History of the Commission
During the winter of 2008, a small group gathered for dinner in Berkeley, CA: Rita Nakashima Brock of Faith Voices for the Common Good, Gabriella Lettini of Starr King School for the Ministry, and Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg of Luna Productions. Inspired by Luna Productions’ Emmy-nominated documentary, Soldiers of Conscience, the group discussed what might be done to bring national attention to the questions of moral and religious conscience facing service members and veterans. From that initial conversation, the idea of this Truth Commission on Conscience in War was born.
A planning committee that included Rita, Gabriella, Catherine, and Ian Slattery, also of Luna Productions, began securing a location, finding a guest host and chair, identifying testifiers and commissioners to be invited, recruiting co-sponsors, and raising funds. In a difficult fundraising climate that necessitated a postponement of the launch, this small group was nonetheless able to recruit over fifty co-sponsors and raise the funds to cover expenses for a successful beginning. In addition, Justin Waters of Faith Voices created the website, Erin Reese volunteered as the New York organizer, and Betty Jeanne Reuters-Ward managed a volunteer crew at the public hearing.
March 21, 2010 Public Hearing
The Truth Commission on Conscience in War was launched on March 21, 2010 at a powerful public hearing at the historic Riverside Church in New York City. The TCCW public hearing began with a screening of excerpts of Soldiers of Conscience.
The screening was followed by live testimony. The nearly eighty commissioners from all over the U.S. listened to four hours of testimony from veterans, a gold star mother, and expert witnesses in law, religion, psychology, philosophy, and journalism about questions of conscience facing service members and veterans, as well as the current limitations of military regulations governing conscientious objection.
In light of our nation’s ongoing military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan – conflicts whose morality and legality have been questioned by civilians, service members, and veterans alike – several speakers, including Commission Host Chaplain Herman Keizer, testified that our nation’s CO policies ought to be expanded to protect religious freedom and the right of moral conscience for all members of the Armed Forces .
On March 22nd, the testifiers and commissioners met in private session to create a process to address the moral dilemmas of those serving in wars they believe are unjust and immoral. Commissioners created strategies for further conversations in their communities and shared ideas for educating their constituents about the complex issues the commission raised.
Conversations, presentations, and conferences related to the Truth Commission will continue until Veterans Day 2010 in November, when the Commission Report will be released. The conversations and events will spark conversations about issues of conscience in war, and prepare our communities to receive, consider and act on the Final Report’s recommendations.
In using a truth commission and methods of restorative justice, the planners seek to heal divisions among veterans, supporters of the military, and pacifists, as well as to address the topic of military regulations governing conscientious objection.