Guantanamo vs. The America I Believe In

I never thought that America would stand for torture or locking people away forever without charge or trial.  Is this the America you believe in?  Is this what you want the USA to be?  How could we allow this to happen?

Friday, here in Seattle and around the world, Amnesty International and others held protests to calling on America to close Guantanamo on it’s 6th Anniversary.  We held a waterboarding demonstration here in Seattle.  It sickened me that our country is responsible for this and all the other horrible images of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and all the other “black sites” and places where we practice “extraordinary rendition” to let others torture in our name.  It sickens me that demonstrations needed to be held throughout the world for somthing my country is doing.  Doing openly. 

I’m not naive.  I know our country has trained torturers at the School of Americas and sometimes secretly tortured.  It was something that was denied.  Threre used to be shame, or at least fear of the American public knowing.

When we started our abolish torture campaign for Amnesty International in April 2001, I remember thinking to myself, at the Annual General Meeting in Nashville, this had to be our least controversial position in the U.S. .  Everyone is against torture.

Was I that naive?

How quickly it turned. In a way I understand it, yet I find it hard to comprehend how quickly some of the American public was willing to allow our government following September 11 to turn us into something so un-American, and others to just go along or not pay attention. 

“The Ticking Time Bomb” scenario.  How torture is supposed to make us safer.  The reality is that torture is highly ineffective in getting any usable information.  True, you can get nearly anybody to confess to anything.  You could get almost any of us to confess to anything, and give the details of our imaginary plans.   It’s ineffective, and just plain wrong.  It takes away our humanity, as well as the victims’. 

I feel so strongly against torture from hearing the reality, the torture survivors’ stories, not the fantasy of some television show justifying it.  Listen to the stories of people like Sister Dianna Ortiz, an American nun tortured in Guatemala; or Tibetan Monk Palden Gyatso who was imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for 33 years.  He used to bring examples of the torture tools used against him, but flying in the post 9/11 world that got to be too difficult so he just brings photos.  These people will never be the same.  You never get over torture.  Are we the kind of country that wants to stand for this kind of cruelty?  Is that really a way to honor the dead from the terrorist attacks?  We become like the terrorists?

Then the suspension of habeas corupus and the creation of Guantanamo an other places supposedly beyond the rule of us law.  The US Court of appeals just ruled that Guantanamo detainees aren’t persons under US law because they are aliens held outside the U.S.  So here we are in the 21st century gone back to the logic of the days of slavery. 

Military leaders have spoken out against Guantanamo and the suspension of habeas corpus:


Let’s show the world a face of openness and what a democratic system can do. That’s why I want to see Guantanamo closed. It’s so harmful to what we stand for. We literally bang ourselves in the head by having that place. What are we doing this to ourselves for? Because we’re worried about the 380 guys there? Bring them here! Give them lawyers and habeas corpus. We can deal with them. We’re paying a price when the rest of the world sees an America that seems to be afraid and is not the America they remember.  

Colin Powell



In discarding habeas corpus, we are not nibbling around the edges of our valued civil liberties; we are throwing overboard one of our core principles—the right to challenge detention for life without charge.


Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter, USN (Ret.)

Think about it.  Is a country where someone can be thrown into prison for life without charge the America you believe in?  Is it the America you want?

Check out the fact sheet about Guananamo.  Approximately 430 prisoners at Guantanamo, only 10 have been charged with any crime.  This is not some new position Amnesty has taken.   Over the years of writing letters for Amnesty we have often called on prisoners to be released or charged with a crime (and then to have a fair trial).  Some other statistics: 55% of detainees not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States, 40% have no definitive connection with Al Qaeda, 18% have no definitive connection to Al Qaeda or the Taliban, and only 8% are characterized as Al Qaeda fighters. 

Most of them have not been captured by American forces, with 86% arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance at a time when the U.S. was offering large bounties for the capure of suspected enemies. 

Are these detainees really the “worst of the worst”?  Why can’t they have fair trials to determine whether or not they’re guilty of something?  Would we want to deal with domestic terrorism the same way?  Detain people who might have the same attitudes toward the U.S. government as Timothy McVeigh, or who maybe just look the same way (clean cut, European-American), or whose neighbors turned them into you for a huge bounty?

That can’t happen here, or can it?  If we continue to allow this slide of civil liberties, it can only get worse.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the above scenario is so far fetched anymore. 

Amnesty a pledge for “The America I Believe In”:

The America I Believe In doesn’t torture people or use cruel, inhumane treatment…doesn’t hold people without charge, without fair trials, without hope, and without end…doesn’t kidnap people off the street and ship them to nations known for their brutality…doesn’t condone prisoner abuse and excuse high-ranking government officials from responsibility for that abuse…doesn’t justify the use of secret prisons…and does not rob people of their basic dignity.

I’m joining with Amnesty International USA to restore The America I Believe In. The America I Believe In leads the world on human rights.

I’m committing to tell friends and family about the campaign. I’m also committing to contacting my members of Congress and my local media to tell them that the America I Believe In defends human rights and justice for all.

That’s the America I Believe In. How about you?


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