Monday, December 15, 2008

Help Obama End Torture

See that button in the side bar? Give it a click and endorse the Declaration of Principles of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

NRCAT is collecting endorsements by individuals and groups to present to President-Elect Obama to urge him to issue an executive order based on the principles shortly after he is sworn in on January 20th. President-Elect Obama has consistently stated his opposition to torture – but now we must encourage him to live up to his words by quickly acting to end our country’s use of torture.

The principles are as follows:

The “Golden Rule.” We will not authorize or use any methods of interrogation that we would not find acceptable if used against Americans, be they civilians or soldiers.

One national standard. We will have one national standard for all US personnel and agencies for the interrogation and treatment of prisoners. Currently, the best expression of that standard is the US Army Field Manual, which will be used until any other interrogation technique has been approved based on the Golden Rule principle.

The rule of law. We will acknowledge all prisoners to our courts or the International Red Cross. We will in no circumstance hold persons in secret prisons or engage in disappearances. In all cases, prisoners will have the opportunity to prove their innocence in ways that fully conform to American principles of fairness.

Duty to protect. We acknowledge our historical commitment to end the use of torture and cruelty in the world. The US will not transfer any person to countries that use torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Checks and balances. Congress and the courts play an invaluable role in protecting the values and institutions of our nation and must have and will have access to the information they need to be fully informed about our detention and interrogation policies. Clarity and accountability. All US personnel—whether soldiers or intelligence staff—deserve the certainty that they are implementing policy that complies fully with the law. Henceforth all US officials who authorize, implement, or fail in their duty to prevent the use of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners will be held accountable, regardless of rank or position.

But don’t stop there. Tell others about the declaration and get them to endorse also.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

¡Viva la vida !

How do you get acquainted with a new CD? Do you listen to it from first song to last and then over again from the top? Do you set your CD player on "shuffle?" When I have a new CD, I instantly get aurally addiction to one or two selections and listen to them over and over and over again ... practically ad nauseam, sometimes ignoring the other tracks for months. I'm sure this says something about my personality, but let's not delve too deeply there, gentle reader, OK?

I don't follow the rock scene very closely and the British group Coldplay was just a name to me until my husband recorded their televised concert. Watching it with him, I recognized the song "Clocks." Then we saw that fantastic movie Young@Heart, in which one of the chorus members sings "Fix You." The song haunted me, so I searched for it on YouTube and then found "In My Place" and "Clocks" and soon became a Coldplay fan. Last week I found "Viva la Vida" on YouTube and ran out to get the CD. I'm currently in the play-my-favorite-song-ad-nauseam phase...

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy's eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
"Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!"

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain
Once you go there was never
Never an honest word
And that was when I ruled the world

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in.
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn't believe what I'd become

Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

I have this fantasy of constructing an ESL lesson around "Viva la vida." Powerful images cascade one after the other, and the lyrics are replete with idiomatic expressions (give the word, roll the dice, puppet on a string), biblical allusions (pillar of salt, head on a silver plate, Saint Peter), and Western Civ references (Long live the king! Roman cavalry, Jerusalem, missionaries). Plus the pulsing, energetic rhythm. Would be a fun class, I think!

If I had to hazard an interpretation of the song, I'd say that it seems to express Lord Acton's famous dictum:
“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
The introspective narrator who used to rule the world admits that he wasn't the best of rulers: never an honest word ... which is maybe why St. Peter won't call his name when he reaches the Pearly Gates. Oh who would ever want to be king? he moans, now that his kingdom is crumbling. But when all that power was within reach...what a temptation! Even Jesus was tempted by it, according to the evangelists .

According to a Wikipedia article, the title Viva la Vida, was inspired by a painting by Frida Kahlo, a canvas that just screams red. Have to meditate on that one...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Delta of Mars

Freedom sits captive
on an island in the Caribbean
wounded in battle
beaten in Bagram
hung from his wrists
shackled to the floor
stripped and exposed

Freedom sits in solitary
in a camp called Delta
thinking of his wife
dreaming of family
remembering tools
pencils and pens
a cash register
a campfire

Freedom was ambushed in Afghanistan
plucked from Pakistan
kidnapped on a European street
in JFK airport

strapped down
washed down
a black drain hole

Sunday, November 9, 2008

For some, policy change will come too late...

This just in from attorney H. Candace Gordon. She has just returned from visiting her client again in Guantánamo, and he is dying. Her repeated requests to have him transferred to another facility where he can be cared for have all been turned down by the federal judge.

Switzerland was willing to give him asylum and put him in a hospital to be treated for his tuberculosis and Hepatitis B. All the US had to do was officially ask. The powers-that-be would not ask.

All that is left is to comfort him a bit:

Al-Ghizzawi is in very bad shape and I am thinking it is time for people to send him letters to try to give him some hope. It takes a long time for mail to get to him. It will be read by the "authorities" and it will be censored....but if you have the time please send him a nice little letter letting him know that he is not forgotten. Who knows, he might even receive it.

Camp Delta
U.S. Naval Base Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
Washington, DC 20355


You might also be interested in hearing an interview Candace gave last week:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day, 11:20 pm

These two quotations come to my mind--

"Right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant."
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

...and, God willing, for the Guantánamo prisoners and other victims of the current administration's policies of torture and illegal detention:

Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Newsflash: Researchers Discover That Dogs Can Be Brainwashed Too!

Tried my hand at canvassing today. It's the first bit of campaign work I've done since working the phones, as per my last post. Been buried under lots and lots of work. But I finally feel that I have my head above water at last (hmm... did I just mix a couple of metaphors?).

A mass of supporters were lined up at the campaign headquarters waiting to get their marching orders. So many volunteers ready to make one last push before the Tuesday elections.

