On Friday evening, June 6, ADAMS Dulles center hosted an event opening Torture Awareness month, which is to remember the 27th anniversary of the United Nations? Convention Against Torture and honor survivors of torture.
Sponsored by the Qurtuba Institute and with esteemed speakers from Karamah Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights and NRCAT, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, along with Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to the UN among other postings and current member of the Constitution Project, it was an informative panel. The title of the topic was ?Exposing the Truth of US Torture: Restoring Human Dignity? and was attended by about 50 people with a handful of interfaith friends, one couple from as far away as Pennsylvania that heard about the event through their congregation. Said one lady who lived in Egypt at one point, ?I have heard of ADAMS and wanted an excuse to visit and I have an interest in the topic as my grandparents were in the Irish/British conflict.?
As Imam Majid was in Sudan helping to talk to the parties in the conflict there, the event was kicked off by ADAMS Youth Director Joshua Salaam who talked about in his travels abroad how foreigners always speak of their great admiration for the US constitution but then lament that its ideals are seemingly not followed.
Next Dr Azizah al-Hibri introduced the Constitution Report and described the diverse make up of the interfaith task force members (comprised of lawyers, doctors, ethics scholars etc) who have worked relentlessly for two years to document detainee treatment (mostly from those who have now been released) in its 560-page report. With Ramadan approaching some time was given to talk about the ongoing issue of hunger strikers and force feeding that still occurs as the government contends it is their responsibility to conserve life and do not consider this cruel or inhumane. Dr al-Hibri spoke of cases though were prisoners were overfed until they were sickened or the methods of feeding were unsanitary. Most of the other abuses that had occurred were stopped by Executive order of President Obama when he took office, but could be reversed by a future President. As a country of laws, she spoke about where to do we go from here and the role every individual has to prevent injustice ? from using our voices to say it is wrong to using our feet to go out and vote.
Ambassador Pickering took over by presenting the anonymous conclusion of the task force group that torture had taken place and was not only condoned but encouraged by the highest levels of government, all the way to President George W Bush. He also cited the belief of the task force that based on their research no torture leading to forced confessions produced any credible information of value for the state. They had invited any officials that believed otherwise to come forward and produce evidence and not one did. They have also called for the Department of Justice to publish its findings. Finally the majority opinion of the task force group (but the sole issue that did not have full consensus) was that Guantanamo should be closed and the prisoners approved for release should not be sent to countries that practice torture or should be overseen for any evidence of mistreatment in the future if doubt exists about the government. Some mention was made of the recent release of prisons for the exchange of US Sergeant Bergdahl and how this has refocused attention on Guantanamo and the prisoners still remaining.
Reverend Ron Stief, speaking last, said his group raises the moral voice that torture is Always wrong. A parallel report to that of the Constitution Project but from from the Senate Intelligence Committee has been voted on to be declassified and its 400 page executive summary and findings should be released to the public in early July. NCRAT has put out a toolkit to help any group plan educational, advocacy and worship events to raise awareness. Indeed, they are having five events with Karamah and 80 smaller events over the course of this month. He reminds us it is important to honor survivors of torture, take action to ensure that the truth of the clandestine U.S. torture program after 9/11 is made public (with hopefully apologies to follow some day as well), and pray for national repentance and healing toward the restoration of human dignity for all.?
In closing the audience was reminded this was not a Muslim issue ? recalling the Japanese internment camps. Also called up was the famous verses of Martin Niem?ller, a prominent Protestant pastor who opposed the Nazi regime and who spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.