Wednesday, January 12, 2012 marked the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay prison. I, along with hundreds of other activists assembled outside the White House on a cold and rainy day to witness against the continued operation of this shameful symbol of torture and unlawful detention.
171 wore orange jumpsuits with black hoods. There are 171 detainees in Guantánamo. The 171 marched silently past the White House and then continued on to the Department of Justice, Capitol Hill, and the Supreme Court. Those of us who followed were anything but silent in our protest.
All three branches of our government are responsible for the abuses that have occurred and are still occurring at this prison.
Mohamedou Ould Salahi was transferred to Guantánamo on August 4, 2002, more than nine years ago. He was arrested in Mauritania in November of 2001, on suspicion that he had been involved in the failed “Millennium Plot” to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport.
Salahi admits that he traveled to Afghanistan in 1990 to engage in Jihad against the communists and was part of al-Qaida. But he claims that he severed ties with al-Qaida in 1992.
In 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge James Robertson heard Salahi’s case. In the trial report he wrote,
“Salahi’s admission that he once was part of al-Qaida but that he severed his ties after 1992 raises burden-of-proof questions: May the burden lawfully be shifted to Salahi to prove his dis-association? If so, at what point does the burden shift?” ….how can Guantánamo detainees – locked up for years on a remote island, cut off from the world, without resources, with only such access to intelligence sources and witnesses as the government deigns to give them – how can such people possibly carry the burden of rebuttal, even against weak government cases?”
Most of the evidence the government used against Salahi was obtained during interrogation. But, again, in the trial report, “There is ample evidence in this record that Salahi was subjected to extensive and severe mistreatment at Guantánamo from mid-June 2003 to September 2003.”
Judge Robertson concludes,
“The question, upon which the government had the burden of proof, was whether, at the time of his capture, Salahi was a “part of” al-Qaida. On the record before me, I cannot find that he was. The petition for writ of habeas corpus is granted. Salahi must be released from custody. It is SO ORDERED.”
Unfortunately, on November 5, 2010, the D.C. Circuit vacated and remanded this decision by former U.S. District Judge James Robertson. Salahi remains imprisoned in Guantánamo.
Holding detainees for years without trial, admitting into evidence statements made under “extensive and severe mistreatment”, and placing the burden of proof on the defendant to prove his innocence, are unconstitutional actions. These actions are fundamentally inconsistent with a country that likes to proclaim it is the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
In the stairwell of the Statue of Liberty there is a plaque with these words of Benjamin Franklin, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
In the case of Salahi and the 170 other prisoners being held at Guantánamo, we are sacrificing essential liberties. Let Salahi go! Try all the remaining detainees in open court where hearsay and coerced confessions are not admissible as evidence.
Military tribunals are about to begin that may result in a death sentence for some of the detainees. It’s bad enough that we are one of a handful of countries that continue to impose the death penalty. What would be even worse is if we were to impose it on someone who has not been afforded all the rights guaranteed by our constitution, the one document the President, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and the members of congress have all sworn to uphold and defend.More >
The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Friday, January 13, 2012. You can sign-up for these emails here.
“Love takes off the mask we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” – James Baldwin
I’m diggin’ the Thirty Days of Love, and it hasn’t even started yet! This forthcoming National Standing on the Side of Love Month has the potential to be an awesome journey of expansiveness for our community. Thirty Days of Love is a truly grand idea – a journey without a firm destination — and I’m tremendously excited to hop on board. I hope you will join me!
I intend to engage in these Thirty Days with my entire heart and mind. In fact, I am already making new commitments beyond the calendar of daily actions that will be our blueprint for the month. For instance, just this week, I decided that, after years of talking about it, I am ready to begin a conversational Spanish class. I just signed up! I can’t wait to understand a language that I already love listening to, especially in music, and that has become increasingly vital to my personal communications. Learning Spanish is a way to honor my thirst for knowledge, my standing commitments to myself, and my desire to continually grow as a community organizer. For me, it fits perfectly with the very idea of Thirty Days to broaden and deepen one’s engagement with the Standing on the Side of Love community. I’m excited to find out what else emerges for me, and for us, in this next month.
