Friday, January 4, 2013

Let peace begin with US (and with ICUJP!) by ending torture and drone warfare

As I reflect on the blessings of the New Year, I am grateful to be involved with Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (, an organization that draws together people of faith and conscience who not only care deeply about peace and justice, but are also willing to take action. We meet faithfully every Friday morning at 7 AM at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Blvd to discuss ways we can oppose violence and injustice and create a culture of peace. Our concerns for this year include opposing torture and drone warfare; educating people about the cost of war, both human and financial; combatting Islamophobia; and figuring out how to arouse in our fellow Americans the same indignation we feel at the way our country is behaving in the world.

It is mind-boggling that we have to try to convince our fellow Americans (many of them purporting to be religious) that it is wrong to torture and commit extrajudicial murder (i.e. use drones to kill people we suspect of being terrorists). Yet it is clear that many Americans see nothing wrong with torture. Indeed, the recent documentary Zero Dark Thirty, by the Oscar winning team of director-producer Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal,  not only depicts events leading up to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, it also suggests that torture was useful in extracting information leading to the discovery of Bin Laden's whereabouts. Many dispute whether torture actually obtained the needed information, including Senators Feinstein, McCain, et al. McCain (who himself was tortured by North Vietnamese) wrote a letter to the current acting CIA director asking if the CIA deliberately misled the film makers:

"The film depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees. The film then credits CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques as providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the UBL compound. While this information is incorrect, it is consistent with public statements made by former Director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, and former CIA Director Michael Hayden."

We know from Jane Myer's book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, that there has been an ongoing internal debate within the CIA about the efficacy of torture, with many (perhaps most) believing that it doesn't work. This question is the subject of a Senate inquiry, led by Diane Feinstein, that has yet to be released.

Many question the legality of torture and believe that if the US Constitution forbids "cruel and unusual punishment" of those found guilty of crimes, it certainly it forbids cruel and unusual treatment of ALL prisoners, period. (Not to mention that the US has signed treaties making torture a war crime.)

Others, such as ICUJP, question the moral basis of torture since we believe that all human beings are made in the image of God and therefore deserve to be treated with dignity.

For similar reasons, ICUJP condemns drone warfare, which has become increasingly popular with legislators since it enables Americans to kill without a minimum of risk. Indeed, there is even a Congressional "drone caucus," led by Congressmen Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), that promotes done warfare!

Medea Benjamin of Code Pink has written a fine book about drone warfare, exposing the myths and lies that make drone warfare acceptable in the eyes of many. Contrary to official propaganda, drone warfare kills many innocent people, including children; terrorizes people not engaged in war; and becomes a recruiting tool for terrorists, much like the use of torture. Extrajudicial murder, like political assassination, is not only contrary to international law, it is a moral abomination. Why should the President of the United States (or any leader) should take it upon himself to authorize the murder of people in foreign countries because of suspected ties to terrorism, without any judicial review?

I plan to take part in a ICUJP-sponsored demonstration at the LA Federal Building next week calling for the closure of Guantanamo and an end to torture (among other things). I intend to wear an orange jump suit (like the ones worn by Guantanamo prisoners) and carry a sign saying: "Hebrews 13." This is the passage in which the apostle Paul writes: "Treat those in prison as if you are in prison with them; treat those being torture as if it is being inflicted on your body." Paul walked this talk: when he was arrested and thrown in jail, he did not disclose he was a Roman citizen so he would be beaten and tortured (just like his master Jesus and others not privileged with Roman citizenship).

Early Quakers were also willing to put into practice this Pauline injunction to put themselves in the place of prisoners. When thousands of Quakers were arrested and thrown into dark, stinking dungeons to rot and die in the 16th century,  164 Quakers signed a petition in 1659  requesting to go to prison in their place:

We, in love to our brethren that lie in prisons and houses of correction and dungeons, and many in fetters and irons, and have been cruelly beat by the cruel gaolers, and many have been persecuted to death, and have died in prison, and many lie sick and weak in prison and so straw, so we, in love to our brethren, do offer up our bodies and selves to you, for to put us as lambs into the same dungeons and houses of correction....For we are willing to lay down our lives for our brethren, and to take their sufferings upon us

I won't be doing anything so courageous, but I hope to be able to imagine what it is like to be confined to Guantanamo without trial, without hope of release. And I hope that my fellow Americans will make a similar effort to put themselves into the situation of those in prison, and those being tortured, as Paul advises us to do. I certainly hope that you who read this will join us in our efforts and hold us in prayer as we seek to end torture and drone warfare.


Close Guantanamo Now!

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