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Christian Prisons, Christian Torture?

Christian Prisons, Christian Torture?

I wonder how many Christians regularly visit prisoners to offer consolation and comfort anymore? I’m not talking about ministers or special group missions, but regular laypeople of the many congregations in all their many denominations all over the country. Somehow I think that the ones who call for punishment and torture and war probably don’t do that.

A prisoner is someone who is held against their will in… a prison! Oh, you can call it a penitentiary, a correctional facility, a camp, a containment center or a detention center, but the thing is what it is: it’s where individuals have been physically confined, deprived of freedom of movement and other freedoms, and are treated as subhumans. Why? Because they have been convicted (it is to be hoped the conviction was established through a through a legal and ethical process) of doing a terrible awful thing, or even several terrible awful things.

Of course, prison may also function as political tool, and that is a sign of a move toward a more authoritarian regime. In such societies, the detention of enemies of state and other political prisoners is common. Prisoners of conscience and religion, people imprisoned because of ethnicity, cultural difference, sexual preference, birth nation, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time – we can all think of examples of this kind of thing. The incarceration and interrogation of prisoners of war – and what we now euphemistically call “detainees” instead of prisoners – is common during times of war and other conflicts. We used to have some laws and standards about that, remember? Many other countries still do.

The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act. – Stanley Milgram, 1974

For a deeper understanding of a few of the social dynamics involved, I recommend taking a look at one of the most famous psychological experiments ever done: Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment. Also take a look at the related Stanford Prison Experiment.

Within the context of the society that has the power to imprison, prisoners are considered to be a danger to others. This is often true enough, although much can be debated about the process – in any country – by which certain people are imprisoned and other people are not. There is also a very strong ideological debate, of course, about the merit and effectiveness of ideas about punishment/vengeance as opposed to rehabilitation.

I find much to loathe in certain kinds of criminality, but I also find much that is detestable about the ways that we choose to deal with prisoners. In some circumstances, cruel treatment – and even torture – has been condoned and approved of by many Americans.

One of every 100 Americans is incarcerated. In the United States of America, there is now a thriving private prison sector. We impose the death penalty, although almost all European nations (not to mention Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and most of Latin America) have abolished it.

Some of the people who are most enthusiastic about the punishment, torture, and killing of prisoners profess to be Christians.

Isn’t that strange?

It seems to me that following Jesus is all about interrupting cycles of violence, not perpetuating them. I don’t understand how someone can say that they are following Jesus and then ignore everything he ever said and did. Doesn’t that miss the whole point – the “good news” part?

There are clear directives not to judge or condemn others. Who can ever forget Jesus confronting the would-be executioners of an adulteress in John 8? Sure, start throwing stones, just as soon as one of you is without sin or fault! Right! Now take a deep breath and chill. Do you know that there are people who call themselves Christians who would like to bring back stoning? And when will they give UP on controlling women? It’s tiresome.

God knows what we need before we even ask, but we should pray for forgiveness for the wrongs we have done, and remind ourselves every day that we must first forgive others. Only insofar as we have forgiven those who have wronged us may we be forgiven our own wrongs. There have been times, I admit, when my prayer has been to be released from that obligation. Sigh.

If you, then, bad as you are, know how to give your children what is good for them, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him!”

But how does that chapter (of Matthew 7) start?

Pass no judgment and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you.

It’s all about measuring – and that takes a bit of mindfulness and humility. It sounds a lot like conscious karma, and it’s certainly a very wise piece of guidance for the soul’s path.

Yet, for someone who knocks, the door will always, always be opened – that is grace. That is the gift, and it is open to all.

God’s gifts are irrevocable.

One very important way to understand what some of those gifts can be (and how to practice them) is to model the way you’d like to be understood and loved in your relationship with others. When you offer yourself in service to others, even in a kind of “secret service,” you are blessed in turn. It just happens.

Christians are not meant to be vengeful. It only escalates violence into never-ending cycles of death.

Over and over, the biblical Christian texts tell us to leave vengeance to the Lord, to turn the other cheek (to make them think?), to care for the least among us – the poor, the downtrodden, the detested, even to call down blessings on our enemies and persecutors! That last bit is a little over the top, but maybe the writer had an affection for flourish. At least, I hope so.

To be joyful with the joyful and mournful with the mournful, to be humble and caring and moved by love (not by hate) – to me, that’s the heart of a Christian. The whole law, Jesus believed, was completed in Love.

Not only wasn’t he the fully Anointed King of Israel that they were expecting (to usher in a messianic age of war and then a time of peace) but he even forgave the ones who were crucifying him! Nobody was ever expecting that. Seems like lunacy on the face of it. I don’t know. I only wonder how important these things really are that we fight about.

