WAT Fast during June Torture Awareness Week
We invite you to join WAT’s Torture Awareness Week Fast (June 21-26). We will be fasting in our homes in deference to the still unvanquished pandemic. Fast for a day or two or for all five days, and meet with us on Zoom for mutual support on Monday and Wednesday evenings and Saturday morning. Our purpose is to use our own bodies to deepen our understanding of the U.S. use of torture, especially against the Muslim men locked in Guantanamo. Read our Thoughts on Fasting.
If you would like to join us, please send an email to email@example.com with “RSVP for Fast” in the subject line: you’ll receive the Zoom link and tips on fasting safely. Below are actions to take and other Torture Awareness Week events.
Press release: Torture Awareness Week — WAT June 2021 Press Release
Menu of Actions to Take During the Week
Choose the actions that are meaningful to you. Even if you decide not to fast, you can still join in taking concrete actions to oppose torture and support torture survivors. Keep checking back for details: list is in progress!
-Write to the men in Guantanamo: Names and instructions are here.
-Email/call Congresspersons: This week, call or email your representative and Senators telling them you’re concerned about the men in Guantanamo, and why. Urge them to press the administration to clear and release detainees and close Guantanamo. Find your members: House, Senate.
-Email/call President Biden: Tell President Biden why you’re concerned about the men in Guantanamo and urge him to act more quickly to empty the prison and close it. Email: www.whitehouse.gov/
-Vigil in your home town: Make a sign stating your own demand and stand on a busy street corner for an hour. Ask your friends to join you, but even a one-person vigil can have an impact.
-Write a letter to your home town paper: Use your own words or draw on some of the ideas in this Sample Letter to the Editor . Draw on the stark facts as reasons to close Guantanamo. Your viewpoint counts, especially in your own community!
–Watch The Mauritanian, the film about former Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi, starring Jodie Foster and Tahar Rahim. Now available online for only $5.99. Watch it yourself, or organize a group of friends to view it together!
Keep checking back for what other groups are doing: the list is in progress!
(And send us your local anti-torture and close Guantanamo actions and events to post.)
Monday, June 21 – WAT Fast Begins: Zoom circle at 8 pm ET (Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “RSVP to fast” in subject line for Zoom link)
Wednesday, June 23 – WAT Fast Zoom circle at 8 pm ET
Saturday, June 26 – 11 am WAT Fast Zoom circle and breaking of fast
–TASSC online conference – The Asylum Crisis in the US
Wednesday, June 23 – Info and Zoom sign-up here.
–Close Guantanamo Vigil Livestream
Saturday, June 26, 2 pm – We will livestream a WAT Close Guantanamo Vigil in Lafayette Park, Washington DC.
Torture Awareness Week is the lead-up to June 26, the International UN Day of Support for Victims of Torture — a day that WAT has traditionally observed in conjunction with TASSC: Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition. TASSC was founded in 1998 by Sister Dianna Ortiz after she was captured and brutally tortured while teaching in the highlands of Guatemala. Upon her return to the U.S. she fasted in front of the White House demanding information about U.S. involvement in her torture. Tragically, this courageous woman, who not only survived kidnapping and torture but used the experience to become a voice for torture victims everywhere died of cancer February 19 at the age of 62. We miss her greatly. Dianna, Presente!
In the early years of WAT we gathered in June to vigil in solidarity with torture survivors at the TASSC vigil in Lafayette Square, donning orange jump suits and protesting nonviolently.
This year a small group of WAT and other local activists will hold a vigil in Lafayette Square at 2 pm Saturday June 26, to read the names of the 40 Muslim men in Guantanamo. Watch it live-streamed at facebook.com/rehumanizeintl.
Silent Vigil for UN “International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.”
–Starvin’ for Justice Anti-death Penalty Events
June 29 – July 2, Supreme Court Washington, DC
Starvin’ for Justice Anti-death Penalty Fast and Vigil
Death penalty abolitionists from around the country will gather for the 28th year at the steps of the Supreme Court to call for an end to capital punishment in the United States.
–Online donations: Click here.
New York Catholic Worker
Attn: Witness Against Torture
55 East Third Street
New York, NY 10003
Lobby Congress about Guantanamo
We encourage you to contact your Congress members on or around the anniversary of Guantanamo on January 11 to encourage them to:
· close Guantanamo in a just and quick manner,
· charge or release remaining prisoners,
· allow for transfers to US for trial or medical
· reopen the State Dept. resettlement office.
Check if your member of Congress is a member of one of these committees. If not, you may contact the chair of each committee. Find membership and contact info at the following links.
