"Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path. I have sworn and have made up my mind to obey your decrees." --Ps 119
Witness Against Torture held my attention. I walked beneath the eaves of the grand buildings lining Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. “You are now passing the Department of Justice” explained Paulina, one of the guides of our procession. Since those of us performing the role of Guantánamo detainees dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, our vision was shrouded. It was a somber march from the White House to the Supreme Court building. Walking in single file along the roadside we stretched further than I could see, two blocks ahead. “One mile to go.” The march was daunting, considering my strength after nine days of fasting. Forty of us gathered that first day to once again take up the tactic used by Guantánamo detainees themselves, when the one instrument of God’s creation left to their command was their own bodies. In solidarity we fasted to hasten an end of all that Guantánamo symbolizes: terror, torture, and indefinite detention. The day had arrived for our march, Jan 11, when our walk linking each government branch meant that we had no patience for another anniversary of Guantánamo Bay Interrogation Center. Like the mood of the march it was overcast and drizzling. Our numbers remained anemic even with buses organized by Amnesty International. Still we had a motley six hundred protesters, 171 wearing jumpsuits and hoods representing the remaining Guantánamo detainees. I had forgotten the hill of capitol hill and my legs burned. “You have led a disciplined march” Carmen said “Just up the hill and to the right now.” I thought of the man whom I represented. When would his detention come to an end? On my back a white stenciled message on black cloth read “ABDUL RAZZAK CLEARED FOR RELEASE”. At the rally I recognized a woman on the stage holding a sign with a similar name. ‘He’s my client.” She said. “Yes, it’s the same man but it’s a name the government gave him. His real name is Bacuch.” An applause was coming from up ahead. It was perplexing: here at the Senate office building staff members clapped as if, what, Witness against torture had reached the finish line? In front of the Supreme Court building we became an imposing assembly filing for a redress of grievance. Then a speaker turned and pointed above my head at the hallowed words “EQUAL JUSTICE FOR ALL”. With the protest over, I wandered, ultimately headed to an interfaith service. I found myself at one of D.C.’s many sites of public mourning, in particular the memorial of internment camps during WWII for Japanese-Americans. President Reagan is quoted “Here we admit a wrong; here we recommit ourselves to Equal Justice for All.” I arrived too late for all the prayers of the interfaith service. Mingling anyway, I met a woman who can only have been said to have been inspired after hearing from Sr. Diana Ortiz, founder of Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC). It could explain her comment, “You Catholics are so progressive!”
The day following the march I was arrested at the White House motivated by words Sr. Diana had written in “The Blindfold’s Eyes” her precious memoire:
“…as a rule, members of Congress were more interested in supporting the Torture Victims Relief Act than they were in holding more hearings. The bill would allot funds to torture treatment centers.... Congress liked the idea of treatment centers. Sympathizing with victims was easy. Turning the spotlight on the abusers, especially when it involved looking at our own role in the abuse, our own complicity, was another matter. It didn’t involve feeling virtuous. It involved contention, conflict, and possibly making enemies. And Congress just wasn’t going there.” P308
Congress had just passed into law the narcotic remedy of National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It enables the Executive branch further power to hold without charge or trial suspected terrorists. Worse, under this law suspected U.S. citizens could be held without due process, indefinitely. As Senator Lindsay Graham put it, “The United States is the new battleground.” Thus, rather than admit the wrong of Guantánamo Bay and recommit to equal justice for all, Congress had just legitimized previous violations of Geneva Conventions III and IV, regarding the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians, respectively. To elude these conventions, the Bush Administration accepted the legal opinion of Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo and Robert Delahunty that stipulated a newfangled category they called “Enemy Combatants”. Despite the fact that the Geneva Conventions ruled out any further categories besides POWs and Civilians, the authors believed the War on Terror dealt with unforeseen enemy affiliations. Yet the human faces of Guantánamo reveal the harsh truth. Congress is discriminating against Muslim men.
John Tirman suggests that the War on Terror is in fact a foil for U.S. exceptionalism. The real strains of war have a pattern detectible throughout U.S. war profiteering. And like in past conflicts tributes to U.S. democracy offer a thin veneer over the conceit of racism, the myth of the frontier and psychological aversion to the deaths of others. In The Death of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars (2011) he writes: “Some scholars have described how broad indifference to violence against racial minorities is ‘socially authorized,’ and, in fact, that ‘productions of societal indifference are related to the occurrence of violence’—that is, the lack of caring is ‘produced’ in order to allow violence to proceed unimpeded.”
The passage of the NDAA is the just the product that the current Obama Administration needs in order for it to proceed in negotiations at NATO-G8 conferences in Chicago this May. Now Obama can reassure the world powers that he is endowed with extraordinary powers to lead the War on Terror. He can even purport to uphold the rule of law so subject to question in light of human rights abuses at Guantánamo, Bagram, and other CIA black sites. Through such unrepentant social authorization, a law like this further obscures the truth that Guantanamo is a legal black hole. The War on Terror is now business as usual, requiring offshore sites where U.S. jurisdiction need not apply habeas corpus protections. This suits an Administration not wanting its hypocrisy to be held accountable. Tirman continues, “Violence can be more easily allowed or even initiated in such places where there are no eyes for ‘normal’ society to see. This is literal distancing that reinforces or permits mental and moral distancing from acts of instrumental violence by the state that are often rooted in racial domination.” What the NDAA has done then, is not to provide for the common defense but instead, using denial and distancing, has allowed for further impunity and moral transgression. In what amounts to self-denial, the integrity of the Constitution has again been flouted to imperil citizens and jeopardize the American dream. The NDAA gives no check to the executive branch; it offers no corrective balance to the unconscionable indefinite detainment of men like Abdul Razzak. I therefore, mourned before the White House in public, lamenting the sinful direction taken by Congress. I used my citizenship to be a thorn in the side of this nation I care for, urging for a conscientious review of the NDAA by the Supreme Court. Thirty-seven of us stood, blocking the postcard picture view of that noble façade, placing before the American public in full view the sight of Guantánamo detainees. May their humanity be remembered and their freedom restored.
Free us from the dark night of death.
Let the light of resurrection
Dawn within our hearts
To bring us to the radiance of eternal life.
--From Saturday, Week 1, Breviary