This door-to-door thing is a bit intimidating. Fortunately, we were knocking on "warm doors," as my partner said, meaning that we were contacting persons who were either registered party members or who had given some indication that they might vote for our candidate. We were just giving them one last reminder about how important their vote was, and also asking if they needed transportation to the polls.

My partner Heather, a young, self-employed photographer with a 1-yr-old little boy, had never done cavassing either, so we went together to the first few houses, taking turns knocking on the door and speaking to the resident who answered. It was Saturday morning, and lots of people were out of the house running errands, no doubt, as I usually do on Saturdays. Once we felt like we had the hang of it, we each took a page and split up, each one cavassing her respective section, and then meeting up again at the next corner to take a new page.

As I was starting up one side of the street, I saw a senior gentleman walking a very large dog. He gave me somewhat unfriendly look, but I just kept going. When I rejoined Heather later on, she told me about her encounter with said gentleman. He had asked her who she was working for. She explained that she wasn't working, she was volunteering. Ok, he says, so for who? So Heather told him. Then the gentleman tells her (and without a smile on his face) "My dog is trained to bite _____ workers." Heather just walked on.

Gee, I didn't know it was possible to brainwash dogs too! :-)

Leaves me wondering why some people can't disagree in a more agreeable way.

We were canvassing a pretty up-scale development. The beautiful autumn day and spectacular foliage were my reward. And a few hours out in the fresh air felt great.

Since work has me feeling wiped out, I'm taking a Monday and Tuesday as vacation days. I promised to report back to the headquarters on Tuesday to do some last-minute Election Day canvassing.

It's been a long, long campaign season... I'm sure people are as tired of it all as I am. I can understand if they feel turned off by someone knocking on their door and distributing still more campaign literature. Frankly, I'm torn between my reluctance to try to influence an adult who must decide for him/herself and the conviction the political process in a democracy is this: individuals getting out and vouching for the candidate of their choice.

Still, Tuesday can't come soon enough.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Crumbling Empire

Friday evening I did something I've never done in my life: I worked the phones, as they say, for one of the presidential candidates.

Since I often treat of religion in this blog (an explosive enough topic) and make no secret of being a Quaker, I avoid talking partisan politics. For one thing, I don't believe that religious organizations --although I certainly do not speak for anyone in the Quaker universe other than myself--should endorse candidates. Besides, our two-party system does not really allow me to vote my conscience. In my heart, I support one of the third party candidates. However, I feel that reality forces me to cast my vote for one of the Big Two. Be that as it may, I've decided to get involved in campaigning for one of them.

The "office" was the vacant banquet room of a local caterer, where I made phone calls in dilapidated splendor. Party tables --the standard, round, six-person type-- dotted the large room, many with their ruffled tablecloths coming detached from the rim. A chandelier glowed pale and glassy, its illumination only a pretense. The fluorescent bulbs provided the real light to work by. I sat in a high-backed chair trimmed with bamboo and had to bend over to make calls on the phone resting on the tiny matching table.

It occurred to me that the vacant banquet hall was a fitting metaphor for the crumbling empire that our country has become. Our laws, regulations, and even our rights have been deteriorating over the last few decades, unseen by the naked American eye. Invisible government agencies have covertly fomented revolutions, shored up dictatorships, and bullied third-world economies. Oblivious to our decaying moral and material infrastructure, we've kept ourselves busy working long hours at our jobs so we could spend our free time shopping in big-box stores for cheap, mass-produced goods. Because we were able to fill our houses with the latest gadgets at the lowest prices, we knew we were living in the greatest country in the world and enjoying the blessings of freedom.

But in recent years, the disintegration of our empire has begun to show on the outside as well. Assailants trained and financed by a mysterious, elusive enemy toppled three of four major symbols of our country's financial and political prowess and almost destroyed the White House too, killing thousands of citizens. Our massive nuclear arsenal, built with an obscenely bloated defense budget, was powerless to protect us. More recently, Americans beguiled into signing mortgages they couldn't afford began losing their homes, setting off a downward spiral that is bringing the major financial houses crashing. Closer to my home, toxic waste washed onto the New Jersey beaches this summer, depriving us even of our nearby areas of rest and recreation.

How did we become so undiscerning ... and so myopic, ignorant of anything beyond the bargain of the week and the winner of Survivor? How did we become
addicted to memories of past military victories and enamored of empty mottoes? We are the fearless Christian warriors, heroes of myths we concoct about ourselves, yet we live in such dread of the enemy that we justify even the use of torture. But I digress.

I have no illusions that the candidate for whom I'm volunteering will be our savior.
(Imagine: candidates who raise millions of dollars in campaign funds each week still depend on volunteers!) When I want to hear the voice of my Savior, I seek it in the silence of my heart. I simply believe --or rather fervently hope--that this candidate, if elected, will be a bit more mindful than previous presidents of his oath to defend the Constitution and will realize that our best safeguard resides in the justice of our laws. Finally, I pray that he will care more about the citizens that elected him than about the economic and political powers-that-be.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Confessions of a Sorry Ass

Hurricane Hanna came sweeping her way up the coast and was knocking insistently at West Chester's door. Swollen raindrops were falling, and the warm streets and pavements exhaled a vaguely saline odor into the air. Not the invigorating salt air that you breathe in at the shore, but more like a stuffy, chemical-laden vapor.

I kissed Karen hello and apologized for my lateness. We unrolled the "Torture Is Wrong" banner that I had brought, and three young men immediately took charge of it. Glancing across the street, I noticed some pro-victory vigilers mouthing invectives that I couldn't quite make out. I never feel any inclination to shout back. There's a lot of misplaced anger out there, I always remind myself, along with a desire for vengeance faithfully stoked by radio shock-jocks and others. "Country first," read someone's sign. "Country music first," I chuckled to myself, disarming the slogan in my head.