House Armed Services: Chair-Adam Smith
House Foreign Affairs: Chair-Gregory Meeks
Senate Foreign Relations: Ranking Dem-Robert Menendez
Senate Armed Services: Ranking Dem-Jack Reed
Find the contact information for your members of Congress at the following links:
Block Torture Apologists from Top National Security Posts
Jan. 6, 2021
Join Us to Block Torture Apologists from Top National Security Posts
It worked! In December, human rights groups helped to block torture apologist Mike Morell from being nominated to lead the CIA. The groups circulated this letter detailing Morell’s lies about torture and contempt for the rule of law. The letter was signed by many torture survivors, including former Guantanamo detainees Mohamedou Slahi, Mozzam Begg, and Djamel Ameziane.
Now we are working to prevent Avril Haines from being appointed as Director of National Intelligence. We need you to take action!
Action Alert: NO on Haines for Director of National Intelligence
Please join CODEPINK, Witness Against Torture, Progressive Democrats of America, Roots Action and World Beyond War in urging Senators to VOTE NO on torture apologist and drone strike authorizer Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence.
Haines, Deputy Director of the CIA under Obama, signed off on drone murders and co-wrote the guidelines that blurred the difference between enemy combatants and civilians. She also redacted the Senate report on torture from 6,000 pages to a 500-page summary, covering up the CIA’s crimes. In addition, she overruled the CIA Inspector General in failing to discipline CIA agents who hacked into the computers of Senate investigators. So we’re calling Senators to insist that they vote no on Haines.
See the script and contact information below:
Hi, my name is ____________ and I’m calling from zip code ___________ to urge Senator __________ to vote NO on the nomination of Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. Haines signed off on drone strikes that made us less safe, suppressed evidence of CIA torture and failed to discipline agents who hacked into the computers of investigators.
No on Haines! Thank you.
Contact Info for all US Senators (Write your senator, too.)
Call and leave a message for Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader
Senate Intelligence Committee Members
Democrats & Independent
Mark Warner (D-VA, Ranking Member)
Angus King (I-Maine)
Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Kamala Harris (D-CA, urge her to let Biden know that activists are calling members of the Senate Intell Committee to publicly object to Morell for CIA)
Marco Rubio(R-FL, Ranking Member)
Richard Burr (R-NC)
James Risch (R-ID)
Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Roy Blunt (R-Missouri)
202-224-5721 (only takes calls during business hours)
Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska)
Tom Cotton (R-AK)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
For more on Haines see:
“Senators Must Reject Haines for National Intelligence”
by Medea Benjamin and Marcy Winograd
“The Dark Past of Biden’s Nominee for National Intelligence Director”
by John Kiriakou
Torture Victims & Their Advocates Oppose Morell & Haines for National Security Positions in the Biden Administration
For Immediate Release
MONDAY, DECEMBER 21
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK, Medea.email@example.com, 415-235-6517
Marcy Winograd, Progressive Democrats of America, firstname.lastname@example.org, 424-443-9338
Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture, email@example.com ,732-979-3119
Torture Victims & Their Advocates Oppose Morell & Haines for National Security Positions in the Biden Administration.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, torture survivors and their advocates released an Open Letter urging President-Elect Biden not to nominate torture defender Mike Morell for CIA Director and asking the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haines, a torture enabler, as Director of National Intelligence. The letter was also delivered this morning to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as President-Elect Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris.
Signatories include: Mansoor Adayfi, a writer from Yemen imprisoned for 14 years without charge at Guantanamo Bay, where he was force fed for two years; Moazzam Begg, a British-Pakistani ex-Guantanamo detainee and Outreach Director for CAGE, a service organization for torture survivors and communities impacted by the War on Terror; Sister Dianna Ortiz, a US missionary tortured by members of the CIA-funded Guatemalan army; Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Whistleblower and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; John Kiriakou, former CIA officer imprisoned after exposing CIA waterboarding; and musician Roger Waters (formerly with Pink Floyd), whose song “Each Small Candle” is a tribute to torture victims.
The organizers of the letter, Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America, Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, and Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture, have been lobbying against the inclusion of torture apologists in the Biden administration since the August Democratic National Convention, Their efforts include a letter to Biden from 450 DNC delegates, a CODEPINK petition signed by over 4,000, and calls to the offices of the Senators on the Intelligence Committee. “When we started this campaign,” says 2020 DNC Delegate Marcy Winograd, “Morell was considered the frontrunner, but opposition to his disgraceful defense of torture has cast a pall on his nomination. We want to make sure his nomination is off the table, and that Biden and the Senate also understand we reject Avril Haines for her complicity in suppressing evidence of CIA torture,”.
Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush and Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Obama, has defended the agency’s “enhanced interrogation” program, objecting to use of the word “torture” to characterize waterboarding, sleep deprivation, starvation diets, sexual humiliation, hypothermia and painful bodily contortions. Morrell also falsely claimed that torture “worked” in foiling terrorists plots. In addition, Morell defended the CIA’s destruction of nearly 90 videotapes documenting brutal interrogations at CIA black site prisons.
As CIA Deputy Director from 2013-2014, Avril Haines overruled the CIA Inspector General in choosing not to punish agency personnel accused of hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers during their investigation into the CIA’s use of torture. She was also part of the team that suppressed evidence of CIA torture by redacting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark torture report, reducing a 6,000 page document to 500 pages.
Both Morell and Haines supported Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA Director — a nomination that then-Senator Kamala Harris, other prominent Democrats, and Senator John McCain opposed. Haspel supervised a black site prison in Thailand and authorized a memo authorizing the destruction of CIA videotapes documenting torture.
Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture:
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris promised to restore transparency, integrity, and respect for the rule of law to government. So how can their National Security team be led by people who endorsed, or tried to cover up, the clear crime of torture? It makes no sense.”
Djamel Ameziane, Former Guantanamo Prisoner (2002-2013):
“Elevating torture apologists to a leadership position within the Biden administration will damage the USA’s standing and give the world’s dictators succor and comfort.”
Jeffrey Kaye, Author, “Cover-Up at Guantanamo:
“Morell and Haines have put loyalty to CIA torturers above adherence to US treaties and domestic law, as well as basic morality. To allow them to serve in government would send a message to all that accountability for torture is passé, and that war crimes will always be dismissed with a wink from those in high office.”
John Kiriakou, Former CIA officer who blew the whistle on agency torture:
“Morell has disingenuously said that he was unaware of the CIA’s torture program at the same time that he was the Agency’s fourth-ranking officer. As deputy CIA Director and Acting CIA Director, he oversaw illegal activities around the world. I can’t believe that any sane person could or would consider Mike Morell as a serious candidate for CIA Director.”
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK:
“We can’t allow the new Biden administration to include people who have been involved–in any way–in heinous acts of torture. That’s why we are part of a groundswell of opposition to both Mike Morell and Avril Haines for key intelligence positions. No torture apologists should be allowed to serve in this administration. Period.”
Torture Survivor Mansoor Adayfi on Morell’s assertion that torture is effective: “In Guantanamo, when they put you under very bad circumstances—like 72 hours under very cold air conditioning, and you are tied to the ground and someone comes and pours cold water on you—you are going to tell them whatever they want you to say. I will sign anything, I will admit anything!,” says Dayfi.
Torture Survivor Moazzem Begg on his treatment at Bagram Air Base before arriving at Guantanamo: “They tied me up with my hands behind my back to my legs, kicked me in the head, kicked me in the back, threatened to take me to Egypt to be tortured, to be raped, to be electrocuted. They had a woman screaming in the next room whom I believed at that time was my wife. They bought pictures of my children and told me I would never see them again.”
Colonel Larry Wilkerson, torture whistleblower: “Kidnapping, torture and assassination have no place in a democracy and turn the CIA into a secret police …Abuses of the kind documented in the Senate’s report could happen again.”
James Dorsey, attorney for released Guantanamo detainee Ahcene Zemiri. “As a Marine Corps veteran, I have always understood that when our servicemen have been captured and tortured in the past, a real source of strength for them has been knowing that their country would never engage in such conduct. “
Also available for interviews:
Open Letter to President-Elect Biden & U.S. Senate:
From: Torture Victims and their Advocates Opposed to Mike Morell for CIA and Avril Haines for National Intelligence
Say NO to Morell; Say NO to Haines.
As survivors of torture and their advocates, we urge President-elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell for CIA Director and ask the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haine as Director of National Intelligence.
Both Morell and Haines have troubling records on torture — a form of violence with lingering effects: anxiety, stress, physical and psychological trauma. We know because we have lived this nightmare, either personally or as advocates of survivors forever haunted by past torture.
We believe that the record of Morell and Haines disqualifies them from directing intelligence agencies. Their appointment would undermine the rule of law and U.S. credibility around the world. It would be a callous rebuke to people like ourselves and all those who care about human rights and the protection of basic dignity.
Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush and both Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Obama, has defended the Agency’s “enhanced interrogation” practices. These included waterboarding, physical beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and sexual humiliation. These practices have commonly, and rightly, been denounced as torture. In July 2014, President Obama plainly admitted, “We tortured some folks.”
That same year, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued the 500-page summary of its “Torture Report.” Drawing on millions of pages of internal CIA documents, the report denounced CIA torture as both inhumane and ineffective. It concluded that the Agency’s use of torture was far more frequent and gruesome than previously acknowleged. Senate investigators also documented that the CIA had lied to Congress, the President, and the American people by falsely insisting that its “enhanced interrogations” had forced detainees to reveal critical information, and thereby thwarted terrorists plots.
Yet in his 2015 memoir, Morell asserted without evidence that torture was effective. As the Military Times reported, Senate intelligence committee staffers were so troubled by Morell’s claims that they issued a lengthy rebuttal in a special report. Referencing the CIA’s own documents, the report blasted Morell’s numerous errors and misrepresentation of established facts.
In addition, Morell defended the CIA’s destruction in 2005 of nearly 90 videotapes of the brutal interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and other detainees in CIA black sites. Sought by congress, the courts, and attorneys, the tapes doubtless depicted troubling US conduct. Their destruction came in the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuse revelations, just as the country was vigorously debating the lawfulness and morality of the treatment of detainees.
To defend the elimination of the tapes, as Morell has done, is unconscionable. It defies the transparency our democracy needs to function, while serving to shield from accountability those potentially guilty of grave crimes.
The claim that “torture works” is the great lie used by tormentors throughout history to justify their abuses. When repeated by high-ranking officials to defend post-9/11 torture, it serves to excuse the inexcusable.
Morell has no place in a Biden-Harris administration. His nomination would send a chilling message to torture survivors and other victims of grave injustice that the United States government, including the Biden administration, does not uphold its own stated principles. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) from the Senate Intelligence Committee has said about Morell: “No torture apologist can be confirmed as CIA director. It’s a nonstarter.” We agree and urge the President-elect not to nominate Morell.
We also oppose Avril Haines, another toture apologist, as Director of National Intelligence. Since she has already been nominated, we ask Senators to oppose her confirmation.
As CIA Deputy Director from 2013-2014, Haines overruled the CIA Inspector General by chosing not to punish agency personnel accused of hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers during their investigation into the CIA’s use of torture. In addition, Haines was part of the team that redacted the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark 6,000-page report on torture, reducing the public portion to a 500-page summary. The full report has been sought by attorneys, human rights advocates, legislators, and scholars seeking a full account of the United States’s troubling conduct.
Haines also supported Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director. Supervising a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002, Haspel was directly implicated in CIA torture. She later drafted the memo authorizing the destruction of the CIA videotapes.
Like Morell, Haines has worked both to defend torture and surpress evidence of it. She too, is incompatible with the stated aim of the Biden-Harris administration to restore integrity and respect for the rule of law to government.
The new administration must show the American people and the world that it acknowledges past disturbing U.S. conduct and will ensure that such abuses never recur. To do that, it needs intelligence leaders who have neither condoned torture nor whitewashed the CIA’s ugly record of using torture. We need intelligence leaders who understand that torture is illegal under international law; that is inhumane; that it is ineffective; that it puts at risk U.S. military personnel, should they be captured by adversaries; and that it violates the restoration of trust in American decency central to Biden’s vision for his presidency.
That is why we urge President-Elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell for Director of the CIA and the Senate to reject the nomination of Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. The people of the United States and the world deserve better.
