Saturday, May 8, 2004 Meeting Notes for People for Peace, Justice, and Healing

PPJH meeting minutes

People for Peace, Justice and Healing met May 8, 2004, at 10:00 a.m. at Associated Ministries. Present for check-in: Kyle, Vivi, Sallie M., Sheila, Mark J., Kent, Rob.

NOTE: Condolences to Karen Havnaer, whose mother passed away this week. "In the midst of life we are in death."

AGENDA:

1. Earth Charter reading and discussion
2. NW Detention Center update (Kent)
3. Abuse of Iraqi detainees

1. Earth Charter reading and discussion. Sheila chose and read section 12 of the Earth Charter: "12. Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peopls and minorities. a. Eliminate discrimination in all its forms, such as that based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, language, and national, ethnic or social origin. b. Affirm the right of indigenous peoples to their spirituality, knowledge, lands and resources and to their related practice of sustainable livelihoods. c. Honor and support the young people of our communities, enabling them to fulfill their essential role in creating sustainable societies. d. Protect and restore outstanding places of cultural and spiritual significance." Discussion.

2. NW Detention Center update. Kent continues to search for a "smoking gun" with respect to the Northwest Detention Center. He has made contact with city and county governmental figures, most recently with Ken Madsen, Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer, with respect to a seemingly dubious valuation of the ten parcels on the Tacoma Tideflats owned by Correctional Services Corporation for 2004. Kent was told there will be a more reasonable assessment next year. -- Meanwhile, Tim Smith's successful effort to "adopt a spot" in front of NWDC site at 1623 East "J" St. has led to signs being posted there. -- Efforts to contact attorneys interested in working on immigration issues continue. Kent and Karen H. have had contacts with attorneys David Minikel and Sergio Armijo of the Pierce County Superior Court. Also Susan Dobkin at First United Methodist. He is interested in organizing to help those seeking information and assistance on detainees in the NWDC and estimates that about fifteen active volunteers are needed. Call Kent for more information or to offer assistance at 230-8948. -- Tim Smith is planning an event focusing attention on the NWDC on May 29 at the Washington State History Museum. (The Northwest Detention Center, the Homeland Security jail at 1623 E. "J" St. built at the Tacoma Tar Pits Superfund site on the Tacoma Tideflats and privately owned and operated by Correctional Services Corporation (NASDAQ: CSCQ) of Sarasota, Florida, now has inside an unknown number of detainees. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee-Tacoma led by Tim Smith continues on a number of fronts its efforts in opposition to the facility and on behalf of the rights of those detained.)

3. Abuse of Iraqi detainees. The group discussed, edited, and approved a piece by Mark J. on the subject and decided it should be submitted to the News Tribune. See addendum for the text of the piece.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. Presentation by Benjie Peters. Colleen will host an evening presentation Benjie Peters of his thesis work on Martin Luther King Jr. and economic justice on the evening of Tuesday, May 11 (soup at 6pm, talk at 7pm). The presentation by Benjie, a graduate student at the UW Tacoma who worked last summer at the Martin Luther King Jr. archive at Stanford University and will soon be leaving Tacoma to begin Ph.D. studies at Rutgers University, will be a part of PPJH's ongoing "Seeking Alternatives to War" series. Please contact Colleen (759-9680) if interested in attending.

2. Legal Marriage Forum. Evening of Friday, May 12, in the UPS Rotunda. PPJH is co-sponsor. Announced participants include: Moderator - Laurie Jinkins, American Civil Liberties Union - Genevieve Aguilar, Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund - Jamie Pedersen, Legal Marriage Alliance -Alicia Lewis, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force - Marsha Botzer, Northwest Womenís Law Center - Lisa Stone, Pride Foundation - Audrey Haberman. For more information, see www.outsouthsound.com.

3. Conference on coalition building. PPJH is a co-sponsor of a conference on coalition building called "From Chaos to Community: Where Do We Go from Here?" The conference will be held at First United Methodist Church (423 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma). There will be an evening tea and social hour followed by an address by Leslie Braxton (probably on what Martin Luther King Jr. called the "giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism") on the evening of Friday, May 14. On the morning and afternoon of Saturday, May 15, there will be a number of workshops on topics including: labor and the environment; immigration and labor; health care; communities of faith/peace and justice; overcoming wedge issues in electoral politics. There will be a nominal fee for attendance; however, no one will be turned away. (PPJH's meeting on the morning of May 15 will consist of attendance at the conference; the regular meeting is cancelled.)

4. The Illusion of Overwhelming Force. PPJH is organizing and co-sponsoring a talk entitled "The Illusion of Overwhelming Force" by Robert P. Ericksen, Prof. of History at Pacific Lutheran University and a noted Holocaust scholar, at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 18, in the Olympic Room of the Tacoma Public Library's main branch, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S. A flyer is available in the form of a 126k .pdf file: click here. Please print and help distribute.

5. Reading recommendation. Rob recommends Paul Starr's The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications (Basic Books, 2004).

