435 pm Oct 19, 1990 WHAT IS THE CHRISTIC INSTITUTE? This is an article about the Christic
4:35 pm Oct 19, 1990
WHAT IS THE CHRISTIC INSTITUTE?
This is an article about the Christic Institute prepared for the Bruce
Springsteen concert to benefit the Institute, which will take place November 16
at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. We are making it available on PeaceNet
for anyone who wants to learn more about the Institute, including its history,
investigations, philosophy and personalities. Feel free to copy and distribute
any article posted below.
Permission is granted to reprint any article in the public domain posted on
this conference, provided the Christic Institute is credited and its address
included. For information about subscriptions to Christic Institute
publications, please write us at 1324 North Capitol Street, N.W., Washington,
D.C. 20002. The Christic Institute is a nonprofit organization, and depends
entirely on contributions from its supporters.
WHAT IS THE CHRISTIC INSTITUTE?
Since 1980 the Christic Institute has won some of the most celebrated public
interest cases of our time. The Institute's strategy combines public interest
law and progressive political education in a unique model for social reform in
the United States.
We commit our resources to legal investigations carefully selected for their
potential to advance human rights, social justice and personal freedom--at home
and abroad. The Institute is a nonprofit, tax-exempt, charitable organization.
We are supported financially by foundations, churches, synagogues and private
citizens. Because we represent our clients without charging legal fees, the
Institute is dependent entirely on the generosity of our supporters.
The Christic Institute's daily work is grounded in the idea of social justice,
an idea that is basic to many religions--old and new. Religious belief is a
powerful force in civil society, shaping the political convictions of millions
of Americans. It can either be manipulated cynically for destructive political
ends or used reverently to build a just society. Ours is a broadly pluralistic
commitment to religious values and their proper place in American society.
The Institute's strategy combines investigation, litigation, education and
organizing. Our goals:
- to represent the victims of injustice before the courts and create a factual
basis for political education.
- to help citizens understand that single cases of injustice are often
symptomatic of deeper threats to the freedom of every United States citizen.
- to help grassroots activists and religious communities organize for
effective political change.
This strategy of public interest law and progressive political action has
proved a winning combination:
- In Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee, the Institute organized a team of lawyers to
represent the family of Karen Silkwood, an employee of the Kerr-McGee Nuclear
Corporation who died in 1975. The case, decided in 1984 by the U.S. Supreme
Court in the Institute's favor, established precedents in law that give
citizens and states more power over the hazardous operations of nuclear
corporations. The Institute proved in court that Kerr-McGee was responsible for
Silkwood's contamination by radioactive plutonium, and forced the corporation
to pay more than $1.3 million to her children. The Institute's case files on
were the raw material for the movie Silkwood, directed by Jack Nichols.
- After a death squad organized by the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux
Klan murdered several demonstrators in 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina, the
Institute won a verdict in federal civil court against five of the assailants
and two police officers. The verdict is one of the few decisions in a Southern
court to date against law enforcement officials accused of collusion with Klan
- In 1989 Christic Institute South and the American Civil Liberties Union
helped the black voters of Keysville, Georgia, win back the right to elect
their town government, abolished by the town's white minority in 1933. Deprived
of political power, the town's citizens had no sewers, water system, fire
department or schools. Now the town is governed by its own elected council and
THE LA PENCA BOMBING AND INVESTIGATION
On May 30, 1984 a terrorist bomb exploded during a press conference at the
isolated jungle outpost of contra commander Eden Pastora in La Penca,
Nicaragua. Pastora survived the blast, but eight other people--including three
journalists--were killed and two dozen injured.
Among those injured was ABC cameraman Tony Avirgan. Once Avirgan recovered
from his injuries he joined his wife, journalist Martha Honey, who had already
begun an investigation to track down those responsible for the La Penca
The two journalists discovered a trail of evidence leading from La Penca to a
secret contra base in Costa Rica, located on a ranch owned by a North American
farmer named John Hull. Eyewitnesses identified the ranch as the staging area
for the La Penca bombing.