Signed (partial list):
Moazzem Begg, Torture Survivor, former Guantanamo prisoner, CAGE, UK; signed confession under torture; while in US custody subjected to sleep deprivation, stress positions, hog tied with hood over head
Djamen Ameziane, Algerian, former Guantanamo detainee, torture survivor imprisoned without charge from 2002-2013, in solitary confinement for a decade, suffered vision loss
Maher Arar, Canadian torture and rendition survivor; whipped with an electrical chord and forced to confess while in US custody in Syria
Mansoor Adayfi, Released Guantanamo prisoner sold to US forces in Afghanistan for bounty money; imprisoned at Guantanamo without charge for 14 years, seven in isolation; torture surivor; resettled in Serbia; award-winning writer
Lakhdar Boumediene, Algerian-born citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay from 2002-2009, force fed for two years; lead plaintiff in Boumediene v. Bush, a 2008 US Supreme Court decision that Guantanamo detainees have the right to habeas corpus in US federal courts
Carlos Mauricio, College professor kidnapped and tortured by US-backed right-wing death squads in El Salvador; Executive Director: Stop Impunity Project
Hector Aristizabal, Psychologist and theater artist; torture surivor from Colombia, CoCreator of Reconectando; Theater of the Oppressed
Sister Dianna Ortiz, US missionary teaching Mayan children, tortured in 1989 by members of the US supported Guatemalan Army
Jean Marie Kalonji, Congolese youth leader tortured by the police and military, Coordinator of the Fourth Way
Mario Avila, a Guatemalan torture survivor kidnapped in 1969 and again in 1976 and tortured in clandestine jails under the directives of the U.S. government; Colectivo Guatemalteco Los AngelesTorture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)
Gloria Avila, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)
Frankie Flores, Torture Survivor from El Salvador; Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)
Jennifer Harbury, Atty, wife of deceased Guatemalan torture victim Efraín Bámaca Velásquez; author, “Truth, Torture and the American Way,” which documents the CIA’s historical use of torture
Major Todd Pierce (U.S. Army, Retired), Judge Advocate General attorney on the defense teams for Guantánamo military commissions defendants
Buz Eisenberg, Attorney for Guantanamo detainee
Jim Dorsey, Attorney for released Guantanamo detainee
Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell
Bill Binney, Retired National Security Agency official and whistleblower
Elizabth Murray, Retired Deputy National Intelligence Office/Near East
Colonel Ann Wright, US Army Colonel (retired) and former US Diplomat
Ray McGovern, Retired CIA officer, Member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Philip M. Giraldi, former CIA Operations Officer, Executive Director, Council for the National Interest
John Kiriakou, Former CIA officer imprisoned after whistleblowing re CIA torture
Coleen Rowley, former FBI special agent and whistleblower
Greg Thielmann, retired intelligence official, U.S. State Department
Valerie Lucznikowska, September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Roy Bourgeois, School of the Americas Watch
Dr. Maha Hilal, Justice for Muslims Collective
Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Marcy Winograd, Progressive Democrats of America; 2020 DNC Delegate, Author of Open Letter to Joe Biden: Hire New Foreign Policy Advisors, signed by 450 Delegates opposed to torture whitewashing
Adrienne Kinne, President, Veterans For Peace
Garett Reppenhagen, Executive Director, Veterans For Peace
Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture and Professor of History at The New School
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK Women for Peace
Andy Worthington, Director, CloseGuantanamo.org
Roger Waters, musician, songwriter, “Each Small Candle”- tribute to a torture victim
Frank Goldsmith and Robin Kirk, Co-chairs, North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture
Nancy Talanian, No More Guantanamos
Johnny Zokovitch, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA
Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation
Sue Udry, Executive Director, Defending Rights and Dissent
David Swanson, Executive Director, World Beyond War; author, “Torture is Foreplay for War”
Alfred W. McCoy, author, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror
Marjorie Cohen, Atty, author The United States And Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, And Abuse
Rebecca Gordon, author, Mainstreaming Torture
Jeffrey S. Kaye, author, Cover-Up at Guantanamo
Norman Solomon, Author, War Made Easy
Matthew W. Daloisio, Atty, Witness Against Torture
Helen Sklar, Certified Specialist in Immigration Law, represented torture victims from all over the world in asylum proceedings
Angela Edman, Esq, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)
Art Laffin, Catholic Worker House
Bogdan Dzakovic, Son of WWII torture victim
Sandra and Ulis Williams, Activists, School of the Americas Watch
Martin Melkonian, Teachers for Human Rights
Uwe Jacobs, Psychologist, Survivors International
David Segal, Executive Director, Demand Progress
Linda Lewis, Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence
Dr. Mary Helen White, Physicians for Human Rights, works with torture victims
C. Peter Dougherty, Co Founder, Meta Peace Team
Sara Olson, Women Against Military Madness, Tackling Torture Committee
WAT’s letter to President-Elect Joe Biden
Dear Vice-President Biden, Senator Harris, and the Biden/Harris Campaign,
We are Witness Against Torture (WAT), a group founded in 2005 with the goal of closing the prison camp at Guantanamo and ending U.S. torture. We are writing to urge you — in the event of the Biden/Harris victory we all seek — to make good on your campaign pledge to at last close the prison.
For years, we have fasted, demonstrated, lobbied, written letters, and been jailed for non-violent Civil Disobedience, in the best tradition of John Lewis and Dr. King. On two occasions some of us physically went to Cuba to protest the U.S. prison at its edge. We have made, in short, “good trouble” on behalf of a worthy goal you share.
