Vice President's office through the Secretary of Defense down to the commanders in the field," Wilkerson, a former colonel, said on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." The interrogation techniques sanctioned by Cheney "were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war," Wilkerson declared.

Not coincidentally, Cheney has been lobbying Congress to prevent it from outlawing torture (which is already against the law, by the way). After Republican Senator John McCain secured 90 votes in the Senate to codify the prohibition against cruel, unusual, or degrading treatment or punishment, Cheney began to sweat. With CIA Director Porter Goss in tow, Cheney paid a visit to McCain and tried to convince the senator to allow an exemption for the CIA. McCain refused to legalize the CIA's ongoing illegal torture of prisoners.

Last week, Dana Priest wrote in the Washington Post that the CIA has been surreptitiously interrogating prisoners in a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe. Human Rights Watch identified Romania and Poland, two supporters of Bush's wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, as locations for these secret prisons.

Only Bush and a few of his top officials, undoubtedly including Cheney, have known about the existence and situs of these "black sites," as they are called in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and Congressional documents, according to Priest.

The secret prisons were established pursuant to a presidential "finding" signed by Bush six days after the September 11 attacks. That finding gives the CIA permission to kill, capture and detain members of al Qaeda anywhere in the world. Assassination, or summary execution, violates US and international law.

More than 100 suspected terrorists have been taken to these "black sites." Many are held underground and subjected to torture out of view of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

CIA interrogators use "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," which violate US law. They include "waterboarding" (mock drowning) and mock suffocation. Another enhancement is a "stress position," in which a prisoner in suspended from the ceiling or wall by his wrists, which are handcuffed behind his back. Iraqi Manadel Jamadi was subjected to this treatment before he died in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib in November 2003. Tony Diaz, an MP who witnessed his torture, said that blood gushed from Jamadi's mouth like "a faucet had turned on" after he was lowered to the ground.

Several current and former intelligence officials are nervous about these "black sites," which were set up in a knee-jerk response to 9/11, Priest reported.

About the same time the "black sites" were established, Cheney undertook a campaign to introduce torture as a standard interrogation technique, according to the Washington Monthly. One of his test cases was Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda prisoner captured shortly after 9/11. An ex-FBI official reported that "they duct-taped his mouth, cinched him up and sent him to Cairo" for some torturous Egyptian interrogations, in violation of US law prohibiting extraordinary renditions.

A newly declassified memo reveals that al-Libi provided us with false information that suggested Iraq had trained al-Qaeda to use weapons of mass destruction. Even though US intelligence thought the information was false as early as 2002 because it was obtained under torture, al-Libi's information provided the centerpiece of Colin Powell's now thoroughly discredited February 2003 claim before the United Nations that Iraq had developed WMD programs.

Dick Cheney not only ordered the torture; he was willing to use false information obtained through torture to support Bush's pre-determined decision to make war on Iraq.

Now that Cheney has been fingered as complicit in the torture, it is just a matter of time before the official torture dots connect to the President himself. In December 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union released an internal FBI email that the ALCU received pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. The email, dated May 22, 2004, describes an Executive Order that authorized sleep deprivation, placing hoods over prisoners' heads, the use of loud music for sensory overload, stripping detainees naked, the use of "stress positions," and the use of dogs. The White House, Pentagon and FBI officials denied that Bush had issued such an Executive Order, saying that it was really a Defense Department directive instead.

It is undisputed that Bush determined in a February 7, 2002, order that he had the authority to suspend the Geneva Conventions, a position never before taken by an American president and a clear violation of US law.

Bush wrote in that order, "As a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva." (Emphasis added.)

In essence, Bush declared, incorrectly, that as commander in chief, he had the power to override the law with his policy. Where did he get that idea? From a January 25, 2002, memo sent by Alberto Gonzales to the President, which described the Geneva Conventions as "obsolete" and "quaint." That memo was inspired by David Addington, just named by Cheney to replace the indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby as the Vice President's chief of staff.

Addington was assistant general counsel to the CIA when Reagan was funding the death squads in El Salvador and the illegal Nicaraguan contras. Cheney's new chief of staff helped draft the infamous August 2002 memo that illegally narrowed the definition of torture, and justified torture in some cases. Now, Addington is trying to prevent the Pentagon from adopting the language of Geneva in its revised rules for handling prisoners. The circle of torture remains unbroken.

