2014— The Meaning of Detention
To be detained is to be unfree. This morning, let’s consider two kinds of detention.
The first kind detains human beings outwardly, in the service of state-sponsored torture, in our cruel system of immigration and deportation, or in our domestic prison-industrial complex.
The second kind detains human beings inwardly, in the service of our fear, our self-protection, our “optical delusion” of our separateness.
I believe these two kinds of detention are inextricably related. That we outwardly detain each other in cruel and painful ways because we live from within the prison of our inward spiritual exile.
A few weeks ago, Rev. Mary defined the work of this Church as “touching boundlessness”. Which is to say, our work is the work of un-doing– releasing ourselves from the bondage of our inner detention. This is hard work… for we are both: boundlessness… and… utterly bound– prisoners indefinitely detained in the cage of self, longing for release– And the children of Mystery– fully enlivened by, and fully composed of, whatever it is that Being is.
We embody this living paradox, and it’s quite tempting to try and avoid its difficulties altogether…. to pick one side and go whole hog for that: to try to win the game of joy over sadness, comfort over healing, pleasure over pain… or similarly, to disappear into some blissful state of nirvana.
But I believe that a spiritual path is only deeply valuable, if it can enable us to face, and engage with, all of what life is, including its most frightening and difficult parts– like the fact of death and the evils that we do to each other like torture. For many years now, I have been seeking that path which could encompass both the torture committed by our nation, and the violence within myself– both my small self and my boundlessness. The search has taught me alot about being human– my limitations and my liberation.
In starting to prepare for this service, I felt nothing but agitation. The topic of torture, and all the ugly human practices it is connected to, is vast. I have a bookshelf 4 by 8 feet filled with books and articles on torture. And I felt anger. I thought “this is the last time I’m going to do this service on torture”, partly because it’s dirty and heartbreaking and never really ends, but even more so because it’s led me to so many other related evils. I felt overwhelmed and agitated, and my first response was to want that agitation to end.
Then, I thought, “yeah, except, torture isn’t ending, the indefinite detention of immigrants isn’t ending, the people in our prisons, most of whom are poor, young and black, being held in solitary confinement or doing slave labor, isn’t ending.” So I tried to stay with that difficult feeling of agitation… and it led me to another thought, actually another form of resistance: “After all, I thought… it isn’t me– I’m not a torturer, never will be. Sure, I buy products which are cheap because of policies and exploitation enforced through torture by people trained in the US– but really it’s them– it isn’t me!!”
And then I remembered a dream a friend of mine told at our monthly Dare’ gathering, about being a young girl, happy to see a man enter the room she was in, until he turned out to have evil intent… and then the dream shifted and she was an adult, searching for the girl on the edge of a forest, out of which emerged a beautiful old woman, holding the child, and who gave the child over to her loving care. Nice dream– and everyone who commented on it, could relate to the child, or the woman, or the forest or my friend… but no one said “I’m the man”. So I said “I’m the man”. Not because I intend any harm to anyone, but because the harm exists out there, and I believe the world is ourselves turned inside out, so it must exist somewhere in me. And if I don’t own it, and understand what that energy really is, I will continue to deny it and project it onto others to act out in my world.
So. I am the torturer, I am the immigration officer, I am the prison guard who rapes, I am the CEO who benefits from the incarceration of our black youth. Breathing into that…
…led me to another place, where I began to connect to the fear… the fierce desire to survive and protect my loved ones… the loneliness and isolation and ignorance and hubris and self-centeredness and numbness which lie beneath defensiveness, self-protection and violence.
Oh, now I was getting closer to home, closer to human things familiar to me, if not in degree then definitely in kind. And I felt, of course, the impulse to judge, to deny, to disown those energies within myself.
But, leaning in, I also began to notice how the world– so big, so frightening, so marvelous, so mysterious, so ugly, so filled with wonder– was becoming my world, and how I was coming closer to saying yes to Life, which was both breaking my heart and whispering to me of something… boundless.
II KEEP BREATHING! According to an Amnesty International poll released in May, 45% of US citizens believe that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable”. Thus, we still indefinitely detain human beings at Guantanamo, and other sites worldwide; we continue to practice extraordinary rendition; we continue to force-feed human beings who, in their despair, go on hunger strikes to secure our compassion and their release; we continue to block all efforts by victims of our torture to secure justice through the courts; we continue to write laws which, in the name of national security, now give our government the right, with no oversight, to arbitrarily disappear US citizens with no means of legal redress.And, in our human-centric way, we continue to torture the more-than-human world.Similarly, our flawed system of immigration and deportation continues to practice the indefinite detention of immigrants, over a million of whom are estimated to have fled to the US as survivors of torture; we continue the practice of denying these detainees adequate access to health care, legal aid, and contact with family members, while subjecting many of them to cruel abuse and inhumane conditions; thousands of these detainees are children, fleeing their countries from violence directly related to US funding of drug wars and corrupt regimes; we continue the wanton breaking apart of families; and of requiring local and state police to hold individuals for deportation, thus threatening deportation as the punishment for nonviolent crimes, minor traffic violations or simply calling the police for help, thus effectively cutting off our communities from adequate police protection.
The United States now boasts the largest prison population in the world. With 2 million inmates, we imprison a disproportionately high number of people of color. More and more prisons, jails and detention facilities are owned and operated by private companies, and the biggest ones have contributed millions of dollars to state and federal politicians, who have, in turn, passed laws, giving longer sentences for less and less serious crimes. African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be charged, tried and convicted than their white counterparts for the same offenses. This florid expression of institutional racism is good business for prison companies. Many contracts demand that a certain proportion of the cells be kept filled, or the state will become liable to pay for all of the cells, even if unoccupied. So there are large incentives to arrest and imprison this vulnerable population.
Labor by inmates, using a loophole in the 13th amendment, profits the owners of jails and prisons. It is, quite simply, slave labor. And like the old company store, prisons charge exorbitant fees for simple items and for phone calls, thus further squeezing profit from their captives. When released from prison, people are, by law, disenfranchised, which benefits the election of the sort of politicians who will benefit the sort of corporations who will contribute to their campaigns. People on probation who cannot afford to pay the fees charged by the increasing number of private companies who administer these programs, are routinely recycled into jail– like debtors prison– despite this practice having been outlawed decades ago.
We, the people, are trafficking in, and profiting from, human misery.
Part 3 of a sermon is the part where I’m supposed to tie it all together, share all the positive developments, and tell you what you can do, the actions you can take, which might, in some way, help to change things, and maybe give us some relief from the agitation we’re in.
And there have been some positive developments. Despite ignoring the many innocent detainees already cleared for release, five guilty ones have been released from Guantanamo and further releases are being contemplated there and from Parwan Prison in Afghanistan. A federal judge ruled in April that it is a violation of the Constitution to hold an individual on behalf of immigration authorities without probable cause. As a result of the ruling, cities and counties nationwide are beginning to reverse their policy of compliance with immigration authorities. There’s been a succesful lawsuit against the unlawful practices of a private probation company. And right here on Cape Cod, our own Alliance for Immigration Justice has made arrangements to help facilitate phone calls on behalf of immigrants in the Plymouth Detention Facility.
You can sign a petition to President Obama, after the service in the Parish Room, by the National Religious Coalition Against Torture. You can join the very effective and active Alliance for Immigration Justice at First Parish… just talk to Sue Bowser or Monica Goubard. And you can donate to the many organizations in service to survivors of torture.
