Charles Colson

Charles Colson

Charles Wendell Colson was born in Boston in October, 1931. After graduating from Brown University Colson joined the U.S. Marine Corps (1953-55). This was followed by the post of Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1955–56).

Colson was a member of the Republican Party and in 1956 he became Administration Assistant to Senator Leverett Saltonstall. In 1961 Colson became a partner in the Gadsby and Hannah Law Firm.

In 1969 Colson was appointed to the White House staff as Counsel to President Richard Nixon. Colson also began involved in the activities of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). On 20th March, 1971, at a meeting of CREEP it was agreed to spend $250,000 "intelligence gathering" operation against the Democratic Party.

Colson and John Ehrlichman appointed E. Howard Hunt as a member of the White House Special Investigations Unit. On 15th May Arthur Bremer attempted to assassinate George Wallace. As a result Colson ordered Hunt to break into Bremer's apartment to see if he could find any information that the Democratic Party was involved in the assassination. However, some have claimed that Hunt's role was to remove incriminating documents from Bremer's home.

It was also decided to place electronic devices in the Democratic Party campaign offices in an apartment block called Watergate. The main objective was to wiretap the conversations of Larry O'Brien. This was not successful and on 3rd July, 1972, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker and James W. McCord returned to O'Brien's office. However, this time they were caught by the police.

The phone number of E.Howard Hunt was found in address books of the burglars. Reporters were now able to link the break-in to the White House. Bob Woodward, a reporter working for the Washington Post was told by a friend who was employed by the government, that senior aides of President Richard Nixon, had paid the burglars to obtain information about its political opponents.

In 1972 Richard Nixon was once again selected as the Republican presidential candidate. On 7th November, Nixon easily won the the election with 61 per cent of the popular vote.

The trial of Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker, James W. McCord, E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy began in Washington in January, 1973. All the men refused to explain who paid them to take part in the break-in. As a result they all received long prison sentences.

On 19th March, James W. McCord wrote a letter to Judge John J. Sirica claiming that the defendants had pleaded guilty under pressure (from John Dean and John N. Mitchell) and that perjury had been committed during the trial. Soon afterwards Dean also began providing information on Watergate. This included the claim that Richard Nixon participated in the cover-up.

Colson also began cooperating with federal prosecutors. In 1974, Colson entered a plea of guilty to Watergate-related charges. He also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the Daniel Ellsberg case. He was given a one-to-three year sentence. However, he only served seven months at Alabama's Maxwell Prison.

In 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which has become the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families. Colson has visited prisons throughout the US and the world and has built a movement working with more than 40,000 prison ministry volunteers, with ministries in 100 countries. Colson became highly critical of the prison system and in 1983 he established Justice Fellowship, a faith-based criminal justice reform group.

On 3rd October, 2002, Colson signed a letter which outlined his theological support for a just war pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. The letter outlined how a preemptive invasion of Iraq met the criteria of traditional 'just war' theory: (1) such an action would be defensive; (2) the intent is just and noble; (3) the United States does not intend to 'destroy, conquer, or exploit Iraq'; (4) it is a last resort because Saddam Hussein had a record of attacking his neighbors, developing biochemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction and their use against his own people, and harboring Al Qaeda terrorists; (5) it is authorized by a legitimate authority, namely the United States; (6) it has limited goals; (7) it has reasonable expectation of success; (8) non-combatant immunity would be observed; (9) it meets the criteria of proportionality - the human cost on both sides would be justified by the intended outcome.

Primary Sources

(1) Richard Nixon, Memoirs (1978)

John Mitchell was going to be my campaign manager, but he would have his hands full organizing and running the Committee to Re-elect the President. Increasingly I turned to Chuck Colson to act as my political point-man. Colson had joined the administration in late 1969 in the role of White House liaison with special interest groups. He worked on policy matters with energy and devotion. He spent hours with labor groups, veterans' organizations, ethnic minorities, and religious groups. He was positive, persuasive, smart, and aggressively partisan. His instinct for the political jugular and his ability to get things done made him a lightning rod for my own frustrations at the timidity of most Republicans in responding to attacks from the Democrats and the media. When I complained to Colson I felt confident that something would be done, and I was rarely disappointed.

