Jun 132005
 

After reading another post on TalkLeft about the U.S. torture of Children, I sent the following to each of the 50 U.S. Bishops of the United Methodist Church. I recieved a telephone call from the New Jersey Bishop already, and (surprise, surprise) he agreed to write the President.

Dear United Methodist Bishop:

I realize you are tired of hearing from me. I don’t bring the most pleasant news, and ask that you fulfill the great Wesley tradition of social responsibility which can be challenging. I also realize that previous General Conferences have addressed the issue of torture and that it is addressed in the Discipline. However, it is obvious that our current President, who professes to be Methodist, has either not read the Discipline or has opted to ignore it.

I believe we as a nation are acting egregiously in this “War On Terror,” and I believe that good people in this country are standing by and letting it happen. It has happened previously in the history of the world, and the consequences have been dire. So, I will make a deal with you. I will stop pestering you about the issue of U.S. Government Sponsored torture, if you will write a letter to the President, and ask that the U.S. cease torturing captured prisoners, charge or release detainees (especially women and children), and observe all tenants of the Geneva Conventions regardless of the “status” he elects to assign these people. I do not believe that is asking too much. Can’t you agree with me that a minimum level of humane treatment and decency should be hallmarks of this country and our society?

Will you join me in decrying Government sponsored torture? Will you ask the President to stop the illegal detention and torture of 12 and 14 year old children?

The New York Times reports Monday that six of the detainees held at Guantanamo were under 18 when they were seized – and that at least one reports being brutalized.

Lawyers representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, say that there still may be as many as six prisoners who were captured before their 18th birthday and that the military has sought to conceal the precise number of juveniles at the prison camp.

One lawyer said that his client, a Saudi of Chadian descent, was not yet 15 when he was captured and has told him that he was beaten regularly in his early days at Guantanamo, hanged by his wrists for hours at a time and that an interrogator pressed a burning cigarette into his arm.

The military is denying the claim, and says that there were three juvenile detainees but that they were released in January, 2004. However, it’s all in how you define juvenile:

The dispute is clouded by two issues: military authorities define a juvenile as someone younger than 16 years of age, not 18, as do most human rights groups. Further, the ages of the detainees brought to Guantanamo as enemy combatants cannot be determined with certainty, leaving officials to make estimates.

How’s this for a callous response?

“They don’t come with birth certificates,” said Col. Brad K. Blackner, the chief public affairs officer at the detention camp.

More on the young detainee’s claims:

The details of M.C.’s accusations are contained in a 17-page account prepared by Mr. Stafford Smith, in which the prisoner said that he was suspended from hooks in the ceiling for hours at a time with his feet barely missing the floor, and that he was beaten during those sessions. M.C. said a special unit known as the Immediate Reaction Force had knocked out one of his teeth and later an interrogator burned him with a cigarette. Mr. Stafford Smith said he saw the missing tooth and the burn scar.

Some of M.C.’s descriptions match accounts given not only by other detainees, but also by former guards and interrogators who have been interviewed by The New York Times.

He describes being shackled close to the floor in an interrogation room for hours with music blaring and lights in his face. He also said he was shown a room with pictures of naked women and adult videos and told he could have access if he cooperated. His description fits the account of former guards who described such a room and said it was nicknamed “the love shack.”

The Red Cross has said that it believed three detainees were between 12 and 14. One other juvenile detainee (who was 15 when seized) is Omar Khadr, whose story is related here.

Can we not agree to call for an end to such abuses? Do these reports not make you physically and spiritually ill, or have we left behind the Christian message of love and compassion? As a leader of this Congregation, I believe you have an opportunity and an obligation to do something besides worrying about pastoral appointments, district boundries, etc. While important, your leadership on these issues is even more critical.

As a religious leader, do you not feel an obligation to decry these actions, and work to change attitudes that make people believe this is acceptable?

Yours in Peace,
John Masters

UPDATES:

I received a message from Bishop Timothy Whitaker of the Florida Conference. The message was mixed. While the Bishop shares my concerns, he seems to believe it requires a committee meeting:

I share your concern, and I shall look for ways the Church can address these concerns.  I am not on the General Board of Church and Society, but I believe this is the primary agency to deal with these concerns.  I am chair of Teaching Concerns Committee of the Council of Bishops, and we have raised this concern in a general way in our initiative on “In Search of Security.”  As a member of the Executive Committee of the COB I shall keep this thought in mind.

I responded with the following:

Thank you for your consideration, and for taking this matter under advisement. Anything you might be able to do over the longer term would be appreciated.

However, children and women are suffering under these conditions TODAY…as you and I speak. I am asking that you, as my spiritual leader, take the personal action of writing the President (assuming you oppose U.S. Government sponsored torture and aren’t afraid of the Government), and asking that these policies be changed as described below.

People are being tortured right now. We don’t need a committee meeting, we need good people in leadership positions to show the backbone to demand that this country act in a civilized way. Do you disagree with me on this premise?

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