In 2007 Joseph Ross and I edited a collection of poems titled Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib Paintings and hosted a reading when Botero’s collection was on display in Washington, D.C.
That same year, CIA officer John Kiriakou became the first CIA official to publicly confirm and detail the agency’s use of waterboarding as well as other torture. In January 2013, he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison in Pennsylvania. Kiriakou was recently released to house arrest. He’s now living in the D.C.-area and has made appearances at the Institute for Policy Studies at Dupont Circle.
This week my friend Sarah, who directs Split This Rock, a collective of poetry and protest with an office at IPS, related this story:
I met John Kiriakou at IPS on Friday … I told him about Split This Rock and gave him a copy of Cut Loose the Body. Here’s what he wrote me yesterday: “Thank you very much for Cut Loose the Body, which I read on the way home. It was absolutely wonderful, and I hope there will be many more. My wife also read it and said the poems were wonderful and the two Botero sketches were breathtaking. Thanks again.”
It’s so gratifying to know that work done in good faith makes its way out into the world and finds the people it needs to find. Thank you Sarah — and thank you John for your service to your country. John Kiriakou, who is Greek Orthodox, spent his two-and-a-half years in prison serving in the chapel. And, in a total quirk of fate, the federal prison where Kiriakou spent his time was called FCI Loretto. It used to be a Catholic monastery. The Bureau of Prisons turned it into a “low-security prison” and converted the “monks’ bedrooms” into “prisoners’ rooms.” Continue reading “John Kiriakou and ‘Cut Loose The Body’”
“We thought the word was gone. We thought we healed it out of our national vocabulary. We thought ‘torture’ belonged to a foreign language, spoken only by dictators, who ruled anywhere but here. We were wrong.”–Introduction to Cut Loose the Body, edited by Rose Marie Berger and Joseph Ross (2007)
Blind Willie Johnson had it right back in 1927 when he sang, “If I had my way, I’d tear this building down.” The U.S. concentration camps on Guantanamo Bay turn 10 years old on Wednesday. As Americans — and as people of faith — we should tear those buildings down.
I’m not naive about who some of the prisoners are being held there. But if there’s one thing the U.S. does extremely well, it’s prisons. We’ve got lots of them. There’s no reason why the men and boys held at Guantanamo can’t be moved into stateside prisons – military or civilian – and held accountable under a clear rule of law.
I want to be part of the civilian team of Americans — with families of international victims — who come to Guantanamo this year with hammers in our hands. It is time to dismantle these concentration camps.
Read below for Abraham’s haggling with God about punishing the innocent with the guilty and further down read Murat Kurnaz’ reflections five years after his release from Guantanamo.
Abraham approached the Lord and asked, “Are you really going to destroy the innocent with the guilty? If there are fifty innocent people in the city, will you destroy the whole city? Won’t you spare it in order to save the fifty? Surely you won’t kill the innocent with the guilty. That’s impossible! You can’t do that. If you did, the innocent would be punished along with the guilty. That is impossible. The judge of all the earth has to act justly.” –Genesis 18:23-25
I left Guantánamo Bay much as I had arrived almost five years earlier – shackled hand-to-waist, waist-to-ankles, and ankles to a bolt on the airplane floor. My ears and eyes were goggled, my head hooded, and even though I was the only detainee on the flight this time, I was drugged and guarded by at least 10 soldiers. This time though, my jumpsuit was American denim rather than Guantánamo orange. I later learned that my C-17 military flight from Guantánamo to Ramstein Air Base in my home country, Germany, cost more than $1 million.
When we landed, the American officers unshackled me before they handed me over to a delegation of German officials. The American officer offered to re-shackle my wrists with a fresh, plastic pair. But the commanding German officer strongly refused: “He has committed no crime; here, he is a free man.”
I was not a strong secondary school student in Bremen, but I remember learning that after World War II, the Americans insisted on a trial for war criminals at Nuremberg, and that event helped turn Germany into a democratic country. Strange, I thought, as I stood on the tarmac watching the Germans teach the Americans a basic lesson about the rule of law.
How did I arrive at this point? This Wednesday is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the detention camp at the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. I am not a terrorist. I have never been a member of Al Qaeda or supported them. I don’t even understand their ideas. ….
