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