Tuesday, November 24, 2009

John Schaberg -- Freedom from Torture (from his presentation given to the congregation at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, July 10, 2005)

I want to start this by stating that although the committee has read and “signed off” on the remarks I’m about to make – these views are my own. I don’t pretend to speak for the Faith in Action Committee nor do I pretend to speak for you, the Emerson congregation. I can speak for the position of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee on this issue. They state…

"The right to be free of torture is one of the most fundamental human rights recognized by the global community today. In the United States, torture has been deemed abhorrent to our values and legal principles since the framing of the constitution. Patrick Henry himself spoke passionately on the subject, insisting that the rack and the screw were barbaric practices which must be left behind in the Old World, “or we are lost and undone.” It is the firm position of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee that any government sponsored acts of torture under any circumstances are profoundly immoral, unjustified, and illegal. This includes any such actions by the United States. We are committed to bringing such practices to an end."

So let’s talk about the actions of the United States with regard to torture. I don’t want to talk about whatever horrors you may have seen on television – I want to talk about our policy.

Being a true believer in the idea that is America, I believe in the rule of law. Denying anyone the right of due process either in our federal system, or in international courts would be, in my opinion, a barbarous practice. After all, isn’t that what we mean by freedom? When we deny anyone those rights, don’t we put ourselves in danger? Or, to steal a line from a famous play about Sir Thomas Moore – "Yes - I would give even the devil the benefit of law for my own safety’s sake."

So what is the US policy on this fundamental issue? During a Senate hearing, when pressed by Sen. Biden on how long an enemy combatant might be held without trial, J. Michael Wiggins, a deputy associate attorney general said, "It's our position that, legally, they can be held in perpetuity."

In other words, the US policy on detention of enemy combatants in the war on terror, a war that could take generations to win, is to lock ‘em up and throw away the key. Think Edmond Dantes and the Chateau D'If only with better food. OK – so we are holding these “really bad guys”, as the president would say, in perpetuity. Do we torture them? In a Senate floor speech on June 14th, Senator Durbin cited an FBI report describing Guantanamo Bay prisoners chained to the floor in the fetal position without food or water and sometimes in extreme temperatures. Sounds like torture to me – but we have no “official” policy that would explain such actions. Our official policy would not allow this to happen. So, to illuminate what I think our real policy is, I will quote David Brooks, of the New York Times, who spoke on the (PBS) NewsHour on Friday, June 17th. Brooks defended the position of those who feel Guantanamo is necessary. He said…

“The danger caused by the people in Guantanamo is so powerful that to be honest, they (the government) are willing to tolerate things that they find distasteful. They're willing to say when you're fighting against awful people sometimes people on your side — it should never be official policy — but people on your side will do awful things and you should police it but, to be honest, that's just part of war.”

Now I read, respect, and sometimes even agree with David Brooks. And I think he has some pretty good juice in Washington and I don’t think he would say such a thing on national television if it were not true.

So our policy is to lock ‘em up, throw away the key and, in some cases, torture them.

I am speaking to you today because we on the Faith in Action Committee feel this is important enough for us to directly ask your help in this matter. We live in a representative democracy. By that I mean that there are people in Washington executing these policies in your name. In 20 years, I believe that this country will be as ashamed of these acts as we all now are of the Japanese internment in World War Two. As a member of this congregation, I ask you to go home today and write down how you feel about this issue. You may agree with me, you may completely disagree with me – but please write it down and send copies of your opinion to your elected representatives. In twenty years, be able to look back on this time and this action and be able to say you did something about it.

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