… a number of American and German intelligence documents from 2002 to 2004 [that] showed both countries suspected I was innocent. One of the documents said American military guards thought I was dangerous because I had prayed during the American national anthem.
Now, five years after my release, I am trying to put my terrible memories behind me. I have remarried and have a beautiful baby daughter. Still, it is hard not to think about my time at Guantánamo and to wonder how it is possible that a democratic government can detain people in intolerable conditions and without a fair trial.
Please keep in your prayers the fasters who are in prayer at the U.S. capitol between January 11-21 keeping vigil for the closing of the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo. As an opening to their prayer vigil yesterday, they engaged in a little prophetic street theater in front of the Justice Department.
In August 2007, candidate Obama promised to close Guantanamo, saying “As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.”
In January 2009, one of President Obama’s first official acts was to sign an executive order promising to close Guantanamo within one year. “This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he said.
Christians and others are taking the lead in holding President Obama accountable for his pledge.
A group of 173 human rights activists, each wearing an orange jumpsuit and a black hood and representing the remaining 173 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rallied in front of the White House on Tuesday to mark the ninth anniversary of the detention center’s opening and to protest the Obama administration’s inability to close it.
“Detainees, halt!” yelled Carmen Trotta, a volunteer with the group Witness Against Torture, who wore military fatigues as he gathered the protesters in Lafayette Park. “Turn left. Face the home of your captor.”
The rally and street theater were organized by a coalition of groups – including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows – that are calling on the administration to either try Guantanamo Bay detainees in federal court or release them.
“We believe in and promote the rule of law,” said Valerie Lucznikowska, whose nephew was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and who described the military detention center in Cuba as a “living stain on America.”
Last January 2010 passed and we now move into a second year of with 173 men and boys still held in an extrajudicial setting. Obama has learned that the issue “is complicated.” Indeed it is. But it must be done. America’s democracy requires that we “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.”
Torture is an assault on human dignity — both the dignity of the victim and the inflicter. While the Obama administration has worked hard to try to reverse the abhorrent policies of the Bush administration on torture, there’s still a long way to go. The Guantanamo detention camp is still functioning. The “black sites” are still hidden and functioning around the world under shadowy CIA-leadership. Rogue dictators and militias still brutalize the innocent. In other words, the insidious underside of human sin is still dismembering people and their families in hidden cells around the world.
Richard Killmer, former head of the National Council of Churches, was profiled in the digital edition of U.S. News and World Report this week. Killmer now heads up the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a leading coalition of faith groups in the U.S. trying to dismantle the torture policies. Killmer was interviewed by Alex Kingsbury in the article The Morality of Torture. This is a great piece to distribute in your church bulletins. It’s short and to the point. It appeals to political conservatives and liberals – and has Bible. Here’s a quote:
Before 9/11, there was national consensus on the illegitimacy of torture. After all, it was President Reagan who made the country a signatory in 1984 to the United Nations Conventions Against Torture, which both banned the practice and called for universal jurisdiction for its prosecution. But the events of the intervening years have changed the nation to the point where Killmer’s message is now that of a radical. “I don’t know what has gone so wrong,” says Killmer, sitting in his modest office across the street from the Supreme Court. “Whatever the political or security issues are, they don’t change the basic moral fact that some things are always, always, always wrong.”
From Jan. 11 – Jan. 22, Witness Against Torture is fasting, vigiling, and occasionally committing civil disobedience in various venues around Washington, D.C., to hold President Obama to his promise to close the extra-judicial prison camp at Guantánamo Bay and investigate torture by U.S. military, U.S. intelligence organizations, and U.S. defense sub-contractors.
The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle
When President Barack Obama took office last year, he promised to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great.” Toward that end, the president issued an executive order declaring that the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo Naval Base “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” Obama has failed to fulfill his promise. Some prisoners there are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the George W. Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.
Horton had barely released his damning account of homicides of prisoners at Camp Delta and the extensive cover up when The Official Response began gearing up in the media.
Colonel Michael Bumgarner, the former Camp America commander who has testified that the deaths of the three prisoners were suicides, commented to Associated Press reporter Pete Yost, “this blatant misrepresentation of the truth infuriates me” (Magazine Raises Questions Over 3 Detainee Deaths.) And the Justice Department is coming down with double-speak too.
