Yoo debate was one-sided

We encourage you to recognize the cost of torture policies and wars.

In regard to John Yoo’s visit to the Walter Mondale School of Law on Wednesday: We performed a silent theater action at Wednesday night’s “debate,” in coalition with all participants in all actions which took place at that event. We were also present at the “debate” held at the University of St. Thomas that afternoon. The objective of these actions, which we felt was achieved, was to bring attention to the fact that as two lawyers sit and debate the “difference between law and policy,” hundreds and perhaps thousands of human beings are being deprived of their rights, illegally imprisoned and in many cases tortured or even killed at the hands of the U.S. military.

We declare the entire framework for these debates illegitimate. We were asked many times Wednesday evening to be “civil.” We ask the University community: Is it civilized to invite a writer of the legal briefs that are trying to legitimize and legalize torture to an institution of higher learning? Aren’t we actually showing the highest level of civilization by demanding that torture stop now, and that anyone involved in torture will not be welcomed? Many references were made Wednesday night to our “posturing,” but this entire event was a song and dance of no value to anyone, not to mention the fact that it was by no means a debate. We witnessed no meaningful, succinct or articulate statements except those made by artists and activists. We and all the students present were subjected to rhetoric devoid of responsibility or logic, such as claiming that prisoners from the war in Afghanistan are not protected by statutes requiring their American captors to determine their status. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that doing so would reveal how many of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are not Taliban or al-Qaida “operatives,” but people handed over for reward money. The posturing by U.S. forces, parading these boys and men, old and young, around Guantanamo Bay, simply distracts us as the American, British, Taliban, al-Qaida and other corrupt forces from around the world play out their deadly political games at the expense of innocent lives and the planet. These are grave crimes on whatever soil they take place, against the dignity and civility of all people. Responsibility for these crimes lies at every level of complicity.

“Debaters” tried to play off the grossest incidences of torture as the crimes of “rogue” soldiers. This does not address the fact that more than a quarter of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay are starving themselves to death in protest of their treatment; nor does it address the estimated 100,000 prisoners of the United States in Iraq who were not taken from a battlefield, but rather many from their own homes; nor does it address the continual reportage of the use of torture, sexual humiliation and maltreatment of prisoners in Iraq, not from radical leftists, but rather from the very military personnel who carried out this maltreatment. What we are seeing is the systematic use of methods deemed illegal. The University, its law school and its students should be ashamed of hosting Yoo. Until everyone is willing to address the real human costs and consequences of these policies, their writings and debates will remain meaningless. We urge all who attended Wednesday night to abandon their faith in our sham of a justice system. We encourage you to recognize the cost of these policies to the world, work for justice, and take to the streets and become part of the true force of humanity against all forms of oppression, violence and hate.

Maleeha Rizwy, Perry Bellow-Handelman, Ismail Khalidi and Meg Novak are members of the Babylon Collective. Please send comments to [email protected]