“Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week: Day Six – Education, Human Experimentation and a Grand Finale

 By Andy Worthington 

Getting up at the crack of dawn to visit a high school to discuss Guantánamo could hardly have been a less appealing idea after the exhausting events of the day before — four radio interviews, and a forum on torture — and the cumulative effects of five days of speaking and campaigning as part of “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week.
However, the high school visit last Friday morning, to a public school in San Francisco, was one of the high points of the week, and the contrast between the high school students and the university students at UC Berkeley School of Law, where the student activists of Boalt Alliance Against Torture struggle to overcome the depoliticized avarice of the majority of their colleagues, could hardly have been greater.
Thanks to the efforts of an interested teacher, two classes had been primed with reading material — an introduction to Guantánamo that I wrote two years ago, and the World Can’t Wait’s “Crimes Are Crimes No Matter Who Does Them” poster, which featured as an ad in the New York Times the week before. They had also seen excerpts of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” the day before, so when Debra Sweet (the National Director of the World Can’t Wait) and I rolled up in class to tell them more, to watch a few more clips of “Outside the Law,” featuring former prisoners Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg describing the horrors of the 24-hour flight to Guantánamo, and to answer questions, we encountered a level of engagement that was deeply refreshing. Despite elements of feigned indifference, the majority of the students — about 30 in each class — had involved themselves with the issues, and came up with questions that showed they had really thought about the parameters of the “War on Terror,” arbitrary detention, torture and the human cost of these experiments in detention and interrogation on those involved.
In another school, peace activist and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and author and activist Larry Everest also made an impression, and the events were not only an indication that more school visits should be undertaken — to counter the pro-military propaganda that the government likes to sell to students — but also an insight into how the building blocks of dissent and resistance are noticeably present in neighborhoods where the words “racial profiling” evoke noises of recognition, and elite privileges are unlikely to extend, and I hope very much that Debra and I managed to leave a little focused outrage that can be nurtured to create the activists of tomorrow.
Torture, human experimentation and the Department of Defense
From the high school, we returned to Berkeley and to the final events in Boalt Hall, the home of torture professor John Yoo, beginning with an excellent presentation by Jason Leopold of Truthout and the psychologist and blogger Jeffrey Kaye on their exclusive exposé — in Truthout — of a memorandum dated March 25, 2002, approved by deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, which authorized human experimentation on detainees in the “War on Terror,” and which followed some little-noticed maneuvering in Congress in December 2001, when the requirement of “informed consent” in any experimentation by the Defense Department (introduced in 1972) was quietly dropped.
I’ve cross-posted the article here, because it deserves to be read as widely as possible, and its publication during “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week was a wonderful boost to the week’s events, adding, as I explained in an introduction to the cross-post of Leopold and Kaye’s article, to “a compelling catalog of the many reasons why the acceptance of torture must continue to be opposed, which I developed during the week: namely, that it is not only illegal, morally corrosive, counterproductive and unnecessary, but also that, at its heart, the Bush-era torture program continued work in the field of human experimentation that the US took over from the Nazis, and also involved treasonous lies on the part of senior officials, who pretended that the program was designed to prevent future terrorist attacks, when, from the very beginning (in late November 2001, according to Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff), it was actually being used to extract false confessions about connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that could be used in an attempt to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003.”
Psychology and Torture: Complicity, Resistance and Accountability
Jason and Jeff’s presentation was followed by another powerful panel discussion, “Psychology and Torture: Complicity, Resistance and Accountability,” featuring psychologists Adrianne Aron and Ruth Fallenbaum, Haitian activist Pierre LaBossiere, and Patricia Isasa, the Argentinian torture survivor whose compelling testimony was a key part of a radio show with Rose Aguilar that I appeared on the day before.
Adrianne Aron discussed “The political purpose of torture and the psychological effects on individual victims and entire communities, with emphasis on the historical context of current US torture practices,” Ruth Fallenbaum discussed the important campaign by ethical psychologists against the complicity of the American Psychological Association in the Bush administration’s torture program, and Pierrre LaBossiere discussed the case of psychologist Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, who was “disappeared” in Haiti for organizing and advocating for survivors of torture.
In her talk, entitled “The Healing Power of Resistance,” Patricia Isasa had the audience entranced, as she spoke about “why the struggle to bring torturers to justice is good therapy,” and how judicial victory is “simply wonderful” (in her case, involving the conviction of eight of her torturers) and also contributes significantly to the healing process.