(2) H. R. Haldeman, The Ends of Power (1978)

Chuck Colson had become the President's personal "hit man"; his impresario of "hard ball" politics. I had been caught in the middle of most of these, as complaints thundered in about 'Wildman' Colson' either crashing arrogantly, or sneaking silently through political empires supposedly controlled by top White House staffers such as Domestic Counselor John Ehrlichman or Cabinet Officers, such as Attorney General John Mitchell. Colson cared not who complained. Nixon, he said, was his only boss. And Nixon was behind him all the way on projects ranging from his long-dreamed-of hope of catching Senator Teddy Kennedy in bed with a woman not his wife, to more serious struggles such as the I.T.T. anti-trust 'scandal'.

Colson had signed up an ex-C.I.A. agent named Howard Hunt to work for him and thereafter became very secretive about his exploits in the name of Nixon. Years later I heard of such wild schemes as the proposed fire bombing of a politically liberal foundation (Brookings) in order to retrieve a document Nixon wanted; feeding LSD to an anti-Nixon commentator (Jack Anderson) before he went on television; and breaking into the offices of a newspaperman (Hank Greenspun) who was supposed to have documents from Howard Hughes that revealed certain secrets about Nixon.

But Colson's `black' projects were so widely rumoured around the White House that I believe almost every White House staffer thought of his name-the minute they heard the news of Watergate. Beside me on the beach, Higby said it aloud. 'I'll bet they're Colson's gunners.'

(3) Jim Hougan, Secret Agenda (1984)

Charles Colson, then special counsel to the President, knew nothing of these issues when he supported Henry Kissinger's insistence, against Richard Helms's advice, that a hard line should be taken toward Daniel Ellsberg. Colson likened Ellsberg to Alger Hiss (a comparison calculated to ingratiate him with Nixon), and pointed out in memoranda to Haldeman that Ellsberg might be used to "discredit the New Left." If, for instance, Ellsberg could be shown (by whatever means) to be disreputable, America's antiwar faction would be discredited because of his close association with it.

The arguments of Kissinger and Colson, which won support from others in the administration, prevailed. The result was a decision to assign certain White House personnel to study the subject of "leaks," revise existing classification procedures and coordinate a campaign against Daniel Ellsberg. These personnel would eventually become the White House Special Investigations Unit, or the Plumbers. At the time, however, it was not anticipated that their activities would require the commission of felonies. While the plans to discredit Ellsberg were politically cynical, they were not necessarily criminal, and the broad purposes of the Special Investigations Unit were, at least in concept, legitimate.

(4) John Dean, Blind Ambition (1976)

"Chuck, why do you figure Liddy bugged the DNC instead of the Democratic candidates? It doesn't make much sense. I sat in Mitchell's office when Liddy gave us his show, and he only mentioned Larry O'Brien in passing as a target. I confess that Magruder once told me you were pushing for information on O'Brien because of the ITT case, and I..."

"Magruder's full of shit," Chuck interrupted. "That bastard tests my Christian patience to the breaking point. I have to say special prayers to temper my feelings about that asshole. I'd like to hear him say that to my face."

"Why don't we ask Jeb to come over?" I suggested. "And I'll ask him why the hell Liddy went after O'Brien. What do you think?"

"I think it's a capital idea," Chuck replied.... I went down to Jeb's room....

"Jeb, (Dean asked) we've been trying to put some pieces together about why we're here," I began, "and one of the questions we can't answer is why Larry O'Brien was targeted. I guess you and Mitchell agreed to that in Florida. But why O'Brien?"

Jeb froze. His pallid face flushed crimson. He tried to find words, but only stuttered. The question had more than caught him off guard. It had overwhelmed him. "Why do you want to know?" he asked haltingly.

"Just curiosity," Chuck said.

"Well, it just seemed like a good idea," Jeb said evasively.

"Well then, why was Spencer Oliver's phone bugged?" Chuck pressed....

