Revolution #214, October 24, 2010
"Berkeley Says No to Torture"
During October 10-16, the largest gathering of anti-torture experts and activists since the U.S. began its "war on terror" nine years ago came together for a week of protests, forums, cultural performances, and other events called "Berkeley Says No to Torture" (wesaynototorture.net). The week of conscience brought together the voices and actions of many different political, legal, and campus groups and individuals from various walks of life. In late September, the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a resolution backing the anti-torture week.
Debra Sweet, Director of World Can't Wait, told Revolution: "Berkeley Says No to Torture Week happened in a very important context. John Yoo, the law professor who wrote the legal justification for the Bush regime's 'enhanced interrogation' practices, teaches at UC Berkeley's law school (Boalt Hall). The memos he wrote, giving the CIA and the military legal cover to carry out torture, are now public. And the testimony by those who were tortured are known. Yoo has said that an American president may torture, or bomb whole countries, based on executive authority. If any place in the country has the basis to know they have a war criminal in their midst, and demand that criminal be disbarred, prosecuted, and lose his position, it's Berkeley and the University of California. World Can't Wait, along with the Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture, chapters of the Progressive Democrats of America, Code Pink, and the National Lawyers Guild came together to produce 17 events over a week with a focus against torture and indefinite detention, Guantánamo, and the secret prisons in Bagram, Afghanistan."
Cynthia Papermaster, a UC Berkeley alumna, Code Pink activist, and director of the National Accountability Action Network, told the UC Berkeley campus paper, the Daily Cal, "(Torture) has not ended with Obama coming into office. We are trying to target the whole community, and actually the whole country with our message. We hope to inspire other communities to do their own non-torture events and we've chosen to hold many events on or around campus as we want to give Cal students an opportunity to express their outrage at the lack of accountability for torture carried out in our name."
One of those events was "The Giant John Yoo Debate" in front of Boalt Hall on Tuesday night. Investigative journalist Andy Worthington (author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison), a participant in the anti-torture week, reported on his blog: "'The Giant John Yoo Debate' involved a range of passionate and articulate experts, led by Sharon Adams of the National Lawyers Guild (San Francisco), and including peace activist Cindy Sheehan, Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Ann Fagan Ginger of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, and author and activist Larry Everest dissecting and demolishing John Yoo's arguments for torture and for the President's supposedly unfettered powers as Commander-in-Chief in wartime, which, in the absence of Yoo himself, were culled from his rare filmed appearances (before Congress, for example) and projected onto the wall of Boalt Hall."
Worthington described a powerful moment in the debate: "...after responding to one of Yoo's many risible arguments, [a law student] returned to the mike to make a point of saying how many UC Berkeley students privately think that he should be prosecuted, but are afraid to speak out. It was a brave move, and one that saw this young man cross over from a safety zone to a seemingly more vulnerable place, where those who speak truth to power are aware that someone might notice, but I hope that he is reassured that speaking out openly about injustice is both empowering and necessary, and I also hope that ripples from the debate cause more students to find that they are thinking twice about John Yoo, and, from those small doubts, find themselves unwilling to accept the presence on their campus and in their university of a man who not only butchered the law to deliver illegal advice to his political masters, but who also disgraces the title of 'law professor,' when the sign on his door should read 'war criminal.'"
Among the other events during the week were:
- Forum on Torture and the Law, Torture and Human Rights, in which participants discussed the foundational changes in the law, still ongoing, allowing the U.S. president to do away with basic rights of the people.
- Program on Torture, Human Experimentation, and the Department of Defense, where investigative journalist Jason Leopold, of truthout.org, and psychologist Jeffrey Kaye discussed the story they had just broken about a 2002 memo written by Bush regime official Paul Wolfowitz, giving legal cover for a top-secret program "which experimented on ways to glean information from unwilling subjects." (truth-out.org/wolfowitz-directive-legal-cover-human-experimentation-detainees64184)
- Reckoning With Torture—an Evening of Conscience, a moving series of readings from documents and transcripts since 2002, with presenters on the stage portraying Bush himself, detainees, lawyers, and judges before a hushed audience.
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