Sunday, October 01, 2006

I Shall Not Be Disappeared

I, for one, am standing up. I, for one, am facing my government, my so called leaders in Congress, and this corrupt, morally bankrupt administration that would strip the Constitution, suspend habeas corpus, and destroy the very foundation this country was built on while in the same breath promising the world that democratic reform will reduce tyranny. I, for one, will not be silent in these dark days of our dying democracy.

In a speech at Ft. McNair in March 2005 our President stated, “It should be clear that the advance of democracy leads to peace, because governments that respect the rights of their people also respect the rights of their neighbors. It should be clear that the best antidote to radicalism and terror is the tolerance and hope kindled in free societies.” If this is the case, what should we make of the passage of the “Enemy Combatants Bill”, the bill that curtails the rights of the American people and limits our democracy?

The bill passed by Congress would make it legal for a person to be picked up off the street and disappeared- the fate of so many in Iraq (prior to our occupation as well as now), in Chile, in the Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany, in so many places in the world ruled by despots and dictators, men drunk on power and corruption- men the US once stood in opposition to and now choose to imitate. (On second thought, this needs clarification. I recall Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam’s hand at the time he was gassing Kurdish civilians and Iranians as well. The CIA was involved in the coup that put the regime in power in Chile that caused so many to die …and under the law just passed by Congress, George Bush’s own grandfather could be defined an “enemy combatant” for providing financial assistance to the Nazi’s).

So I’m laying it on the line, spelling it out. Though I may be swept off the street, or taken from my home, I will never be disappeared, because here and now, I am telling my truth. Since George Bush’s infamous speech of September 20th, 2001, when he stated, “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists” I knew I was in trouble. I stood in my living room and calmly replied to my TV, “George Bush, I am not with the terrorists and I am not with you”. And as I write this, I have no qualms about my stand and can state today with certainty and conviction, “George Bush I am not with you or your administration, or this Congress that enables you to torture, to render, to imprison without due process. I am against these policies, 100%. In five years you have done more to curtail freedom, thwart democracy, and increase the threat of global terrorism then I could have imagined in my wildest dreams.

Let me state here that I am an ordinary person. Until recently I was an accountant at a major multinational corporation. I am a father. I volunteer my time to civic organizations. I enjoy my life and simple pleasures. As a Buddhist practitioner, I try to live a life of care, concern, and compassion. I take seriously the Buddhist precepts, especially the one concerning not killing.

It so happens that I was in NYC the morning after the twin towers came down. It was a defining moment for me, standing in the smoldering, pulverized concrete of those buildings. But my reaction was the opposite of my governments call for vengeance. I committed myself to working for peace and alleviating suffering. I made a commitment to meet the people of the countries my government chooses to demonize and try to learn something of their lives, and maybe learn something about myself as well.

Since that day, I have traveled to Palestine to promote non-violent civil resistance to military occupation. I spoke with Israeli activists and Palestinian and Israeli human rights workers. I stood with Palestinian peace activists in opposition to the wall and the expropriation of Palestinian land. I spoke with Israeli settlers, supporters of Hamas and Fatah, religious representatives, legislators, and people who have lost loved ones on both sides of the conflict. I listened to their stories and shared them when I returned home.

I traveled to Iraq before the war to dialogue with ordinary Iraqis caught in the crosshairs of our government’s malfeasance. I stood in vigil outside the UN inspector’s headquarters urging them to continue their work. I, along with others, hung signs on power plants and water treatment facilities that said, “Bombing this site would be a war crime.” On returning home I continue to denounce the conflict for what is- an immoral, illegal invasion and occupation.

Just three weeks ago I was in Southern Lebanon delivering emergency aid to those who lost their homes, their livelihoods, their elders and their children to precision guided rockets and cluster bombs provided to Israel by my government. Bombs made by American corporations who are enriching themselves through the many conflicts our government endorses in the Middle East under the guise of self defense and security. In order to do this, I along with others, spoke with Mayors as well as Hizbullah representatives of each village we worked in. This was necessary in order to provide aid anywhere in the south. I worked with them to deliver baby formula and diapers, food, water, and clothing to people who were left scrounging through the pulverized concrete (that was exactly the same texture and smell of the pulverized concrete of our twin towers) searching for anything to salvage of their lives.