But, for now, let’s just sit with our agitation. Make room for the distress. Not be in such a hurry to assuage it, or soothe it. That willingness to lean in towards suffering– our own and that of others– may be the best gesture, the most practical offering we can make in this moment to feed our own vitality and the vitality of our world.
Because, while we can, and must, act to end suffering… if the action comes out of, and in the service of, our small selves, our fearful and desperate selves, then ultimately, we will have strengthened the problem, and not the solution. As an example, Gandhi sometimes took years before he acted, in order to feel that he was acting from boundlessness, from love, from connection and brotherhood with all. He would call off protests, without a qualm, whenever they devolved away from a spirit of oneness.
I’ve been giving these sermons about torture since 2005. I’ve spent these years trying to live into a spirituality that can compass and understand and transform the violence, the torturer, the prison guard, the fearful, self-centered and desperate parts of myself and the world, which is us, turned inside out. I have come to trust the path of opening to, and staying in loving relationship with, suffering. Like with those finger handcuffs that count on our resistance to keep us detained, the counter-intuitive movement deeper in, leads to change, and release. This is as far as I’ve come on that spiritual journey. Inshallah, I’ll be back next year with more to share. Thank you.
2013— Living Up to our Radical UU Credo
Dear Friends… Over the past week, I have come to a shocking realization: Even though we are– more or less– model, modest and tax-paying citizens… we here at First Parish Brewster are enemies of the State!
Every week, we recite our radical and subversive credo: “We believe in love, we believe in truth, we believe in helping others, we believe in the sacredness of life”. We’re in big trouble! It’s a miracle that we haven’t been placed on the enemies list yet!
I’m joking, sort of…. but I hope that you can see my point:
This country, our country, does not always act with love. At times, we’re more like a rogue state, acting with impunity, outside of international law, whenever and wherever it suits us. We reject the condemnation of the International Court. We ignore the Torture Conventions of the United Nations. We do not endorse the Kyoto Protocol, nor respect the Geneva Conventions when they thwart our national will.
We plan and justify assassinations with unmanned drones, routinely sacrificing innocent lives, without due process or accountability. We indefinitely detain, and outsource for torture, whomever we wish. We do what we want, where we want, without apology or recompense… we do not always love.
We do not tell the truth. We secretly spy on our own citizens. We torture people and lie about it. We have been a racist and patriarchal society, and continue to deny it. We do not tell the truth.
As a nation, our faith in capitalism contradicts our belief in helping others; it allows and maintains squalid inequalities that can never, ever support a claim to fairness and human dignity.
Our economy is based on a myth of unlimited growth. All the evidence says that treating the earth as an unlimited mine and bottomless dump is leading to a rapid end to the human enterprise. But, we believe in the bottom line, and the bottom line is not about helping others.
As a militaristic nation, we do not believe in the sacredness of life… that life is one living being; that the Holy lives in the earth and its seeds; that our purpose in life is not winning or domination, but to feed the beauty of our indigenous humanity to the Holy.
As a nation, we continue to plunder the Earth, to support corporate ownership and distortion of Her seeds; to imprison, exploit and marginalize our poor; to torture nature in almost every conceivable way, seeing creatures as commodities and not embodiments of God. As a nation, we do not feed the Holy. We do not believe in the sacredness of life.
So what’s a radical Church like ours to do? Well, we do what we can– despite being embedded in these nefarious systems– not because we can change it all, but because it feels like the right to do. Because we are, at heart, lovers of life, and therefore, loyal enemies of– part of the conscience of– our beautiful and flawed nation. The truth might be that this human enterprise is headed for a fall. Nevertheless, we can choose to say yes to life… and choose to love– wherever and whenever we want– with impunity.
The innocent men at Guantanamo Bay, having reached the unbearable truth that they are held indefinitely in the hands of a heartless, deceitful, selfish and life-denying captor, have begun to sacrifice themselves– to make the only gesture they can– to live and die in truth through a hunger strike.
And though we continue to torture them through force-feeding– tying them down, forcing tubes into their stomachs, and filling them with fluids– which is against international law– in order to keep them alive… their lives and the lives of their souls– are on our hands. We have harmed them in this way because we, as a nation, have acted without love, and with impunity. Which means: without being accountable to anyone.
Today, I am at the end of a weeklong fast, which I undertook to stand with the innocent and tortured at Guantanamo. Fully 86, of the 166 detainees still surviving there, have been cleared for release. That means that every agency with a stake in their detention considers them to be harmless or innocent. And yet, although most have been held for over 10 years, our government continues to refuse to release them.
Well, I’m hungry. And I look forward to eating with just a fraction of the longing with which these men are hungering for their freedom.
I don’t expect that making a gesture like this has changed much of anything for them. I do wonder if the gods respond to sacrifice. Every life is but a drop in the ocean, hardly anything at all… just a gesture… but also, of infinite value.
I do know that I have felt, this week, uplifted by all your prayers and support. And for that, I am deeply, humbly, grateful. I could not have done this without all of you. Those who came to sit with me; those who sent words of love and encouragement; those who prayed with me for this situation to end; this whole Church for giving me a safe harbor from which to make this gesture. I thank you.
Acting with love, truth, service and a sense of the sacred in all our relations is hard work. It is the hard work of this Church– it is our hard work. To love our annoying neighbor; to own our own shortcomings and make amends; to look beyond our own comfort to what is good for others as well; to feed the Holy in life… It is a difficult and life-giving practice.
Some of the gestures we can make around the issue of torture are to talk about it with our families and co-workers, and to lobby our representatives to end extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention. There are sample letters in the Parish Room for you to consider using. If you are moved to, there are also instructions on how to send letters of comfort and support to some of the detainees at Guantanamo. Most of all, let’s continue the difficult practice of living our subversive and radical beliefs– in love, honesty, compassion and the sacred. Let’s try to love all we can– and do it with impunity.
2012— Torture and Mercy
For many years now, weʼve explored together the difficult topic of torture, and in particular, torture sanctioned and committed by the United States. Over the past year, there have been some advances, as well as a few setbacks. As they say: The path of progress never takes a straight line, but a zigzag course between right and wrong, truth and error, justice and injustice, cruelty and mercy. Today we consider: how do we move from cruelty to mercy? What signs of hope point to the end of our involvement with torture?
This year, a bill was signed into law, legalizing indefinite detention for anyone declared to be an enemy combatant, or even suspected of aiding one. Thus, you or I could be held forever, with no legal recourse, even if we were falsely accused… a zigzag course between right and wrong…
But recently, a judge did rule that this provision is unconstitutional. And, hopefully, that ruling can withstand the inevitable process of appeals. A winding road between truth and error….