Libby is charged with obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI about the outing of a CIA agent. As in the Watergate scandal, a White House official is being prosecuted for the cover-up. There is plenty of evidence that officials in the Bush administration have been trying to cover up their torture since the inception of Bush's "war on terror."

The earliest example of the official cover-up was when John Walker Lindh, captured in Afghanistan shortly after September 11, 2001, was given a plea bargain that required him to keep mum about the mistreatment he suffered while in US custody. Col. Janis Karpinski told me in an August 3, 2005, interview for t r u t h o u t (Abu Ghraib General Lambastes Bush Administration) that after she first learned of the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez took systematic steps to hush it up. Soldiers reported to Human Rights Watch that US soldiers, called "Murderous Maniacs," broke prisoners' bones every other week at FOB Mercury; then, "those responsible would state that the detainee was injured during the process of capture and the physician assistant would sign off on this."

Most recently, in an effort to smooth over the torture of the hunger strikers by US officials at Guantánamo prison, Donald Rumsfeld said, "There are a number of people who go on a diet where they don't eat for a period and then go off of it at some point. And then they rotate and other people do that." Rumsfeld refuses to allow UN human rights investigators to meet with the prisoners there.

What is Rumsfeld trying to hide at Guantánamo? About 200 prisoners, many of whom have been there nearly four years without criminal charges, have been on a hunger strike for several weeks. Several of them are being force-fed through large tubes inserted into their noses and down into their stomachs, with no sedatives or anesthesia. One prisoner explained to his lawyer, "Now, after four years in captivity, life and death are the same."

The Washington Post reported today that Cheney has waged an intense, largely unpublicized campaign over the past year to prevent Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department from restricting interrogations of terrorist suspects.

Dick Cheney is right in the center of the Bush administration's government of dirty tricks. By replacing Libby with Addington, Cheney has signaled his determination to continue Bush's torturous policies. In a recent editorial, the Washington Post called Dick Cheney "Vice President for Torture." The President and his Vice continue to pull the torturers' puppet strings. Will Bush be deemed complicit in the torture? Or will his deputies cover up for him the way Ronald Reagan's men insulated him from liability in the Iran-Contra scandal?

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, President-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists. She writes a weekly column for t r u t h o u t.

Chavez Triumphs, Bush Fails

Failed Summit Casts Shadow
On Global Trade Talks
In Blow to U.S., Chavez Taps
Latin America's Discontent
To Fight Opening of Markets
November 7, 2005; Page A1

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina -- A failed summit of leaders of the Western Hemisphere dealt a blow to global trade liberalization and strengthened the influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a critic of the U.S. who favors protectionism and old-style socialism.

The Bush administration had hoped to use the meeting of 34 heads of state to breathe new life into negotiations on a long-stalled Free Trade Area of the Americas, a free-trade zone reaching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Instead, the meeting was so wracked by division that diplomats drafting the final communiqué failed to reach agreement even on when to resume talks on the free-trade zone.
[Hugo Chavez]

In handing Washington an embarrassing defeat, Venezuela was joined by the four countries of the Mercosur trading bloc, a customs union led by Brazil and Argentina and also including Paraguay and Uruguay. "We were five musketeers, kneeling, sword in hand," to oppose the FTAA, Mr. Chavez said afterward. He condemned the U.S. free-trade model as a "perversion" that would unduly benefit the U.S., and instead pushed for closer trade ties among Latin American nations.

Mr. Chavez's success at playing the spoiler role here reflects a harsh fact for the Bush administration: Washington can no longer have its way in setting the economic agenda in its own backyard or in a large part of the developing world. The rise of Mr. Chavez, and of other more moderate leftist leaders in Latin America, reflects the disappointing results of the so-called Washington Consensus, a set of market-oriented policies like trade liberalization and privatization that the region and parts of Asia embraced during the 1990s. The disillusionment with free-market growth formulas also has spread to other parts of the developing world, such as Africa.