Ever since I've returned from vacation, an avalanche of work has kept me from participating much in peace or anti-torture efforts. Today I just felt like planting my feet firmly on the wet pavement and holding the "Torture Is Wrong" banner for an hour. But I had signatures to collect. That much I could do at least.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, in collaboration with Evangelicals for Human Rights and the Center for Victims of Torture, is calling on people of faith and others concerned about human rights to sign the Declaration of Principles for an Executive Order Banning Torture, to be presented to the next President. I placed a photocopy of the Declaration and a signature sheet on each of several clipboards, added a pen and handed them out. John returned his clipboard to me shortly afterward, having efficiently collected signatures from the vigilers standing around him.

At 11:30 a few of us began marching with the banner toward Gay Street, down to Church and then circled back. A passing motorist called us "sorry asses." He spoke more truly than he knew. This particular ass is unutterably sorry for the death of innocent men like Dilawar, pictured below, subject of the movie Taxi to the Dark Side...

whose legs were beaten into pulp at Bagram. I am also extremely sorrowful for the deaths of Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi, and Yasser al-Zahrani, who hanged themselves at Guantánamo Bay prison and for Abdul Rahman Maadha al-Amry, also dead of an apparent suicide. Other children of God are being held illegally at Guantánamo and in "black sites" around the world, where they are subjected to sensory deprivation, sexual humiliation, sleep "adjustment," and other forms of torture.

Even a sorry ass is entitled to her convictions. Mine is that torture is never permissible. Never, ever. Period.

CCPM members read aloud the stories of illegal prisoners, while I circulated to gather signatures for the Declaration, pausing occasionally to trade a waterlogged photocopy for a dry one stashed in a plastic bag. After the group sang "We Shall Overcome," Karen helped me fold up the dripping banner. Then this sorry ass returned to her car and resumed her Saturday chores, feeling a bit less like an executioner, a bit more like a compassionate human being.
photo of Dilawar courtesy of Linda G. Richard of

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

One duopoly under God

Ever wonder why there are ...but only 2 viable presidential candidates to choose from????

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Levavi oculos meos in montes
I lift up my eyes to the mountains.
Ps 121

Out here at Ghost Ranch, everyone knows Georgia O'Keeffe's famous quip about Pedernal, the mountain whose portrait she so often painted. When asked if she thought she owned it or something, she replied: "It's my private mountain. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it."

Pedernal rises in misty gray majesty to the south here. While the mesas scream for our attention with their craggy textures and simmering colors, Pedernal just keeps its noble cool. As the mountain's name reminds us, the ancient inhabitants of the region used to climb to its flat top to gather chert, a type of flint. So Pedernal doesn't need to prove its grandeur with showy blasts of fiery color. It knows that it is fire's very substance.

(above: Pedernal,1942)

Every year around April or so, I begin to hear the call of Pedernal and the mesas. Like O'Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, and so many others, I fell under the spell of this savage New Mexican landscape and am drawn irresistibly back again and again. I always take a seminar of some sort while here, a writing course or something scripture-focused. But what I like to do best is just sit somewhere and gaze up at Pedernal, distant and aloof, or one of the more extraverted mesas that encircle the ranch... and whose contours make me think of the muscular arms of Michelangelo's Cumaean sybil. For innumerable eons they have stood observing tiny humans scurrying about at their feet, attending to important business before eventually fading from the landscape. Pedernal and the mesas remain. And as my eyes are magnetically drawn to them, I try to absorb a bit of their imperturbability to take back with me to the frenetic existence I will resume all too soon.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Gave an anti-torture party, but nobody came

Well, I was really prepared, and the classroom at De Sales was a modern technological wonder. I was able to hook up my laptop to project my PowerPoint presentation and even toggle back to the resident PC on the instructor station to project from the Internet. I was really excited that I would be able to use my PowerPoint presentation as a focus point and also that I'd be able to show the clip from "24" showing Jack Bauer's delicate interrogation technique, part of Jane Mayer's report on the show.

However --as you know if you paid attention to the title of this blog entry-- no one chose to attend. Just too much good stuff going on at Annual Sessions, too many workshops to choose from. all my handouts and my PowerPoint all ready for the next opportunity.

Have to admit, I felt a bit resentful at first. I had put a good bit of time into updating my presentation and doing the photocopying, and I even used a vacation day. However, my brothers and sisters at our meeting this morning were really sympathetic and made me feel a whole lot better. I was sort of berating myself for not doing enough to publicize the event, but then I remembered that I had been expressly asked to facilitate the workshop and had been told that there was a lot of interest.

Well, going to take a break from torture this week. Looking back on this past year since attending the QUIT conference, I have to say that I've really given myself a crash course in US-sponsored torture. I think I know more about it than I ever wanted to know and I also know all the best ways to keep up-to-date. I subscribe to all the key blogs and have read at least parts of all the important books...can't wait for the major motion picture (...OK, bad joke).

I sure wish I could give the Guantánamo prisoners a break too...but I can only send love and prayers...and also pray for our elected representatives and soon-to-be-elected President. As Bill Samuel (who keeps running) reminded someone recently: "Do remember it is not your job to change hearts. It is God's. It is your job to be an example of a changed heart." So this week I'm going to recuperate a bit and try to think of how else I can model a changed heart. (Thanks, Bill!)

Have to get geared up for NRCAT's new campaign also, targeting the heart of the President-to-be.

Got a wonderful letter from Julius and also from a Marie-France who translates letters to and from him from French penpals. I love making new friends!

