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.