That will complicate efforts next month in Hong Kong to carve out a world trade deal. Mr. Chavez has become a beacon for those skeptical of the idea that free trade improves the lives of ordinary people, analysts said. "Chavez tapped into a discontent that has been brewing for some time," said Charlene Barshefsky, who was U.S. trade representative under former President Clinton. "What he ignited was a combustible situation that was already smoldering."

President Bush responded only indirectly to the Venezuelan leader. In a speech yesterday in Brazil, that didn't mention Mr. Chavez by name, he warned that the consequences of following his lead could be disastrous. "A country that divides into factions and dwells on old grievances cannot move forward, and risks sliding back into tyranny," Mr. Bush said.

While public attention focused on the voluble Mr. Chavez, he also appeared to be engaged in an elaborate game of good cop/bad cop with the more-moderate president of Brazil, Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, leader of South America's largest economy. By joining forces with Mr. Chavez in Mar del Plata, Brazil may be trying to buy more time to win concessions from the U.S. and European Union on agricultural subsidies in the global trade talks.

Those concessions, in turn, could leave Brazil and other emerging powers in the region in a stronger position, if they decide to turn again to negotiating a hemisphere-wide free trade zone. Mr. da Silva rejected the idea of setting a 2006 date for resuming the FTAA negotiations because he wanted to keep pressure on the U.S. to make concessions in global trade talks, informally called the Doha Round.

The global negotiations are being held under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, and have stalled over a number of contentious issues. Developing nations, seeking to boost their exports, want the U.S. and EU to slash agricultural subsidies. Wealthy nations want poorer ones to slash tariffs, open their service industries to foreign competition and strengthen intellectual-property protection. The poor nations blocked the last major round of talks in Cancún, Mexico, two years ago, because of concern that agricultural subsidies weren't being addressed sufficiently.

The failure of the Western Hemispheric summit could make it more difficult for the U.S. to gather support for the Doha Round, and could embolden other countries to make more demands in those talks.

U.S. officials sought to play down Mr. Chavez's role and importance in the closed-door summit negotiations, suggesting that his public calls to "bury" FTAA were quickly ignored by other leaders. Instead, what evolved during the negotiations were two distinct, but not-so-different, approaches, they said: a plan backed by the U.S. and 28 other member states that would restart the talks next year, despite objections; and a second plan backed by Mercosur and joined by Venezuela that recognized the benefits of trade, but said the time wasn't yet right for FTAA.

American officials suggested that by joining the Mercosur proposal, Mr. Chavez effectively had to drop his demands for killing FTAA, although Mr. Chavez continues to deride the trade pact. Among other things, FTAA could give Latin American farmers better access to U.S. markets and give U.S. manufacturers increased access and better intellectual-property protection in fast-growing markets like Brazil.

Watch an Associated Press report on activists in Argentina protesting the summit of Western Hemisphere leaders.
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"We went from a summit which was supposed to bury FTAA to a summit in which all 34 countries actually talk in terms of enhanced trade and an FTAA, recognizing there are challenges," said Stephen Hadley, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, in a briefing late Saturday with reporters aboard Air Force One. "And the only difference is, do we start working now on the challenges in order to reach an agreement, which is the position of the 29, or the position of the five that, 'Oh, this is too hard right now.' That's not a big difference. I would say that is some real progress."

But the underlying strength of Mr. Chavez's political position appeared to be reflected in the fact that many of the countries that nominally supported the U.S. position insisted that the views of Venezuela and Mercosur be accommodated in the final language. That appeared to be a direct rejection of Mr. Bush's position.

"The man left beat-up," Mr. Chavez, a former paratrooper, said of Mr. Bush. "Didn't you see it?"

On Friday, the first day of the summit, Mr. Chavez had given the keynote address at a peaceful rally condemning FTAA and President Bush's policy in Iraq. Later that evening, protests against the trade pact turned violent, with groups of demonstrators vandalizing businesses in downtown Mar del Plata.

The summit confirms the Venezuelan as heir apparent to Fidel Castro as Washington's prime nemesis in its home hemisphere. Mr. Chavez favors heavy state involvement in the economy, and many Venezuelans fear he intends to impose a Cuban-style economic model. He has sharply increased government control over his country's all-important oil industry, forcing foreign oil companies to accept a majority government role in their local ventures. He also has seized what his government considers "idle" farmland from large rural estates and given workers in some factories an ownership stake and management voice.