Last year, the Supreme Court awarded corporations the same rights as individuals to make campaign contributions. This year, they denied that governments and corporations could be held liable for torture because they were not individuals… a zigzag course between justice and injustice…
In May, an international war crimes tribunal found George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and five others guilty of war crimes and crimes of torture, and ordered reparations for the complainant victims… a slow movement from cruelty to mercy…
Unfortunately, that tribunal has no power to enforce their ruling, and the only practical result will be that none of these men can travel to Malaysia without risking arrest…one step forward, another step back…
Jose Padilla is a US citizen who was detained and tortured for four years in Guantanamo. John Yoo was the author of the legal opinions justifying torture for the Bush Administration. Recently, a Circuit Court denied Mr. Padilla the right to hold John Yoo accountable for his torture. The Court contended that Mr. Padilla’s treatment could not be defined as torture, during the years he endured it, because of “existing precedent”– namely the Bush Administration’s deliberate distortion of the definition of torture… a zigzag course between right and wrong…
May we have mercy… and close Guantanamo Prison. May we have mercy… and end indefinite detention. May we have mercy… and stop exporting torture through the School of the Americas. May we have mercy… and end extraordinary rendition, where we send people to be tortured in other countries. May we have mercy… and apologize, and make reparations to the victims of our torture and their families, as well as the people who were ordered to commit those acts of torture. May we have mercy… and create a process of truth telling and accountability to reckon with our years of torture.
Without mercy, and without these changes, our belief in ourselves as a nation which champions human rights is really just an illusion, growing threadbare with every passing year.
Progress does follow a zigzag course. May we wend our way towards mercy.
What does the existence of torture– the fact of it and our direct involvement in it– teach us about mercy? First, it teaches each of us to ask: who and what do I have the power to harm? And why do I continue to do that harm?
The fact of torture also teaches us that either God has no mercy or that Godʼs will is not done on Earth, except perhaps, to seed us here with a chance to grow towards Heaven. Thus, torture makes us ask: Where is theʻkingdom of heavenʼ? Or, to put it another way: Is it possible for us to live differently?
For make no mistake– we need to change our lives.We are a torture nation; we are a nation that makes excuses for torture; that exports torture elsewhere and teaches people how to torture; that holds captives indefinitely; that hides our mistakes; that refuses to apologize, much less make amends or restitution for torture.
“Have mercy”, we say. So what does that mean? It means to treat others as we would wish to be treated.To not abuse the power a captor has over a captive. And, even if ʻall is fair in warʼ, to go beyond what is fair to what is right.
Unfortunately, mercy goes counter to our notions of retributive justice and revenge and even self-defense. Because, like the concept of nonviolence, mercy refuses to consider certain kinds of behavior as acceptable means to resolving conflict.
“Have mercy”, we say, but who is even listening? Because the torturers and those that command them do not have mercy, do not feel mercy, do not hear the screams of their victims, do not stop what they are doing out of fear for their lives, and the lives of their families and friends. They see mercy as weakness, and vulnerability as folly. And perhaps we do as well…
“Have mercy”, we say. But to whom are we speaking? We are speaking to ourselves. “But”, you might ask,“ what power do we have over the victims of torture?” We pay the torturers. Our taxes, support the instruction, export, outsourcing and commission of torture. We buy the blue jeans, Coca Cola, coffee and other goods– at prices kept low because they are produced by people held in slave labor through torture. We vote for people who support and justify torture and we allow our leaders, who say they deplore torture, to renege on their promises.
Torture is a communal symptom. It is the natural outgrowth of our collective psyche — where we repress and deny our fear, our violence, our culpability and our addiction to comfort. We insist on our righteousness and our innocence at the cost of torturing our conscience and our memory. We blind our seers and we cut the tongues from our truth tellers. Every day, we distort ourselves into someone whose image needs constant defense– someone special, someone lovable, A Someone.
But the Kingdom of Heaven is not in being A Someone. It is is in being truly human. And that demands a vulnerability beyond comfort and security. So it is hard, and it is rare. We torture ourselves, and others, to negate that vulnerability, absolutely.
May we have mercy on ourselves– may we each relax our muscles, our habits of self importance, our self defense… in other words our small selves. May we seek the power, the courage, the vision that remains when we– our selves– are undone. That is where mercy truly begins.
My friends, there is much to hope for, and to do, to change torture as a public policy and practice. And in the last part of this sermon weʼll explore just that. But the existence of torture also calls us to a deeper gesture, and a harder, more practical labor– which demands everything of us.
In every moment of every day, is my heart open, or not? Can I say yes to life; and how wide and how brave is that yes? To practice this, is to open the door to Godʼs will being done on the ʻEarthʼ of us, as it is in Heaven. It is stepping into the vulnerability which makes mercy actually possible. Without this, the ʻbeloved community’ remains a dream, swaddled in false innocence. With it, we can change our lives and the world, which is our own minds and hearts, written large.
2011— Torture and Repentence
Between the years of 2002 and 2008, our country went through a moral inversion. We used the language of conscience, duty and law in the service of the despicable. We mapped these words onto the use of torture, and thus presented evil as a patriotic obligation. We protected ourselves from terror with terror. Our fear led us to use torture, and our fear allowed us to allow torture to continue.
Over the past 3 years, I have chafed at President Obamaʼs steadfast refusal to investigate, or prosecute, the Bush Administration for promoting, approving and legalizing torture, all of which are war crimes under the UN Torture Convention, which the US helped write, and ratified in 1994.
But recently, I read Abraham Lincolnʼs Second Inaugural Address, in which he referred to slavery– over which he was fighting a civil war– not as a “Southern” institution or a “Confederate” institution, but as an “American”institution. He also referred to the financial and bodily suffering of both sides, as the just expiation of a national sin.
After that, I began to think differently about Obamaʼs refusal to place blame for the use of torture on one political party, one Administration, or on any select set of individuals. Perhaps, like Lincoln, he was saying that we– as a nation– are responsible for torture. And I have come to agree.
I think of the German people during W.W.II. Itʼs so easy to think “How could they do that? How could they not know about the genocide in their own country? They, as a people, need to bear responsibility for that evil”. And now, apply that to us– all of us here in this room–about torture. True– we were being lied to constantly by the government. But the truth about our use of torture was also being published in many major newspapers, and after Abu Ghraib, there were even public debates about it… Torture– the clearest moral bottom line we have– being debated because we, the people of the United States, wanted to use it.
Our years of torture teach us that, even when faced with a patent evil, it is difficult to respond. Difficult, but not impossible. Some brave people, civilian, military and from various branches of government– risked life, livelihood and reputation to stand on the side of love. As a faith community, we are called to such a response. Like the freedom riders, whose 50th anniversary we are celebrating this year, we must find a deeper faith in the power of love to resist and transform evil. The problem, of course, is fear. I, myself, have written letters about ending torture, held vigils, given sermons, even walked a hundred miles to protest at the School of the Americas where we train the worst human rights violators in Central and South America to torture their own people. Yet when it came to civil disobedience, to crossing over the line at Ft. Benning, I balked. Love stood on the other side of that line, and I hesitated, just as I likely would have hesitated to get on the bus with the freedom riders: out of fear. I say this without self-judgment or justification. Itʼs simply a fact. I didnʼt– we as a nation–didnʼt do enough to stop the torture being perpetrated in our name.
My friends, our use of torture calls us to a deeper faith…in the power of love. First, as a source of courage in resisting evil; and second, as a source of courage in facing our failures to resist evil, and so, to repent. How can we, as a nation, repent for our years of torture? Not the repentance of some guy in a robe with a sign on the street, but, as suggested in translations of the old Biblical language, turn, or change our minds.
Despite President Obamaʼs executive order to the contrary, torture is still legally permissible under the Military Commission Acts of 2006 and 2009, as is extraordinary rendition, due to a recent Supreme Court decision. In point of fact, torture, and the inhumanity of indefinite detention, continue to plague our national conscience.
