Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Letter to the President

Dear President Bush:

As a proud citizen of the United States of America and humble follower of Jesus Christ, I ask, in your capacity as chief executive of the federal government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, that you close Camp Delta and Camp Echo in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prosecute all offenders to the fullest extent of our civil law, and negotiate releases for all detainees who cannot be so charged. All international citizens remaining uncharged or innocent should be re-integrated into their country of origin or if not, returned to their country of capture.

As another Republican war leader once appealed to his country, I, too, wish to address “the better angels of our nature.” For Jesus said, “[W]hatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40) As Christians, we are led by example to feed the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, give clothes to the stranger and visit those sick and in prison. As a citizen and believer, I cannot understand the need for detainment facilities operating outside of the United States and its laws, nor the meaning behind violating the rights of these detainees protected by both the United States and its allies.

As you have so often asserted, “We're a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws.” We ask other countries to define democracy by the standards we set. We laud our system of check and balances, habeas corpus, and freedom of speech. We demonstrate our distaste for tyranny, no matter where it is found in the world. For in these beliefs, we echo the soul of our ancestors:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Despite these ideals, we detain at least four hundred people in Cuba, including sixty who were captured as children. Of these detainees, over two hundred may never face a trial, held indefinitely without charge. At least 38 prisoners are held by the CIA as “ghost detainees” and many covert intelligence camps exist throughout the world, outside of our justice system. This does not include the detainment camps in Iraq where countless Sunnis and Shiites have been tortured and killed at the hands of militias whose funds and weapons we supply.

In over five years, only one detainee has ever been convicted. Entering a plea agreement, Australian David Hicks received only a nine-month sentence. Unlike Australia, many countries who once clamored for release of their citizens now refuse to accept them back. No doubt the world fears that if these people were not terrorists before, they have now become so. The CIA has confirmed this reality.

We all must agree that the need for security is great, but surely, the part is not greater than the whole. As the events of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 have proven, the spirit of the United States cannot be crushed by tragedy. The spirit of the United States is defined by the defense of liberty and justice, not by the avoidance of these ideals. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” You have echoed the same sentiment:

The desire for freedom resides in every human heart. And that desire cannot be contained forever by prison walls, or martial laws, or secret police. Over time, and across the Earth, freedom will find a way.

Although our past may be riddled with low points, we are a country held to high aspirations. Through our missteps and scandals, we remain and should continue to remain committed to a global community united in peace. The undefined detainment of suspects does not hold the world to an example we wish them to follow. When we imprison without domestic or global jurisprudence, how can we emphasize law and order? When we claim that international law does not apply, how can we condemn the isolation and arrogance of other nations? The moral justification seems hypocritical and disingenuous.

As a supporter of the Civil Rights movement, I am sure you will remember the civil disobedience model implemented by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Incarcerated for twelve days, he wrote the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, where he justified the movement as a struggle of “moral law or the law of God” over what is “morally wrong and awful.” His example followed that of Mahatma Gandhi, whose fasting in prison both broke the back of oppression and calmed the angry spirit of his people. They were neither the first, nor surely the last that we should honor and respect as defenders of freedom and justice.

When I read of the hunger strikes in Guantanamo Bay, I was dismayed at how soon this history is forgotten. We answered their refusal to eat, not with the dignity every individual deserves, but with feeding tubes forced down their throats. Some tubes went so deep as to draw blood and puncture lungs. General Bantz Craddock even joked that at least hunger strikers got to choose the color of their feeding tube and the flavor of lozenge. Stripped of all rights as citizens or lawful enemy combatants, we extend the travesty further and deny them to be human beings.

As a member of the community of life, I know you must appreciate the value of life no matter how seemingly insignificant. Life cannot be curtailed or made forfeit by a whim, but only under due process of the law. Having overthrown the yoke of British oppression, our Founders intended the Bill of Rights as a safeguard against oppression, by protecting individuals from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” and ensuring that those arrested are “informed of the nature and cause of the accusation.” Without lawful trials and just treatment of our enemies, how can our system of justice overcome the wanton violence of terrorism? If we define terrorism as unjust violence against innocent individuals, then should we not determine each detainee’s guilt or risk becoming terrorists ourselves?

For what claims can we make for freedom and justice if Guantanamo Bay remains as a log in our eye? If we are to combat terrorism and injustice, we must do so with the spirit and breadth of our laws or risk the legacy we leave to coming generations. It is when we are most desperate that we do the most astounding and terrible things. A breeding ground that generates desperation can only engender separation and hostility. If we are to fight against lawlessness, then should we not do it with the full force of the law? If we do not protect the rights of all people, there will be no difference between the innocent and the guilty. As Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once observed:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

I ask that you, as a man of faith and endowed with great power, will shut down the bases in Guantanamo Bay, and the extralegal system associated with them, to demonstrate to your people and the rest of world the ideals upon which our country is founded. This powerful gesture would echo in the halls of history for generations to come, and you would remain a leader of freedom and justice in troubled times.



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