Avirgan and Honey learned that Hull was a key figure in the criminal
enterprise of retired military officers, former intelligence officials and
private "soldiers of fortune" who were supplying arms for the contra war
against Nicaragua. They also learned that Hull was allowing Colombian drug
traffickers to use his ranch to smuggle cocaine into the United States. The
profits from the drug operation were used to purchase military supplies for the
Despite an escalating series of anonymous death threats and the murder on
Hull's ranch of one of their informants, Avirgan and Honey completed their
investigation and published their findings. Realizing they had found evidence
of a broad criminal conspiracy, the two journalists asked the Christic
Institute to represent them in a federal civil lawsuit against the individuals
responsible for the La Penca bombing and other criminal acts. The Christic
Institute, which had already amassed extensive information about the criminal
operations of the Richard Secord Enterprise, agreed to represent the
Filed six months before the Iran-contra affair was publicly exposed, the
Avirgan v. Hull lawsuit named as defendants many of the key figures later shown
to be participants in the affair, including former Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard
Secord, businessman Albert Hakim and contra chief Adolfo Calero.
Acting under RICO, a tough federal statute giving private citizens powerful
tools to fight organized crime, the Federal District Court in Miami granted
broad investigative powers to the Institute in 1987. Using these powers to
compel testimony and subpoena evidence, the Institute has established the
outlines of a criminal enterprise originating years before the contra war
against Nicaragua. The investigation revealed:
- Drug trafficking to finance the contra war against Nicaragua. The La Penca
lawsuit charges that key figures in the covert contra supply operation--with
the knowledge of officials in the White House, Justice Department and the
Central Intelligence Agency--smuggled cocaine and other drugs from Colombia to
the United States through contra-controlled bases in Central America. The
Institute has named as codefendants several Cuban-American drug traffickers and
several Colombian drug kingpins.
- A pattern of criminal activity in the conduct of covert operations. The
Institute's investigators have established that major figues implicated in the
Iran-contra scandal have a criminal history dating back to covert operations in
Cuba, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The Institute charges an enterprise
of retired military and intelligence officials with involvement in drug
trafficking, gun running, money laundering and political assassinations.
- Existence of a lawless "secret government" fighting covert wars worldwide.
The La Penca investigation strongly suggests that elements of the Central
Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council are operating outside the
effective control of Congress and the American people. Enlisting the services
of narcotics traffickers and professional assassins, hiding behind dummy
corporations and secret bank accounts, covert operatives have created a "secret
government" which operates independent of democratic oversight.
CONFIRMATION OF CHARGES MADE IN AVIRGAN V. HULL
In May 1986, the Christic Institute filed Avirgan v. Hull on behalf of Tony
Avirgan and Martha Honey. Filed six months before the Iran-contra affair was
exposed, the suit alleged that a criminal enterprise of retired military
officers, Government agents, arms dealers and mercenaries were smuggling
weapons to the contras in violation of Federal law. Since then, independent
investigations conducted by the United States Congress, the Costa Rican
Government and the news media have confirmed the fundamental charges outlined
in Avirgan v. Hull.
- The congressional Iran-contra committees and the criminal trials of key
Iran-contra figures have produced volumes of testimony verifying the existence
of the Secord-Hakim Enterprise outlined in Avirgan v. Hull.
- Senator John Kerry's subcommittee on terrorism and narcotics found that
contra supporters were using the rebel arms supply network as a cover to
smuggle drugs into the United States. The subcommittee also confirmed the role
Avirgan v. Hull defendant John Hull played in the contra supply operation.
- The Costa Rican Legislative Assembly's Special Committee on Narcotics
Trafficking issued a report in July 1989 which linked John Hull and the U.S.-
supported contra supply network to drug smuggling in Costa Rica. Acting on the
committee's recommendations, the Costa Rican Government banned five United
States citizens--retired Maj. Gen. Richard Secord, former National Security
Adviser John Poindexter, former United States Ambassador Lewis Tambs, former
national security aide Oliver North, and North's emissary to the contras,
Robert Owen--for the role they played in establishing the contra-drug network
inside Costa Rica. Secord and Owen are both defendants in the La Penca lawsuit.