If, as seems likely, we are not to hold anyone individually or legally accountable for our years of torture, we still need to “change our minds”– and our hearts. We can start with an apology– simple and sincere– to those we have tortured (as well as the families of those who did not survive the torture).
Let us name what we have done, clearly and directly: torture, consisting of indefinite detention, waterboarding, body slamming, rape, beating, use of vicious dogs, sexual humiliation, mock execution, threatening of family members, as well as combinations of extreme heat and cold, sleep deprivation, stress positions and isolation. Let us name both the short and long term effects of that torture on our victims and on ourselves: suicide; long-term physical, mental, emotional and spiritual debilitation; including countless medical woes, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, social and other phobias, as well as devastation to the families and communities of all concerned. Let us make at least financial amends, if we can think of no others, through our religious and social organizations, if not through our government. And, crucially, let us each pause and feel what we have done and allowed to be done– out of fear and desperation, when there are simply some things that one should never do to another being.
If we can bear to face what we have done, without turning away through either self-justification or self judgment, then perhaps we will feel the transformative emotion of remorse — remorse which can turn us back towards our better selves as a nation, and help us find the moral courage to close Guantanamo, rescind the Military Commission Acts, shut down the School of the Americas and get out of the torture business once and for all.
Today, after the service, there are petitions you can sign, one from the National Religious Coalition Against Torture, calling for further investigations and legislation around torture; the other calling for acts of national repentance for our practice of torture. You can go to the Amnesty International website and urge your Congressperson to close Guantanamo. You can also go to the UUSC website, and sign up to be a volunteer in helping to support survivors of torture, as well as working to end torture worldwide. You can consider becoming part of the effort to close the School of the Americas, and you can certainly join the End Torture Now Project of our Social Justice Committee.
There are so many ways to promote peace in this world. May each of us find the faith, love and courage we need to do just that, and end torture now.——please rise in body or spirit reach out and take someone’s hand know that our hands are connected to our hearts and so our hearts are joined for this benediction. Some things are very hard to look at and much too difficult to face alone. The practice of torture is one of these things. And so we come together year after year to open our hearts to this story and to find ways to bring an end to it. We come together to share and to listen, to breathe and to pray, to reflect and be in silence, and to open ourselves and our hearts toward all those who suffer. We open our hearts to all those who suffer including ourselves, the parts of us that have felt tortured, the parts of us that can be cruel. We ask that our love and caring attention this morning find a way towards healing the suffering in this world. As we hold each other’s hearts and hands in this moment, may we touch a deeper love within us, and may we recognise this deeper love in every other person. May we repent together, return together to this truth: that we are each powerful beyond measure and each vulnerable also, and in this way we are the same. With this awareness may we begin again in love. May we take our open hearts and hands out into this world. and be a source of healing and release for one another. Blessed be. Please be seated for the postlude: We Shall Be Released
2010— Meeting Our Violence
Chalice Lighting/Opening Words
We long for a world without torture or human cruelty. May we find and heal those parts of ourselves which make human cruelty possible. With this prayer in mind and heart, we light the UU chalice… Blessed be.
How many people here today approve of torture? Torture is one of the worst things human beings can do to one another, and, like you, most people abhor its use. Then how is it possible that we still have in this country a torture debate? How is it possible that, despite the Obama Administration officially deploring the use of torture and at least attempting to close Guantanamo, we still have detention centers such as the one at the Bagram Air Base, where we continue to torture people; we still have the Military Commissions Act of 2006 as the law of the land allowing torture to be authorized by the President; we officially now follow the recommendations in the Army Field Manual which allows us to keep anyone deemed an enemy combatant, including US citizens, awake for days at a time, subjected to extremes of noise and temperature; held in stress positions; and in solitary confinement indefinitely; how is it possible that the Justice Department continues to block courts from hearing cases designed to challenge extraordinary rendition, even the mistaken kidnapping and torture of innocent civilians?
We want to explore this, not, as in past sermons, from the point of view of the long and covert history of torture by the US. Nor by identifying the federal policies, covert and overt, which have justified and legalized torture. We wonʼt be focusing on the social and psychological pressures which might lead a person to become a torturer. Or the effects of torture on the human psyche and spirit.
What we want to do, is to consider the following question: What have I got to do with torture?
(alternating voices): What have I got to do with torture?
What have I got to do with torture?
Iʼm not in favor of it. I donʼt torture anyone. Iʼve written my congressman about it. What have I got to do with torture?
Iʼm doing what I can. Iʼd like to do more. What have I got to do with torture?
I try to stay informed about torture, I send postcards, sign petitions, hold vigils, talk to others about this issue. What have I got to do with torture?
Iʼm doing what I can, I want to do more. What have I got to do with torture?
True, I root for Jack Bauer on the tv program 24, even though he sometimes has to torture people to stop an immanent terrorist attack.
I canʼt believe I am so attracted to that show. What is it about the show Ilike so much?
True, I really want to be safe. I hope they do catch all the bad guys. I love to watch movies where the good guys win.
And I know that the good guys/bad guys scenario isnʼt the whole story. I want to find a new story to believe in. Iʼm not sure if there is a win/win solution for everything.
True, when I tried to negotiate with a stubborn ticket agent in London, I got impatient and angry and was about to let him have it… I felt the violence in me…Fortunately, I chose to take a couple of deep breaths and let it go.
True, I can lose my temper, sometimes I just want to be right. I know how to make a great case against the one I am in conflict with. So I work on anger management, I try to remember to move beyond right and wrong.
Iʼm against torture, but just the thought of someone hurting my kids or my wife makes me wonder just how far I would go to defend them, or exact revenge… The honest answer is: I really donʼt know.
But whatʼs all this got to do with torture?
What does all this have to do with torture?
What we are suggesting is that the unexplored violence in each of us is related to torture in the world.
Denial of our own violence leads to projection. We see it elsewhere, in others, where we can condemn it and blame them for it. It allows us to subtly support it, or at the very least, to unconsciously drag our heals in resisting it.
Denial of our own violence means that when push comes to shove, we lose it. We lose moral power, or the energy and attention which it takes to be in dire straits and still make conscious choices about our behavior.
We are then at the mercy of the violent parts of ourselves. The ones we have not explored and made peace with. So, when push comes to shove- when we reach our emotional limits– the injured, the numb, the mechanical, the defensive parts of us react and take over.
So, how do we respond when push comes to shove? Do we close down? Do we stay open? Do we hold our breath? Do we breathe? Do we shut them out? Do we allow room for another story? Do we let them have it? Do we listen attentively? Do we prove we are right? Do we look for ways the other is right? Do we go for the throat? Do we see the vulnerability in ourselves and the other? Do we become rigid, stubborn, uncompromising? Do we invite softness into the tense parts of ourselves? Do we stand on our high horse? Do we look for common ground? Do we scream, raise our voice, our fist? Do we sing, pray, meditate, take a break? Do we say they are the bad guys? Do we look for the humanness in the other? Do we react in anger, rage? Do we respond with gentleness and love? Do we say they arenʼt fully human? Do we find our most compassionate self? Do we say it is either us or them? Do we believe in win/win solutions? Do we see them as the enemy? Do we see them as part of us? Do we hold fast to the lie? Do we seek truth? Do we focus on their violence? Do we own our violence?
Our days are made up of these questions, these opportunities. The world we live in depends on how we respond when push comes to shove.
