ACLU no victim of torture fatigue

A new ACLU video reminds us where our heads and hearts should be.

by Ashley Dresser

âÄúEuskal Presoak, Euskal Herrira!âÄù These words scream out at me from T-shirts, balconies, spray-painted walls and banderas all across the Basque Country of Spain. It is the black-lettered plea of the Basque people. They are asking the Spanish government to put an end their traditional dispersion policy and to return Basque political prisoners to their home country. As it is, approximately 730 prisoners are scattered in jails across France and Spain âÄî a strategy that Spain says keeps them from organizing and perpetuating violence. Yet it comes at a great cost to Basque families. They must travel long distances to see their loved ones and repeatedly ask time off from work. Many have even been killed in car accidents en route. âÄúBeing a political prisoner âĦ itâÄôs not the same thing as being a criminal,âÄù a woman whose husband is in jail told me. âÄúIt is just a difference in opinion. Why should we be made to suffer for that? It is not humane to keep people away from their families, for any reason.âÄù More often than not, I find myself nodding in solidarity with statements like these. I have even contemplated the purchase of my own Euskal Herrira flag, but I have not yet completed the act âÄî because frankly, I am embarrassed. I am embarrassed that I can travel halfway across the world and become instantly romanticized by the struggle of a small but determined group of people. I can empathize with their cause and cry out for their prisoners like they were my own, but when I sit down to watch the most recent video release from the American Civil Liberties Union, titled âÄúJustice Denied: Voices from Guantanamo,âÄù I hardly feel a thing. The video features the stories of five Guantanamo prisoners who were held, tortured and eventually released without charge. It is a part of âÄúthe ACLU initiative against the practice of detention without due process that violates fundamental principles of American justice,âÄù according to their press release. The detainees talk of torture, injustice, indignity and their difficulties in readjusting to normal life. There are no complaints of families having to travel long distances to visit them because there are no family visits. There is only darkness and perseverance. I watch it again and again, waiting for any kind of stirring emotion within me, and each time, I only come up with indifference and fatigue. How does this happen? When and why did I stop caring about these prisoners and start caring about the Basques? ArenâÄôt all of our struggles the same âÄî struggles against inhumanity? My friend once explained it to me in terms of studying abroad: âÄúI donâÄôt understand whatâÄôs so great about it. YouâÄôre just getting drunk in foreign places. Same scene, different scenery. It just feels new to you because you can change your Facebook status to something in a foreign language.âÄù She wasnâÄôt talking about politics, but she might as well have been. Many Basques in Bilbao donâÄôt really understand my curiosity for their history. The American expression âÄúsame [expletive], different dayâÄù translates here as âÄúsame [expletive], different smell,âÄù and it is the response I get almost every time I try to ask questions about Euskal Herria. Yet, I could say the same to them about Guantanamo Bay. I know it is important, and I know I should care, but I simply canâÄôt bring myself to participate in the dialogue anymore. There is too much ambiguity, and I am too tired to look for the correct answers. For example, a quick Internet search of Moazzam Begg and Omar Deghayes, two of the tortured detainees, pulls up a long and controversial history in the Middle East. Should we feel as sorry for them as we are made to feel in the ACLU video? How do we know who is telling the truth? Does it matter? When it comes to torture, the answer is always no. Innocent or guilty, it is in every countryâÄôs best interest to treat their prisoners humanely. This means that we need to house them in prisons close to home and completely condemn the use of torture. This is important because, as University of Minnesota assistant professor of law Barbara Frey explains, âÄúThe authorization and use of torture by U.S. forces diminished our moral and legal standing in the world and offered cover for every other government that uses torture. It also opened the door for foreign governments and militias to use torture against U.S. troops.âÄù University associate professor of political science Ron Krebs agrees. âÄúThe greatest danger lies when we exaggerate the threat that nonstate actors pose; they can cause small-scale and perhaps even moderate death and destruction, but they cannot threaten the very survival of that state. Our overreaction can do that.âÄù Essentially, we create more terrorists with the use of torture than without. This is not a new argument, but it is one that merits repeating. I am just as guilty as the next person for forgetting about the demand for justice at Guantanamo Bay. ItâÄôs too close to home, itâÄôs actors (the U.S. government and âÄúterroristsâÄù) are too familiar and no one cries for freedom in an ancient, dying language âÄî such as Basque. Therefore, I want to commend the ACLU and their latest video release. It is proof they have not lost an ounce of stamina in their pursuit of justice for Guantanamo Bay, despite its continued ambiguity, bureaucracy and national sensitivity. The ACLU example is something we should all aspire to achieve âÄî to not only be informed citizens but indefatigable ones. Often times, resilience is the best skill we have. Eventually, I will buy my âÄúEuskal Presoak, Euskal Herrira!âÄù flag, but only when I can display it from my balcony next to another that reads âÄúJustice for Guantanamo Bay.âÄù Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected].