It’s Official: US Abuse at Gitmo

While the images of U.S. solid­ers tor­tur­ing iraqi pris­on­ers at Al Grahib Prison in Badg­dad have been broad­cast around the world, US offi­cials have fre­quent­ly reas­sured us that con­di­tions at the U.S. deten­tion camp in Guan­ta­mano Bay, Cuba, were accept­able and in accord with the Gene­va Convention’s rules for treat­ment of pris­on­ers. As proof the Pen­ta­gon and Bush Admin­is­tra­tion have fre­quent­ly cit­ed the fact that the Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross reg­u­lar­ly inspects prison con­di­tions at Guan­ta­mano. They for­got to tell us what they’ve seen.
A con­fi­den­tial report pre­pared by the Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross this sum­mer found that con­di­tions at Guan­ta­mano Bay were “tan­ta­mount to tor­ture.” Strong words from a cau­tious inter­na­tion­al body. Because of the way the IRC works, its reports are not made avail­able to the pub­lic but instead pre­sent­ed to the accused gov­ern­ment, in the hope that they will cor­rect their prac­tices. In pred­i­ca­ble fash­ion, the Bush Admin­stra­tion pri­vate­ly denied any wrong­do­ing and kept the IRC find­ings secret. In a dis­play of incred­i­ble audac­i­ty it then defend­ed itself _from oth­er accu­sa­tions of torture_ by cit­ing the IRC’s pres­ence at Guan­tanamo, con­ve­nient­ly omit­ting the IRC’s strongly-worded crit­i­cisms. Amaz­ing really.
The IRC report is still secret. We only know of it second-hand, from a memo obtained by the _Times_ that quotes from some of its find­ings (“Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantanamo“, Nov 29). What kind of stuff is going on there? The _Times_ recent­ly inter­viewed British pris­on­ers who had been detained in Afghanistan and iraq and sent to Guan­tanamo Bay. Here’s one story:
bq. One one reg­u­lar pro­ce­dure was mak­ing unco­op­er­a­tive pris­on­ers strip to their under­wear, hav­ing them sit in a chair while shack­led hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forc­ing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loud­speak­ers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to max­i­mum levels.
It’s not nee­dles under fin­ger­nails or elec­trodes to the pri­vates, but it is indeed “tan­ta­mount to tor­ture.” While it was hard to believe these pris­on­ers’ sto­ries when they were first pub­lished a few months ago, they become much more cred­i­ble in light of the IRC conclusions.
We still don’t know about what’s hap­pen­ing in the camp. The Bush Admin­is­tra­tion has the pow­er, not to men­tion the duty, to imme­di­ate­ly release Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross reports. But the Unit­ed States has cho­sen to sup­press the report. No tor­tur­ing gov­ern­ment has ever admit­ted to its actions. Sad­dam Hus­sein him­self denied wrong­do­ing when _he_ ran the Al Grahib prison and used it for tor­ture. We rely on bod­ies like the Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross to keep us honest.
There are those who defend tor­ture by appeal­ing to our fears, many of which are indeed ground­ed in real­i­ty. We’re at war, the ene­my insur­gents are play­ing dirty, Osama bin Laden broke any sort of inter­na­tion­al con­ven­tions when he sent air­lin­ers into the World Trade Cen­ter. Very true. But the Unit­ed States has a mis­sion. I believe in the ide­al­is­tic notion that we should be a bea­con to the world. We should always strive for the moral high ground and invite the world com­mu­ni­ty to join us. We haven’t been doing that late­ly. Yes it’s eas­i­er to fol­low the lead of some­one like Sad­dam Hus­sein and just tor­ture any­one we sus­pect of plot­ting against us. But do we real­ly want him as our role model?

What makes a Quaker meeting house?

An Atlantic County Methodist Episcopal Meetinghouse. Picture from NJChurschape
An Atlantic Coun­ty Methodist Epis­co­pal Meet­ing­house. Pic­ture from NJChurschape

One of my favorite sites is the amaz­ing NJChurch​scape​.com—that’s New Jer­sey Church­scapes, put togeth­er large­ly through the efforts of Frank L. Greenagel. It’s a true labor of love, a cat­a­loging of church and meet­ing archi­tec­ture in New Jer­sey. It has beau­ti­ful pho­tos, great sto­ries, read­able essays on archi­tec­ture. In a state where every­thing below Cher­ry Hill often gets ignored, South Jer­sey gets good cov­er­age and there’s a lot from the old Quak­er colony of West Jer­sey. This month’s fea­ture is on the meet­ing­house, a build­ing of endear­ing sim­plic­i­ty and it rais­es a lot of ques­tions for me of how we relate to our church buildings.

