(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
Reading this put me in mind of a recent Kairos meeting during which we reflected on WAT’s presence in D.C. and on torture and secrecy and neglect; on Guantanamo’s continuing presence and imprisonment even of those who have been cleared for release. Mary Ellen offered the observation that those who maintain a position of enmity or at best (worst?) disregard for these prisoners seem to have forgotten that these incarcerated men have a soul. And not only these men, but also the women and children whose bodies are dismembered and burned by our bombs—unobserved by their assailants—for those whose hearts are broken, for those lives that are snatched before they have had a chance to cry, for those who have lived so long with injustice that they have forgotten how to cry. Have those of us who allow these things, who at time even contribute to these things, forgotten that they have a soul? What object has, in our own souls, superseded the value of these men, these women, these human persons that causes us to view them—instead of as brother, sister, self—as mere obstacles that must be overcome, or ignored?
Aside: At the beginning of this month I partially participated in the 12-day fast for the closure of Guantanamo (among other things). My reflections on this have been posted in an unpolished format on my personal blog. For those who are interested, those reflections can be found here.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Perhaps it is only in hunger we truly learn to appreciate the magnificence of creation's sustenance for us. Food is truly a gift - the earth's fertility produces what we cannot. Another act of the incarnation. For God so loved the world - creation, redemption, and sustentation. Is our fast, then, a shunning of the holy gift of life? By denying ourselves food do we deny ourselves God? The overwhelming abundance of the incarnation - the whole paschal mystery of a single life, a seed, the entire universe - is captured in a grain of wheat. To fast is to hope, that some new grace may come from the dying we are trying to live. And so I turn to another type of hunger - one that stirs the imagination, breaks the heart, compels one to action: the self-imposed hunger.
Of the 198 men remaining at Guantánamo, there are close to fifty people on a hunger strike protesting their indefinite incarceration. At any given time, we are told, about 20 of those men are on a critical list to be forced-fed through the nose. Imagine for a moment, what it must be like to be force-fed. The man being force fed is strapped to a chair. Twice a day, a tube the size of a pinky is shoved up the nose, through the esophagus, into the stomach and Ensure is pumped. According to court documents reviewed by the Associated Press in October 2008, Guantánamo guards use pepper spray, shackles and brute force to drag Ahmed Zaid Zuhair to a restraint chair for his twice-daily dose of a liquid nutrition mix force-fed through his nose. Without anaesthetic or sedative, Zuhair was restrained by two soldiers, one holding his chin while the other pulled him back by his hair, and a medical staff member violently forced the tube in his nose and down his dry throat. Liquid food and nutrients were then forced into his body, against his will and without his consent. Yousef al-Shehri said this of his force-feeding during his the first hunger strike in 2005: "When I vomited up blood, the soldiers mocked and cursed me, and taunted me with statements like “look what your religion has brought you.” Even their protest is taken away from them. Some of the hunger strikers have been refusing to eat for five years. Their bodies are decimated, kept alive only by a government prerogative and a nutritional drink. "Medical ethics" says lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, "tell us that you cannot force-feed a mentally competent hunger striker, as he has the right to complain about his mistreatment, even unto death.”
Scott Horton notes on the illegality and continuation of the force-feeding: "The techniques do not comply with the international standards for actual force-feeding, established in the World Medical Association’s Malta Declaration of 1991. Instead they have a darker and more distressing progeny. From the use of restraint chairs down to the specific brand of commercial diet supplement used by the doctors, the force-feeding techniques now in use at Guantánamo replicate the methods used by the CIA at black sites under Bush. At the black sites, those methods were not part of any medical regime. Instead, they were a part of a carefully designed torture regime, the very same regime that Obama claims to have abolished in his first executive order."
