A time comes when silence is betrayal . . . We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness so close around us.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture
A Protest of the Signing Ceremony for the Military Commissions Act of 2006
October 17, 2006
A gray sky, with drizzle turning to a hard rain, accurately reflected our pain this morning as the shameful Military Commissions Act was signed into law. Wearing black as a sign of mourning, about two hundred of us gathered with our umbrellas in front of the White House. We listened as religious leaders, a torture survivor, and a constitutional lawyer denounced one or more of the elements of this new law, and then challenged us to get past our sadness and despair so that we can begin to undo the damage created by this act.
We waved flags, set at half mast and billowing black streamers--to demonstrate that we are patriots in the old tradition, the one that sees "America" as a dream of freedom and law and justice. We tore off our black armbands, in a symbol of our distress at the damage done to this dream. We placed flowers on a coffin in which lay the corpse of habeas corpus, a right granted to Western peoples four centuries prior to the discovery of America. We sang songs, some religious, some patriotic. We affirmed the true, the good values of our American heritage, those that are now in peril.
We carried signs and banners, reflecting our personal views of this outrageous and unconstitutional law. Here is the text for a few of our signs:
Torture is a sin
Torture harms our troops
What country has legal torture, unlimited detentions, kangaroo courts? The U.S.A.
Habeas Corpus: Born in England, Magna Carta, 1215; Died in the USA, 2006
Bill Goodman, of the Center for Constitutional Rights:
"The Military Commissions Act represents a dangerous retreat from American values and an infringement of our constitutional rights and our international obligations. In enacting this law, the President does not speak for us."
Reverend Scott Alexander, of River Road Unitarian Church:
"We are American citizens and patriots…and we are standing together here this morning - shoulder to shoulder --because torture is wrong. We are here to say, with a loud and clear voice, that torture is immoral. It is un-American…and it is totally unacceptable as a policy and practice of our government. President Bush may have the power to sign the ill-advised Military Commissions Act into law…but he cannot persuade us as loyal Americans that this is right. We repudiate our government's decision to dehumanize other human beings -- no matter what threats they may or may not have made against us - and we pledge today to work to reverse this immoral federal policy."
Orlando Tizon, a torture victim with the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition:
"We must organize--organize! There is no time to wait."
We carried the People's Signing Statement and our coffin to the gates of the White House, as we, representing all Americans sick at heart over this Act, asked to be a part of the President's signing ceremony. We were not permitted to enter. So, some of us refused to leave, as this is our country, our White House, and our Constitution. How dare they take it from us! Sixteen of us were arrested in this act of civil disobedience.
Stephen Rohde, constitutional lawyer and President of the ACLU of Southern California, participated in our People's Signing Ceremony. He recalled that the Reverend Martin Niemoller, who was arrested and imprisoned in Nazi Germany and spent eight years in Sachenhausen and Dachau, made the following statement about remaining silent in a climate of fear:
In Germany, the Nazis first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.
Mr. Rohde presented us with this updated version:
First they came for the Muslims, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Muslim.
Then they came to detain immigrants indefinitely solely upon the certification of the Attorney General, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an immigrant.
Then they came to prosecute non-citizens before secret military commissions, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a non-citizen.
Then they came to resume the infiltration and surveillance of domestic religious and political groups, and I didn't speak up because I had stopped participating in any groups.
Then they came for anyone who objected to government policy because it aided the terrorists and gave ammunition to America's enemies, and I didn't speak up because...... I didn't speak up.
Then they came for me....... and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Today, we are shamed by our Congress and by our President, for torture is immoral, indefinite detention with no access to a court hearing is un-American, and international kidnapping is a violation of domestic and international law. We are shamed,