- In December 1989, the Costa Rican prosecutor's office asked a criminal court
to indict John Hull and Felipe Vidal for murder in connection with the La Penca
bombing. Prosecutors filed a 54-page report which confirmed key elements of the
La Penca lawsuit, including the roles of Hull and Vidal in the bombing and the
role of C.I.A. operatives in blocking attempts to investigate the bombing. Hull
and Vidal are now under indictment for murder, and the Costa Rican Government
is moving to extradite Hull from the United States. Hull fled Costa Rica last
year, skipping bail after his release from prison.
WHAT OTHERS THINK ABOUT THE CHRISTIC INSTITUTE
CORETTA SCOTT KING: "The Christic Institute lawsuit is political dynamite. . .
. The real patriots are not the flag-waving arms dealers who have profited from
drug smuggling, but the courageous men and women of the Christic Institute who
have worked to expose the truth about the role of drug money in U.S. foreign
policy despite threats and attempts at intimidation. We owe them our gratitude
THE HON. DON EDWARDS: "The Christic Institute is well known and respected on
Capitol Hill. Your hard-hitting investigation of the Secret Team's criminal
conduct in Central America has been especially important to members of
Congress. Long before Congress became energized about U.S. government
misbehavior in Central America, you were investigating and revealing the true
story. All Americans should be grateful for the key work you do to support our
Constitution and to ensure the legitimacy of governmental behavior." [Mr.
Edwards, Member of Congress from California, is chair of the House Judiciary
Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, United States Congress.]
THE REV. JESSE JACKSON: "The Christic Institute has done this country a great
service by investigating and exposing violations of law carried out by the
DANIEL ELLSBERG: "This [La Penca] lawsuit has the potential of enlightening
the American public more than anything I've seen since the Pentagon Papers and
the Church Committee investigationDon the hidden arms and instruments of our
covert foreign policy over the last two generations. It needs our utmost
DR. JOHN HUMBERT: "The Christic Institute is doing some of the most
significant work for peace and justice in Central America of any institution in
this country." [Dr. Humbert is General Minister and President, The Christian
Church (Disciples of Christ).]
ELEANOR SMEAL: "The Christic Institute's La Penca Project calls on the
American people to choose between the failed policies of covert war based on
lies and violence, and a policy of peace and honesty." [Ms. Smeal is former
president of the National Organization for Women.]
CHRISTIC INSTITUTE IN PROFILE
SARA NELSON, the Institute's president and executive director, is a seasoned
activist and leader of the women's movement. Nelson served as director of the
Karen Silkwood Fund and the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund. She was chair of the
labor committee of the National Organization for Women. After graduating from
the University of California at Berkeley in 1967, Nelson cofounded Community
Access Television Inc. of California and served as codirector of American
Documentary Films of New York and San Francisco. She was organizing director in
the Equal Rights Amendment ratification campaign in Oklahoma.
DANIEL SHEEHAN, the Institute's general counsel, has fought for justice in
some of the most celebrated civil lawsuits of the past two decades: Silkwood,
the Pentagon Papers, Wounded Knee, Attica and Greensboro. He was one of the
attorneys representing Stacey Ann Merkt, the first activist in the sanctuary
movement arrested by Federal authorities for sheltering Salvadoran refugees.
Sheehan assembled the legal team that represented Karen Silkwood's family in
Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee and was coordinating counsel in the Greensboro Massacre
case. Shortly after his graduation from Harvard Law School, he joined the legal
team that represented the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case. At
Harvard, he was a cofounder and editor of the Harvard Civil Rights and Civil
Liberties Law Review. For nearly five years, he has investigated criminal
activity by United States citizens supporting the contra war and has testified
on his findings before Congress.