At a time when Mr. Chavez has been using Venezuela's immense oil earnings to support political allies throughout Latin America, the aftermath of Mar del Plata could give him more credibility to export his leftist ideology. Moreover, a Chavez ally, Bolivian indigenous leader Evo Morales, who appeared alongside the Venezuelan during his anti-FTAA address, stands a good chance of being elected president of Bolivia.

For moderate leftist leaders in Latin America, such as Brazil's Mr. da Silva, Mr. Chavez's extreme positions can serve to make their own differences with Washington appear less significant. Nevertheless, that could be a double-edged sword. Mr. Chavez, for instance, has expressed support for the Brazilian landless peasant movement, which has disrupted the country's agrarian sector, the anchor of the Brazilian economy.

--David Luhnow and José de Córdoba contributed to this article.

Write to Matt Moffett at matthew.moffett@wsj.com7 and John D. McKinnon at john.mckinnon@wsj.com8
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Then Torture We Must, Tho' Our Cause is Not Just

And this be our Satan We Trust?

The Wall Street Journal

November 7, 2005 1:03 p.m. EST


Supreme Pressure
November 7, 2005 1:03 p.m.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to U.S. military tribunals for terrorism detainees, adding to the worries of President Bush, already fighting another challenge to his authority, a congressional resolution outlawing the abuse of terrorism suspects.

The high court's decision to hear the appeal by Osama bin Laden's driver1, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, in the military tribunal case was unexpected. Nearly a year ago, a federal judge ruled that military trials for terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay should be halted, saying that such detainees might be due the protections of the Geneva Convention. A federal appeals court, which then included current Chief Justice John Roberts, sided with the Bush administration and ruled that Guantanamo detainees didn't merit Geneva Convention protection. The Supreme Court's hearing of the case will pose an interesting dilemma for the new U.S. chief justice. Critics will likely call for him to recuse himself from the case, but Mr. Hamdan's lawyers may want him involved, if only to avoid the possibility of a 4-4 tie, which would let the lower court's ruling stand. The case will be heard in the spring, by which time federal appellate judge Samuel Alito, Mr. Bush's nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, may also be on the bench.

The court's decision adds to a string of recent disappointments for Mr. Bush, at a time when his popularity is at its nadir. In a sign of his withering political capital, the Senate has twice bucked his authority and voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution outlawing the abuse of terrorism suspects, saying a wave of prisoner abuses from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib has diminished America's standing in the world and put its troops at risk. So far, Republican leaders in the House have kept the issue from coming to a vote in that body, but a similar resolution would likely pass there. Mr. Bush wants the CIA exempted from such a measure and has vowed to veto it, saying it would tie his hands (so to speak) in fighting terrorism. "There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again," he told reporters. "So you bet we will aggressively pursue them, but we will do so under the law. We do not torture."

Laura Rozen War and Piece

« | Main | »
November 06, 2005
Phase II

I'm supposed to be finishing an article, but this is not unrelated. On Fox news today, Brit Hume helpfully offered a sneak preview of the Pat Roberts/White House strategy over the next few days. In lieu of focusing on other parts of the Phase II investigation that was supposed to broadly be about policymakers' use of the Iraq intelligence they received, Roberts will leak to the White House and the GOP the pre-war statements by Democrats about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. (If you heard Newt Gingrich on ABC's This Week, you'll have gotten a taste of that, with statements of Rockefeller, Schumer and Hillary Clinton discussed). Fair enough. As Rockefeller pointed out on CNN's Late Edition today, it was president Bush that took this country to war, not the Democrats.

But unfortunately, this airing of Democrats' pre-war statements is the only part of the Phase II investigation that Roberts has ever shown any interest in. In fact, sometimes it seems he doesn't remember the full terms of reference that all 17 members of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Republicans and Democrats, unanimously agreed to investigate back in February 2004. We're still waiting, for instance, on points D, F and G:

D. the postwar findings about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and weapons programs and links to terrorism and how they compare with prewar assessments; ...

