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

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