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Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006 10:05 pm

Reverse course

Civil action needed to stop U.S. policy promoting torture

Untitled Document You leave home for your cousin’s wedding. En route, you are grabbed by armed men, blindfolded, shoved into a truck, and moved to a storage tank with so many others that your captors shoot into the tank so that some of you can breathe. The unlucky ones are killed by the bullets. Or were they the lucky ones? Survivors, transported from one country to another, are beaten and tortured along the way. Finally, caged at Guantánamo, they have no hope of leaving — ever. Now that Congress has changed hands, many voices will demand reversal of shortsighted federal policies. High on the priority list must be the recently signed Military Commissions Act, which gives President George W. Bush permission to creatively define torture and flaunt disregard for the Geneva Conventions by denying detainees the right to a fair hearing or trial. While many here were apparently sleeping, editorials in the Latin American press decried the serious disconnect between the United States’ espousal of freedom and liberty and the horrors of what’s actually being done in Americans’ name. Here’s a sampling, compiled by Lisa Haugaard of the Latin America Working Group (www.lawg.org):
•  From Colombia’s El Tiempo: “The approval of this horrible law opens a dangerous Pandora’s box. Countries that cooperate broadly with Washington, like Colombia, have the right to ask themselves if extraditing their citizens accused of terrorism, so that they submit to a regime like this, would not violate their own Constitution. And there are more questions. With what moral authority can the United States continue to issue certifications of good democratic conduct to other countries?”
•  From Argentina’s La Nación: “The war against terrorism must be implacable, but it cannot be used to justify actions that harm fundamental human rights. This should be true even though the terrorists themselves will not respect these rights. The respect for civil and political liberties and for human rights is the very basis of the moral superiority of civilization, separating it from terrorism and totalitarian experiences. To set these principles aside signifies giving in to terrorism, and represents a loss of moral authority which inspires us to fight for liberty, tolerance and respect for diversity.”
•  From Mexico’s El Universal: “In a race to keep control of both houses, Republicans led by President Bush fixed these rules and accepted the costs of an undeniable step backwards. The Democrats betrayed their principles to avoid campaign ads that paint them as soft. Now, they have a backward law that in no way will protect them from terrorism, but surely they hope that their candidates will be rewarded with votes inspired by fear.”
Related to these attacks on liberty and justice, SOA Watch charges that the School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion, and execution. New research confirms that the school continues to support known human-rights abusers. But support for the SOA is eroding. In January 2004, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela said that his country no longer would send troops to the SOA; earlier this year, Argentina and Uruguay announced cessation of all training there. Furthermore, 20 members of Congress who support the continuation of the SOA lost their seats on Nov. 7. Now enough people have awakened to take action. Friday-Sunday, Nov. 17-19, thousands of people, including activists from Springfield, will converge in Fort Benning, Ga., to rally and hold vigils against torture and in support of closing the SOA. In the capital city, you can support that effort at a solidarity vigil at noon Saturday, Nov. 18, outside the Federal Building, Sixth and Monroe streets. And at 7 p.m. Dec. 13, at Lincoln Library, Seventh Street and Capitol Avenue, Reel Politics will present Outlaw, a film promoted by Amnesty International that tells the stories of victims of torture and extraordinary rendition.
The first “war on terrorism” prisoners arrived at Guantánamo on Jan. 11, 2002. Matt Daloisio, a national organizer for Witness Against Torture, says that the fifth anniversary should be a time for civil action to intensify: “Jan. 11, 2007 should be a day of national shame but can also be an opportunity to for citizens to insist on the reintegration of law and justice.”
Wake up. Speak out.

Diane Lopez Hughes is a local peace activist and Pax Christi Springfield convenor.
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