F. any intelligence activities relating to Iraq conducted by the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group (PCTEG) and the Office of Special Plans within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and

G. the use by the Intelligence Community of information provided by the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

Sen. Roberts indicated on Tuesday that he was basically done with his investigation and the Democrats knew that, and we could expect something as soon as this week. He didn't understand why Senate Majority leader Bill Frist had agreed to appoint a task force of three Republican and three Democratic Senators to report back to the full Senate on the status of Roberts' missing investigation.

In February 2004, at the time the full Senate Intel committee announced their unanimous agreement to the expanded terms of reference of their important investigation, Roberts was cited in the committee's press release, "The resolution adopted unanimously today illustrates the commitment of all members to a thorough review, to learning the necessary lessons from our experience with Iraq, and to ensuring that our armed forces and policymakers benefit from the best and most reliable intelligence that can be collected."

More than 2,000 US soldiers have died in Iraq, almost 1,500 US soldiers killed since Roberts made his promise to deliver this report twenty months ago. The insurgency rages on. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and there was no meaningful cooperation between Saddam and Al Qaeda before we got there. The Fitzgerald investigation has exposed that the White House was making its case for war to the Congress and the American people based on some key judgements not supported by the intelligence community, arrived at by unconventional channels mysterious to many of us. The American people have been more than patient waiting for some answers. Senate Democrats are fighting for our right to get them. Are the other Republicans on the committee going to hold Roberts to his promise? Or is their larger commitment as our elected representatives to provide meaningful oversight of activities we are not privy to going to be exposed as totally fraudulent?

Update: Roberts has made clear in talk show appearances today he doesn't intend to fulfill his promise for a meaningful investigation. Sen. Hagel, do you have any obligation provide the families of the dead soldiers a fuller investigation? Sen. Snowe? Sen. Warner? Senators, you have allowed torture to go on under your watch, black site CIA prisons unreported even to your committee, and staggering expansions of government intrusions into the lives of ordinary Americans without any debate. All of these abuses were committed by agencies and as the outgrowth of laws that were supposed to be overseen by the Senate Select Intelligence committee. These are not the values I learned growing up in Roberts' and my home state of Kansas that this country stands for. I can't believe that many Republicans are not deeply troubled by them as well.

Update II: Hold your horses. The very civilly disobedient Jane Hamsher is cancelling that manicure to hear what Roberts came up with in terms of Democrats' pre-war intelligence statements.

And yes, Barton Gellman gets my vote for Pulitzer Prize, with his Washington Post colleague Dana Priest. Are there two people using journalism to fight for a better America against the forces of Pat Roberts and Dick Cheney, the forces of torture and intimidation and assault on civil liberties? To shine a light on the torture and abuse that Roberts has only been too happy to facilitate? There you go. Two heroes.

Posted by Laura at November 6, 2005 04:26 PM

No Episcopalians Need Apply (to the IRS, that is!),0,6769876.story?track=tothtml

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning
All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena risks losing its tax-exempt status because of a former rector's remarks in 2004.
By Patricia Ward Biederman and Jason Felch
Times Staff Writers

November 7, 2005

The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church … " The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.

The letter went on to say that "our concerns are based on a Nov. 1, 2004, newspaper article in the Los Angeles Times and a sermon presented at the All Saints Church discussed in the article."

The IRS cited The Times story's description of the sermon as a "searing indictment of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq" and noted that the sermon described "tax cuts as inimical to the values of Jesus."

As Bacon spoke, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a co-celebrant of Sunday's Requiem Eucharist, looked on.

"We are so careful at our church never to endorse a candidate," Bacon said in a later interview.

"One of the strongest sermons I've ever given was against President Clinton's fraying of the social safety net."

Telephone calls to IRS officials in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles were not returned.

On a day when churches throughout California took stands on both sides of Proposition 73, which would bar abortions for minors unless parents are notified, some at All Saints feared the politically active church had been singled out.

"I think obviously we were a bit shocked and dismayed," said Bob Long, senior warden for the church's oversight board. "We felt somewhat targeted."

Bacon said the church had retained the services of a Washington law firm with expertise in tax-exempt organizations.