Meeting Our Violence
Think of the last time that you lost it– a time when you crossed over from the reasonable, caring , kind person you normally are– into someone else… close your eyes if you care to… take a deep breath… and remember….maybe you were yelling, or turning red in the face; maybe cursing in your car or on the phone. Remember what happened… Most often, itʼs not an end-of-the-world or life-and-death situation… but it can feel that way… Remember how it felt…. feel that violence, at whatever level, inside yourself…. Breathe…Now, if it feels possible for you, visualized yourself embracing that violent one, or breathing them right into your heart, letting them melt right into you. And know, that whether youʼve embraced them or not, breathed them in or not, they are you– and need your loving attention… so at least allow yourself to send them the light of compassion through your out breath… and know that, this part of you contains a fine sense of justice, a fierce determination to protect you, a storehouse of energy. Invite them to rise up, be known, be healed and fly free….
Chant: We are rising up like a phoenix from the ashes/Brothers and sisters spread your wings and fly high (X2)We are rising up (X4)
How Do We Change?
So, how do we stop torturing ourselves and each other? How do we acquire and increase our moral power– to choose to feed the life-giving wolf inside our hearts, instead of the predator? If the holocaust taught us anything it is that, victim or perpetrator, we are all a mixture and that some people, even under the worst of circumstances, can choose humanity, dignity, compassion, meaning and courage over mere animal survival.
How can we stay aware and more fully in touch with the violence in ourselves? First and foremost, just paying attention helps. We attend to what we care for, so this is truly a matter of self-love. And the truth is in your body. Your physiology will tell you– your breath gets short, your tummy gets tight– when you reach that edge of comfort, when the one who is ready to fight (instead of negotiate) begins to mobilize. Keep looking– just be curious– without judging or justifying yourself. Learn more about this part of you– then you can own it– make a relationship with it– and you will have the means to begin to heal it… to withdraw the energy of that projection from the world… and to strengthen your ability to make the crucial choice, at the crucial moment, to be peace.
This isnʼt easy to do. This is a kind of suffering. And the question of our lives, the question for each of us is: are we able to choose this suffering? Are we willing to suffer this way, and still remain open and compassionate and capable of retaining our inborn humanity?
Praying the Alphabet
My wife Wilderness and I were recently at the concentration camp at Auschwitz. We stood beneath a guard tower overlooking a gas chamber and crematorium where hundreds of thousands of human beings were murdered under the watchful eyes of Nazi soldiers. We did not come to forgive them, for it was not for us to forgive. We did not come to absolve them for it was not for us to absolve. But we were there to pray for those soldiers and everyone, like them, capable of violence, including ourselves.
We didnʼt know how to make such a prayer. In the face of the inconsolable– ethnic cleansing, the holocaust, torture— what can one say? So we prayed the alphabet, and let a higher power put those letters together into the right words to meet this part of the world, and ourselves, which is so hard to embrace–human cruelty– which is so hard to love.
For those who wish to offer such a prayer, I invite you to join us in chanting the alphabet together, now….Blessed be.
On this and every day may loving prayers be felt by all those who are unfairly imprisoned and all those who have been tortured. On this and every day may the parts of you that have felt tortured be touched by grace and love. On this and every day. may any part of you that has been cruel break open to grace. Blessed be.
2009— What Should We Tell the Children?
1 Torture has been around a long time. Inquisitions, witch hunts, secret police; ethnic conflict, colonization, slavery death squads, genocide, enemies of the state; the disappeared, the rack, rubber hoses; brainwashing, hanging, waterboarding; pliers, splinters, cages; rats, dogs, chains, ropes, hot, cold, noise, silence, beatings, burnings, rape. We have a well-developed vocabulary of torture. It is not new, anywhere. It needs to stop, everywhere.
In the fledgling United States, Patrick Henry tried to talk Congress out of legalizing torture. Nevertheless, our police, and military and intelligence services have been using torture right along. It is only in the years since 9/11, however, that, despite its patent illegality and immorality, we have done so overtly. We have advocated, taught, promoted, funded and legalized torture. Since its passage in 2006, the Military Commissions Act continues to strip detainees of all rights, including habeas corpus; permit the use of evidence gained by torture in legal proceedings; grant amnesty to those who committed war crimes through 2004; and make the President, rather than federal or international law, the final arbiter of what is and isnʼt torture.
The current President seems like a good man. And his rhetoric would seem to confirm an abhorrence of torture. Yet his administration has thus far failed to make any substantive changes in the policies of the Bush administration regarding either the use of military commissions, extraordinary rendition, closing the School of the Americas, or the use of “national secrets” as an excuse for refusing to allow cases challenging torture and extraordinary rendition to go forward. Time will tell, of course. But, as of today, torture is still the law of the land.
All of the bills before Congress last year seeking to limit or reverse this stance on torture are now dead. There are no new bills under consideration. We are being encouraged by our President neither to look back , nor to seek accountability for how we came to this pass in the first place. And the question which we would ask you to consider is: How will future generations look back on these times and these decisions? How will we justify our actions? What should we tell the children?_____________________________
tell them…we have to do it- there is no other way- they are evil-they are dangerous- we don’t mean to do it- we don’t really want to do it- we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t have to
Don’t tell them anything-what else can we do?-don’t call it torture-don’t tell them the really bad parts- we didn’t really know what was happening- it is out of our control- they don’t hurt children
We do this to keep our children safe- don’t tell them anything- we aren’t doing it- we aren’t the only ones doing it- we are looking for another way- we are the good guys- they are the bad guys- we have to trust-there is no other way-there is no other way
Don’t tell them anything-it is just war- war is not fair- sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to- sometimes you have to get someone else to do it- we didn’t know what was happening- it was ordered by those in charge- it wasn’t really bad
Don’t tell them anything- letʼs not tell them anything- they are too young for the word- they don’t need to know about that yet- they can’t handle the topic- it is too brutal for children- they wouldn’t understand
Don’t tell them anything- we believe in treating people fairly- but we have no power-we treat people kindly- we donate to good causes- we are doing all we can- we didn’t know what to do- we turned away from it- we couldn’t do anything-we tried- it broke our hearts
The torture debate is only possible in a body which cannot feel. A human body or a body politic. Our body politic is in distress– in a fight or flight mode. We are in that regressive, self-protective, habitual and largely numb state of reactivity which is both the cause and result of violence.
Does torture, which can make most people confess to anything, sometimes result in actionable information? Yes, in the same way that domestic violence can sometimes succeed at gaining a womanʼs compliance, or a nuclear bomb can untie a pair of shoes, or heroin can help calm a personʼs nerves. It might work: but at what price?
