Monday, August 13, 2007

Priests shining the light of truth on torture

TUCSON – Two Roman Catholic priests, Jesuit Fr. Steve Kelly and Franciscan Fr. Louis Vitale, are exposing the secret cycle of U.S. torture, beginning with Fort Huachuca, a military intelligence operation in southern Arizona with a sordid history.

With pretrial motions beginning this morning, Aug. 13, they are prepared to go to prison in order to speak out against torture carried out by U.S. military.

With the two priests hoping for a jury trial, Fr. Kelly said they want to expose the human rights violations on a broad scale, citing international law and United Nations agreements. Fr. Kelly admits the U.S. courtroom can be a “very, very dangerous place.” Still, he adds, “The more they prosecute us; it makes for a more high profile case.”

“We would like to put torture on trial,” Fr. Kelly. “It is important for us to speak up.”

The tortures in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo – people hooded with electrical wires running from them – reveal the same torture techniques that were used in Central America. The United States actually published torture manuals to train Latin military, resulting in the rape, mutilation, disappearance and murder of masses of Indigenous Peoples in Central America in the 1980s.

Those torture manuals were produced in Fort Huachuca and used in training by the School of Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., in the 1980s. More recently, soldiers trained at the Fort Huachuca U.S. Army Intelligence Training Center, have gone on to torture at Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Fr. Kelly and Fr. Vitale were arrested as they knelt in prayer outside the gates of Fort Huachuca when they sought entry to speak with enlisted personnel on Nov. 19, 2006. They were delivering a letter denouncing torture and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, destined for Major Gen. Barbara Fast, commander at the post at the time. Major Gen. Fast was a key figure in the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

After the priests were halted outside the gates and knelt in prayer, they were charged with federal trespass and the Arizona state charge of failure to comply with a police officer. They each face 10 months in prison.


Bill Quigley, attorney for Fr. Vitale and Fr. Kelly, spoke on torture. Quigley, professor of law at Loyola University in New Orleans, said these acts of torture do not just leave the detained person dehumanized, but shatter the lives of their families. Further, the torturers themselves become the victims of torture. Often, the torturers are young soldiers, fearful of not following orders.

Forty-four detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan have died in U.S. captivity that were hooded, strangled, gagged or beaten with blunt objects, he said.

Quigley described the tortures, which George Bush no longer considers torture.

One detainee from Saudi Arabia was tied with a leash, forced to wear a bra and strip-searched in front of women. He was forced to urinate in his clothing.

In Abu Ghraib, one detainee was forced to strip in front of females and commit a sexual act, which was recorded on film with the threat of showing his family. In another case, a detainee was chained to the prison floor, while a female performed a strip tease and spread what appeared to be menstrual blood on his face.

Quigley asked, “If the Iraqis did that to our soldiers, what would we do?”

Quigley said this brutality and sadism were often carried out by U.S. military police and military intelligence, sometimes by the National Guard.

There is now a prevalence of torture. There are 330 documented cases of U.S. military and civilians abused or killed detainees. Those cases involved 600 U.S. personnel and 460 inmates.

“There is a code of silence,” Quigley said. One method of ensuring the code of silence is to force others present to participate in the torture.


Fr. Vitale said there has already been one cause for celebration since arrests. Commander Major Gen. General Barbara Fast is no longer at Fort Huachuca. Major Gen. Fast was the highest raking intelligence officer tied to the torture at Abu Ghraib and yet she has never been punished. Two soldiers with ties to Fort Huachuca are among 28 implicated in the 2002 beating deaths of two prisoners in Afghanistan.

“We were successful. She is gone.”

Fr. Vitale said at Fort Huachuca, Fast and others taught how to break people down. Describing the inhumane acts of the torturers, he said, “It is about humiliation.”

As Fr. Vitale and Fr. Kelly spoke on Sunday night, it was clear, that truth has a way of seeping out. The news of a vigil taking place outside of Guantanamo filters past the impenetrable walls to the detainees in the prison of horror. With the passage of time, the details of what really goes on behind the walls of Fort Huachuca is revealed by former soldiers. Regardless of the consequences, some military personnel speak out and expose the tortures in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

According to one former solider at Fort Huachuca, “The whole world sees us as not very moral people.”

Fr. Kelly, dedicated in the struggle against nuclear weapons, described walking in protest of torture to Guantanamo prison in Cuba. He said that earlier, “George Bush said, ‘We’ve got nothing to hide, anyone is welcome to be here.’”

Therefore, on December 10, 2005, Fr. Kelly and about 25 others held a vigil outside the prison, hoping this news would filter in to the detainees. He knew this was possible, since he had been a prisoner himself, for attempting to literally beat a nuclear weapon into a plowshare. While in prison, the news of vigils and protests had filtered through to the imprisoned.

Now anti-torture protesters and prisoners of conscience in Tucson are organizing a November 18-19 torture teach-in and action, there is hope here that the protests against Fort Huachuca will grow as large as the protests against the School of the Americas. In the beginning, there were only about 20 protesters and now there are about 22,000 at Fort Benning during last year’s November protest.

In this room in Southside Church, there are many women and men with gray hair who have served six months in jail for stepping across the line at the School of the Americas in conscientious protest.

While Americans are complacent in their self-glory, the truth is, the rest of the world now views America as a country without morals, without adherence to international laws banning torture. Torture has become the United States' stain, a fall from grace in the eyes of the world.
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