By the way, PYM's standing committee on Peace & Concerns recently started publishing a great newsletter: Hope Bulletin. I wrote an article for the August issue. Time to write another letter to the local paper too, maybe. Think I'll entitle it "Where in the world is Diego Garcia?"

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Live from PYM Annual Sessions

So here I am in the bustling university center at DeSales University --somewhere in the Lehigh Valley, PA-- waiting to facilitate my award-winning workshop on US-sponsored torture. (Just kidding about the award-winning part.)

There are Quakers milling around all over the place. Damn subversives, every one of them! Where's Ashcroft or Rumsfeld when you need them? I mean, the campus should be put on orange alert.*

OK, they claim that I'm going to have a live Internet connection in the classroom where I'll be facilitating the workshop. (Right now I'm sitting in a sort of common area, where there obviously is wireless access.) Joan is kindly letting me blog on her iBook, as my laptop is not yet unpacked.

I'm hoping to show a clip from the raspberry-winning TV show "24," a clip showing Superhero Bauer at the height of his interrogator's art. I'm told that some Young Friends might be coming, so I thought they'd appreciate the clip.

I've updated my workshop to include an excerpt from the report by Physicians for Human Rights, Broken Laws, Broken Lives. It's beyond me how anyone can read these testimonies by former detainees and not start to cry.

Well, better get set up...

*The opinions expressed in this blog are exclusively those of Liberata and do not necessarily reflect those of PYM. (Don't want to be forcibly ejected or anything!)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Break the chain of vengeance!

Received one of those sensational chain emails lately? You know, someone sends it to you, not even bothering to delete the string of former recipients who mindlessly just forwarded it on to the next person and the next person? Usually they come via (sorry to say it) AOL. I received one tonight. Black-and-white newsreel stills of concentration camp victims, emaciated bodies piled one on top of the other with the accompanying text in huge blue letters:

This week, the UK removed The Holocaust from its school curriculum because it 'offended' the Muslim population which claims it never occurred.

This is a frightening portent of the fear that is gripping the world and how easily each country is giving in to it.

Another edition of Gullible's Travels. You would think that just one of these purveyors of bad tidings would have taken the trouble to check Snopes and spare the rest of us this stupid hoax:

Pure Islamophobia.

This story, however, is no hoax. Do you suppose it will make the rounds of our email?

Omar Khadr: The interrogation

Guantanamo Bay video in full

"Kill me! Kill me!" he repeats...if you can bring yourself to watch the video in its entirety.

OK, I know about his father and his family. I don't care. Nothing justifies this. This is not interrogation. It is not juvenile detention. It is vengeance, pure and simple.

What really breaks my heart is that this interrogation took place in 2003. It's now 2008, and Khadr is still in Guantánamo. To me, this abuse and torture of a minor forced to fight in a battle not of his own making, seriously wounded, and then illegally incarcerated for 5 years instead of being released to the custody of his country's child services is a "frightening portent" of the inhumane creatures we have become.

Can't say exactly why, but I do still believe in a God who is more merciful than his creatures.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Candlelit Vigil

We were but nine
but we stood nine strong
in silent solidarity
sending the light of hope
and human compassion
the tortured
the shackled
the disappeared


O Light
pure and life-giving
pierce the darkness
of prison cells
and hearts imprisoned
by hatred and cruelty

Flood despairing hearts
with hope
and arid hearts
with compassion

Release captives
from their torments
and captors
from their spite

O Father and Mother
of us all

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Well, I don't think it's proper civic etiquette to send a thank-you letter to the five Supreme Court justices who upheld the rights of the Guantánamo prisoners so magnificently today. So I went for a long walk, inhaling a fragrant cocktail of honeysuckle and freshly mowed grass, discovering a burst of blue wildflowers, and meditating on the innocence of a rabbit nibbling at his evening veggies....and thanking God.

Supreme Court Reinstates Habeas Corpus Rights for Detainees at Guantánamo

In a stunning blow to the Bush Administration in its war-on-terrorism policies, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay have a right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention. The Court, dividing 5-4, ruled that Congress had not validly taken away habeas rights. If Congress wishes to suspend habeas, it must do so only as the Constitution allows — when the country faces rebellion or invasion....

The Court also declared that detainees do not have to go through the special civilian court review process that Congress created in 2005, since that is not an adequate substitute for habeas rights. ...

Congress, it concluded, unconstitutionally suspended the writ in enacting that [Detainee Treatment] Act.

Nice to know the Supreme Court can still do the right thing! (But that 5-4 split sure is scary!!)

This decision is not only a rebuke to the Bush administration but also to every senator and representative who abdicated his/her responsibility and voted for the Military Commissions Act.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

Right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Locked Up Alone
Since his arrest, Walid has had very little contact with his family, who thought he was dead until, several years after his initial detention, he was able to send them a postcard. He has not, to his lawyer’s knowledge, been able to speak with any of his family members. Since learning of his whereabouts in 2005, his family has been writing to him and has sent him photos—including pictures of nieces and nephews he has never met.*

When I was a kid, this is the sort of thing they told us the communists did to political prisoners.

Although in 2004 and 2005 we were told that we were innocent, however, we are being incarcerated in jail for the past 6 years until present. We fail to know why we are still in jail here. We are still in the hope that the US government will free us soon and send us to a safe place. Being away from family, away from our homeland, and also away from the outside world and losing any contact with anyone, also being forbidden from the natural sunlight, natural air, being surrounded with a metal box all around is not suitable for a human being.**

"Surrounded with a metal box" ???? Where are these people being kept -- in a storage vault?