I cannot imagine such a magnitude of injustice perpetrated against me to refuse food to the point of death. When life becomes so miserable, that the conditions around me are so degrading, torturous and inhumane, that I choose to protest with the only freedom I have left - the freedom to choose to eat - humanity has ceased to be human. And so, as my own fast from food draws to an end, my heart grows in empathy for the men, using the only resistance they have left to protest - a literal giving of their lives. And it is with a mindful humility of the ineptitude of my own modest actions and the humiliation I bear that such men seek to starve themselves in the name of war for freedom that I recall the words of Isaiah: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" The hunger of the men in Guantánamo reveals to me the true brokenness of our human community - and the urgent need to feed the hungry, the imagination, the witness, the resistance, and our common humanity.
There are close to 200 men remaining in prison in Guantánamo. Most of them have been there between five and seven years. We know who they are and who they are not. Some of them, to be sure, are, what we like to call by their associations to the Taliban and al Qaeda, "terrorists." Certainly some have participated in violent, oppressive acts that have taken the life and harmed others in their own countries or those who occupy their homes. Nonetheless we have deemed them enemies and are comfortable with where they are. Their presence at GITMO is still shameful for American justice and is more likely, as some analysts suggests, doing more harm than good in ending terrorism. Whatever the case, each person should be tried in U.S. federal courts and proceed from there.
But it is the overwhelming majority of the remaining men that we should recoil in moral and physical disgust - the innocent and the indefinitely detained. Around 103 men have been cleared for release by the Obama Administration (some of these men are doubly cleared because the Bush people cleared them as well). The other 55 men who do not seem to be facing any sort of criminal charges rest in the great unknowing of vigilante justice. The Administration does not see them fit for federal prosecution, certainly because of spurious evidence elicited through torture, but argues they are too dangerous to release. Whatever the argument for continued imprisonment of either of these two groups of men, it lacks solid legal foundation, betrays Constitutional and international rights, and perhaps most disturbing of all, systematizes inhumane, arbitrary, and torturous treatment of human beings.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
by Jerica Arents
January 24, 2010
In the absence of an intact corpse, families often gather for memorial services rather than funerals.
The families of Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani – three Guantánamo prisoners whose earlier purported suicides were declared “asymmetrical warfare” by the Bush Justice Administration – received Salah’s, Mani’s and Yasser’s broken and lifeless bodies. Previously the families had gathered to wake their loved ones, after authorities in their countries informed them that their sons had died in Guantánamo.
Following three grueling years of unanswered questions and heartache, Scott Horton’s recent article in Harper’s Magazine has revealed that the deaths of these three detainees may not, in fact, have been due to suicide, but to having been tortured to death in U.S. custody1.
Compelled to act by this tragic news, fourteen members of the Witness Against Torture fast (www.witnesstorture.org) were arrested in the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, January 21st for holding a memorial service in remembrance of the three men. The activists paid respect to the families of the dead in the very room where U.S. presidents are historically waked, adorning a makeshift burial shroud with handfuls of rose petals and filling the enormous Rotunda with story and song.
The Yemeni and two Saudis have stories much like many of the other men who were (and still are) indefinitely detained at Guantánamo; snatched and handed over to the United States for bounty money, 16-year-old Al-Zahrani spent the last five years of his short life in custody. Al-Utaybi, orphaned in his youth and described as “a peaceful person who would harm no one”, was intercepted after traveling to a conflict zone that straddles Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to do humanitarian work. The U.S. Justice Department has no evidence linking Al-Salami to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Two of them had already been cleared for release by the U.S. government; it was determined that they could not be held any longer, and they were flagged, finally, for return to their home countries. All three were on hunger strike to challenge their illegal detention.
Although I had never met Salah, Mani, or Yasser, I could imagine the three Muslim men hauled out of their tiny cells on that dreadful night in June 2006. I could see their eyes fill with terror as their head, arms and legs were strapped to their chairs, writhing in pain as military personnel gouged at their eyes and bent back their fingers. Struggling for air as rags were forced down their throats, and then gasping, panicked, hooded and silenced, they finally left this world. The bodies of the three men were returned to their families mangled and beaten, and, interestingly enough, in pieces. The U.S. government has refused to provide the families with their loved ones’ throats.