Reckoning with Torture — An Evening of Conscience
Friday’s grand finale, “Reckoning with Torture — An Evening of Conscience,” brought together many of the week’s participants — plus some wonderful new guests — for a reading of memos and testimonies from the “War on Terror,” based on a powerful script, originated by the ACLU and American PEN Center, which has been produced in New York and Washington, D.C., but had never before been performed on the West Coast. The evening was organized by Susan Harman of Progressive Democrats of America, and joining myself, Ray McGovern, Marjorie Cohn, Jason Leopold, Peter Selz, Shahid Buttar and Jeffrey Kaye were the actress, author and activist Mimi Kennedy, Pamela Merchant, the Executive Director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, activist and lawyer Renee Saucedo, poet and novelist devorah major, UC Berkeley law student Gretchen Gordon, one of the founders of Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture, the inspirational Father Louis Vitale, a Franciscan priest who has been imprisoned on numerous occasions during nearly 40 years of civil disobedience in the pursuit of peace and justice, and peace activist and former US Army colonel Ann Wright, one of three State Department officials to resign in protest at the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
The evening’s readings (which also included video clips of former prisoners Moazzam Begg and Omar Deghayes talking about their experiences) were introduced by Abdi Soltani, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California, and the entire event was filmed, and will be made available soon on DVD. In addition, there are also plans for a revival of the event in Los Angeles (for which I’m willing to travel!)
Those involved, and those who attended this powerful event will have their own high points in what was a well-chosen selection of documents. Personally, I was thrilled to share the stage with Mimi, playing CIA “ghost prisoner” Abu Zubaydah to Mimi’s John Yoo, in a moving juxtaposition of Zubaydah’s testimony about his torture in secret CIA prisons with Yoo’s clinical and legally manipulative approval of the torture techniques used on Zubaydah, as endorsed in the UC Berkeley law professor’s notorious “torture memos” of August 2002, written while he was working for the Office of Legal Counsel, and violating that office’s responsibility to provide impartial legal advice to the Executive. 
I was also moved by Jeff Kaye’s reading of a letter written by Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002 (whose trial by Military Commission is scheduled to resume at Guantánamo next week), devorah major’s poem about torture, and Father Louis Vitale’s reading of a list of individuals murdered in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which the detached accounts by military officials and coroners, recording in bloodless prose some of the 100+ murders in US custody that are known about, became a sonorous indictment of the wars, when delivered sequentially.
At the end, we each filed up to the mike to provide the audience with ways in which they can become involved in the struggle to eradicate the acceptance of torture in the US, and to hold accountable those, like John Yoo, whose baleful presence haunts Boalt Hall, who authorized its use. These closing comments included particular thanks to the organization and individuals who had pushed for the establishment of “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week, and had secured its adoption in a resolution by the City Council — the World Can’t Wait, the National Lawyers Guild (San Francisco), Progressive Democrats of America, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, National Accountability Action Network, Code Pink, FireJohnYoo.org, Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Committee and the Rev. Kurt Kuhwald.
This was not quite the end of the week’s events. On Saturday afternoon, at Revolution Books, Jeffrey Haas discussed his book The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther, and talked about his experiences as a people’s lawyer, and on Saturday evening there was a dramatic reading of the play “Pedro and the Captain” by Mario Benedetti, with Mark McGoldrick and Youseef Elias, and directed by Angelina Llongueras.
For me, however, the week was nearly over. My flight back to London departed at lunchtime on Saturday, and my last social event was a post-reading reception at a local hotel, where I mingled with some of the performers I hadn’t met previously, and some of the evening’s guests, and was thrilled to discover how widely known my work is in activist circles. As the chatter turned to plans to consolidate this week’s bringing together of so many different groups and individuals with further action, and plans to mark Guantánamo’s ninth anniversary on January 11, 2011 were mentioned, I left not only with the warm feeling of being part of a network or family of exceptionally motivated groups and individuals, but also with the reinforced conviction that — as I mentioned in a previous article — the struggle for truth, justice, peace and accountability must continue, however long it takes, because it is nothing less than a struggle for the very soul of America.
My thanks to everyone involved in the week’s events — and particularly to Debra Sweet, Stephanie Tang and Curt Wechsler of the World Can’t Wait for their dedication to my work, for looking after me and for working me so hard, and to Ruth, Zeese, Cindy, Josh, Stephanie and Joey for putting me up and providing me with care, comfort and excellent company.
I hope to see you all again in the not too distant future.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon. 


World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.