Wake at 4:30 or 5:00. Pray. Go back to sleep. Walk in circles—north, south, east, west—around his 6-by-12 foot cell for an hour. Go back to sleep for another two or more hours. Wake up and read the Koran or look at a magazine (written in a language that he does not understand). Pray. Walk in circles once more. Eat lunch. Pray. Walk in circles. Pray. Walk in circles or look at a magazine (again, in a foreign language). Go back to sleep at 10:00 p.m.***

As I read the Human Rights Watch report, Locked Up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo, I just keep asking myself WHY? Why are we treating human beings this way? And I ask myself HOW? How could attorneys advising the President possibly compose memos in support of such a place? Since when do attorneys approve of torture and indefinite detention under supermax conditions?

One of the most prominent former attorneys at the Office of Legal Counsel graduated with a B.A., summa cum laude in American history from Harvard University. Didn't he learn anything there about persecuted peoples who rejoiced when they landed on our shores because they knew they were safe at last? This same attorney went on to Yale Law School. Is that where they taught him that it was an attorney's duty to sanction locking up people who were not accused of any crime?

I grew up believing my country was a country of justice and generosity, not unfounded suspicions and skullduggery. I was taught that the communists were the Masters of Deceit, not the officials of my government.

By the way, these people are prisoners, not detainees. A "detainee" is a kid sitting in after school detention. So...what about the prisoner identified only as "B," are we safer now that he has begun to hallucinate and to hit his head against his prison wall?

Tonight I pray for the prisoners in the Guantánamo camps and wonder how they will ever pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
**The Group of Uighurs
***Attorney for one of the Uighurs

Friday, May 30, 2008

Dearest Will,

It was very warm and sunny today in the city thee founded. I stood on the shady corner of 15th St. and J.F.K. Blvd., wearing an orange t-shirt and distributing flyers inviting one and all to the Guantánamo Cell Tour. The Amnesty International exhibit --located on Dilworth Plaza, just behind City Hall-- features a life-size replica of a solitary confinement cell used to imprison persons captured by our federal government in conjunction with the war on terror. Gazing up at thy statue, I could not help but notice that thee was facing in the direction of the exhibit, so perhaps thee looked down once or twice.

I'm sure I've just used many words that thee has never heard before. However, thee does know well what it is to be arrested though innocent. Surely thee would grieve to know that the highest officials of this land where thee once founded thy colony have approved of incarcerating prisoners indefinitely on an island in the Caribbean, in a place called Guantánamo Bay, even depriving them of the right of habeas corpus. Thee boldly demanded this right when thee was put on trial. Yet that is not the worst of it. The highest officers of the land have even approved of torturing those prisoners, as though they too do not have that of God within them. It seems that many of the citizens of our country are deceived by the words of our officials, who assert that prisoners must be tortured to keep us safe. Either that or they are so distracted by their daily cares and vain amusements that they pay little heed to the Light Within. Few, it seems, are mindful of thy wise words: "A good End cannot sanctify evil Means; nor must we ever do Evil, that Good may come of it."

Remember how thee charged the jury at Newgate to return the verdict of their conscience and to disregard the order of the unjust judge? In that place called Guantánamo, the three-person juries, termed Combatant Status Review Tribunals, have found no reason to keep most of the prisoners incarcerated. Yet they were then ordered by the officials to re-examine the evidence and to find some reason at all costs. Thus many of those unfortunate souls remain imprisoned for six years now.

Indeed, thee was truly ahead of thy time with thy Holy Experiment and Charter, while we seem to have regressed to the practices of a darker era. I pray thee hold us in the Light, we who refuse to remain silent before unjust laws and policies.

Thy faithful and affectionate Friend,

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Unmasking the Thirst for Vengeance

A recent article in the International Herald Tribune informs us that many of the prisoners kept in isolation at Guantánamo Bay for five years and counting have suffered severe psychological damage. Perhaps that is why some have been driven to suicide. However, a military spokesperson hastens to set the record straight: the detainees are not kept in solitary confinement but rather in “single-occupancy cells.” Luxuriously appointed, no doubt.

Exactly what do we fear from these men? Is it because they are vampires that we keep them in windowless cells, deprived of daylight? Though surrounded by heavily armed guards when moving from one part of Camp6 to another, they are shackled hand and foot. Maybe they possess some Houdini-like power to slip out of handcuffs.

What have they done to us, these men --the grocer, the teacher, the reporter-- that we first beat them and then rendered them hooded and bound to Gitmo? Only a few stand accused of any wrongdoing, despite multiple hearings before Combatant Status Review Tribunals. Yet even those “cleared for transfer” remain imprisoned, while we censor their mail and deny them contact with their families.

When will our thirst for vengeance be satisfied? When will we show some compassion?

Postscript: Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj was finally released late Thursday after more than 5 years in US custody. He had been conducting a hunger strike since January 2007 to protest conditions at Gitmo. On the news last evening, US authorities called him "manipulative."

My idea of manipulation:
Although the ethics of the medical profession stipulate that a mentally competent hunger striker cannot be force-fed, the US authorities disagreed. Twice a day, for the last 480 days, Sami was strapped into a restraint chair, secured with 16 separate straps, and force-fed against his will via a tube inserted into his stomach through his nose. From Andy Worthington's blog

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Slideshow of CCRCAT's Interfaith Forum on Torture

Speakers in order of appearance:

Dr. Denise Michultka, Liberty Center for Survivors of Torture
Dr. Mazhar Rishi (at podium), Pres., Council for American-Islamic Relations, PA Chapter
Rev. Patrick Seyler, Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Rev. Ken Beldon, WellSprings Congregation (UU)
Dr. Bernard G. Prusak, Center for Liberal Studies, Villanova University

Sunday, April 13, 2008, 2:00-4:00pm

Unitarian Fellowship of West Chester, 501 S High St
West Chester, PA 19382

A panel of clergy and scholars of different faith traditions (Christian and non-Christian) spoke on the teachings of their respective religious communities concerning US-sponsored torture and responded to questions from the audience.