We entered the Capitol last Thursday – the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration - with hopes that this small act of remembrance would commemorate the lives of those we had never met. In the very spot every U.S. President has been laid before burial, we shared the lives and mourned the untimely deaths of our three Muslim brothers, tortured and killed on behalf of our “freedom” and in accordance with our country’s “justice”.
As I moved to lay our banner over the spot that marked the middle of the Rotunda, twenty-eight other activists, clad in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, were refusing to move from the steps outside the Capitol building. Our group inside formed a semicircle, and each of us adopted the name of an imprisoned detainee.
If someone had told me a year ago that I would find myself in Washington D.C.’s Central Cell Block, providing the police with only the name of a Guantánamo detainee and not my own, I would have been struck with disbelief. This courage was found through the experience of a twelve-day fast in the midst of a deeply connected and inclusive community. I have wondered how the prisoners who endure torture, indefinite detention and the loss of beloved friends at Guantánamo, Bagram, or any of the other U.S. secret prisons around our world find the courage and will to continue living. From what I’ve read and heard, they turn to community, faith and an abiding hope to be reunited with loved ones.
Remembering the victims and their families requires that we look in the mirror and see ourselves as we are seen by them. When we see what we have become, we may be prompted to ask ourselves, “If not us, who? And if not now, when?”
Jerica Arents (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She is a graduate student at Loyola University Chicago and a member of Kairos Chicago.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Jesus preferred an adulterous woman to a crowd of hypocrites. He said “Let he who has not sinned be the first to cast the stone” (Jn 8: 7). We who fast have taken our stand on the side of prisoners, a controversial choice. As we end this fast today, we recall the story from a position of weakness, one that some might confuse with submission. We do look down with shame, but we have reason not to doubt.
To begin with, we wonder about the words that Jesus drew in the ground. It was like a line in the sand that he warned them not to cross. With our eyes on the signs of the times, that line looks like it has been trampled over, just as Guantánamo detention facilities continue to operate, past the line drawn by President Obama. Clearly we would not be the first to cast a stone today, but what kind of stone is a fast anyhow?
Consider the cubic zirconia, a commonly sold, imitation diamond. Some have been fooled that the ring on their finger is a genuine diamond. When they discover the truth of the ersatz stone, they sense a greater betrayal in their disingenuous lover. Can the lover ever be true? This disillusionment pains us on the occasion when by executive order Guantánamo Bay’s detention facilities should have been closed (1).
Similarly false, a Judas Priest refers to an unfaithful servant of God, someone who acts like the Judas who sold out his master, Jesus. Many have sold their principles in favor of privileges. At first they may have a false sense of security, as Judas had when he was persuaded by the High priests of his good intentions. But when they see the devastating impact of their decisions on others, they sense in themselves the enemy of the good. What they once understood, loved, and what they held dear, they have witlessly destroyed. Before they even come to their senses, the damage is done. They have given up their ultimate treasure; and when learning that they have a following of fallen angels, they despair. The theme of God's punishment of the vainglorious is common in the prophetic tradition of Israel.
The Book of Samuel tells the story of two Judas Priests, Hophni and Phinehas. These two sons of the Prophet Eli abuse their status as priests. They intimidate people to let them use meat offered in sacrifice for their own purpose, and subjecting women for sexual advantage. They ignore the rebuke of their father, who receives a message of doom from God. It comes at last after Hophni and Phinehas rally the people to war against the Philistines, leading them into battle with the Ark of the Covenant. The defeat is absolute. The Philistines romp, and among the dead of Israel’s Army lie the sterile bodies Hophni and Phinehas. Even worse, the Ark is captured. Why wasn’t God the defender of his people? Was their God false or just a powerless God? Had God abandoned Israel? No, God was betrayed by the self-righteous vainglory of Hophni and Phinehas. God would prove his goodness through his servant David.