Jeb looked at me. Then at Colson. "Why? Who wants to know?" he asked as his confusion turned to suspicion and headed toward anger. "I don't think we ought to talk about that stuff," he said sharply. Jeb turned on his heel and walked out, leaving Chuck and me staring at each other in dismay.

Chuck broke our silence. "You know, I think I know why Jeb's so damn depressed. I think he's still holding back what he knows."

"You think maybe Mitchell didn't approve O'Brien as a target?"

"No. Well, I'm not sure. ... But it looks suspicious to me. It's incredible. Millions of dollars have been spent investigating Watergate. A President has been forced out of office. Dozens of lives have been ruined. We're sitting in the can. And still nobody can explain why they bugged the place to begin with."'

(5) Richard Nixon, Memoirs (1978)

On Tuesday morning, June 20, my first day back in Washington, there was a new twist.

A front-page headline in the Washington Post proclaimed: "White House Consultant Tied to Bugging Figure". The story, attributed to "federal sources close to the investigation," said that the name Howard Hunt had been found in the address books of two of the men caught inside the DNC headquarters. It stated that until March 29, 1972, Hunt, a former CIA agent, had worked at the White House as a consultant to Chuck Colson. The mention of Colson's name gave me a start. It was one thing if the CRP was involved, or even a former lower-level White House staff member like Hunt. But Colson was a member of my inner circle of aides and advisers, and if he was drawn in it was a whole new situation. I had always valued his hardball instincts. Now I wondered if he might have gone too far.

(6) Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, All the President's Men (1974)

The reporters began going around town, looking for associates of the three principal characters as yet unheard from: Colson, Haldeman and Ehrlichman. Woodward found a Colson surrogate who sounded eager to talk. He was worried. "John Dean got to Sam Ervin and the prosecutors on roller skates and tried to do a number on us. Among other things, he said he would deliver on Colson-if they come across with immunity."

What did Dean tell them about Colson? asked Woodward.

"Who knows? I'm not so dumb that I think I'm going to convince you that Chuck Colson is a virgin. He's no saint and that place isn't the Sistine Chapel. But my man doesn't break the law."

Instead of covering up on Watergate, he insisted, Colson had tried to find the truth. Then he had sounded the alarm.

"Colson went right in to the President as early as December and laid it on the line-warned Richard Nixon that some of his people were part of Watergate in a big way and had an organized cover-up going. He warned Nixon about Dean and Mitchell. The President said, "The man (Mitchell) has denied it to me; give me some evidence." And there are two other people who went to Tricky and said, "Cut yourself off from Dean and Mitchell: Tricky wouldn't budge... It's too bad if it makes the President look bad. He was told that John Dean and John Mitchell were betraying him."

Woodward called a White House source. On at least three different occasions that winter Colson had told the President that he should "get rid of some people" because they were involved in Watergate. So had others. Most of the warnings focused on Dean and Mitchell, the source said.

Woodward called Colson. He denied "warning" the President about Dean or Mitchell or about a cover-up.

What, then, had he told the President on the subject?

"I will not discuss private communications between myself arid the President," Colson said. "Not with anyone-you, the press in general, with the grand jury or the Senate committee."

A few minutes later, Woodward received a call from a second Colson associate. "Don't pay any attention to Chuck's denial," he advised. He, too, confirmed that Colson had explicitly told the President there was evidence that his men were involved in both the bugging and the cover-up.

(7) Letter sent by Charles Colson and other Conservative Christians to President George Bush (3rd October, 2002)

In this decisive hour of our nation's history we are writing to express our deep appreciation for your bold, courageous, and visionary leadership. Americans everywhere have been inspired by your eloquent and clear articulation of our nation's highest ideals of freedom and of our resolve to defend that freedom both here and across the globe.

We believe that your policies concerning the ongoing international terrorist campaign against America are both right and just. Specifically, we believe that your stated policies concerning Saddam Hussein and his headlong pursuit and development of biochemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction are prudent and fall well within the time-honored criteria of just war theory as developed by Christian theologians in the late fourth and early fifth centuries A.D.