Event co-sponsored by the Beyond War group of the Unitarian Fellowship of West Chester, the Chester County Religious Campaign Against Torture, and the Chester County Peace Movement.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Faith-based blather

Sorry, but I was not impressed by CNN's so-called Compassion Forum this evening, nor am I thrilled at the prospect that there will be another later on, with Sen. McCain participating, after the Democratic candidate has been chosen.

I watched a minute or two of the "analysis" afterward, and heard Candy Crawley marveling that the Democrats finally "get it" about religion. And just what, pray tell, do they get? That they have to let the Republicans determine the tenor of religious discourse in this country? That they have to let the "religious right" define just what it means to be a person of faith?

"...climate change, genocide, torture, poverty, and HIV/AIDS..."

That's what NRCAT promised when it sent me the announcement about the Compassion Forum. But guess what Hillary had to spend most of her time on? Do I even have to ask? abortion, euthanasia and, of course, the place of God in her life. Though I tried my best to follow the rambling narrative of her lifelong spiritual journey, I got lost somewhere between the Holy Spirit and Queen Esther. And maybe I missed it, but I don't think she ever wandered out of Judeo-Christian territory. There are a few other religious traditions practiced in this country.

I listened incredulously to her advice on how we should all preserve the earth and its resources by making sure we turn out the lights when we leave the room and --oh yes, by all means, use energy-efficient lightbulbs. And it is so important that the next president reassure
us hyperconsuming but oh-so-Christian Americans that conservation isn't so s-s-s-s-scary after all.

That is positively obscene! For crying out loud, there's a food crisis in developing countries! Not a word about farmland in those countries being used to grow plants that produce ethanol instead of being used to grow crops for people to live on??? Not a word about how

...the main losers are poor people who live in cities in developing countries, who are facing higher prices for imported food on low incomes....Food riots from Haiti to Indonesia are causing increasing political instability....The main gainers are farmers in rich and emerging market nations like the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Australia, who are getting record prices for their harvests. [surprise, surprise!] To put it bluntly, rich people eat more than poor people, and all this economic growth is generating a whole new tier of middle-class consumers who buy more meat and processed food.

Remind me again: how many years ago was Diet for a Small Planet published?

Oh, and should President Bush attend the opening of the Olympics? What will it say about our commitment to human rights if he does? Excellent question! And things like: 5 years+ of Guantánamo Bay prison, kangaroo trials before military commissions, extraordinary rendition, waterboarding [a.k.a. a dunk in the water], putting a prison on trial who was minor at the time he became an "enemy combatant," denying treatment to prisoners with life-threatening illnesses, the fact that no high-ranking government official was ever tried (let alone convicted) for abuses at Abu Ghraib ... just what does all that say about our commitment to human rights?

And will the indignant feminists out there --the ones who are fuming because a young, good-looking (talented, capable) male had the audacity to come along and deprive Hillary of her rightful shoo-in-- would you kindly tell me why the first serious woman presidential hopeful could not just come right out and say: "I'm pro-choice. It's the law of the land that a woman have that choice and it should not be taken away from her. Period!"
[Sorry if that offends anyone, but that's my conviction and this is my blog.] What was all that tap-dancing around the pro-life/pro-choice issue? When his turn came, Barack Obama did a pretty artistic soft-shoe himself... although he finally did manage to spit out that the final decision should rest with the woman, her physician and her pastor. Whew!

The next exasperated scream you heard was from me when the wonderful moderator asked Obama if he believed that God had created the universe in 6 days, as we read in the Book of Genesis. Get real, people! That is not the stuff of compassion!

Finally --next to the last question, I think-- came the one I had been waiting for from Rev. David Gushee, one of the authors of the Evangelical Declaration Against Torture. Obama responded by condemning torture along with extraordinary rendition and the rollback of our constitutional rights.

OK, give the guy 1 hallelujah.

And he did manage to say that these abusive policies have resulted from the all-pervasive culture of fear caused by 9/11, but that his faith enables him not to act out of fear.

Oh yeah, and he acknowledged the vibrant variety of religious practice that exists in the US.

2 hallelujahs and 1 yea-verily.

But he'd have gotten a hosanna in excelsis had he promised to close Guantánamo Bay prison as his first official act as President, to make the CIA comply with the Army Field Manual on Interrogation, and to prosecute crimes against humanity, no matter how high up on the chain of command... thus setting our country on the road toward recovery of its honor and moral standing before God and the world.

I think the moderators and the presidential hopefuls should watch Karen Armstrong's TED Award address, Wish: Charter for Compassion before the next televised autodafé.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Guantánamo detainee blamed for his poor health condition ...after 5 yr+ detention

"Judge Bates entered the order yesterday… I know I shouldn’t be surprised that the judge continues to believe everything the government says and refuses to allow us to even see the medical records… but I am. In fact one would think that even if the judge was not going to allow Al-GHizzawi his records… that he would ask to see them himself to clarify the misstatments of the government… sigh…
The judge actually goes so far as to blame Al-Ghizzawi for his health problems and trivializes his condition...."

from the blog of attorney H. Candace Gordon

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

On Equality and Integrity ...and Tenacity

Well, it went OK on Sunday. Everyone was attentive and sympathetic to the cause. Except for one elderly Friend who seemed to misunderstand me, believing that I was somehow arguing against any kind of questioning of suspects for the purpose of obtaining intelligence. I explained to him that I had no objection to humane methods of interrogation, such as those advocated by the FBI and explained in Dr. McCoy's book, A Question of Torture. He did seem a bit skeptical of my arguments, saying something like "Well, all war is dirty," or something to that effect, implying that methods like torture just can't be avoided. And I was talking to a Friend...well, nothing surprises me anymore.