The purpose of torture is to perpetuate terror in the opponents of those whose own terror drove them to use torture. We are those people. We are that afraid. Denial of the past does not propel us forward but dooms us to repeat the past until we resolve it. Obamaʼs forward-looking rhetoric chides those who would process the past. But isnʼt that what the law is all about– precedent, and history? Has anyone ever been aquitted with a defense of: “Letʼs just look forward, shall we?” There is a word for the outrageous acts of those who cannot be held accountable: It is: impunity. Once again, we must ask, how could we allow this to be? What should we tell the children?___________________________
Tell them…we’re the good guys-we don’t torture-it’s not really tortures- sometimes you need to do it- they hate us- they cut people’s heads off
Don’t scare them-it’s un-american- it is american- we needed to know- there’s no excuse- it’s like being picked on- it’s like picking on someone- it hurts-you can’t get away- it doesn’t stop- it stops if you talk- you shouldn’t talk- they’ll talk anyway- to say anything- we believe in peace- we believe in fairness- we’ll keep them safe
Don’t tell them anything- we ought to be ashamed- we didn’t do anything wrong- it’s stopped- it hasn’t stopped- it’s happened before-sometimes you have to do bad things-it’s not their fault-we love them- they are safe- no one is safe- it’s wrong-it’s necessary-only other people torture- they do it for us-we do it for them- it’s for their own good-we’re in control- we’re scared to think about it- to care
There is the slow death by malnutrition, injustice, abuse. The slow death by poverty and powerlessness.The slow death of the water, the air, the earth. The slow death by greed, hardheartedness and fear. We are called to respond to these forms of suffering, even as we slog through the waters of rationalization, distraction, habit and comfort. Torture is the one expression of human pain so severe that it, above all others, might move us to action instead of debate; to help us come back to our senses; to help our hearts to break. We can start by simply paying closer attention to this issue and educating ourselves about torture. We can speak to our friends and neighbors and even speak out in public. We can contribute our time and funds to organizations that work to support and advocate for the victims and survivors of torture. We can fast and vigil and pray. And today, after the service, thereʼs a sample letter to send to the President calling for necessary changes in his torture policy. We have a chance, at this time in this country, to begin once again to come to terms with how we want to be in the world, as human beings, and as a nation. May we each find the source of strength, courage and integrity which can allow us to enter this great work with broken, but compassionate, hearts.
2008— Feeling Our Complicity
Thank you all for coming out this evening. Today– June 26– is the 11th annual United Nations International Day in Support of Victims and Survivors of Torture. This date commemorates the creation, in 1987, of the UN Convention Against Torture.That document, ratified by the United States, states unequivocally, that “…no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”
To come into compliance with this international law, the US passed two federal laws in the 1990ʼs: the Anti-Torture Statute and the War Crimes Act. Nevertheless, here we are, a decade later, and torture has become the law of the land. The Bush Administration, including the President, Vice-President, former CIA Chief GeorgeTenet and former Attorney General Alberto Gonsalves, are responsible for advocating the use of torture and pressing for its legalization.
In 2006, the Military Commissions Act was passed by a Congress afraid to appear weak on terrorism. This Act removed the rights of detainees to habeus corpus– the ability to appeal their incarceration in court. It permits evidence gained by torture to be admissible in courts of law. It makes the President the final arbiter in defining what is and isnʼt torture. And it gives amnesty– and therefore impunity–to those who committed torture up through 2004.
Recently, the Supreme Court once again reinstated the rights of habeus corpus to detainees. Whatʼs more, the Senate Armed Services Committee is currently investigating the destruction of videotapes of torture by the CIA, and revealing the chain of command, from the President downward, responsible for authorizing torture to begin with.
Nevertheless. the rest of the Military Commissions Actremains the law of the land. Thereʼs a list of bills, presently before Congress, to undo the Military. Commissions Act, and other torture-related activities, on a table in the Parish Room. This is the single most important thing to ask your representatives in Congress to do about torture. It is the single most important commitment to seek from any Presidential candidate who would divorce themselves from the actions of the Bush Administration. And it is therefore the focus of our letter writing campaign.
Recently, retired General Antonio Taguba, who led one of the Army investigations into the abuses at Abu Ghraib, accused the Bush administration of creating a systematic regime of torture. Taguba writes, “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”
US-sponsored torture did not begin with the Bush Administration, although it has become far more overt, than in the past. The United States has a long and unfortunate history of teaching, encouraging and participating in torture, starting with the founding of this country. Patrick Henry famously said: “What has distinguished our ancestors? That they would not admit of tortures, or cruel and barbarous punishment. But Congress may introduce the practice of torturing, and they will tell you there is a necessity of strengthening the arm of government. We are then lost and undone.”
Torture was commonplace in Vietnam; and in Central and South America, where graduates of the School of the Americas– located at Ft. Benning in Georgia–account for many of the dictators, the worst human rights abusers, and tens of thousands of lives lost or destroyed by the death squads in those countries. Many of these death squads were coordinated by the CIA in Project Phoenix, mainly to protect large American corporate interests and to keep natural resources from being nationalized.
The Abu Ghraib scandal– where photographs of prisoner abuse, raised public awareness of the existence of the practice of torture by US military personnel– was not an isolated incident. At least 48 homicides resulting from “overzealous interrogation” are under investigation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. Add to that the continuing and illegal practice of extraordinary rendition– outsourcing torture to countries who will do our torturing for us– and the PATRIOT Acts, which make it possible for US citizens to be held indefinitely without access to medical and legal aid, as well as the existence of secret US prisons worldwide–and it is clearly now a reality, in 2008, for you or me to be disappeared with impunity.
Torture is about the worst thing that one human being can do to another. But as long as one feels justified, itʼs not all that hard to do. It is possible, probable, inevitableeven, NOT to feel another personʼs pain. But if weʼre ever going to stop torturing each other, thatʼs precisely what we must do. We are also called on, each of us, to find a way to keep our hearts open– to listening and feeling and being able to respond– in the face of heartbreaking, frightening and for the most part, distant occurences. Another personʼs pain is about as far from me as it can be. What links us is not my sympathy– a sympathy in which I can remain innocent and impotent. What links us is my willingness to feel all the way backwards through the connection between my power in the world and that other personʼs suffering…. My power in the world– as a consumer, as a US citizen, as an example– and that other personʼs suffering. I am linked, through my power in the world, to the torture of many people. And we will continue to be linked in this way until I use that power differently– with the full understanding and acceptance that my choices have the power to harm… and to heal.
Torture serves the purposes of terror. It does not stop when the physical act of torture is over. It invariably alters the life of everyone involved. Tonight we honor the victims and survivors of torture. Through our art, through our willingness to be moved, and as an act of imagination to link our fate, our lives, with theirs. May this evening be a gift to their Spirits, and may they join us and guide us as we work together, to end torture, in the days ahead. Blessed Be.
2007— Feeding the Good Wolf— the Psychology of Violence
I think itʼs safe to say that torture is about the worst thing that one human being can do to another. Even in war, torture is outlawed, while killing is not. It is a patent evil. Why, then, is torture functionally legal in the United States? Why have we allowed it to happen?
One possible answer is: “I didnʼt know it was happening”. This countryʼs long and unfortunate history of supporting, exporting and practicing torture has been largely covert. The use of torture was debated in the first Congress, where Patrick Henry said: “What has distinguished our ancestors?—That they would not admit of tortures, or cruel and barbarous punishment. But Congress…may introduce the practice of…torturing…and they will tell you there is a necessity of strengthening the arm of government…We are then lost and undone.”
Since the 1950ʼs, when national security was introduced as the bedrock of our foreign policy, torture was on the curriculum of the School of the Americas– now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. This is where the U.S. Army trains military and paramilitary personnel from Latin America in low-level warfare against their own civilian populations, who, in seeking land reform or nationalization of their natural resources, might disrupt the financial interests of large North American corporations. More recently, torture by agents of the U.S. military and CIA has been well-documented in Vietnam, Central and South America ,and Afghanistan and Guantanamo. Even so, most Americans were shocked at the photos which emerged from Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Rather than being an isolated incident, those photos were actually representative of a widespread practice, sanctioned by the Bush Administration. Add to the equation all the news reports of extraordinary rendition– the practice of shipping detainees to other countries to be tortured on our behalf, and none of us can deny any longer that our country– the United States– tortures people.