Like us, countless other Americans passionately believe that Guantanamo must close and that the Muslim victims of horrific American abuses must receive some measure of justice.
Guantanamo is a stain on the nation’s soul, an ongoing threat to America’s security, and a place of the enduring abuse of Muslim men, many of whom have never been charged with crimes. We are heartened by your pledge to revive the efforts of the Obama/Biden administration to shutter the prison. We are especially grateful for the leading role Senator Biden has taken, even before becoming Vice President, in condemning the prison and urging its closure.
But we are also painfully aware of the catastrophic failure of the Obama administration to make good on its “day one” Executive Order to close Guantanamo. Yes, Republicans in Congress vigorously opposed Obama’s efforts. Yet a lack of political will was the ultimate culprit.
The Obama administration did not work hard enough to secure its own goal; as a result, dozens of men had years more of their lives stolen, sometimes suffering brutal forced-feedings as they protested their detention through hunger strikes. Moreover, the Department of Justice under Obama repeatedly appealed habeas rulings, until the habeas process had no meaning; it retained the unjust and unworkable Military Commissions; and it resisted legal efforts to hold individuals who authorized or committed torture to account.
We cannot repeat this policy fiasco and moral disaster. President Biden will have the awesome task of purging the United States of the corruption the Trump administration has visited upon its institutions, norms, and values. But Guantanamo is itself a profound corruption. Its very existence threatens to render meaningless America’s commitment to human rights, the rule of law, and basic ideas of fairness.
Hopefully, Americans will resoundingly elect Biden and Harris to restore decency to the United States. We hope — and will make every effort to ensure — that closing Guantanamo is an essential part of that effort.
Do what you urgently must in these last days before the election. After celebrating victory, start on the hard work you were put in office to do. Close Guantanamo.
Witness Against Torture
The pandemic has exposed the need to focus on inequity and injustice
The pandemic has exposed the need to focus on inequity and injustice
By Tom Casey
The coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter, police violence, protester violence and fires in California and Australia have exposed our and humankind’s vulnerabilities, interdependence and injustices. What can we, the most powerful nation in history, do to reduce the suffering from future inevitable calamities and from how we treat one another? Can we take Rabbi Waskow’s advice on the day after the shock and pain of 9/11, “… only in a world where we all realize our vulnerabilities can we become a world where all communities feel responsible to all other communities..
We, whose ancestors emigrated from Europe, have been blessed with the moral foundation established in our Constitution. Those who have been excluded based their just demands for inclusion on their “unalienable rights” of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” as Martin Luther King Jr.’s words at the Lincoln Memorial made so morally clear. Our Dr. Khalid Qazi of the Muslim Public Affairs Council was inspired by our country’s motto in giving a talk at the Chautauqua Institute Interfaith Lecture Series titled, “E Pluribus Unum” (out of many, one). From this foundation and the land’s abundant resources we have created the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.
Buffalo’s Interfaith Peace Network believes these blessings give us a responsibility to fulfill our potential to lead the world in reducing suffering at home and abroad because God has “…made of one blood all nations,” (Acts 17:26) and in the words of Geronimo, “We are all the children of one God.” The interfaith movement has shown significant change can occur where it was once thought impossible.
We can reduce suffering by more fully committing to live core precepts of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Indigenous Native American principles. It is the Golden Rule. Each faith tradition very strongly conveys it with different words but with the exact same meaning: Treat others as you wish to be treated. Essential will be the humility to accept and acknowledge our failings, a bedrock of all the major faith traditions. A virtue that is opposite our perceived exceptionalism. While religions have very unfortunately been misused to foment and justify violence at times, they have often provided direction and a spiritual source of strength and community as evidenced by Martin Luther King Jr.
To reduce suffering today, Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth Zion noted, “In Jewish traditions the Hebrew phrase, pikuach nefesh, ‘preservation of life,’ serves as the guiding principle for individuals and communities. As we make our way through the tragedies of this terrible pandemic, Jewish communities have forged ahead by placing the preservation of life as our highest priority in decision-making.”
We must understand and feel the suffering of those who fear violence because of their skin color or as they worship God, Allah or the Great Spirit (also Great Mystery) in their temples, synagogues, churches and sacred gatherings. We can choose to better realize Chief Crazy Horse’s vision, “I see a time of Seven Generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life and the whole earth will become One Circle again.”
