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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.

McCain Sells His Soul

McCain Sells His Soul

As cynical as I have become about politics, this one surprises even me. I never would have thought that John McCain would vote this way on torture. Disgusting.

Arianna Huffington: John McCain Sells His Soul to the Right: Backs Off on Torture Ban – Politics on The Huffington Post

Has there ever been a more repugnant example of political pandering than John McCain’s decision to vote against a bill banning waterboarding, putting hoods on prisoners, forcing them to perform sex acts, subjecting them to mock executions, or depriving them of food, water, and medical treatment?

“When I was imprisoned, I took heart from the fact that I knew my North Vietnamese captors would never be treated like I was treated by them. There are much better and more effective ways to get information. You torture someone long enough, he’ll tell you whatever he thinks you want to know.” And there was this pithy and powerful summation of why torture should never be an option: “It’s not about who they are, it’s about who we are.”

Well, Senator McCain, this vote demonstrates very clearly who you are. How will you sleep at night?

Once again, it’s time for “JWs in the News”

Once again, it’s time for “JWs in the News”

Some recent media items on Jehovah’s Witnesses:

Surviving a JW Sadist

Alloma Gilbert has published an article – an excerpt from her upcoming book Deliver Me From Evil (March 2008) – on how she survived being starved, beaten and tortured by her Jehovah’s Witness foster mother Eunice Spry (see also the post Sadistic Foster Mom a Devout Jehovah’s Witness).

Ten years later, in court, I would hold one of the sticks she routinely used to thrust down our throats and show the world the two inches of dried blood still staining the end. It was shortly after this appalling incident that something inside me finally snapped. I was 11 by now and had been enduring Eunice’s terrible physical and psychological cruelty for nearly five years.

… But this time I’d had enough. I don’t know whether it was my outrage at all the previous punishments, or just growing older and more defiant, but I utterly refused to admit to something I hadn’t done. “It wasn’t me,” I said. Eunice stared hard at me and came and bent over me. “Answering back, are we?” she said. “Well, you can starve.”

This was the first moment I had ever really stood up to her and although it was only a small thing, and I knew I was going to be hungry afterwards, I felt a tiny edge of triumph. And so I starved. For a week she gave me nothing – not a single scrap to eat. It was a real battle of wills, and I became so weak and sick that I was hallucinating. In my desperation, I resorted to the pig bin and feasted greedily on mouldy boiled potatoes, vegetable peelings and pig nuts. It was revolting, but I just hoped it would give me the energy to survive.

I’m glad to see that Alloma reclaimed her name. To Eunice, who made her answer to the name “Harriet,” it was a magic “demonized” name.

JW’s “Not Exactly Interfaith,” Child Abuse, Sexual Assault, Medical Alarmists

The Independent has a scathing article in health news: The Big Question: Why are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Why Do They Refuse Blood Transfusions?

Why don’t other religions stick up for them?

Because they have gone out of their way to be rude about them. They have their own, rather eccentric, translation of the Bible and rubbish everyone else’s beliefs as “mere human speculations or religious creeds”. They have routinely described the Roman Catholic Church as a “semiclad harlot reeling drunkenly into fire and brimstone”. Then there are “the so-called Protestants” and the “Yiddish” clergy “like foolish simpletons” participating in “the world empire of false religion”. I could go on. They do. They are not exactly big on inter-faith.

What’s the situation with child abuse?

Not good. They take Deuteronomy 19:15 literally, which demands two witnesses to a crime (not easy in cases of abuse). And they cite 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 – “Does anyone of you that has a case against the other dare to go to court before unrighteous men, and not before the holy ones?” – to justify trying to deal with criminals with courts of elders rather than courts of law. A Panorama investigation reported they have an internal list of 23,720 reported abusers which they keep private. Studies in the US suggest they have proportionally four times more sexual assaults on children than the Catholic Church.

But didn’t they change their policy a few years back?

No. In 2000 the church council announced that it would no longer expel members who had willingly had a blood transfusion. But only because by doing so they had excommunicated themselves. Many JWs still carry a signed and witnessed advance directive card absolutely refusing blood in the event of an accident. And the church’s website still carries alarmist material about the dangers of transfusions in transmitting Aids, Lyme Disease and other conditions. It also exaggerates the effectiveness of alternative non-blood medical therapies.

To verdener / Worlds Apart

In Denmark, a trailer is available for To verdener / Worlds Apart, an upcoming movie based on the life of a young Jehovah’s Witness woman. The situation of a Jehovah’s Witness that falls in love with a non-JW is a very, very common one. Even with the language barrier, you can see the makings of tragedy unfold. My stomach roiled as I watched it.

Watch the Preview

New Resources

Divorce, Blood Transfusions, and other Legal Issues Affecting Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses – The purpose of this website is to bring together in one website summaries of as many custody and other miscellaneous legal disputes involving children of Jehovah’s Witnesses as can be located in published news reports and court decisions. Currently, there are approximately 485 case summaries posted. Approximately 365 summaries are posted in the blood transfusions section; approximately 100 more lengthy summaries are posted in the divorces section; and approximately 20 other summaries are posted in other sections. An additional 50 historical case summaries are linked from the JW History page.