Another possible response is: “I donʼt think that itʼs wrong, under some circumstances, to torture people”. The ticking bomb scenario, where a terrorist is apprehended who we know has information which can save hundreds of lives, but wonʼt tell, is so unlikely as to have never been encountered. What is more, the United Nations Torture Convention, signed by the U.S. in 1984, states unequivocally that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture”. By 1996, Congress had passed two laws– the War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Statute– to come into compliance with international law. It took the Bush administration less than a decade, in their desperation for actionable intelligence which was never to be forthcoming, to completely undo this commitment. With the passage of the PATRIOT Acts and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, a U.S. citizen can now be arbitrarily declared an enemy noncombatant, and legally disappeared– taken to a secret detention facility, held indefinitely with no recourse to medical or legal intervention, and tortured with impunity. The President, rather than international law, gets to decide what constitutes torture.
Waterboarding, for example, has been approved as an acceptable technique for interrogations– a process in which one is drowned, and revived, repeatedly. In a combat situation, every detainee just might be a ticking bomb, so torture quickly becomes indiscriminate. But, according to the FBI, torture isnʼt a reliable way to get information. Its true purpose is terror. And it is never justified.
A third response has been to say: “Well, they behead people, so theyʼre evil and weʼre not”. Certainly our President has made much use of the phrase “the evildoers”. And, after all, if theyʼre in custody, they must have done something, right? Everyone who commits violence– everyone– feels justified in using it. The banality of evil rests on the fact that it doesnʼt actually take a lot for someone to become a torturer; and it takes even less for the rest of us to allow it. In Part 2 of this sermon, weʼll go into this, as well as into what we might call the banality of heroism– the fact that we are all very close to becoming heroes as well.
How hard is it to convince ordinary people to treat others poorly? Not very hard. When school children were told that all the kids with brown eyes were better, it immediately created a situation in which the blue-eyed kids were treated terribly by their brown-eyed peers.The next day, they were told no, blue eyes are better, and the same kids who were victims of abuse became little perpetrators.
Another time, when teachers were told that certain students (chosen at random) were actually brighter than at first suspected, they immediately started treating those students differently and the students immediately started doing better in school. And the converse was also true. In another study, ordinary students, screened for normalcy in a battery of tests, were then randomly assigned to either be guards or prisoners in a mock prison, a study from which they were free to leave at any time. None left. Scheduled to last for 2 weeks, the experiment was halted after only 5 days due to the brutal behavior of the guards and the abject, helpless and depressed behavior of the prisoners. This experiment, known as the Stanford Prison Experiment, has been replicated over and over again with various age groups, genders, and countries of origin– with the same results.
Similarly, the famous Milgram experiment– in which ordinary people are directed to shock others in a study apparently about learning– has been replicated thousands of times all over the world. Researchers now claim they can manipulate the important variables to get over 90% compliance with the highest levels of shocks– shocks which apparently cause the learners to pass out and perhaps die. What are the relevant variables? The same ones that John Conroy lists in his landmark study of actual torturers “Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People”: isolation; obedience to authority; belief in the goodness of the action; anonymity of the torturer and dehumanization of the victim. These are as easy to achieve as wearing reflective sunglasses or a lab coat, keeping the victims in a separate room or giving them numbers instead of names; making even one offhand disparaging comment about them; or telling someone that you, the authority, will take responsibility for whatever happens. It helps if you pay them something or theyʼve signed a contract… but it isnʼt really necessary.
Another question– Why is it so hard for ordinary people to intervene in difficult situations? In one study, divinity students were prepped to give a sermon about the Good Samaritan– stopping to help a stranger in need–and given various lengths of time to get to the building in which they were to be videotaped giving the sermon. Each of them unwittingly encountered a stranger in dire need on the path to that building. When the trip took 5 minutes and they only had 5 minutes to get there, 70% of these future ministers failed to stop and help. Given up to 30 minutes to get there, most of them did stop to help. Conclusion? Even good, good people fail to do good when they are in a hurry. And how many of us are in a hurry most of the time?
Another study showed that, the more people who are available to intervene in a dire situation, such as seeing a woman run screaming from a building and then get dragged back in by an apparent attacker, the fewer will do anything, including simply call the police. Conclusion? “Someone else will get involved and stop it”. In a nation of millions, surely many others will take care of this torture thing.
Finally, it takes only about 6 other people all agreeing on something–say the actual length of a line– for most people to change their perception of that line. Not just question their perception, but actually change how their brain sees the line. If most people say “the Emperor has clothes on”, then whoever says differently must be crazy, or unpatriotic.
Most of us believe that we are above the influence of situations, and the systems in which we are embedded. But we are not. And it is precisely because of our denial that we are available to be manipulated over and over again into being complicit in events and behaviors which on paper we would totally disavow.
My friends, it is human to want to be loved. It is human to want to hide, even to ourselves, those parts of ourselves we donʼt feel would be worthy of love. This is how we torture ourselves. Our fearfulness, our hatreds ,our desire for revenge, our need for security– all of these are well-hidden in our shadow. As long as itʼs a, few bad apples or the “evildoers” doing the violence, not us good guys, us nice normal people, we can project the blame and avoid taking responsibility for the hard things in the world. We can drag our heels about getting involved, about speaking out and interrupting this violence once and for all.
Martin Buber said: “The line between good and evil runs straight through the human heart”. And thereʼs the story about a wise grandmother who tells her grandchild of two hungry wolves– one good and one evil– who fight with each other inside of our hearts. “Which one wins”, asks the child? “The one you feed”, she answers. “The one you feed”.
In the last part of the sermon weʼll look at how we can feed the good wolf who lives in our hearts
So how do we feed that good wolf inside our hearts–the part of us that dreams of doing good? This is the banality of heroism– how little it would actually take for each of us to become a hero. Drawing on the work of social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, here are ten simple suggestions to move us towards everyday heroism:
1. Be aware of the power of situations to influence you away from your beliefs, and study the situations youʼre in for signs of such influence. 2. Take personal responsibility for everything you do. No one can make you do anything. 3. Know your shadow. Move towards those aspects of your humanity which you would otherwise deny and hide. They are the secret source of your power and your compassion. 4. Be willing to say “I was wrong. I made a mistake. Iʼve changed my mind”. And be willing to demand it of your leaders. 5. Develop and trust your own sense of what feels right and what feels wrong. Remember your individuality and your desire to to the right thing– your past and future goals– in any current situation. 6. Question authority. Question the rules– who made them and who benefits from them. Always question if the ends justify the means. 7. Think hard before putting abstract principles before real people. 8. Donʼt sacrifice personal or civic freedom for the illusion of security. 9. Realize the power of one person. If even one other person agrees with us, the majority losses most of their power of influence over us. Conversely, even one person can influence a majority, say on a jury– only they must have a clear, consistent message; listen well; and communicate in a respectful, but persistent manner. 10. Remember: You CAN oppose unjust systems. As Margaret Mead said: Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, nothing else ever has.