Check out the National Standing on the Side of Love Month calendar and all of the resources. You’ll see that each of our four weeks has a theme. Next week, we begin with Story of Self. Starting the month focused on self-reflection is an opportunity for those of us who hold ourselves accountable to humanity, and who devote ourselves to social justice, to truly center ourselves. Telling our story of self can help establish firm ground for personal conviction, leadership, collaboration and ultimately the discovery of common purpose. All of us have a compelling story of self to tell, and our stories are ever evolving.
For me, Thirty Days is another opportunity to work through my metaphorical road rage. Seeking justice in a world full of people who manipulate the truth for personal power, who demonize, and who harm others through a prism of sanctimoniousness can be exhausting for me. Sometimes love takes real effort when all I want to do is hurl expletives at the television set because I’m disgusted by the racist, anti-queer, anti-Muslim, or anti-immigrant remarks uttered by the talking head du jour. I have real questions to ask myself during these Thirty Days about how can I find the most constructive outlet for this anger, how I can be a more effective leader, what motivates me and sustains me as I prepare to turn 38, and what sort of difference I want to continue to make in the world. These questions will certainly inform my story of self.
I believe Thirty Days will mean a lot of different things to different people, and that’s what excites me so much about it. We are a community of Love People, sharing our vision for a better world. What a humbling, sacred space to occupy!
P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for the daily email updates here.More >
Last week, a boulder was thrown through the front window of the Babylon Restaurant in Lowell, MA, in the middle of the night. This week, the restaurant was crowded to overflowing thanks to a spontaneous “Eat In” organized by local Veterans for Peace leader and Unitarian Universalist Pat Scanlon. At the Eat In, Veterans for Peace members were joined by Unitarian Universalists from the North Parish of North Andover, MA, and the UU Congregation in Andover. For two hours, participants carried flags and signs reading “Stop Hate Crimes in Lowell” in front of the restaurant and filled the dining room many times over. Their efforts made the front page of the Lowell Sun and even garnered nationwide media attention,including an article in the Daily Kos and a feature on the Rachel Maddow Show.
Check out the following video, where Pat beautifully speaks of his commitment to standing on the side of love with Lowell’s Iraqi community:
The restaurant owner, Ahmed Al-Zubaidi, was an Iraqi television journalist who immigrated to the United States after his life was threatened. An article about him and another new Iraqi restaurant owner appeared recently in the Boston Globe. His daughter Leyla said of the Eat In, “Thank you, to all the veterans and others who came to support my family, you will never know what this has meant to my family and the Iraqi community. We will never forget this.”
Vietnam veteran Pat Scanlon is friends with many other Iraqi refugees in Lowell thanks to his tireless work with Veterans for Peace and Merrimack Valley People for Peace. People for Peace has led an effort to help settle new Iraqi immigrants and North Parish UU members have been involved in that effort by connecting with families, participating in furniture drives, funding a special project through the Christmas collection, and welcoming them to events at the church.
Rev. Lee Bluemel, Rev. Lara Hoke, and Pat Scanlon contributed material to this post.More >
We thought you would inspired by the video below from the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Rochester, MN, the 2011 recipient of the UUA Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action. Their congregational projects include the formation of a forty-five person Standing on the Side of Love (SSL) Rapid Response Team with a dedicated web page and a written procedure for how the congregation decides to respond to local incidents. The congregation has several justice task forces including LGBT Allies, Racial Justice, and Poverty. First UU Rochester kicked off their SSL participation with Rochester’s Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade in January 2011 which garnered great coverage by local media.
We look forward to hearing how your congregation is moved by the commemoration of Dr. King’s ministry! Please share your thoughts and photos with us on, or soon after, MLK, Jr. Day so we may in turn inspire other congregations across the country. And thanks for helping us kick-off 30 Days of Love with powerful witness across the country.More >
“Lowe’s pulls ads from Muslim show, draws fire.”
This was the headline of a December 11 article appearing in the Charlotte Observer. Some variation of that headline appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and in print media outlets throughout the nation.
The Observer article explained explicitly: “The retail giant stopped advertising on TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ after a group called the Florida Family Association complained the show was ‘propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.’”
Like many, I was deeply bothered by this action. Lowe’s claims to make “diversity and inclusion a conscious part of how we run our business.” (see https://careers.lowes.com/diversity.aspx) To capitulate to fear-mongering is antithetical to that claim. So, I was pleased when I began noticing email petitions taking Lowe’s to task for its actions.