The story of David’s victory over Goliath gives us fasters great hope. First, in the image of him as a shepherd we can see that God will bless our endeavor to protect a sheeply people from harm. The wolves who we must defend against are the policies of death. We would do anything to save the lost sheep who have been made into prison guards at Guantánamo. We take ourselves as an offering just as David went to Saul convinced he was worthy to be the champion of his people. Second, just as he took his sling, we take our weapon of nonviolence. The sling was a weapon of specialization appropriate in its own way against a far off adversary, just as our fast aims effectively at the far off lost. Third, we should not underestimate ourselves, for like David whose youth was questioned, age is no indication of our might. Otherwise, why would Saul offer David his armor if the youth hadn’t the strength of body to fill it? But unlike Saul who trusted in his sword, we trust in God, our rock, to pierce our enemy’s skull.
Finally, this fast is action taken in love. Jesus in the model of our fast, especially in the resistance he showed to comfort, privilege and supremacy. The depiction of him in the Gospel of Matthew shows us the champion with purity of will. When Satan tempts him to turn stone into bread he says “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). Here, Matthew seems to want us to recognize the Davidic quality of Jesus’ reliance upon God. Ultimately, the fast has positioned us in a place to recognize the same. We have to see that our eyes fail us, that we cannot bring about victory with any other power of will than that of God. A fast of this kind has signified our admittance that God alone brings justice. We would rather admit defeat now, than blindly deceive ourselves as Hophni and Phinehas did; it is better to concede that U.S. imperialism defeats us, than to submit to vainglory in a fast only for results. We have not fasted to prove ourselves worthwhile and serious. Credibility comes when we champion not ourselves, but God.
So if we are sure that the rock in our hands is God, then we have a rosetta stone to interpret Jesus' protection of the adulterous woman. We remember the scene as a face off between Jesus and a crowd about to stone her. We find ourselves in the crowd, among a self-righteous people. We want to be like Jesus, but how? With the two hands of nonviolence:
With our weak hand, we must pity the crowd around us. Before we get to where Jesus stands, we have to see the place we have in the crowd. From the challenge Jesus makes to us, our own simplicity and sinfulness should be obvious. Fortunately, this helps us recognize the same in the crowd.
With our strong hand, we must challenge them. God's promise of victory comes on the condition that we enter the fray. Like David, we have to know that we only represent the cause of God's mercy. This is like David's strategic choice of weaponry, of no use in hand to hand combat, but nonetheless effective in the right hand. With our pitiable offering, we who fast nonviolently trust in the tactic of love to persuade.
One hand takes away, the other restores. We withhold cooperation, we delegitimize suffering, yet we befriend the enemy. Put together like hands in prayer, this fast can place us with Jesus in victory. As Jesus taught us in signs of compassion, healing, and even temperament, a prince of peace uses simple and sinful people, adulterous and defiled, to reveal the sin of a self-righteous community. Acknowledging ourselves as complicit in this sin purifies the Judas priest in each of us for the genuine activity our baptism made us for. In fasting we practice Jesus’ temperament; his was a patience accrued through his treasure of God; so the fast is our way to spend ourselves to afford something greater than illusory justice. So even as we challenge President Obama’s broken promise, our fast calls him to glorify God; it gives priestly witness that God’s promise is fulfilled. It is no cubic zirconia offered by a disingenuous lover, but the promise of true solidarity.
1. “Sec. 3. Closure of Detention Facilities at Guantánamo. The detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order. If any individuals covered by this order remain in detention at Guantánamo at the time of closure of those detention facilities, they shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/closureofguantanamodetentionfacilities/
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
We gather this morning, as a community mindful of the gift and privilege to be together in our fast and prayer. We are mindful of the reason of our gathering - to witness against the dark reality that keeps our brothers at Guantanamo from joining this circle. They are not welcome here, we are told, that they are a threat to our security and freedom. And yet, in the silence of our fast and the solemnity of our witness we know, somewhere deep in our beings, that this is not true. All are welcome in this circle.
