Friday, July 3, 2009

Independence Day: Remembering Those in Prison and Those Who are Being Tortured

This 4th of July I’m planning a day trip south along the Mississippi in my recently acquired dark green Honda Civic coupe, a reliable little car that gets good gas mileage. I’m packing a picnic lunch, my camera, my daily journal, a lawn chair, and a couple of books to read at rest stops on my way down through Hastings, Red Wing, and on to Winona. The fact that I live in a 4th floor apartment with windows facing a sterile courtyard heightens my anticipation for tomorrow’s adventure.

You bet I’m grateful for the freedom and the means to leave the city behind this Independence Day as I take to the open road, specifically the southern leg of Minnesota’s scenic Highway 61.

However, my planned celebration of the freedoms I enjoy as an American this holiday weekend is not without a shadow of grief for what our country continues to practice in the name of its citizens against so-called “enemy combatants.”

President Obama has agreed with the Bush Administration that our government has the right to violate our constitutionally guaranteed standards of justice by indefinitely imprisoning terror suspects without trial. We can be thankful, I guess, that according to the AP’s Lara Jakes that although he has not given up on the idea, the president at least now feels “uneasy” about his own proposal.

Reporting on a recent interview with Obama, Jakes writes:

The president stopped short of abandoning his tentative idea of continuing to hold a small number of detainees in other prisons after Guantanamo closes, which is expected to happen early next year.

But Obama said he has strong reservations about detaining people without bringing them to trial — a legal quagmire that dogged former President George W. Bush.

Jakes notes further:

Constitutional scholars and civil liberties groups have pummeled Obama for considering indefinite detention — what they called a mirror image of one of Bush's most controversial policies.

Jakes continues:

"It gives me huge pause," Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press. "And that's why we're going to proceed very carefully on this front. And it may turn out that after looking at all the dimensions of this that I don't feel comfortable with the proposals that surface on how to deal with this issue."

Most of the 229 terror suspects and foreign fighters currently at Guantanamo have been held for up to seven years without being charged. Many will be prosecuted.

One of the books I’m taking along with me tomorrow as I follow the river road is Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Energy of Prayer.” Hanh writes:

When we send the energy of love and compassion to another person, it doesn’t matter if they know we are sending it. The important thing is that the energy is there and the heart of love is there and is being sent out into the world. When love and compassion are present in us, and we send them outward, than that is truly prayer.

As we celebrate our considerable freedom tomorrow, let’s intentionally direct our love and compassion toward the prisoners at Guantanamo, especially Jawad who was reportedly no older than an adolescent when first detained. According to Bob Herbert in the NY Times, Jawad has been tortured and the evidence against him has been discredited.

In the above “prayers,” we’ll also be keeping faith with a relevant biblical teaching: “remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13: 1-3).

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