But Horton isn’t backing down. For every counter-attack from the military and defense department, he just posts more evidence up at Harper’s. You can watch Horton’s interview with Keith Olbermann here.
I hate to go all 1990s on you, but “This is what democracy looks like.”
Witness Against Torture, along with a number of other groups and individuals, launched a months of public demonstrations calling for the swift closing of the U.S. Guantanamo prison camp. Above, friend and Catholic Worker, Art Laffin stands in front of the White House. The orange jump suits are similar to what is worn by prisoners held at Guantanamo.
One of the speakers at yesterday’s opening event was Mohammed Sulaymon Barre. Barre was released from Guantanamo on December 20, 2009, and returned to his family in Somaliland. Mr. Barre had fled Somalia during the civil war in the early 1990s. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees granted Mr. Barre refugee status in Pakistan where he lived and worked freely for many years prior to his detention. In November 2001, soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities came to Mr. Barre’s house in the middle of the night and arrested him. He is believed to have been sold to the United States for bounty at a time when the United States was offering sizable sums for the handover of purported enemies. Once in the custody of U.S. forces, Mr. Barre was sent to the U.S. military base at Bagram, where U.S. guards abused him and coercively interrogated him before transferring him to Guantánamo. He was never charged with any crime.
Mohammed Sulaymon Barre made this statement this morning:
“I say to the torturers of Guantanamo, their leaders, and the politicians and people of power who back them in Washington: is it not time that you should awaken from your slumber? Is it not time that you should realize what you are doing and acknowledge the mistakes you have made? Time has passed, and time passes quickly. Hurry up and close this prison that has become a blot of shame upon all of America. Do it fast. Do it quickly.
“Closing this place should not mean just the transfer of these men to other prisons. That would only make things worse. Closing it should mean the release of these men and transferring them to where they can be safe.
“And that is not enough. There should be an appropriate and reasonable apology. “To those who say that they fear that those men, when released, would join enemy groups and therefore we should keep them in prison indefinitely, I say: don’t you know that keeping these detainees in prison is the very thing that feeds the animus against the United States? I say to those who believe in these notions: the thing you fear is the very thing you cause by your wrongful actions. This is what constitutes the real threat to the national security of the United States, not the closing of the prison and the release of detainees. Peace be upon you.–Mohammed Sulaymon
Sen. Whitehouse,a leading member of the Senate bi-partisan subcommittee on Intelligence, has read many of the classified reports on U.S. torture – and he is very, very disturbed.
Without compromising classified data, he clearly points to a widespread torture cancer that has spread through the military intelligence apparatus.
Here’s a six minute video (May 22, 2009) of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (Dem-R.I.) addressing Robert Litt and Stephen Preston, the two nominees for the position of General Counsel to the Central Intelligence Agency.
V. Henry T. Nguyen is an Angeleno and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who has “pretty much become a pacifist,” he says. He’s got his doctorate in New Testament and is an adjunct prof at several schools in Southern California. (He blogs at Punctuated Life.)
I’m printing the whole thing here because I think it’s an important read.
St. Paul the Pacifist: A Christian Response to Torture
By V. Henry T. Nguyen
The recent Pew findings—that churchgoers, especially white evangelical Protestants, are more likely to believe that torture can be justified—have caused many commentators to wonder whether particular forms of Christian theology engender an acceptance of the use of torture.
In a recent article on Religion Dispatches, Sarah Sentilles suggests that Christian theologies and images of Christ’s crucifixion (essentially is an act of torture) have influenced some Christian communities’ understanding of torture as salvific, necessary, and justified. This view of torture is especially fueled by what is known as atonement theology: the view that Jesus’ death provided reparation for humanity’s sins against God.
So what would a Christian theological response against torture look like?
Most Christian theologies are rooted in the writings of Paul, who is particularly celebrated this year by the Catholic church on the bimillenial anniversary of the apostle’s birth; Paul provides the earliest interpretation of the meaning of the crucified Christ. People often forget, or are not aware, that nowhere in the gospels does Jesus himself explain the meaning of his own suffering on the cross. But Paul does.
And I believe that if we were to bring Paul into our current dialogue about whether Christians should support the use of torture, his response would be a resolute “No!”