Fort Benning, Georgia

Susan Sarandon, Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Sister Helen Prejean

Susan Sarandon, Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Sister Helen Prejean

The subject of torture is very much in the air these days.  Currently congress is debating how legally to circumvent the Geneva conventions so that information may be extracted from suspected terrorists.  Some blatantly decry the Bill of Rights, saying these rights “go too far.”  Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General, has called the Geneva Conventions “quaint.”

Where better for citizens to stand up publicly vs. torture than here at the School of the Americas?  Is this not the emblematic center of training for torture as official U.S. policy?  It was here at SOA that a torture manual as official policy was first exposed, thanks to the courageous efforts of Roy Bourgeois on whose shoulders we stand today.

Torture is torture whether at SOA or Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo  or - as recently exposed in Baghdad – the secret detention centers where Shiites have been torturing Sunnis suspected of insurgency.

Closer to home, how long will it take for our courts, our Congress and our citizens to admit that the death penalty which confines human beings in 6 x 9 ft. cells for 15 or 20 years before taking them out to be killed is also torture?  Has not the U.S. through George Bush, Sr. signed the U.N. Convention vs. Torture?  Doesn’t that agreement condemn mental torture along with physical torture?  What could be worse than waiting for years and years to be taken out and killed?  My friend, Sister Helen’s book The Death of Innocents takes you there, helps you see the torture and deeply flawed system that condemns to death innocent and guilty alike.

The names of the enemy change:  Communists, worst-of-the-worst criminals, terrorists, insurgents – but the foundational principles of human dignity stated in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights are as needed today as they were in 1948 when they were proclaimed.  Thank you, Eleanor Roosevelt!  Article 3:  Every human being has the right to LIFE.  Article 5:  No human being should be subjected to cruel and degrading punishment or torture.

These our times, where we witness our country’s arrogant attempts at empire building in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has led to the death and suffering of innocent civilians – how many?  150,000 – 200,000?  Only later will we know the actual numbers.  These are the times to raise our voices – and I join my voice with yours – to call for a new day in our world.  We must never allow ourselves to be cowed into believing that we are unpatriotic when we criticize government policies and actions.  May our outcry for justice today in this place find voice in letters and visits and dialogue with elected officials until this emblematic School of Torture is closed and America the Justice Maker, the Economic Peace Maker comes to birth in the world.  And may our presence here today hasten that much-needed birth.