I stayed for meeting for worship and joined Friends again in the social room for coffee afterwards. I was able to get 2 pages of signatures in support of NRCAT's Statement of Conscience.

So far, though, no one has asked to be put on the e-mail list of our local organization, CCRCAT.

A young man spoke with me at length, talking about how torture doesn't produce valid information, etc. I said that we need to write to our senators and representatives and send letters to the editors of the newspapers. He said, "Oh, yeah, sometimes I think I should make a scrapbook of all the letters of written." In other words, he got discouraged. Which is exactly what government officials count on, of course: either directly frustrating the courageous attempts of attorneys (like Candace Gordon) to free detainees, or else just ignoring the opinions of the "liberals" altogether.

Well, I'm with Chuck Fager, who says that US-sponsored torture will be defeated only if Friends go at it with audacity, veracity, and --most of all-- tenacity. I'm in it for the long haul.

On another note, I was able to speak without being too nervous, and I think I've figured out how to connect torture to two of our Testimonies: Equality and Integrity.

Equality: Friends have traditionally stood up for those considered non-persons in our society and have fought to defeat laws that relegate human beings to this status. Certainly the laws of slavery did that to African Americans. The Military Commissions Act follows in the same grand tradition, declaring suspects to be "unlawful enemy combatants," subsequently stripping them of their habeas corpus rights, and allowing them to be imprisoned indefinitely and subjected to "enhanced methods of interrogation." Just look at the figures in the Botero painting. They're bound and thrown into a heap, like old bones or trash. What personhood do they have left? Reminds me of the images of corpses piled high at Auschwitz. If that doesn't offend us as upholders of the Testimony of Equality, I don't know what else would.

Integrity: Euphemisms such as "enhanced interrogation techniques" for torture, "a dunk in the water" for waterboarding, "extraordinary rendition" for kidnapping, and, of course, the Yoo-Bybee memo, declaring that interrogation techniques "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" before they can be considered torture. (Researchers have clearly shown that "no-touch" psychological techniques of torture --particularly sensory deprivation-- are far more harmful and leave deeper scars on the psyche. ) Not to mention officials at the highest level blaming Abu Ghraib on "a few bad apples," and claiming that CIA interrogation takes place within the bounds of the law. How can Friends who uphold the Testimony of Integrity and truth-telling not be offended by such prevarications?

OK ...I'm pretty worked up again...time to write another letter to the editor!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Speaking about Torture

I've been invited this morning to speak about torture during the "opening exercises" of a neighboring Friends meeting. Even though I'll be speaking to Friends, I have to admit that I'm apprehensive. Even Friends are squeamish these days about topics that are too controversial or --heaven forefend!-- "political." I guess there's historical precedent. Many 19th-century Friends thought that activism for the abolition of slavery was too "worldly" a pursuit. Today we brand a topic "political" when we want an excuse to ignore it because it's uncomfortable. And I have to admit that I also lose heart sometimes and feel that no one really cares. We all have work, our families, bills, and now the presidential elections to occupy us. Candace Gordon really made the issue personal for me with her postings on her client Abdul al-Ghizzawi. I think of him lying in pain and probably destined not to come out of Guantánamo alive. He's what motivates me.

So I've asked myself how I can personalize th
e topic, make it more real. I had one of Fernando Botero's Abu Ghraib paintings enlarged and I'm going to show it.

As Mia Fineman, writing in Slate, says quite well:
By portraying the Iraqi prisoners as stylized Everyman figures, Botero's pictures do something that even the most vivid photographs of torture don't do: They encourage us to identify with the victims....By tackling [the imagery of torture] in a focused and extended series, has demonstrated not only that such things can be represented in art but also that a figurative, cartoonish idiom may be the most powerful means of representing modern atrocity. It's no coincidence that one of the most profound and affecting works of Holocaust literature—Spiegelman's Maus—is a comic book. To some viewers, the chubby figures in Botero's paintings may appear ridiculous, grotesque—but so were the monstrous abuses of power to which they testify.

Oh yes, and I'm also bringing a big basket of muffins that I baked. Something do with catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Well, have to go practice my spiel.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Today, like many Christians, I pause between noon and 3:00 to remember the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. However, when I contemplate the crucified Jesus, I see the face of Guantánamo detainee #654.

An innocent shopkeeper, he was betrayed to the Northern Alliance by his neighbors for 5,000 pieces of silver and subsequently handed over to US forces. He was transported to Guatanámo Bay,where the members of his Combatant Status Review Tribunal washed their hands of him, though they found that he had committed no prosecutable offense.

His wrists and ankles bleed from the shackles that cut into his skin when his led from one part of Camp 6 to another. The biting pain in his side emanates from his liver, infected with hepatitis B. Afflicted with tuberculosis as well, yet denied proper medical attention, his cell has become his living tomb.

This Good Friday, the crucified Jesus has the face of Abdel Hamid Al-Ghizzawi.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Candles and Hope

It was raining this evening, the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, but we stood under the portico of the courthouse holding our candles. We sang a bit of Dona nobis pacem, and Everyone beneath his fig tree.

A few pro-victory group members stood at the edge of the curb waving huge American flags and holding "God bless America signs." I certainly wish God to bless our country, but I have trouble with the "USA #1" part.

