Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Torture Begats Torture

As part of my routine of easing into work, I browse the headlines of the New York Times online. The headline that haunts me this morning is: "Torture Alleged at Ministry Site Outside Baghdad". U.S. military discovered 173 mostly Sunni men who had been held in a basement in Baghdad. They had been tortured by their captors, Iraqi police of the Shiite faith.

The United States government is urging Iraq to investigate the torture, but I don't see how we have the moral high ground on this issue.

It's worth remembering that three years ago President Bush declared that the Geneva convention's guidelines on the treatment of prisoners did not apply to people the United States suspects might be "terrorists." And, it's worth recalling that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld generated the guidelines on torture that let to the abuses we've seen at Abu Graib prison in Iraq. And, we should not forget that the United States' CIA has been "disappearing" suspected al Qaeda leaders to countries with poor human rights laws, where these men have no rights, no status, no humanity (See the Washington Post).

Two weeks ago, Vice President Dick Cheney was on the Hill lobbying Congress members to not put forward legislation forbidding the United States military and CIA from torturing captives. Currently, the House and Senate have to reconcile their vastly different Pentagon bills, as a result. The House, caving to the pressure from the White House, refused to include any language constraining the military and the CIA to follow the Geneva conventions on torture. The Senate, through what became known as the McCain Amendment, included a provision banning cruel and inhumane practices (recall McCain was a victim of torture when he was captured in Vietnam). And, according to the New York Times, the White House continues to pressure House members to reject the Senate versions in reconciliation.

The United States has set a poor example when it comes to torture, and we should not be surprised to find the new Iraqi government and its police force following our lead of abusing the "other." We have failed to abide the powerful ideals of equality and humanity that shaped our constitution, and now we must watch as our immoral practices haunt us.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Finding Common Ground

(Good Grief is it November already????)

Last night I attended a forum on campus about the Solomon Amendment. I didn't know much of anything about this Amendment other than it had something to do with allowing military recruiters onto college campuses or face the threat of losing federal funding.

The forum was held by the University Faculty Senate (of which I am a member, and hence felt some obligation to attend). The speakers included a professor from the Criminal Justice school, a representative of the College Republicans and a representative of an organization called Campus Action that has been actively protesting military recruitment on the University at Albany campus.

The grounds for the protest, by the way, are because the military is a discriminatory agency. Alongside recruiting men and women to kill other men and women (which might be grounds enough for protest), the military discriminates against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people. Universities generally require prospective employers who recruit on college campuses to sign a statement that they do not engage in discriminatory hiring practices. Obviously, the military cannot sign such a petition, but the federal government requires Universities give them access anyway.

The way out of this for colleges is to stop taking federal funds, which largely come from research grants faculty receive from the government. Such funds can comprise as much as 20% of a university's budget. In short, there's not a snowball's chance in hell colleges are going to refuse federal funds to stop military recruitment on campus.

The case will be heard by the Supreme Court on December 6. The Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, an association of 38 law schools, sued Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on First Amendment grounds. They argued successfully before the 3rd District Court of Appeals that the federal requirement violates universities and schools first amendment right to free speech when it requires them to contribute resources and personnel to an employer with which they disagree. Rumsfeld and the DOD appealed, and it is now before the Supreme beings.

All of this is to say that the Republican student representative and the Campus Action representative exchanged some heated words with their opponents in the audience. At times the statements were hyperbolic and derogatory of the other side (statements of the other side being "crazy," "homophobic" supporting slavery, against the working class). I was anxious at times by the high level of antagonistic discussion.

But, the one issue upon which all sides seemed to agree on was that at least they were not apathetic. No matter what side the students fell on, they found common ground in their activism.

College should be where political beliefs take root. For too many years I've encountered highly apathetic students. The exchanges last night, heated and aggressive as they were, gave me some clear evidence that political activism is not dead on college campuses. I found that heartening.