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.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Habeo corpus
for Abdul Hamid Al-Ghizzawi
I ask myself
Why should I care
about some terrorist
sick, dying a slow death
in a prison
in solitary
on an island?

Why should I care
about his yellowed skin and eyeballs
his cold sweats
the searing pain eating into his side?

Why should I care
if he never sees his wife again
if his daughter was an infant
when last he kissed her
six years ago?

Why should I care?
He put himself there
He and his kind

that threaten us
deserve to rot in prison forever

Why should I care?
Am I this prisoner's keeper?