By the terms and definitions of the legislation that has passed through Congress, I could disappear at any moment. This legislation defines an “enemy combatant” as anyone the President, the Secretary of Defense, or a tribunal approved by them, determines to have “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its allies.” (Anyone who has watched this administration in action recognizes that anyone who disagrees with the President and his policies may be defined in these terms.) This legislation is so broad that individuals, including legal residents of the United States, including me, can be thrown into military prisons, tried by military tribunals with coerced testimony (AKA torture) and hearsay, and the testimony can be kept secret from the accused. It would allow someone convicted under these rules to be put to death- without a full judicial review of the evidence. If that isn’t disturbing enough, the bill suspends the writ of habeas corpus. This is a fundamental recognition that in America the government does not have the ability to detain people indefinitely and arbitrarily. This right is the very bedrock of our constitutional democracy.

In voting against this legislation, Russ Feingold said, “We must not jeopardize our nation's proud traditions and principles by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and permitting our government to pick people up off the street, even in U.S. cities, and detain them indefinitely without court review. That is not what America is about.” But it seems Senator Feingold is in a minority. This legislation passed with ease. Maybe we should stop fooling ourselves- in this day and age this is exactly what America is about. Makes no difference if my “representative” is a former POW, a Republican or a Democrat. Each and every person who voted for this legislation has put a nail in the coffin of our democracy and our freedom. Every person who failed to filibuster this bill is equally responsible.

Returning to the speech on Sept 20, 2001, George Bush said, “I ask you to uphold the values of America. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them.” Yet our President has turned his back on his responsibility to live by our principles, and he’s about to make it the law of the land.

He also said, “I know there are struggles ahead, and dangers to face. But this country will define our times, not be defined by them. As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world.” Yet our President has pen in hand to strip the very laws that protect that liberty. His policies continue to threaten the liberty of myriad peoples across the world.

Our president has stated, ”Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom -- the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time -- now depends on us. Our nation -- this generation -- will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.” With the passage of this legislation our leaders have failed. They have failed to uphold our Constitution, they have failed to uphold our democracy, they have failed to uphold fundamental human rights and the rule of law, they have failed to rally the world to our cause, and they have failed to protect the American people.

Yes, great harm has been done to us. We have suffered a great loss. But that harm and loss has been increased by orders of magnitude by this President, this administration and this Congress. I do not recognize the America I live in today. But I give credit where it is due. The President is right on one point. The advance of freedom now depends on us, the American people. We can no longer count on our representatives. We must demand a return to basic decency.

Returning to the speech at Ft McNair, our President stated, “Pervasive fear is the foundation of every dictatorial regime -- the prop that holds up all power not based on consent. And when the regime of fear is broken, and the people find their courage and find their voice, democracy is their goal, and tyrants, themselves, have reason to fear.”

So friends, true lovers of freedom, true patriots, I, for one, have found my courage and I have found my voice. I write this so that the day I am disappeared, in this land of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, each one of you will know that I have not succumbed to fear, that I stand tall and free.

Peace and Love, Johnny Barber

free·dom n
1. a state in which somebody is able to act and live as he or she chooses, without being subject to any, or to any undue, restraints and restrictions
2. release or rescue from being physically bound, or from being confined, enslaved, captured, or imprisoned
3. a country’s right to rule itself, without interference from or domination by another country or power
4. the right to speak or act without restriction, interference, or fear

lib·er·ty n
1. the freedom to think or act without being constrained by necessity or force
2. freedom from captivity or slavery
3. any of the political, social, and economic rights that belong to the citizens of a state or to all people (often used in the plural)
See also civil liberties