Who are you to say that you know for sure who is and who is not accepted – or acceptable – by God?

Maybe God loves everybody, even if they’re a jerk. You don’t know. Maybe there is no God – maybe it’s all about power after all. Maybe God has God’s own ways of deciding things without consulting your interpretation. Maybe God is that which is greater than anything that you can think, or that can be thought. Maybe God is Love. Maybe God is an abyss with a big eye looking back at you. Maybe God is an alien. Maybe God exceeds our expectations. Maybe God is nothing at all like anything we think.

But America, brought down so low as to forget that we are all human – or to remember but be too complacent to believe it, or to be too busy trying to live to think about it at all.

You so-called Christians that condone or cheer for the abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and other places like them, who turn a blind eye to our prison-for-profit systems and detention centers and extraditions for torture…

You who will not look at photographs because “images are too disturbing” while you let the actions that you have no spine to observe continue … it’s too easy to blame someone else…

You who think that it’s so macho and even sexy to hurt and dehumanize others…

You hypocrites and compartmentalizers, you sociopaths lacking empathy and simple human understanding…

When is the last time you visited someone in prison to console them?

When was the last time you showed kindness to someone that others in your little in-group might find detestable?

Are you so sure that your smug dehumanizing arrogance is pleasing to God? If you really are sure, give us a wee hint – how can we make you less sure? You’re destroying us.

It’s time for Christian assistant shepherds to recall their flocks to the meaning of the message. Cool, clear water of life, ratch ‘ere.

How can torturers and greedy war-mongers and spreaders of lies and fear have become so triumphant that they can brazenly assume that any real Christian could or would be a part of their “base”? How can Christians support such degrading and oppressive corruption as this? It’s a culture of fear and death.

We’ve gotten into ruts in our thinking – it’s all full of ideology and false oppositions and judgments that aren’t based in reality but on dark fantasies and projections.

Don’t dehumanize others – that’s where it all starts. Counter terror with justice, not sadism. Yes, there are reasons for prisons, but there is never a reason to degrade another human being, to invade them, to rape them, to torture them, to kill them.

And yes, I realize that I’m strident. There is an irony here, I know.

I try to understand and even to love those who hate just as much as I can. It’s a major challenge, and so perhaps the board of Benevolent Deities Inc. is having a little laugh watching me here in Georgia. For now, it’s about daily practice, trying – one person at a time – to understand how it happens, and to plant small seeds of its undoing while my imaginary guitar of the spirit gently weeps (the guitar is a permanent installation designed by John Lennon).

My assessment is that American pseudo-christians need to de-familiarize themselves again – to step away from their customary ways of thinking about religion so that they can hear and see and form their own insights again.

Agape love is a powerful way to inspire creative confrontation, restitution, and reconciliation.

Americans also need to remember and uphold the standards that we tell ourselves that we hold dear and which have been sold far too cheaply.

Ok, that’s all rather heavy, isn’t it? It all came out in a rush.

“My mind’s been going places without me lately”…

And after I truly finished the first draft, I went outside to see that the sky was an unearthly yellow.

Rooms in the George W. Bush Museum

Rooms in the George W. Bush Museum

Thanks to Memere’s email delivery service…. with a couple of slight corrections…

The George W Bush Presidential Museum is now in the planning stages. It was supposed to be a library, but the planners kept resigning. You’ll want to be one of the first to make a contribution to this great man’s legacy.

The Museum will include:

  • The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction.
  • The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you can’t remember anything.
  • The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don’t have to even show up.
  • The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don’t let you in.
  • The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don’t let you out.
  • The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one will be able to find.
  • The Iraq War Room, where they make you go back. After you complete your first tour, they make you return for second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth tours.
  • The Dick Cheney Room, in an undisclosed location, complete with shooting gallery. If you have the right connections, you might get there, but there are no promises about your location in relation to the gun.
  • The K-Street Project Gift Shop, where you can buy – or just steal – an election.
  • The Airport Men’s Room, where you can meet some of your favorite Republican Senators in an informal location.
  • Last, but not least, there will be an entire floor devoted to a 7/8 scale model of the President’s ego.

To help you find the President’s accomplishments, the museum will have an electron microscope.

President Bush said that he didn’t care so much about the individual exhibits as long as his museum was better than his father’s.

Justification for Gitmo – not

Justification for Gitmo – not

William Glaberson reports that defense attorneys representing a 21-year-old being held prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, “have been ordered by a military judge not to tell their client – or anyone else – the identity of witnesses against him” in the prisoner’s upcoming war crimes trial.