6. Tom Rawson appearance. Kent announced that Tom Rawson will perform at 1:00 p.m. at the Friends Meeting House/Hillside Community Church (2508 S. 39th St., Tacoma, behind Borders; 759-1910)

7. Tim Smith at Hillside. Vivi announced that Tim Smith will speak at the meeting of Hillside Community Church at the Friends Meeting House/Hillside Community Church behind Borders (2508 S. 39th St., Tacoma, behind Borders; 759-1910). Potluck at 6:00 p.m.; Tim Smith speaks at 7:00 p.m.

8. Shadows of Exile. Sheila announced "Shadows of Exile," a presentation of more than 30 performance artists at the Arts Brewery, 3100 Airport Way, Seattle, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 15, as part of the Art of Resistance Political Artists' Conference, a two-day gathering in Seattle. For more information see www.artofresistance-seattle.net.

9. Health care conference. Vivi announced that Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. will be the keynote speaker at "It's Everybody's Right," a conference on health care as a human right sponsored by Health Care for All - Washington and Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans at Plymouth Congretational Church (6th Ave. & University St., Seattle) from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 22. For more information see www.healthcareforallwa.org.

Respectfully,
Mark J.

ADDENDUM

The following text was sent to the News Tribune around 2:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon, with a request to publish it as an opinion piece.

"CERTAINLY FUNDAMENTALLY UN-AMERICAN"? ALAS, NO
By Mark K. Jensen

Donald Rumsfeld offered his "deepest apology" "to those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces" on Friday.

What happened in Abu Ghraib prison, said Mr. Rumsfeld, "was inconsistent with the values of our nation, it was inconsistent with the teachings of the military to the men and women of the armed forces, and it was certainly fundamentally un-American."

American newspapers, including the News Tribune, printed Rumsfeld's words on front pages around the country.

Unfortunately -- like most of the pronouncements from spokespersons of the current adminstration -- they are far from the truth.

In fact, practices similar to the ones in Abu Ghraib are commonplace in the United States prison system. And lots of Americans are ready to defend them.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that "[p]hysical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates."

The Times reports that the routine stripping of prisoners, the wearing of hoods, the forcing of male inmates to wear women's underwear, the selling of sex slaves, endemic violence, and rape, are well-known features of prison culture in various jurisdictions in the United States.

And there's a direct connection between the domestic prison abuses and the abuses in Iraq. The prison expert who directed the reopening of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year, Lane McCotter, was free to take the job because he had been forced to resign from the position of director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after a naked inmate died after 16 hours of being shackled to a restraining chair.

So the practice of abusing prisoners is hardly "fundamentally un-American."

As for the values behind the abuse, we're afraid that they are very common American values, too.

There is no shortage of fine, upstanding Americans who are ready to defend what went on in Abu Ghraib prison.

The News Tribune of Tacoma printed several notable letters on Saturday.

One letter writer from Tacoma was incensed that anyone should apologize for the abuse. "Who apologized to the U.S. and the families who lost relatives in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the passenger plane that went down?" Of course, Iraq had nothing to do with that, but that's just a detail. Americans with their world of hurt clearly owe no apologies to anyone anywhere in the world after September 11.

This Tacoman thinks we're wasting our time apologizing. "Our military men and women in Iraq are fighting a war. We have more important things to worry about than whether we are torturing Iraqis. They should be thankful they are not in body bags."

Thank-you notes that Iraqis may wish to address should be sent to the Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, United States Department of Defense, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 20050

Another letter, from a resident of Puyallup, approves of torture. "We are fighting a war in Iraq. Interrogation tactics such as sleep deprivation and humiliation are not uncommon. They can be very effective in getting intelligence out of prisoners. While physical beatings or rape are inexcusable, I have seen no investigative conclusion to indicate that either took place."

Stay tuned. Donald Rumsfeld told Congress on Friday: "It's going to get still more terrible, I'm afraid." MSNBC reported that NBC News has been told by military officials that images of beatings, rape, desecration of the dead, and the gang rape of boys are still to come.

Whether this will affect the views of the writer of the letter printed in Saturday's News Tribune remains to be seen. The Golden Rule and the Geneva Conventions mean nothing to some people, it would appear. This Puyallup resident thinks torturing people is just fine. "[Iraqi prisoners] are in prison because they are the enemy -- criminals -- not because they are innocent Iraqis." They're only getting what they deserve.

And anyway, it's worth it in the end, according to this letter writer. "If these (interrogation) tactics save one American soldier's life, then they should continue. There should be no apology for any of this. Let's not forget the American workers whose bodies were dragged through the street and hung charred from a bridge in Iraq. Let's not forget the abductions and hostages taken. Let's not forget why these Iraqi men were put in prison in the first place."

On Friday, the New York Times sent reporters into the streets in Ohio, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, and Colorado, and found plenty of Americans ready to make excuses for what went on in Abu Ghraib.

"Certainly fundamentally un-American"? We don't think so.

--Mark K. Jensen is a member of People for Peace, Justice, and Healing (www.tacomapjh.org), and this text was approved for publication at the group's regular Saturday meeting.