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After the Twelve Days of Christmas and Ten Years of Gitmo

  • Blog Post by: Rev. Peg Chemberlin
  • January 17, 2012 - 10:29 PM

During the 12 days of Christmas, which ended on January 5, my family celebrated the birth of Christ. We celebrated the day that God enfleshed was born to redeem the created world. We remembered the woman giving birth in a barn, the wise men following a distant star, and Mary, Joseph and Jesus’ lifesaving escape from their own country. We celebrated this family’s life and the day of our savior’s birth with acts of gift-giving and good will.

Those days of kindness and outreach do not end because the season is passing. The birth of Christ is not solely a reminder for us to be kind to others. It is also a call to action. When we remember the Christ child, we remember that the image of God, imago dei, exists within each person.  We remember that what we do to each other, we do to God.

This is a useful reminder when we realize that, shortly after the 12 days of Christmas, we are facing the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Actions undertaken by U.S. officials at Guantanamo Bay reflect forgetfulness about the God image in each person. Shortly after its establishment on January 11, 2002, it began developing a legacy of detainee torture.

Torture is a moral abomination. It degrades all involved—the victim, the perpetrator and the policymaker. Such action strips us of the belief of God in the other.  Torture runs contrary to the teachings of all religions. This is affirmed by the more than 300 religious organizations that belong to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, including the Minnesota Council of Churches, and who have affirmed the need to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

In addition to being morally wrong, torture does not work. Interrogators with the U.S. military, the CIA and the FBI acknowledge that torture is an unreliable method of extracting information from detainees. The worst part is that our use of torture has itself been cited by terrorists to recruit followers who in turn further endanger U.S. troops. The practice of torture and existence of Guantanamo Bay have cost us dearly, increasing the United States’ vulnerability to physical and moral attacks and endangering our citizens abroad.

Don’t believe me? Ask Shane Bauer, one of three American hikers and a Minnesota native held for two years in Iran, the impact of the actions taken at Guantanamo Bay on his imprisonment. He said that every time he protested the inhumane conditions of their imprisonment, the guards reminded them of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay.

Torture and its symbol, Guantanamo Bay, have hurt the United States. I was grateful that when President Obama took office three years ago, he halted torture with an executive order. He also promised to close Guantanamo Bay. The latter has not happened, and I am fearful that with no law enacted making torture illegal, future administrations will not be prevented from reversing Obama’s executive order and employing torture.

Perhaps the reason no law yet exists while Guantanamo still does is because we do not yet have a full record of what has been done in our name. There has been no Commission of Inquiry to investigate who was tortured, who authorized the torture, and how we can ensure that we do not in the future descend so deeply into the dark cave of fear that we cannot see the difference between meritorious intelligence-gathering and self-defeating interrogation techniques.

On January 18, 2012, let us resolve to continue our climb out of that dark cave. Let us find at least enough daylight to illuminate what has been done through a Commission of Inquiry as well as to see the God in each other. Let us pray for a full blast of cleansing sunlight that can close down Guantanamo Bay and ensure that we as a nation never again condone the absolutely immoral act of torture and never coerce any of our own into committing it. This could be an act of gift-giving and goodwill for generations to come.

The Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin is past President of the National Council of Churches and executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches.

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