Attorneys point out that this “would hamper their ability to build an adequate defense because they cannot ask their client or anyone else about prosecution witnesses, making it difficult to test the veracity of testimony.” Duh.

Commander Kuebler’s e-mail messages were filled with assertions that his client’s rights were being violated and with arguments that Mr. Khadr should be afforded the lenient treatment that has been accorded child fighters in some other wars. He ridiculed “the absurdity of characterizing an alleged former child soldier” as a dangerous terrorist and said the prosecution was ignoring rules assuring that detainees charged with war crimes are entitled to public trials.

In an e-mail message on Oct. 11 to the judge and the prosecutors, Commander Kuebler argued that it was notable that the entire discussion of whether witnesses would be permitted to shield their identities was being conducted without anyone in the public or the press able to observe the arguments. “The manner in which this is being dealt with (i.e., off the record, via e-mail),” he wrote, “creates an added level of difficulty by making it appear that the government is trying to keep the secrecy of the proceedings a secret itself.”

Omar Ahmed Khadr, who was 15 at the time (and has thus been held for five years already) is being closely watched because it may be the first Guantánamo prosecution to go to trial.

He was captured in a compound near Khost that was surrounded by US special forces. The Americans called in a devastating air strike – no survivors were expected.

Khadr survived and allegedly threw a grenade, which injured Sgt. Christopher Speer and led to his death, and injured three other members of the squad. Omar himself was shot three times, and left nearly blind in one eye.

He is among the youngest prisoners held in extrajudicial detention in the Guantánamo Bay camps – and the only Canadian.

On November 7, 2005, Khadr and nine other Guantanamo inmates were charged to be tried by “Military Commission” but the commission was struck down as unlawful by the US Supreme Court in 2006. After the MCA was signed in October 2006, new charges were sworn against Khadr on February 2, 2007. Khadr petitioned the US Supreme Court to review the legality of the military commission and his detention, but this request was denied.

Sergeant Heather Cerveny, the paralegal for Colby Vokey, Khadr’s military lawyer, issued an affidavit reporting that off-duty Guantanamo guards had bragged to her of abusing detainees. Both then were slapped with a gag order.

On April 5, 2006 Khadr read out a note that said: “Excuse me Mr. Judge,.. I’m being punished for exercising my right and being co-operative in participating in this military commission. For that, I say with my respect to you and everybody else here, that I’m boycotting these procedures until I be treated humanely and fair.”

In November, Colonel Brownback did not exercise the authority granted to him by the Court of Review to make a ruling as to whether Khadr was or was not an unlawful combatant – because the Defense had recently learned the Prosecution had exculpatory evidence that they had not chosen to share.

Khadr’s lawyers have alleged that Khadr was abused while he was held at Camp X-Ray (in Guantanamo) and should have been treated as a minor.

He was kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time, denied adequate medical treatment, subjected to “short shackling” and left bound in uncomfortable “stress positions” until he soiled himself.

In a press conference on January 16, 2005, Khadr’s lawyers described how Khadr’s captors took Khadr’s still bound body and wiped his hair and clothes in his urine and feces.

Is this the best case they’ve got?

Tell Senators to Restore Habeas Corpus

Tell Senators to Restore Habeas Corpus

President Bush currently has the power to declare anyone he wants, including U.S. citizens, to be an “enemy combatant” — and imprison them indefinitely without access to our court system – and without any explanation for their imprisonment.

The Senate is set to vote this week on whether or not to restore habeas corpus — the fundamental constitutional right that allows citizens to challenge the lawfulness of their imprisonment.

Contact your U.S. senators now and speak up to save habeas corpus and restore the Constitution.

Last September, Congress shamefully passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) — which codified the suspension of habeas corpus rights, and allowed the government to continue holding prisoners at Guantanamo (and other secret sites) indefinitely with no access to a fair hearing in court.

Indefinite imprisonment without judicial review is unconstitutional — and fundamentally un-American. It’s a hallmark of fascist dictatorships, not constitutional democracies like ours.

Fortunately, there is movement in Congress to restore this fundamental constitutional right. This Monday, September 14th, the Senate is expected to resume debate on the Department of Defense Authorization bill and vote on S.185, the Specter-Leahy amendment to restore habeas corpus. This will be the first full up-or-down vote in Congress on restoring habeas corpus, and could give Guantanamo prisoners the long-denied right to independent review of their detention.

If our moral standing in the world community is ever to be restored, this bill is a very good first step.

(Action sponsored by Act for Change / Working Assets)

O’Reilly Gitmo

O’Reilly Gitmo

Bill O’Reilly visited Gitmo just before three prisoners committed suicide.

