Starting a Difficult Conversation: We Need To Come Together – Torture and Accountability

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Dear Friends,

      I am writing this because I am very frustrated and heart broken.

    As many of you know, the mission of my life is stopping torture as the law, policy and practice of the United States and fighting to have those responsible held legally accountable. I do this in the name and memory of my husband, Dan, who was a Vietnam vet who survived torture. Dan suffered from his injuries for over thirty years, until his fatal heart attack four and a half years ago.

    For several years there seemed to a growing consensus and growing energy in the progressive and Democratic community around this issue, and I was very hopeful that we could make the change happen, because those in power would see that they had no choice. Then the Health Care debate and legislation took over the national conversation and the blogoverse conversation too, and pretty much squashed the issue flat. While I absolutely believe that the conversation and legislation surrounding health care had to happen, I had hoped that following its conclusion we could put anti-torture and pro-accountability issues “back on the table”. It grieves my heart that this has not really happened.

    At the same time as the Health Care debate and legislation was going on, something else was going on too: gradually, those who are committed to this issue have been splintering into different online homes. This makes it much more difficult to get traction on the issue. Those in power need to see that there is a strong and united front who won’t back down from pointing out that torture is still the law, policy and practice of the United States, and demanding that it stop and be removed, and demanding that there be legal accountability for torture.

    I understand why the fracturing has happened, and that people on all sides have been hurt, but we MUST stand together, or those who suffer every single day in Guantanamo and at the other prisons will continue to suffer every single day. I know you know that. I know that you feel their suffering in your bones.

  Please, help me.

  I need your ideas.

  I need your energy.

  I need your commitment.

 Standing with you, for justice and accountability,

               For Dan,

               For all those without a voice,



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  1. who inspires and pushes me every single day.

       With Gratitude and Hugs

       Standing for justice and accountability,

                For Dan,


  2. we can’t have a conversation unless you talk with me.

    Pretty please.



  3. … is politics, imo.

    The Dems do not want to deal with this.  When Bush was still in power we had more of a cohesive movement — though even then there were plenty of people who just didn’t want to deal with the reality of torture.

    It wasn’t the HIR debate that pushed the torture debate off the table — it was the Democratic Party and President Obama giving out the message that this wasn’t what we should be talking about.

    So I don’t think this was accidental.

    Thank you for this essay, Heather.

    Always in solidarity with you.

    • Edger on May 4, 2010 at 5:56 pm

  4. I just want to put in a word for persistence.  And I want to offer encouragement to you.

    There’s a topic that touches you deeply and personally.  So you write about it and talk to people about it and do whatever you can about it.  Sometimes you could go on and on about it for years.  I know I have.  I’ve been pounding away about the death penalty and criminal justice issues for more than 8 years.  Way more. The electronic pounding is on a few listservs, including my own, my blog, here, dailyKos, WWL.  Sometimes what I say is noticed, sometimes it mobilizes others, sometimes it inspires action.  But sometimes its greeted with deafening yawns.  Or worse.  It’s not greeted.  At all.  This is all entirely ok with me.  I’m keeping on, and I urge you too, even when it looks like nothing is happening.  Even when people don’t click “recc”, even when they don’t comment.  Even when there’s complete and utter silence.

    Just keep going.  Keep being passionate about it.  Tell anybody about it who will listen.  Tell them even if they don’t give any sign of reading what you’re writing or listening.  Even if you suspect that people just don’t care.  That doesn’t really matter.  Not in the long run.

    In the long run, eventually, even if it’s at a glacial rate, people come to understand.  They come to their senses.  They suddenly wake up.  They all of a sudden can see something that before was invisible.  And ultimately they come around to do the right thing. They arc, as MLK said, toward justice.

    That’s probably why the Dalai Lama counseled so frequently, “Don’t give up.  Never give up.  No matter what’s happening, don’t give in.”  I’m with him on that.  Stand with what you feel and believe.  Speak up.  Point out where justice and truth and compassion are to be found.

    Just pick up your hammer and pound away for as long as you can.  It’s amazing, but eventually the results emerge in the most surprising way.  And when you get tired, let us know.  I know that we’re happy to pick you up, dust you off, and get you started again.

  5. So, the question is, how do we, as those committed stop torture and having those responsible held legally accountable, who are spread around the blogosphere, come together to put it back on “the table” ?

    I would ask — and have been asking — how do we committed to ANYTHING come together?

    As for “pointing out that torture is still the law, policy and practice of the United States, and demanding that it stop and be removed, and demanding that there be legal accountability for torture,” I think it’s clear that they have checked it out with their accountants and consider this an acceptable cost of doing business.

    If you lament that part of the problem is that the movement is splintered, consider how your approach is compatible with such splintering.  A new mode of organization is needed that pulls these struggles together, and can dish out some real punishment to the powers-that-be.  Otherwise, the sum total of these efforts is asking everyone to do more.

    It’s not just a splintering following the healthcare debacle.  It’s a sense of having been crushed.  Of having been betrayed by our progressive leaders.  Our current progressive leaders have run their course and made their accommodations.  (The measure of betrayal is having suipported a healthcare bill that forces mandates on the working poor, restricts abortion, and leaves us all still in the hands of big insurance.)

    In other words, the answer to being effective around your (and my and our) issue does not lie within the boundaries of that issue.

    I’m sorry that I raise more questions than I provide answers, but more of the same is proving inadequate.

  6. clear — the Obama administration does not care about social justice issues, at all.  Or at least acts in such a manner as to consistently deprecate social justice.

    Social justice covers

    Immigration and Arizona

    The homeless

    The jobless

    Women’s rights to control their own bodies

    People getting defrauded and kicked out of their houses,

    People being tortured and Washington’s flouting of clear Constitutional Law,

    The (lack of) advancement on GLBT rights.

    The costs of corporate environmental destruction being pushed down to the poor and people with no options.

    Yes, we need to come together.  Over torture, yes.  But not over just torture.  It’s everything.  Washington in general does not believe in and does not care about any kind of justice for the powerless.

    The powerful are protected at every turn.  The powerless and the individual are given lip service at best.  Obama is defended vociferously — there are entire organizations whose whole reason for existence is to parade around as Democrats whose function it is to protect Obama.  His reputation, his record, the decisions he makes — this, too, is about protecting the powerful.  All kinds of diversionary arguments get made as to whether, in Obama’s case, this is a good thing or a bad thing — but it is unarguable — it is, for whatever reason, protecting the powerful at the expense or at least at the total disregard for, the powerless.

    Until we band together and realize that all those groups above have no justice, that there is no justice, that we cannot stay in our isolated little spheres anymore as people who care about these issues, we will not have the impact we should on the thinking of Washington D.C.

    • banger on May 5, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    And that cruelty is everywhere in the system and increasing. The cruelty of late capitalism has become spectacular. The problem is that it reflects a general tendency in recent years to almost worship cruelty and insensitivity.

    Torture is worse than killing from my pov. Much worse. That shows and movies condone it makes me sick. It is the entertainment media and the lies and distortions of the propaganda organs that must be attacked first. The law will not touch torturers at this point–we need to work to change consciousness.  

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