“Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?” (Isaiah 58:3). We know these questions as those of the Israelites in the book of Isaiah dismayed that God had not responded to their penance, but in light of today – the 100th day of the hunger strike at the prison at Guantanamo Bay – these questions take on a new relevance. 102 of the 166 men currently detained in Guantanamo are participating in a hunger strike to challenge their treatment and their continued detention. The questions confront us today: do we not see? Do we pay no heed? And, perhaps more pressing, is this the fast that we desired?
Today marks the second anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and as we consider this significant date it feels important to think about American approaches to fighting terrorism and the treatment of terrorist suspects. Despite the Administration’s continued assertion that torture produced no actionable intelligence in the search for Osama Bin Laden, that notion has persisted in the media and public consciousness. However, a recent report released by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment – the most extensive investigation into U.S. policies of torture in the war on terror- has once again sought to close the debate on this matter.
The Task Force - whose bi-partisan membership included former Members of Congress, former military officers, attorneys and counterterrorism experts – conducted over two years of research and produced an over 500-page long report. The report addresses a number of critical issues from the American conduct in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the U.S. Military prison at Guantanamo Bay, to the external rendition and torture of suspected terrorists.
The recent hunger strike at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay has thrown the controversy surrounding the prison back into the news cycle. The hunger strike, which began several weeks ago, has grown to include at least 39 of the 166 men in custody (nearly a quarter of the detainees, and those are only the ones that the Department of Defense will confirm; many believe the number is much higher). DoD has confirmed that several of these men have lost upwards of 20-30 pounds, and ten of them are currently being force-fed.
When the ink on the constitution dried, the ratifications of the states were complete and the structure of our country was finally taking shape, the privilege of voting was conferred upon a narrow class of citizens, wealthy land-owning white men. As time went on, voting rights expanded to larger casts of the electorate. Representative democracy became the crown jewel of our country. Voting gave citizens the power to change and control the government, making it responsive to the will of citizens and not the other way around. Martin Luther King, Jr. once declared, “Voting is the foundation stone for political action. The basic elements so vital to Negro advancement can only be achieved by seeking redress from government at local, state and Federal levels. To do this the vote is essential.” Indeed the right to vote is the single greatest right granted every American regardless of socioeconomic circumstance, familiar origins or racial identity. Though, the latter came about only very recently.
It’s been a big few weeks for nominations and I don’t just mean the Oscars or the Golden Globes. On Thursday, President Obama named Jack Lew to serve as Treasury Secretary, replacing Tim Geithner. I’m sure the fact that Lew was a featured speaker at our 2011 Consultation on Conscience was a key factor in the President’s decision. Also announced in recent days were Senator John Kerry to become Secretary of State, John Brennan as CIA Director and former Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as Defense Secretary. All of these are positions that will need to be confirmed by the Senate, which will allow a fuller exploration of the nominees’ records in the coming weeks. Read more…
Last night the Senate voted to invoke cloture the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 – a major piece of legislation that sets policy for the Defense Department by authorizing programs and suggesting funding levels (not to be confused with the Defense Appropriations Bill, the NDAA does not actually fund the military). But NDAA reauthorization affects issues far beyond national defense. Last week, my colleague Mikey posted an update about the NDAA’s response to the Palestinian’s recent UN bid. Later this week my colleague Sarah will discuss a landmark gain for military women’s rights. Today, though, I’m writing a quick update on the controversial civil liberties issues in this bill.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) organized and led a delegation of 22 religious leaders and NRCAT staff in a meeting November 27, 2012, with White House staff, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to discuss the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). NRCAT is encouraging President Obama to sign the protocol, which has already been ratified by 64 nations and signed by an additional 22. Torture inflicts more physical and psychological harm than other interrogation techniques which are, in fact, more effective means of obtaining crucial national security intelligence and therefore cannot be condoned by Jewish law.
In 2008 President Obama campaigned on a pledge to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. In his first week on the job the President signed an Executive Order calling for the prison’s swift closure. However, today the prison at Guantanamo remains in operation and continues to hold 166 detainees. Although the issue went largely unmentioned in the 2012 campaign, President Obama did say in an interview on The Daily Show that failing to close Guantanamo was a major regret of his first term and would be a renewed goal after the election. We at the RAC, and the broader anti-torture/civil liberties community, hope to hold the President to his word in the coming weeks as the Senate debates the National Defense Authorization Act.