Will the next President put his or her hope in international cooperation or in bombs?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Urgent petition for Guantánamo detainee

In the quiet of this peaceful Sunday morning, I look out my window and see the sun shining on pristinely pure snow. However, my serenity is shattered and my morning haunted by the knowledge that in the chamber of horrors known as Guantánamo Bay Prison, a man lies alone and suffering due to medical neglect. Whether or not he gets proper treatment for his worsening case of hepatitis B and tuberculosis rests in the hands of a federal judge.

Please do two things --two simple things-- for Mr. Abdel Al-Ghizzawi, a shopkeeper who never raised a hand against our country, but who has been imprisoned for six years

1. Sign the online petition at

2. Personalize the following letter AND SEND IT TODAY to the Honorable John D. Bates, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

To read more about Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, see:

Read a poem:


To: Honorable Justice John D, Bates


The Honorable John D. Bates
United States District Court Judge
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse
333 Constitution Avenue, Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

To: Honorable John D. Bates,
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Dear Judge Bates,

I am writing to express my deep concern over the deteriorating medical condition of a prisoner in US custody at Guantanamo Naval Base.

Abdel Al-Ghizzawi suffers from tuberculosis, hepatitis B and liver damage. This fact has been known to our Government--his captors--for over a year, yet he has not been given proper medical treatment for his ailments. Instead, our government has deliberately chosen to give out false information about the medical condition of this man.


Abdel al-Ghizzawi is no "enemy combatant." He was surrendered to US custody in Afghanistan by bounty hunters, and has never been tried or convicted in any court of law of any crimes against the US or anyone else either in Afghanistan or in the United States.


The lack of medical care for Al-Ghizzawi is a death sentence on this unjustly imprisoned man.

As US citizens and citizens of the world, we are outraged and ashamed at his treatment and the treatment of other prisoners like him at Guantanamo, Bagram and secret US government sites throughout the "Free World."

Our government is no longer a government of laws.

"We the People" petition you for redress of this terrible grievance against a creature of God. How can our country pretend to advance the cause of democracy when we treat people who fall into our hands with such cruelty? We are appalled that these crimes against humanity are being carried out in our name, and distraught that our nation appears before the whole world as a nation of WAR CRIMINALS.


Friday, February 22, 2008

The Quaker who loved opera

There are several inches of snow on the ground, and since frozen rain is supposed to follow, making the roads extra slippery, my place of employment has closed.

Glad for a day to unwind a bit, I was procrastinating doing chores and touring YouTube. I watched the video of Barack Obama's inspiring speech following his New Hampshire primary victory...then I started plugging in names of some of my favorite singers, including tenors and divas past and present. Turns out there's quite a bit of opera on YouTube. I actually found a clip of the 1958 RAI telecast of Puccini's Turandot, with Franco Corelli singing the part of Calaf. Corelli... Now there's a name from the past!

When I was a kid I used to read the reviews of the operas that came to Philadelphia and dream of going to them. There were two opera companies
back then, the Philadelphia Grand and the Philadelphia Lyric. They rarely strayed from the tried and true popular repertoire of Verdi and Puccini hits, with a bit of Donizetti thrown in, especially when Joan Sutherland came to town. I can even remember when the music critic of one of the papers complained because both companies were planning productions of La Bohème during the same season. ... Anyway, I found my favorite scene in all of opera on YouTube: the finale of the first act of Turandot. OK, the sound isn't great and the visual is worse ... but, I mean, IT'S FRANCO CORELLI!

(The embedding was removed from YouTube at the request of the contributors, distributors of vintage opera videos ... I'm tempted to send then $35 to have the entire video.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Taking torture philosophically

This evening I attended a presentation on extraordinary rendition and US-sponsored torture at the university where I work. The speakers were two of our philosophy professors. They were clearly against the use of torture, but I really have to admire their calm manner, their logical arguments, and the way they responded to questions from the audience. Especially in contrast to whatever it was I managed to blurt out when I stood up to comment. I pointed out that they hadn't covered the idea of torture as a way to intimidate and control populations -- including our own. I also brought out a few items they hadn't mentioned, such as the Military Commissions Act and the fact that it allows for anyone, even a US citizen, to be declared an "illegal enemy combatant," and that it give retroactive immunity to interrogators and others who may have ordered or practiced torture.

After I made my comments, a young man just a few seats away in my row asked a question featuring a variation of the ticking time bomb scenario. In asking his question, he mentioned that his father had been killed. I felt really bad for him. The professor who responded to his question handled it really well. The young man probably thought I was one of those liberals who didn't know how it feels to lose a family member to a terrorist which case he's absolutely right. Although I did mourn when Tom Fox was killed and still get a twinge in my heart whenever I see Mike Berg, I don't know the never ending pain felt by a family member. But I also think of the 9/11 wives who call for an end to violence and vengeance, and of Mike who is able to forgive...

One of the professors had shown a photo of the prisoner who was tortured to death at Abu Ghraib, wrapped in plastic like leftovers. The professor who gave the second presentation showed a lot of other photos from Abu Ghraib: a naked prisoner smeared with feces, a prisoner lying on the floor, next to him a splat of his own blood, the infamous photo of the man on the leash, photos of the young woman grinning as she points to the prisoners' privates, and of course, the world-renowned pyramid of naked bodies.

I hadn't seen those photos in quite awhile. I was crying on my way home. I guess I just cannot imagine a context that justifies putting a human being on a leash or stripping and sexually humiliating him. Whatever terrorists have done to us --or threaten to do-- does not give us license to do anything we want to suspects.

The faculty members also touched on the dehumanization of whole groups that makes torture possible. They also mentioned how our society is steeped in the conviction that violence and use of force are the only way to accomplish its ends ... what a theologian like Walter Wink calls belief in the redemptive power of violence.

Practicing and modeling nonviolence sure isn't easy.