We modern-day Friends tend to think of the term meet­ing­house as unique­ly ours, but go back in his­to­ry and you’ll find just about every­one using the term to describe the non-showy build­ings they erect­ed for reli­gious ser­vices and town life. Dri­ve around South Jer­sey and you’ll see old Methodist church­es that start­ed out life as meet­ing­hous­es and look sur­pris­ing­ly Quak­er. Greenagel looks at the style and then asks:

At what point does a struc­ture cease being a meet­ing­house and become a church?.. With the ris­ing afflu­ence and increased mobil­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion came a demand for more spe­cial­ized places to meet, as well as more of the basic com­forts and style which hereto­fore were dis­missed as too world­ly, so many church­es added small­er lec­ture rooms, class­rooms for Sun­day school, and oth­er assem­bly rooms dis­tinct from the main auditorium.

By this mea­sure, how many of our beloved East Coast Quak­er meet­ing­hous­es should real­ly just be called “church­es?” In the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry the Protes­tant “Sun­day School Move­ment” was picked up by Gur­neyite and Pro­gres­sive Hick­site Friends, with the class­es sim­ply renamed “First Day School” in def­er­ence to Quak­er sen­si­bil­i­ties (I’ve always won­dered if the name switch actu­al­ly fooled any­one, but that’s anoth­er sto­ry). By the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the new mod­ern lib­er­al Friends had picked up the lec­ture for­mat, which like the First Day School move­ment had been adopt­ed from edu­ca­tion­al mod­els via oth­er reli­gious groups. Many of our larg­er month­ly meet­ings have fel­low­ship halls, class­rooms, kitchens, etc. These build­ings have become spe­cial­ized reli­gious wor­ship build­ings and many of them sit emp­ty for most of the week. But not all.

Nowa­days many Quak­er meet­ings with build­ings open them mid-week for use by com­mu­ni­ty groups. Quak­er meet­ing­hous­es host peace groups, bat­tered women hot­lines, yoga class­es, reli­gious con­gre­ga­tions in need of a tem­po­rary home and sim­i­lar caus­es. There’s often an ele­ment of good works in the group’s charter.

Per­haps this will­ing­ness to open our build­ings up earns us the right to con­tin­ue using the meet­ing­house name. If so, we should be care­ful to resist the pres­sure of the insur­ance indus­try to close our­selves up in the name of lia­bil­i­ty. One unique­ness to our wor­ship spaces is that they are not con­se­crat­ed and there should be no spe­cial rules for their use. They are over­sized barns and we should cher­ish that. We should remem­ber not to get fetishis­tic about their his­to­ry and we shouldn’t tie up our busi­ness meet­ings in end­less dis­cus­sions over the col­or of the new seat cush­ions. When we turn our build­ings over for oth­ers’ use, we shouldn’t wor­ry over­ly much if a chair or clock gets damanged or stolen. Friends know that our reli­gion is not our build­ings and that the mea­sure of our spir­it is sim­ply how far we’ll fol­low God, togeth­er as a people.

Related Reading:

  • There’s a very hand­some book about the HABS work on Quak­er meet­ing­hous­es in the greater Philadel­phia area called Silent Wit­ness: Quak­er Meet­ing Hous­es In The Delaware Val­ley, 1695 To The Present. (only $10!).
  • My friend Bob Bar­nett has been putting a lot of great work into a new West Jer­sey website.

A Military Draft Would be Good for Us

From Johann Christoph Arnold, a “provoca­tive argu­ment that a mil­i­tary draft might not be a bad idea” “Decid­ing which side to stand on is one of life’s most vital skills. It forces you to test your own con­vic­tions, to assess your per­son­al integri­ty and your char­ac­ter as an individual.”
It’s a pret­ty dras­tic wish. I don’t real­ly wish it on today’s youn­gins’ (I’m not sure Arnold is quite con­vinced either). But I will give a snip­pet of my own per­son­al sto­ry, since it’s kind of appro­pri­ate to the issue: when I was a senior in high school my father des­per­ate­ly want­ed me to attend the U.S. Naval Acad­e­my. I went on inter­views and even took the first phys­i­cal. The pres­sure to join was sort of akin to the pres­sure young peo­ple of ear­li­er gen­er­a­tions have faced with a mil­i­tary draft (except more per­son­al, as I was essen­tial­ly liv­ing with the chair of the draft Mar­tin Kel­ley board). I was forced to real­ly think hard about what I believed. I had to rec­on­cile my romati­cism about the navy with my gut instincts that fight­ing was nev­er a real solu­tion. My father’s pres­sure made me real­ize I was a paci­fist. With my deci­sion to forego the Naval Acad­e­my made, I start­ed ask­ing myself what oth­er ram­i­fi­ca­tions fol­lowed from my peace stance. Almost twen­ty years, here’s Non​vi​o​lence​.org.
Arnold’s argu­ment, right or wrong, does reflect my story:
bq. A draft would present every young per­son with a choice between two paths, both of which require courage: either to heed the call of mil­i­tary duty and be rushed off to war, or to say, “No, I will give my life in the ser­vice of peace.”