Jon Stewart: “I can’t believe they lasted that long after an O’Reilly visit…”

O’Reilly claims the prisoners are POWs…. What does that make Condi?

See video at Crooks and Liars

Video-WMP Video-QT

O’Reilly’s response? He claims that you’d have to be a stoned dopey college kid to watch Stewart’s show.

In fact, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center indicates that Daily Show viewers are consistently better informed about current events than consumers of other media, while Nielsen Media Research statistics demonstrate that Daily Show viewers are more educated and affluent than the viewers of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.

My reaction to the State of the Union Address

My reaction to the State of the Union Address

I somehow made it all the way through the State of the Union address last night. Much as I disagree with the Bush administration, I even found him unusually appealing.

I actually had the thought, “Well, maybe most of this administration’s ugliness is Cheney. Maybe Bush means some of what he is saying here.” I thought he really tried to appeal to our hopefulness at a very sour time – that showed some good leadership. But that’s about it.

So many platitudes, so little straight talk.

He opened with the death of Coretta Scott King. At least he kept his remarks short and honored her as best he could, considering everything.

Isolationist? I haven’t heard anyone advocating that America should be isolationist or retreating from the world. I guess everyone can get behind that – attack a position no-one holds. Actually, it seems that this administration might benefit from more open debates on how to engage with the rest of the world in more effective ways. The costs of our invasion of Iraq – all the costs (ethical, diplomatic, financial, etc.) – have yet to be justified. I sincerely hope that his view of Iraq is not as simplistic as his few comments suggest. Probably just dumbing down.

Ditto for terrorists, but this is even more troubling. He seems to view the terrorists as a singular force, when it is really a mutating, changing and global set of loose alliances. He hasn’t got at what it will take to defeat them if he is concentrating on nations.

Interesting that he went back and forth from inaccurate representations of Democratic views to words about bipartisanship and working together. He suggests that they are soft on terrorism? Please. In my darker moments, I wonder how far this administration would go to bolster those claims.

The Rule of Law – I can’t believe he’s trying to wrap his illegal surveillance of Americans in 9/11 again. The claims he is making on the NSA spying scandal are pretty much to be expected – and really it’s probably all he can do right now. Of course, everything he said is problematic from a variety of perspectives, but that’s all playing out elsewhere. Personally, I believe this president violated federal law, but feels secure enough about it to brag. Bad sign.

“Human-animal hybrids”? What? Is there some room from O Lucky Man hiding in North Carolina? Is there an island of Dr. Moreau off New York? Maybe they mean Plum Island?

Well, good to see the value of life expressed. I think about the lives of those people who died in the aftermath of Katrina, the lives of the people of Fallujah or in Gitmo or Abu Ghraib or in our huge domestic prison system which still carries out barbaric if sterile executions, or the lives of people around the world who get HIV for lack of real educational programs beyond “just abstain” and die from it for lack of support for generic drugs. It’s easy to see the values of “life” in cutting anti-poverty programs, in cutting education, in cutting healthcare. Or maybe the value of all our lives is measured in terms of profits and cannon fodder. I felt sorry for that military family standing there. I felt sorry for that soldier’s wife and his parents. What did he die for? Invasion and occupation wasn’t the only option. I’ve now heard rumours of dropping nukes on Iran. Evidently civilian killings are planned to represent our support of their liberty too.

I liked the “switch grass” – it added spice, although I’m not sure where the marshlands could be retrieved for growing it. Can you see the slogan? “Grow Grass for Bush.” Actually, I think the clean reliable and safe energy he’s planning on is primarily nuclear energy. Has that really registered? Do we really want to give terrorists even more underdefended targets here?

I’m not sure I can really believe that an administration so closely tied to oil and gas (and who always supports industry over consumers) will be the ones who will move us out of a petroleum-based economy. He said that the US would replace 75% of our Middle East oil imports by 2025, but only 20% of our imports come from the region anyway, and he gives it about 20 years to happen. The White House has been against efforts to tighten fuel economy standards, and the tax system actually gives SUV drivers an incentive. He pledged support for alternative fuel technologies in previous State of the Union addresses, too, just like every other President I ever remember. Let’s see how it pans out.

Line item veto? Maybe it was a joke? He did grin. Anyway, that power was granted to Clinton but then overturned by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

On the economy, let’s remember that he inherited a $281 billion budget surplus that is now a $400 billion deficit. The national debt is up 44% (trillions and trillions of dollars, folks), but he wants to keep those tax cuts to the rich. The gap in America between the rich and the poor grows.