Employment Issues Unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses – A collection of lawsuits in which Jehovah’s Witness employees have sued their employer, as well as related employer issues. The website summarizes, discusses, or identifies approximately 380 Jehovah’s Witnesses cases and incidents, including civil court cases, criminal court cases, threatened lawsuits, complaints filed with various government agencies, media reports, other miscellaneous information about employment-related controversies.

Today’s Links

Today’s Links

Just some things that caught my eye…

A Revealing Look at the Presidential FrontRunners | Washington Post

Do you know the voting record of your presidential candidate? Time to look at it…

Members of Congress: Bio and Voting Record | Washington Post

Please comment if you have outstanding links on the objective record of non-congressional candidates.

Open Letter to Saxby Chambliss (R, GA)

Open Letter to Saxby Chambliss (R, GA)

I received an email today from Senator Saxby Chambliss, and I’m posting both his communication and my own.

Dear Ms. N: Thank you for contacting me regarding the National Security Agency’s (NSA) monitoring of conversations connected to terrorist activity and the treatment of military detainees. It is good to hear from you.

I certainly understand your concerns regarding personal freedoms. We are blessed to live in a free and effective democracy, and, just like you, I hold dear the personal freedoms that are provided to each and every law-abiding American.

As you know, the world changed on September 11, 2001. In the weeks following the catastrophic and murderous attacks on our nation, President Bush authorized the NSA to intercept certain international communications into and out of the United States from persons known to have links to terrorist organizations. As it has been publicly discussed, the purpose of the monitoring program is to prevent another attack on our country. This program is effective and the terrorist plots that have been foiled demonstrate that it is vitally important for the President of the United States to have the power and authority to act on information to protect the American people.

With respect to military detainees captured by the United States, they should be treated humanely and in a manner that honors our agreement under the Geneva Conventions. On October 17, 2006, President Bush signed into law (P.L. 109-366) a bill that outlines the treatment of our military detainees and our interrogation program. This law will further underscore to other countries that the United States will treat its detainees properly and justly.

As always, I appreciate hearing from you.

(Yada yada yada, I’m so sure he appreciates hearing from me.)

So here is my response. I am almost completely certain that such correspondence has no impact on Senator Chambliss whatsoever, but perhaps his staff draws some kind of statistical trend reports for purposes of future elections.

I’m not the only Georgian who wonders why Mr. Chambliss continues to puppet the lies of this administration.

Dear Senator Chambliss:

The NSA monitoring of conversations and email has gone beyond the bounds of what you describe in this correspondence. I am quite sure that you are aware of that.

How can you try to say that you hold dear our freedoms and the values of our democracy when you continue to support the unethical and anti-American actions of this President and Vice-President?

Stop using 9/11 as the “second Pearl Harbor.” With policies such as surveillance of American citizens, retroactive immunity laws, the expansion of executive power, and the torture and mistreatment of prisoners of all kinds – both here and abroad – you have undermined the values of the United States of America.

In this respect, the 9/11 attack couldn’t have been more successful as an act of terrorism; this administration, with your full support, has used it to betray what we should have been standing up for – our freedoms, our democracy, our rights as Americans. You, sir, are allowing that act to succeed in changing the very fabric of our nation.

You say we are “blessed to live in a free and effective democracy.” What remains of this “blessing” – a state of affairs hard-earned in blood and vigilance – is systematically being dismantled, and you contribute to this! Your oblique reference to God does not move me; I cannot imagine how you think God would approve of rampant greed and corruption, deceit, theft, torture, war profiteering, or throwing away the very aspects of American democracy that used to give hope to so many people here and abroad.

Senator Chambliss, after 9/11, we had the sympathy and support of most of the world – think for a moment about how we have thrown that away. Think for a moment about how a truly effective counter-terrorism policy might have reduced terrorism, rather than exponentially increasing it as this administration has done with its harmful policies and actions.

America currently disregards international and domestic laws and agreements on a level that I would never have thought possible. We have even aggressively invaded another country that had not attacked us – a deep violation of our own principles, and of the U.N. agreements for member countries.

You claim that the NSA program has foiled terrorist plots. Would you care to name a few? Can you show me someone that has been lawfully convicted on the basis of this (unconstitutional) activity?

The statement that we treat prisoners (whether at Gitmo, or in Iraq or Afghanistan – or in the countries we ship them out to for torture) in a manner that is in accordance with international law and treaty is so laughable that I am quite frankly amazed that you would still continue to make this claim.

Mr. Chambliss, I have contacted you about many issues, and although I know that your email responses are simply cut and pasted from form letters written by others, I still ask you to hold yourself accountable for the misleading statements being made in them.

Sir, your role in the Senate is to represent the interests – and the laws – of the people of Georgia and of this nation. When will you begin to take your job more seriously?

Senator, I plead with you. Revisit some of these important issues. The future of America is at stake.

These are real problems, and the way they have been handled so far will have lasting repercussions.

Won’t you begin to be part of solving these problems rather than making them even worse with your denials and your continued support of every whim of this secretive and dangerous administration?

Most sincerely-

(it’s “Dr. N.” to you, Senator)

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?