Today, as you leave the sanctuary, there will be baskets at the exits. If youʼre so moved, please make a donation to The Center for Victims of Torture and the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition. After the service, along with refreshments, you are invited to send postcards to your representatives asking that they strongly support the measures now before Congress designed to undo the Military Commissions Act, stop extraordinary rendition, close the School of the Americas and shut down Guantanamo as a prison. Our committee at First Parish is leading a vigil here from 10-6 on Tuesday, to honor the Day in Support of Victims of Torture. You are welcome to come for any part, or all of the vigil. There will be candle lighting, letter writing, prayers and a walk, calling for an end to torture, from 3-4PM. We hope to see you there. Together, we can work to end torture now. Thank you.
2006— Torture as a Spiritual Issue
Dianna Ortiz was an Ursuline nun from the United States. In 1989 she was 19 years old, teaching children to read and write in Guatemala. That country was in civil war between a repressive, right-wing government, supported by the United States, and a resistance movement led by Guatemalans seeking human rights and land reform. The Catholic Church was the only public institution left with the means and the courage to speak out against the repression. In 1989, as part of a government campaign to silence the Church, Sister Dianna was kidnapped and brutally tortured. At a certain point, a North American man entered her torture chamber and transferred her to a car. Terrified, she eventually fled the car and hid, later pleading with officials at the American Embassy to accompany her back to the scene of her torture, to free the others being held there. Dianna Ortiz was refused, and over the next decade she worked courageously both to recover from the horror of her captivity and to discover the identity of the North American who had power over her torturers. In her book ʻThe Blindfoldʼs Eyes”, she recounts the efforts of the U.S. government to deter, deceive and outright oppose her investigation, which resulted in the revelation that her torturers had been on the CIA payroll, and that they were under the supervision of an American agent of the CIA.
I was astonished as I read this book in 2002, but even more so at its conclusion where, in a postscript, Dianna Ortiz warned that the United States would soon seek to make torture, legal. I couldnʼt believe what I was reading. But the advent of the PATRIOT ACTS, which now make it possible to disappear someone– without recourse to legal or medical intervention–and the subsequent efforts of the Bush Administration to circumvent the Geneva Convention– have proven her prediction to be true.
In December 2002, reports started to appear in the Washington Post and New York Times about the torture of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo by US service people. These allegations– including now over 30 charges of murder during interrogation– and the extraordinary rendition of detainees to countries known to torture prisoners– were well-documented by Amnesty International, and presented to the highest levels of our government well before the photos emerged from Abu-Ghraib. These revelations, and the outcry of public indignation which they raised, however, fell upon deaf ears, since President Bush and Mr.ʼs Gonzales, Rumsfeld and Tenet were, at the same time, secretly trying to make torture legal. If there were a “few bad apples” in that situation, then Iʼve just named them. Lyndie England and several others have now been convicted, but unless these men are held accountable for ordering and authorizing torture, they, and others like them, will continue to act with impunity. The Bush Administration has also consistently tried to reverse the legal convictions of known torturers– such as Hector Gramajo, the Guatemalan general responsible for ordering the torture of Dianna Ortiz. Although he was arrested and found guilty in Florida under the Alien Torts and Claims Act, he has never been forced to pay a cent in damages and still walks a free man in America. President Bush has said, in fact, that the Alien Torts and Claims Act– under which torturers from foreign lands can be forced to pay damages to their victims– interferes with his War on Terror. Fortunately, at least so far, the Supreme Court has disagreed with him.
In seeking to educate myself about US complicity and involvement in torture, I discovered a long and dishonorable history. For over 50 years, the US Army has been training Latin American military personnel how to conduct low level warfare against their own civilian populations through assassination, psychological warfare and torture. These are the means by which so many repressive puppet regimes and dictators have maintained their power, and through that power, kept cheap natural resources– and an exploitable labor force– open to US corporations. Whenever a country tried to nationalize such resources, the CIA would intervene. Even democratically elected officials such as Salvador Allende of Chile were overthrown in favor of dictators such as Augusto Pinochet.
The training takes place at the School of the Americas located at Ft. Benning in Columbus, GA. Graduates of the School of the Americas have been directly responsible for the death, disappearance and torture often of thousands of Latin American citizens. WE are the direct beneficiaries of those deaths in the form of cheap blue jeans and bananas, copper and Coca-Cola. For two years I walked the 120 miles between Atlanta and Ft. Benning with a small group of activists as a nonviolent call for the School of the Americas to be closed. Last October, members and friends of the First Parish community walked here on the Cape, from Provincetown to Chatham, to call for an end to torture, and bring this issue to light among our own neighbors. And that is why weʼre here, talking to you today, in recognition of the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims and Survivors of Torture.
Torture is illegal, immoral and un-American. Patrick Henry said: “What has distinguished our ancestors?—That they would not admit of tortures or cruel and barbarous punishment. But Congress…may introduce the practice of…torturing…and they will tell you there is a necessity of strengthening the arm of government…We are then lost and undone.” Torture IS already illegal under many domestic and international laws. But the present Administration is trying– overtly and explicitly– to change that. We need to say no. The UN Convention on Torture, which the US ratified in 1994, makes it crystal clear: “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture”. Torture is ineffective as a tool of interrogation– people will say anything, agree to anything,– to get it to stop. It places our own troops at risk of similar treatment. Itʼs main purpose is to terrorize a population into submission. In January of 2005, Newsweek reported that the Army was actually considering the use of death squads in Iraq. Not surprising, perhaps, given that John Negroponte, then our Ambassador to Iraq, was formerly Ambassador to Honduras, and complicit in death squad activities in that country on our behalf. Dianna Ortiz was captive for only 24 hours. In that time she was beaten, repeatedly raped, burned over 100 times on her back with lit cigarettes and physically forced to stab another prisoner to death. As we meet here today, people continue to be tortured. We have to stop this permanently and we have to stop it now. Torture is a spiritual issue. We are being called to feel our way, with open hearts, into life beyond our own skins– into pain that is beyond words– into courage and compassion and action. This is not an easy call. It touches on our most primal instinct toward self-defense and our need for revenge, control and safety. Truly, the one who would take power over the Other, lives within each of us. But torture is also a moral bottom line. As US citizens, we must refuse to allow that line to be crossed in our name anymore. Just as our generation looks back with horror at the patent evils of genocide and slavery perpetrated in this country, so future generations will wonder at the self-serving and self-deceiving litany of justifications that we give for the present use and tolerance of torture. So, what can we do? Today, at noon, we join with churches all over the world in ringing our bells to raise a clamor against torture everywhere. After the service, you can sign a petition calling on our representatives to hold our leaders responsible for authorizing torture. You can write letters calling for an end to torture and support legislation currently under consideration to that end. You can check out the UUSC website for their National Campaign to Stop Torture Permanently. At the back of the Church there will be baskets where you can donate to the Center for Victims of Torture and Dianna Ortizʼs organization the Torture Abolition Survivors Service Committee. You can visit the School of the Americas Watch website and link to the walk from Atlanta. And you can educate yourself around this issue by reading Truth, Torture and the American Way, by Jennifer Harbury who, until recently, led the UUSC Stop Torture Campaign. Most importantly, you can feel– outrage, grief, curiosity about your own violence…and hope– and out of those feelings, talk with YOUR neighbors and do what YOU are moved to do. As Vaclav Havel, the former Czech President said: Hope is an orientation of the Spirit. It is not based on a belief that all things will go well. It is a conviction that, despite any setbacks or suffering, one is doing the right thing. Join us, please, in calling for an end to torture– by anyone, anywhere, NOW. Thank you.