In today's readings, the Gospel of John tells us the story of Jesus' first miracle: the turning of water into wine at the Wedding in Cana. Allow me to share my own thoughts on what we can draw from Jesus and his presence and actions in Cana. The story parallels the synoptic gospels' parable of old wine being poured into new wine skins. Most scholars read this to be Jesus announcing a new paradigm - what that paradigm exactly looks like has been at the heart of Christianity, but not without contention. In announcing a new paradigm (new wine in the stone jars which held water for the Jewish purification rites), we are being told that our old ways of being will not or cannot conform to the new needs and demands of our context. Our old experiences do not suffice for understanding our new reality. A new way of thinking, seeing, being is demanded of us. So it is here with Jesus.
In John' Gospel, before Cana, Jesus is not yet the public figure who later garners large crowds of followers. At the wedding, when the wine has run out, Jesus' mother Mary approaches her son telling him so. His response is a troubling one to comprehend: "Woman, why do you bother me? My time has not yet come." Why such a callous response, especially to one's mother? It is clear that Jesus certainly has felt a call that, in due time, will reveal who he is - or what it is he is to do. But this time is not now. Maybe, in the depths of his own human soul, there resided some fear for what the future might hold in store for him. Perhaps the fear that so many of the Hebrew Prophets suffered, almost to the point of inaction and insanity gripped Jesus as well. How many times have we failed to do the right thing - out of a sense of the false self, the deceived ego - by justifying it to ourselves (or others telling us) "it is not the right time." How often we have heard that from the politicians and pundits.
Whatever the reason, for Mary felt the time for Jesus to publicly act was now. "Do whatever he tells you," She tells the head servers to defer to Jesus by "doing whatever He tells you." No doubt Mary's persistence plays a role in Jesus' first public miracle. Imagine, for a moment, had Jesus' mother not been there and played the role she did. Would Jesus have acted like he did? If Jesus is in anyway like us, and he most surely is, many of us find it easier to do the right thing when the are others with us. Jesus needed someone to give him that final push into his public ministry. It's a funny thing, the man Christians call the Son of God and the man Muslim know to be a great prophet needed his mother to tell him what to do. Some things never change. Without his mother, without someone else, without community creating the opportunity for acting his way into being - would Jesus still be saying "his time has not yet come?"
And finally, the scene of this miracle: A wedding, a celebration. The wedding is on the brink of turning sour without the wine. One cannot underestimate the tragic consequences of such an event. It would bring great shame to the hosts, the bridegroom and family, if the guests are not adequately served. But the celebration is saved from such consequences. I'm struck by two things about the wedding as a site for Jesus' announcement of himself and message via the water into wine. The first is about weddings. They mark the beginning of a new life, the two becoming one. When people are married, their lives fundamentally change. It becomes a new way of being, thinking, of doing. It is a way of intimate love for another and the deepest concern and care for another's well-being. This is the message of Jesus. His time on earth, if nothing else, can be said to be one of teaching and living - even up to his death - a radical dependence on love for God and others. How appropriate for such public ministry to begin at a wedding.
The second thought from this scene of celebration has very much to do with us today. At a time when even weddings are under attack, quite literally celebration are under the eye and fire of drones and bombing - a time of much sadness and tragedy - our sisters and brothers, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, still find the courage to risk such celebration!
As we continue our resistance, mindful of the courage and joy in the midst of tremendous, unspeakable suffering, how do we recognize that our time has come to announce a new way of being - a marriage between enemies and friends becoming one common humanity. Our announcement of a "new society in the shell of the old," as Peter Maurin fondly reiterated, is one that is so old and simple that it is in fact new. It is a world without torture. It is a world of radical love and service and resistance to injustice. It is a world where the creative power of imagination and nonviolence calls us oneness. So, dear friends, I am left wondering: How do we announce such a profound paradigm, rooted in love and compassion - knowing the fate of the prophets before us and the cross that looms in the distance - and witness against torture in a celebratory way?