We must lead in the essential dialogue necessary to achieve “a world where all communities feel responsible to all other communities” by following the Quran’s directive that Dr. Qazi pointed to – that mankind was created “… from a single (pair); of a male and a female [Adam and Eve], And made you into nations and tribes, so you may come to know each other.”
We all have perpetuated violence in different ways or allowed it to happen by our silence. We need to follow Jesus’s direction to Peter to put down his sword and Isaiah’s admonition for nations to “beat their swords into ploughshares.” It becomes more evident daily in the actions of some police and some protesters that violence only begets violence in a futile and destructive cycle, sometimes exacerbating the problem it was perceived to resolve.
The pandemic has exposed extreme inequity and injustice. Many essential workers are receiving less than a family-supporting wage with no health insurance while working in contagious environments such as EMTs and health care providers. We could not survive long without those stocking our supermarket shelves, which would be mostly empty without the long, grinding physical labor of family farmers and immigrants (legal and undocumented).
The new, just normal will require real sacrifice by those of us more fortunate. This must result in some combination of a higher minimum wage, universal health care, subsidized job re-training, a tax increase for some and/or an increased Earned Income Tax Credit. If the top 50% of earners were to share in this sacrifice, their disposable income would have to decrease to varying degrees. For a two-person household, this is those earning or receiving more than $63,000 per year. Abroad, we must change our abysmally unjust track record of failing to require labor-supporting trade principles in order to more justly pay for the resources and labor we benefit greatly from and also to better protect our workers, many of whom have suffered significantly from unfair competition.
For all the world’s children, we must lead in reversing our violence to Mother Earth. The Native American Proverb says it all, “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our Children… We must provide shelter for more refugees and immigrants living in conditions we cannot imagine, some caused by our country’s unnecessary wars, political/economic interventionism to keep wages low, sanctions and support of brutal dictatorships in other countries. Reliable estimates for sanction-caused deaths in Iraq from 1990 to 2003 are over 700,000 children and 800,000 adults. Unknown numbers have died due to ongoing sanctions in Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.
Ending our excessive use of war, the present source of millions of refugees, must be achieved just as the once thought impossibilities of ending slavery and women voting have occurred. We must stop spending immense resources on the armaments of the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower said “…signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.. Four percent of our military budget could end starvation and provide clean water for the entire world. Matthew 25:35-36 and the Quran, 76:8-9, make clear our responsibility. The United States, once the bread basket for the world, is now the arms basket, exporting 80% of the world’s traded weapons, some to countries gripped in horrible violence.
Will we again fail to respond to God’s grace as we did after 9/11 and so far, are doing with the pandemic? We had the world’s sympathy, including a march for us in Tehran after 9/11. We had a golden opportunity to lead, strengthening the essential cooperation of many diverse countries, from Europe to Indonesia, to fight terrorism. Instead we started two clearly unnecessary wars that have taken at least 1 million lives, mostly children and women.
It is clear prayer alone will not meet our responsibility to create a new more just normal, and to give new meaning to the song “God Bless America” and the words “God shed His grace on thee” in “America the Beautiful.” To fulfill our county’s promise, Abraham Lincoln said, “We shall nobly save or meanly lose, the last best, hope for mankind (our country) …. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just – a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever Bless. Our children’s and humankind’s futures will be deeply affected by our choices.
Tom Casey is a member of the Interfaith Peace Network of Buffalo and an organizer with Witness Against Torture
Copyright (c)2020 Buffalo News, Edition 10/25/2020
Martin Gugino – The “Buffalo Protestor” and our Friend
Buffalo News | October 7, 2020
June 9, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Matthew Daloisio, 201-264-4424
WAT RESPONDS TO TRUMP’S MALICIOUS TWEET
Trump callously lied this morning on Twitter about Witness Against Torture’s friend and fellow activist, Martin Gugino – the 75-year-old elder who was shoved to the ground and stepped over by the Buffalo police force while protesting the death of George Floyd. WAT organizer Jeremy Varon has written the following op-ed, exposing the person Martin really is and what is truly at stake in this moment.
Martin Gugino — The “Buffalo Protestor” and our Friend
By Jeremy Varon
I too reacted with horror at seeing the video of a 75-year-old man bleeding from the head after being shoved to the ground by Buffalo police. My stomach turned tighter when I realized, “Wait, I know that guy.” And now the president has tweeted about him, spinning the grotesque falsehood that his fall and terrible injury were somehow a set up.
The man is Martin Gugino. For years we worked together in Witness Against Torture, a close-knit group dedicated to closing the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo and opposing torture. Our community is beside itself.