THE REV. WILLIAM J. DAVIS, S.J., chair of our board of directors, is director
of Christic Institute West. His investigation of the contra underworld helped
build the case for the Avirgan v. Hull. He was a key figure in Silkwood v.
Kerr-McGee, the defense of Eddie Carthan and many other cases prosecuted by the
Institute. A Roman Catholic priest, he has lived in Latin America and travelled
widely in the developing world. Father Davis was an official observer at the
1984 elections in Nicaragua. In 1981, he investigated the disappearance of
Charles Horman, a United States citizen whose murder by the Chilean military
was dramatized in Missing, a film directed by Costa Gavras. He is the former
director of the National Jesuit Office of Social Ministries.
LEWIS PITTS, director of Christic Institute South, is a specialist in racial
justice and voting rights. As counsel for the survivors of the Greensboro
Massacre and their families, he proved in a Federal civil trial that a death
squad formed by the American Nazi Party and Ku Klux Klan murdered several
political activists during a demonstration for civil rights. His legal team now
represents poor Southern communities trying to wrest political and economic
power from powerful commercial interests. Working closely with the American
Civil Liberties Union, Christic Institute South recently helped the black
majority of Keysville, Georgia, win back the right to elect their own town
government. A graduate of the University of South Carolina Law School, Pitts is
chair of the Southern Regional Racial Justice Working Group of the National
Council of Churches.
LANNY SINKIN, attorney and public policy analyst, is a specialist on the
hazards of nuclear radiation and atomic power. He has a long history of
community activism. In 1967 he was coordinator of the Cambridge, Massachusetts,
Neighborhood Committee on Vietnam, which successfully persuaded U.S.
Representative `Tip' O'Neill to change his position on the bombing of North
Vietnam. He was executive director of the Urban Coalition of Metropolitan San
Antonio, Texas. He cofounded the San Antonio Aquifer Protection Association,
and was the leading attorney in the ten-year struggle by residents of the San
Antonio area to deny an operating license to the unsafe South Texas Nuclear
Project. He was coordinator of the Institute's campaign against legislation
that would have increased Presidential power to conduct covert operations.
WHAT DOES `CHRISTIC' MEAN?
The Christic Institute unites Christians, Jews and other religious Americans
on an effective and practical platform for political change. Among our team of
forty professionals and our network of 70,000 supporters nationwide are the
followers of many faiths--including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans,
Unitarian Universalists, Jews, New Agers and the adherents of traditional
Native American religion. We also count among our supporters and coworkers
Americans who identify with no religious faith, but share our values of
compassion and justice.
The Institute's religious pluralism, we believe, is one of our great
strengths. All of us have walked down different spiritual paths, but arrived at
the same destination: a conviction that faith requires a commitment to justice,
peace and healing in our society. The wellspring of spiritual values, although
it takes many forms in our lives, has intensified our reverence for life and
our opposition to injustice.
When the Institute was founded in 1980, it was difficult to find a name that
would adequately express the religious pluralism of this team. After months of
discussion, we turned to the writings of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
(1881-1955), the Jesuit philosopher and scientist. Teilhard believed that the
future of humanity was convergence, not self-destruction, that peoples would
not remain divided but were destined to become one. "Christic" was one of the
concepts Teilhard used to describe the spiritual energy in history which, he
believed, is drawing creation toward a future unity.
Our choice of "Christic" was quite deliberate. On the one hand, it expresses
our commitment to spiritual values and their proper place in society and
government. On the other, it distinguishes us and our supporters from the
pressure groups of the Religious Right, who misuse the words "moral" and
"Christian" as banners for sectarian intolerance and ideological extremism.
Although Chardin's philosophy is by no means required reading at the Institute,
our founders agreed with his vision of a future in which humanity, now divided
by ideology and religion, would join hands in a society ruled by tolerance,
justice and peace.
The Rev. William J. Davis, S.J.
Source: PeaceNet - chr.contragate
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