Friday, January 15, 2010
My Fast and Prayer
As I enter deeper into the fast I am finding the time more prayerful. As my initial prideful adrenaline declines I am realizing how little this fast is about me and my strength. With a lower amount of energy I am forced to move slower and be more intentional about things. It is frustrating and peaceful at the same time. I have to live in my weakness, be human and trust in God. It is humbling and purifying. I pray in this state for the men at Guantanamo, for those suffering in Haiti, for an end to war, and for the unborn. God is active in the world and I pray that this fast and actions involved may give us and all people more courage to help bring this world into harmony with the Divine.
Below is a prayer that I wrote at the beginning of my fast to focus myself and my intentions. I have found it very useful and wanted to share it with all of you.
God of love, I thank you for my life and the opportunity to be a part of this fast.
I ask you to place me with your son, who is fasting in the deserts of this world.
Please grant me through this fast the graces of a greater trust in your action in the world, a greater humility in my own action, and an increase in courage to continue laboring with you. May my hunger bring me to a deeper awareness of all those who suffer in our world.
I also ask for a conversion of the hearts of our leaders and of all people. I pray especially for President Obama, that he have the courage to bring an end to torture/unjust imprisonment, to war, and to abortion. Move him Lord and inspire others to join in this struggle.
Jesus, be my companion in this fast. I enter into this unknowing. Help me in my weakness and surprise me with your life.
Mary, Our Mother & Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for me and all those who are fasting at this time.
Grant all of these prayers in your love,
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
January 12, 2010
In a number of theology classes, we talked about the unity of all beings and things on the earth. We are all interconnected. As I have sat with this over the last few years, the more I have come to believe this (from scientific, theological, social perspective, etc.). Today our group did a Ghost Walk in the Senate Hart building. A number of us walked in orange jumpsuits with names of prisoners that have been cleared for release on our backs. We each walked separately on a different floor and wing in a very prayerful and solemn way. We went to “lobby” those in the Senate to help remember these men that all have been “cleared for release” and are ready to leave but remain in Guantanamo. We put the jumpsuits on once in the building and after about 20 minutes a police officer came running up to me (very out of breath) as I walking at a pace….very slowly and deliberately. He respectful asked how I was doing and what I was doing here and then for my ID. Followed by a number of investigative questions. We weren’t doing anything illegal in our action but they were checking on us. After I was allowed to continue walking, the next guy up at the capital police wanted to talk to me. As I told him that I was with Witness Against Torture and that I was not protesting or demonstrating and that I was lobbying to help follow the executive order to close and end torture and that we were completely nonviolent….he said “Oh Witness Against Torture…oh yeah. I know you guys. I’ve seen you for a number of years.” They let me continue to walk and our whole group. Apparently, I was one of the few who got this much attention from the police. To be faced with this interrogation and questioning does make me feel uncomfortable. I want there to be harmony and don’t like lying or not telling the whole truth. So it is difficult to engage with the police because my experience in past actions is that some of the officers have lied and significantly misled us. As I went through this relatively brief questioning (which Jerica overheard and described as "tough"), I was relieved to by able to continue walking. It took a while to get re-centered. I imagined what it would be like to face continued pressure and questioning like the men in Guantanamo, Bagram, and the many other prisons. I got just a little taste of it. But it moved me. Then I thought of the horrific abuse on top of that. I don't know how people could withstand this. I felt this deeper "interconnectedness" (that I mentioned above) because of this experience. Tasting it in a tiny way made me feel this connection. The binding and connection of my heart, life, and soul to theirs. We are all one. We are all interconnected. This leads me a step further. Thich Nhat Hanh writes about an exercise of saying "You are me. And I am you." This can helps us grow in our awareness in our interconnectedness. And even further that we are literally all one. So as I sit with the fact that I am the man at Guantanamo (Sayf Bin Abdallah) and he is me....what does this tell me? If I am then being held and mistreated in Guantanamo, what must I do? If I am yearning to be reconnected with my family and wife and kids after years and years apart, what does this mean? I don't have the answers. But I think it calls for a deeper and more intimate journey with this issue. I am hopeful and confident that we will be exploring and walking down that path this week.
Visit witnesstorture.org for daily updates from Washington.