And he told the congregation: "It's important for everyone to understand that the IRS concerns are not supported by the facts."

After the initial inquiry, the church provided the IRS with a copy of all literature given out before the election and copies of its policies, Bacon said.

But the IRS recently informed the church that it was not satisfied by those materials, and would proceed with a formal examination. Soon after that, church officials decided to inform the congregation about the dispute.

In an October letter to the IRS, Marcus Owens, the church's tax attorney and a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section, said, "It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season."

Owens said that an IRS audit team had recently offered the church a settlement during a face-to-face meeting.

"They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election."

The church declined the offer.

Long said Bacon "is fond of saying it's a sin not to vote, but has never told anyone how to vote. We don't do that. We preach to people how to vote their values, the biblical principles."

Regas, who was rector of All Saints from 1967 to 1995, said in an interview that he was surprised by the IRS action "and then I became suspicious, suspicious that they were going after a progressive church person."

Regas helped the current church leadership collect information for the IRS on his sermon and the church's policies on involvement in political campaigns.

Some congregants were upset that a sermon citing Jesus Christ's championing of peace and the poor was the occasion for an IRS probe.

"I'm appalled," said 70-year-old Anne Thompson of Altadena, a professional singer who also makes vestments for the church.

"In a government that leans so heavily on religious values, that they would pull a stunt like this, it makes me heartsick."

Joe Mirando, an engineer from Burbank, questioned whether the 3,500-member church would be under scrutiny if it were not known for its activism and its liberal stands on social issues.

"The question is, is it politically motivated?" he said. "That's the underlying feeling of everyone here. I don't have enough information to make a decision, but there's a suspicion."

Bacon revealed the IRS investigation at both morning services. Until his announcement, the mood of the congregation had been solemn because the services remembered, by name, those associated with the church who had died since last All Saints Day.

Regas' 2004 sermon imagined how Jesus would admonish Bush and Kerry if he debated them. Regas never urged parishioners to vote for one candidate over the other, but he did say that he believes Jesus would oppose the war in Iraq, and that Jesus would be saddened by Bush's positions on the use and testing of nuclear weapons.

In the sermon, Regas said, "President Bush has led us into war with Iraq as a response to terrorism. Yet I believe Jesus would say to Bush and Kerry: 'War is itself the most extreme form of terrorism. President Bush, you have not made dramatically clear what have been the human consequences of the war in Iraq.' "

Later, he had Jesus confront both Kerry and Bush: "I will tell you what I think of your war: The sin at the heart of this war against Iraq is your belief that an American life is of more value than an Iraqi life. That an American child is more precious than an Iraqi baby. God loathes war."

If Jesus debated Bush and Kerry, Regas said, he would say to them, "Why is so little mentioned about the poor?''

In his own voice, Regas said: ''The religious right has drowned out everyone else. Now the faith of Jesus has come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war and pro-American…. I'm not pro-abortion, but pro-choice. There is something vicious and violent about coercing a woman to carry to term an unwanted child."

When you go into the voting booth, Regas told the congregation, "take with you all that you know about Jesus, the peacemaker. Take all that Jesus means to you. Then vote your deepest values."

Owens, the tax attorney, said he was surprised that the IRS is pursuing the case despite explicit statements by Regas that he was not trying to influence the congregation's vote.

"I doubt it's politically motivated," Owens said. ""I think it is more a case of senior management at IRS not paying attention to what the rules are."

According to Owens, six years ago the IRS used to send about 20 such letters to churches a year. That number has increased sharply because of the agency's recent delegation of audit authority to agents on the front lines, he said.

He knew of two other churches, both critical of government policies, that had received similar letters, Owens said.

It's unclear how often the IRS raises questions about the tax-exempt status of churches.

While such action is rare, the IRS has at least once revoked the charitable designation of a church.

Shortly before the 1992 presidential election, a church in Binghamton, N.Y., ran advertisements against Bill Clinton's candidacy, and the tax agency ruled that the congregation could not retain its tax-exempt status because it had intervened in an election.

Bacon said he thought the IRS would eventually drop its case against All Saints.

"It is a social action church, but not a politically partisan church," he said.


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