First, your stated policy concerning using military force if necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction is a just cause. In just war theory only defensive war is defensible; and if military force is used against Saddam Hussein it will be because he has attacked his neighbors, used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, and harbored terrorists from the Al Qaeda terrorist network that attacked our nation so viciously and violently on September 11, 2001. As you stated in your address to the U.N. September 12th:

"We can harbor no illusions.... Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He's fired ballistic missiles at Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel. His regime once ordered the killing of every person between the ages of 15 and 70 in certain Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq. He has gassed many Iranians and forty Iraqi villages."

Disarming and neutralizing Saddam Hussein is to defend freedom and freedom-loving people from state-sponsored terror and death.

Second, just war must have just intent. Our nation does not intend to destroy, conquer, or exploit Iraq. As you declared forthrightly in your speech to the UN General Assembly:

"The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people... Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq."

This is clearly a just and noble intent.

Third, just war may only be commenced as a last resort. As you so clearly enumerated before the UN, Saddam Hussein has for more than a decade ignored Security Council resolutions or defied them while breaking virtually every agreement into which he has entered. He stands convicted by his own record as a brutal dictator who cannot be trusted to abide by any agreement he makes. And while he prevaricates and obfuscates, he continues to obtain and develop the weapons of mass destruction which he will use to terrorize the world community of nations.

The world has been waiting for more than a decade for the Iraqi regime to fulfill its agreement to destroy all of its weapons of mass destruction, to cease producing them or the long-range missiles to deliver them in the future, and to allow thorough and rigorous inspections to verify their compliance. They have not, and will not, do so and any further delay in forcing the regime's compliance would be reckless irresponsibility in the face of grave and growing danger.

Fourth, just war requires authorization by legitimate authority. We believe it was wise and prudent for you to go before the UN General Assembly and ask the UN Security Council to enforce its own resolutions. However, as American citizens we believe that, however helpful a UN Security Council vote might be, the legitimate authority to authorize the use of U.S. military force is the government of the United States and that the authorizing vehicle is a declaration of war or a joint resolution of the Congress.

When the threat of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba presented a grave threat to America's security, President Kennedy asked for the support of the UN and the Organization of American States, but made it clear, with or without their support, those missiles would either be removed by the Soviets, or we would neutralize them ourselves. The American people expected no less from their president and their government.

Fifth, just war requires limited goals and the resort to armed force must have a reasonable expectation of success. In other words, "total war" is unacceptable and the war's goals must be achievable. We believe your stated policies for disarming the murderous Iraqi dictator and destroying his weapons of mass destruction, while liberating the Iraqi people for his cruel and barbarous grip, more than meet those criteria.

Sixth, just war theory requires noncombatant immunity. We are confident that our government, unlike Hussein, will not target civilians and will do all that it can to minimize noncombatant casualties.

Seventh, just war theory requires the question of proportionality be addressed. Will the human cost of the armed conflict to both sides be proportionate to the stated objectives and goals? Does the good gained by resort to armed conflict justify the cost of lives lost and bodies maimed? We believe that the cost of not dealing with this threat now will only succeed in greatly increasing the cost in human lives and suffering when an even more heavily armed and dangerous Saddam Hussein must be confronted at some date in the not too distant future. We believe that every day of delay significantly increases the risk of far greater human suffering in the future than acting now would entail.

How different and how much safer would the history of the twentieth century have been had the allies confronted Hitler when he illegally reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936 in clear violation of Germany's treaty agreements? It is at least possible that tens of millions of the lives lost in World War II might not have been lost if the Allies had enforced treaty compliance then instead of appeasing a murderous dictator.

We are extremely grateful that we have a president who has learned the costly lessons of the twentieth century and who is determined to lead America and the world to a far different and better future in the twenty first century. As you told the world's leaders at the UN:

"We must choose between a world of fear and a world of progress. We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather. We must stand up for our security, and for the permanent rights and hopes of mankind. By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand."

Mr. President, we make that stand with you. In so doing, while we cannot speak for all of our constituents, we are supremely confident that we are voicing the convictions and concerns of the great preponderance of those we are privileged to serve.

Please know that we join tens of millions of our fellow Americans in praying for you and your family daily.