We’ve created “more jobs than Japan and Europe combined”… and they are all at Halliburton. Seriously, I don’t know if the claim about job creation is true or not, but it is my understanding that in both Japan and most of Europe, there is healthcare whether or not you are employed, a free college education, weeks and weeks of vacation, and generous pension plans. Part-time jobs at Walmart don’t really compare. Let’s also compare the worker populations. I wonder how many new workers entered the market in that time? No mention of how many jobs India or China have created in the same amount of time…. Anyway, there was a reason he didn’t cite the figures from the beginning of his presidency – it would have cut his total by more than half. 2 million jobs over a five-year period isn’t really much to brag about, especially when you look at the jobs.

Healthcare. Again, Bush would rather cut Medicare than allow, for example, negotiated drug prices. A closed-door session just gave away another $22 billion benefit to insurance companies, and some $140 million was spent by drug and insurance companies to lobby Republicans on the Medicare drug benefit alone. How about looking at some of the systemic issues?

Yes, we need to have a debate on healthcare, one that bases decisions on the common good of all Americans – is he really going to have that debate? I hope so. We need everyone’s ideas on this one. He didn’t really make any move toward fixing the current mess that privatizing the drug benefit (or is it “penalty”?) has caused. There seems to be no move (while he’s in the mood to cut needed programs all over, like Pell Grants and Medicare), to optimize or reform the healthcare system or to watchdog the health/drug/insurance industries. Any administrative assistant at any healthcare facility in the country can tell you where the fat is, where the corruption is. How about this as one small measure – insurance companies have to pay bills within 30 days, like the rest of us. Don’t wait around to hear such measures suggested by the Bush administration.

The Patriot Act? How about if we lose some of these provisions, such as the criminalization of protesters (carrying punishments of up to ten years in prison)? Or perhaps the Congress should consider cutting back on the wholesale authority to wiretap your phone, monitor your e-mail and demand your medical, financial and student records from banks, vendors, doctors‚ offices, and libraries – those required to turn over your records are prevented from ever telling you, even if the records turn up no wrongdoing.

The Bush administration has worked hard – to subvert America’s laws regarding open government while it infringes on your constitutional rights. This administration has done everything in its power to block and stall and hide from investigations into 9/11, the way we entered into the Iraq war, the Katrina aftermath, and the outing of Plame. It is a very very secretive administration. It has promoted cronyism at such levels as to have become actual security threats to our nation, and blocked meaningful debate by simply shutting down the conversation.

Just the little detail that adds insult: Cindy Sheehan was arrested and taken away in handcuffs for the crime of wearing a teeshirt that said “2245 How Many More?”. She was an invited guest. She wasn’t the only one in trouble either. Beverly Young (wife of Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee) was removed from the gallery for another teeshirt considered to be a “protest.” It read, “Support the Troops — Defending Our Freedom.”

So while I feel the President has, with practice, improved on his speech delivery skills, we’re still just being had.

Of course, I wasn’t that impressed with the Democrat’s response either, which had a few good points but was dumbed-down wayyyy too much.

I did like the brief comments I saw from Barack Obama. Maybe he should run in 2008. I’d vote for him over anyone else at this point.

So here’s his statement, which makes me a lot more hopeful than any words from this President’s speech:

Tonight, the American people know our union should be stronger. They know we can defeat terror and keep our shores safe. And they know that we can be competitive in a 21st century economy where every hardworking family prospers, not just some.

But the American people are wondering if this Administration can lead us there. Because after five years of the same timid solutions to great national challenges, Americans are more anxious about their future and more uncertain about the direction of the country we love.

They’ve seen their wages go down as their medical, gas, and tuition bills go up. They’ve seen jobs go overseas and wonder if our children will be prepared to compete in a global economy. And they’ve seen scandal and corruption take hold of a Washington that helps high-priced lobbyists at the expense of hardworking families.

Americans everywhere want a leader who speaks to their hopes for a better future and then acts on them.

But tonight, the President barely mentioned his health care plan for people who can already afford health care, ignoring bold, bipartisan proposals that can guarantee affordable and available health care for every American.

He identified America’s addiction to oil, but ignored his Administration’s addiction to oil-industry giveaways that won’t free us from our dependence on fossil fuels.

And after forty-six minutes of speaking, the President used less than sixty words to tell us how he’d clean up Washington and restore the American people’s faith in a government that works for them, not just big donors.

We can have this kind of government in America, face the future with hope, and move our country in the direction of progress. But we need strong leadership to get there – leadership that isn’t afraid to think big, try new ideas, and reach out to Americans of all political stripes. This is how we will restore the American people’s faith in our union and truly make it stronger.