On Thursday, December 15, I was contacted by a representative from an organization called “Faith in Public Life” based in Washington, D.C. asking if I would deliver tens of thousands of these signed petitions to the Lowe’s corporate headquarters in nearby Mooresville, N.C. I contacted some other colleagues to ask if, on very short notice during the holiday season, they’d join me. My longtime friend Russ Dean, one of the co-pastors at Park Road Baptist Church, agreed. We talked with the organization and made our plans to go.
On Tuesday, December 20, Russ and I, accompanied by our Director of Religious Education for Children and Youth, Kathleen Carpenter, in her role as the current president of the board of Mecklenburg Ministries, were joined by three other Christian clergy in a board room conversation at Lowe’s. Representing Lowe’s were four high-level executives who thanked us for our visit.
They asked what we wanted to say. I invited them to tell their side of the story first. To my surprise, they began with an unequivocal admission: we have handled this whole thing very poorly. We’ve done a very poor job of communicating; we understand why people are upset; a part of why we agreed to meet with you is in hopes of saying more clearly what transpired and of addressing the damage we’ve done.
They proceeded to explain that they had bought a block of advertising on the cable channel TLC aware that “All American Muslim” could be one of the shows on which their ads might run. We knew about the content of the show, they said, and had no problem with a Lowe’s ad being aired on it.
One Lowe’s commercial ran during an episode of “All American Muslim.” By the next morning, Lowe’s Facebook page had filled with vitriol. Some of it was directed at the company for running its ads on the show. But, other messages spewed invectives back-and-forth between those posting on the page. That morning a Lowe’s team met and, aware of the thousands of strident postings prompted by the advertisement on this particular show—some directed against the company, some simply deriding others—decided to contact TLC and request that their ads not be aired again on “All American Muslim.”
Only after the decision had been made was Lowe’s contacted by the American Family Association. They indicated that they simply sent a form letter explaining the decision they had already made.
Our decision was solely a business decision, they explained. We advertise to attract customers. We didn’t think this was going to help attract customers so we discontinued them. The maelstrom that resulted, they admitted, took them completely by surprise. In trying to explain their decision, they communicated very poorly, only further fueling the backlash.
We then talked for over an hour. I left with several conclusions. First, I don’t now think Lowe’s was motivated by bigotry or acted out of some deeply held Islamaphobic attitude. To reduce it to those highly-charged accusations is neither fair nor accurate.
Second, Lowe’s clearly failed to live up to its own high corporate values. They acted solely out of concern for their bottom line without considering other implications. They had a great opportunity to respond to the backlash by holding up their own statement: “Lowe’s is committed to maintaining an environment of inclusion, fairness, and respect by understanding and valuing the many ways people are different.” They profess to “lead by example.” In this case, they offered no leadership at all. It is not what they did that I find disappointing; it is what they failed to do that troubles me.
Third, the national media was quick to accept a self-serving claim from the Florida Family Association (which is actually little more than a website operated by a deeply divisive individual.) Though there is no evidence that this website motivated Lowe’s action, the national media immediately gave that claim credibility. I am newly chastened to question more deeply, especially when statements are made by those who are hoping to create division and rancor.
Fourth, we engaged in a forthright dialogue, one in which there were clear disagreements. However, we did so civilly, maintaining dignity and respect. I was pleased that Lowe’s accepted my request to join us in speaking to the press afterward. Doing so gave us an opportunity to demonstrate that differences need not result in name-calling, single-minded accusations, or the kind of “us/them” discourse so disappointingly prevalent now.
Did Lowe’s decide to reinstate their advertisements on “All American Muslim?” No. Would doing so have been better and more in keeping with their stated values? I certainly think so. But, for me, the issue was and is larger than that one choice. I find no value in denouncing this whole corporation as bigoted and am disappointed by those who continue to reduce their decision to that simplistic invective. Will Lowe’s keep their commitment to us that they will be more attentive going forward, actually leading by example in “valuing the many ways people are different?” Only time will tell.
Will we embody our own highest values? Our words, our choices, our actions will be integrity’s proof.
Peace, JayMore >