The prospect of six months in federal prison camp for protesting torture seems a lot like accounts of being drafted or volunteering for the military. One hopes for light duty, but the authorities decide where, how and for how long you stay. Like the GIs, I have a ship-out date, a release date, and I’ll be issued olive drab and khaki clothes for the duration. I’ll be taking orders from officers, and the definition of “food” will be institutional. (I once read “beef lips” on an ingredients list in the federal prison camp kitchen in Marion, Ill.)
Like 36 others protesting torture—including Sam Foster and Steve Clemens of Minneapolis and five more from Wisconsin—I’ve been convicted of misdemeanor trespass at Ft. Benning, Ga., headquarters of the Army’s School of the Americas. Jane Hosking also received the maximum six months. We’re both members of the Anathoth Community Farm, our anti-war, environmental action collective near Luck, Wis.
Many of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan signed up with the guarded hope that their deployment wouldn’t be life-threatening. Instead, they have been thrown into deadly U.S.-created ambush zones, urban combat, fire fights and civil wars. (When some Iraqi military trainees were asked by the Washington Post who the enemy was, the Iraqis pointed to their U.S. trainers!) My prison experience (for crawling under a fence and walking onto a military base) won’t compare to the soldiers’ lives in risk and trauma.
The analogy doesn’t go too far —except in political vindictiveness and manipulation. The U.S. magistrate that gave me the max also gave 30, 60, 90 days to others who did exactly the same thing. At the same time, the government that imprisons me for six months has given no more than five months to any U.S. soldier convicted of a torture-related death of prisoners in Iraq or Afghanistan.
At least I have an idea why I’ve been ordered to a “tour of duty.”
Meanwhile, surveys show that almost 90 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq believe the war is retaliation for Saddam Hussein’s role in 9/11. Of course he played none.
I wonder what is demanded of us who claim that only nonviolence is radical enough to bring an end to the cycle of hate and killing that feeds the war system and is propelling the madmen to threaten even Iran?
The putting away of a daily life of friends and family is a melancholy process that has a barbed hook attached, an unspoken reminder that the war and the schools that teach its bloody skills are booming businesses.
My colleagues and friends all wonder—mostly without saying so —how far the government will go in its endless attempt to increase police power and suppress dissent. Most everyone asks what they can send (nothing at all but paperbacks and magazines), and when and how they can visit. I mention that visits are face-to-face, which means the prisoners are strip searched afterward.
The looming separation of two community members for half of 2006 is something Anathoth Farm was made to support. We all agree to conscientiously stand in the way of the torturers and the war profiteers and to say ‘No,’ even if it means legal jeopardy. In a country that excuses military aggression and that has abandoned the Geneva Conventions and a dozen other treaty obligations, saying ‘No’ in any meaningful sense sometimes means being branded a criminal.
Those of us who slipped under a fence at the SOA—during the largest protest against it in 15 years —risked prison because the “school” is an infamous indoctrination camp for Latin American soldiers and police who have gone on to commit some of the worst human rights atrocities in the western hemisphere. In Congress, co-sponsors of a bill to shut down the school now number 123.
U.S. military torture techniques used against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay likely originated in training manuals used at the SOA. The manuals, which were unearthed Sept. 19, 1996, describe “interrogation techniques” such as prolonged hooding, standing and isolation, sleep deprivation, harassment with noise and with attack dogs, extreme cold and near-drowning using “waterboards.” These moral outrages are known to have “migrated” from Guantánamo Bay to U.S. military prisons in Iraq. At Guantánamo on Cuba the U.S. still secretly, indefinitely and illegally imprisons over 500 men and teenagers.
Even while the White House floats plans to make war on Iran, it is still working in Iraq to bomb cities, kidnap, jail and torture civilians, run 49 secret prisons around the world, hide prisoners from the Red Cross, imprison thousands indefinitely without charges, lawyers, visitation rights or due process, and to force bloody feeding tubes from the nose of one into the nose of another captive hunger striker.
Of course millions of Americans oppose the war system in a hundred ways every day: the 64 percent “disapproval” rate given to the President; the 60 percent that think the U.S. aggression against Iraq was a “mistake;” the 52 percent in a Newsweek poll who say Congress should consider the impeachment of Mr. Bush over illegal wiretapping; and the thousands who marched for an end to the war March 18. All this criticism shows a growing demand for an end to the corrupt and criminal manipulation of the public and military by Congress and the Administration.
Meanwhile, the country’s gargantuan $450 billion military roars ahead with its tightly controlled wars of choice waged against non-threats everywhere. Even the courts are being corrupted. In Columbus, Ga., where our group was tried for trespass, the lead prosecutor was an active duty Army Captain from Ft. Benning. My objection to this plain violation of civilian rights was overruled by the magistrate.
But the writing is on the wall for the paranoid bureaucrats who imprison nonviolent dissidents. As I heard Fidel Castro say on public TV while I was in jail in Madison, fascism can’t take power in the U.S. —there are too many good people in the country.