None of us is surprised that it was Martin meeting the police line in a posture of non-violence. Martin is gentle, principled, and undaunted. Allied with the Catholic Worker tradition, he is also deeply committed to a tapestry of causes, from fair housing to immigrant rights. Guiding his activism is belief in the sacred power of non-violent resistance to injustice. If that makes him an “agitator,” as Buffalo’s police chief slandered him, then the world needs more agitators.
The video of Martin is already part of the iconography of our times, in which every disturbing visual seems a metaphor for something bigger. Eulogizing George Floyd, Reverend Al Sharpton used the image of the policeman’s knee on his neck as a symbol for centuries of anti-black oppression.
Each video clip of police brutalizing protesters points to a much larger system of law enforcement abuse, endemic in communities of color. I saw in my friend’s vulnerability and the scene surrounding him other meanings as well, useful for understanding our troubled society.
A galling aspect of the video is how rows of officers strut indifferently past an aged man lying still and wounded, as if dead. It made me think of the tens of thousands of elder Americans needlessly lost to Covid-19 and the callous disregard shown them by the Trump administration. Its catastrophic response to the virus has entailed the seemingly willful sacrifice of our seniors to Trump’s strongman fantasy of a virile nation. Shove the old, decrepit people out of the way. Step over them. Don’t help them. They were going to die anyway.
Covid-19 is as well an infuriating story of race, with Blacks greatly more likely to die from the virus than whites. The death of Black seniors — often in poorer health and homed in under-resourced facilities — feeds that disproportion.
The shared root of the twin crisis of Covid-19 and racism is the stunning disposability of certain lives in America, no matter its capacities and ideals. The difficult lesson of the current protest movement is to think about that failure in a new way. The police have not lapsed in their mission to serve and protect. For many communities, the police are built to dominate and abuse. Our health care system has not failed to keep us healthy. It is designed to keep only some of us healthy, while lining corporate pockets.
Martin’s abuse signals as well the perverse priorities of our current government. Among the state’s solemn obligations is to protect the lives and well-being of its people. So too, it must protect the nation’s ideals. For America, the true meaning of “national security” must be the defense of life and liberty. And yet, rather than tirelessly working to mitigate the virus and safeguard our freedoms, the Trump administration has declared the urgent need to rid public space of the people exercising basic rights. Like in Buffalo, police departments have gotten the message.
My last thoughts about the video are linked to the anti-torture activism Martin and I shared. In his eulogy for George Floyd, attorney Benjamin Crump named what was done to him as “torture.” It was a striking description I had not heard before. Floyd’s lynching needs no added indignity to stir our outrage. But torture has a special sting, both because of its willful cruelty and its supposed alienness to America.
For years, we in Witness Against Torture vigorously protested what was in fact America’s systematic use of torture after 9/11. Like other human rights groups, we wanted the detained men to be subjects before the law, with basic protections and access to US courts. In our work, we did not think much about race.
Yet Black Lives Matter and other activists impressed on us an uncomfortable truth: that many of the abuses in War on Terror prisons, like solitary confinement, are routine in America’s domestic prisons, holding predominantly people of color. Access to the law, moreover, is no guarantee of justice. Sometimes the law is the problem.
We began to see torture as part of a continuum of state violence, including in its racial aspect. Almost exclusively, the victims of post-9/11 torture have been brown-skinned Muslim men, demonized with the label “terrorist.” Despite the innocence of most of the men historically held at Guantanamo, the law has been all but useless in freeing them. No one responsible for their torture has been held to legal account, including during the Obama administration. Going forward, our group sought to highlight the parallels between domestic and overseas abuses in a vast system of dehumanizing violence.
Dismantling anti-black racism is today’s urgent priority. But abuses of power crave synergies, making other causes relevant. Recall that president Trump is an avowed supporter of torture. His former lawyer John Dowd wrote a bizarre letter, tweeted out by Trump, describing the peaceful protestors cleared from Lafayette Park as “terrorists.” Trump’s own tweet branding Martin as a member of “Antifa” is of a piece with this nonsense that uses baseless fears to justify repression.
Such rhetoric makes an enemy of the American people, threatening to sic on them the tactics of the War on Terror. It seems, as yet, more a sign of desperation than strength — like heavily armored police pushing a 75-year-old man to the ground and the President lying about it. Martin will get up, god-willing, and be back on the streets. The more of us who are there, the more pitifully desperate and disarmed those opposing the tides of change will become.
Jeremy Varon – Professor of History, The New School
Photos by: Justin Norman, ShriekingTree.com