Col. Ann Wright: Time to hold Bush administration responsible for torture

TUCSON – Retired Army Col. Ann Wright and El Salvadoran torture survivor Carlos Mauricio said it is time to hold President Bush and his top advisors accountable for torture in Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo and for secret renditions.

Speaking at the Festival of Hope, Mauricio descibed how he was tortured in El Salvador in 1983. Mauricio’s torturers were trained by the US military who used the manuals of the U.S. School of the Americas.

Col. Wright and Mauricio spoke as three more aging Americans, prepared for a hearing and possible prison sentences, following peaceful protests of the Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca.

Exposing the secrets of torture, in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, prisoners of conscience arrived from throughout the United States to prepare for a court hearing in federal court here on Monday, Feb. 4.

Fr. Jerry Zawada and Betsy Lamb, both in prison in Florence awaiting trial, and Mary Burton Riseley, are charged with conspiracy, trespass and failure to obey an officer at Fort Huachuca in November.

Already in prison are two priests, Fr. Steve Kelly and Fr. Louis Vitale, for kneeling in prayer in protest of US torture at Fort Huachuca in Nov. 2006. Col. Wright described how she was recently prevented from entering Canada because her name was on an FBI list.

Col. Wright said there was other news from Canada. The U.S. was recently placed on Canada’s list for countries that engage in torture. However, the US remained on the list for only two days. She said there were likely “a lot of calls between DC and Ottawa.”

Col. Wright, author of “DISSENT: Voices of Conscience -- Government Insiders Speak Out Against the War in Iraq,” spoke out against the imprisonment of the two local US torture protesters, Lamb and Zawada, as they await trial.

“The government throws men and women of conscience into jail before they are even tried. The people who should be in jail are the ones making the policies that we are protesting.”

Col. Wright listed names, including Albert Gonzalez, David Addington, John Ashcroft and Willian Haynes.

“They are the men who have broken the laws in this country. They are the ones that should be in jail.”

“The senior members of our military should be in jail. The generals should be in jail.”

Out of 800 inmates in Guantanamo, three-hundred remain. Only one person, who entered into a plea agreement, has been convicted. The majority imprisoned were never charged with a crime. Most are imprisoned as the result of bounty incentives paid to people to simply provide names.

Col. Wright said many of the South American generals responsible for torture now live in the United States, with a large number living in Miami. During a protest there, Col. Wright and others were stoned. They held their protest at the police station, because the police refused to protect them. Still, she plans to return to protest the impunity offered by the U.S. to torturers.

“Just like, Bush, Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, they are all part of the axis of evil.”

Pointing out the torture, war in Iraq and secret renditions, Col. Wright said U.S. officials must be held accountable.

“We need men and women of conscience to stand up to what our government is doing that is immoral and illegal.”

Mauricio began with these words, “My story belongs to many El Salvadorans.”

It is the story of torture.

“There were many El Salvadorans who could not come and tell their story, because they were killed.”

Mauricio was a teacher when the Death Squad came for him. They entered his classroom, which he considers a sacred place, and beat him. With blood gushing from his head, he was blindfolded and kidnapped. He felt certain he would be killed. This was the fate of all the others kidnapped, whose tortured and mutiliated bodies were thrown in the streets.

Mauricio did not know why they had come for him. He had spoken out against injustices, but was never a guerrilla. When he was taken to the place of torture, he was first forced to hear the screams of the victims of electric shock and asphixiation.

“I heard women being raped.”

Since he had nothing to tell his torturers, they became convinced he was trained in Cuba to withstand torture. Believing it would stop the torture, Mauricio simply agreed that he had been trained in Cuba. But then they wanted the names of the military who trained him, names that didn’t exist. Mauricio said this is the reality of information obtained by torture, people will say anything to make the torture stop. It is not viable information.

Severely beaten, Mauricio was left seven days without food or water. When he was taken to the dungeon, where thousands of coachroaches swarmed above his head in the death chamber, the arrival of the International Red Cross led to his life being spared. He was the only person he knew tortured at the National Police Headquarters who lived.

“What happened to me in El Salvador happened in Abu-Ghraib. They (his torturers in El Salvador) came here to learn torture and were taught torture at the School of the Americas.”

Mauricio said generals were brought to justice for his torture. Now, Mauricio wants to turn that clandestine torture cell into a “place to remember,” for torture victims all over the world.

“Torture is a crime. It is legal in the United States, but it is a crime. That person can be prosecuted under the law.” He said those responsible now for torture must be held accountable.

It took Mauricio 12 years to be able to tell his story. “It brings healing to my suffering. It brings healing to my trauma,” he told the gathering.

“We are very interested in keeping the memory alive of what happened.”

“We need a place to remember.”

Bill O’Neil, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights in DC, is now defending torture victims from Abu-Ghraib. O’Neil said the name of the campaign here in Tucson, “Torture on Trial,” grabbed him. “Torture is on trial everyday in this country.”

O’Neil, corporate attorney for 15 years, said when the photos of the torture victims at Abu-Ghraib were broadcast on television, he said, “We decided we had to do something.”

“The pictures in public are just the tip of the iceberg.”

One of the first victims, seeking an attorney in Detroit, was Saleh, a Swedish citizen who had immigrated to Iraq and was tortured in prison by Saddam Hussein. After fleeing to Sweden, he returned to Iraq after the US invasion, believing Iraq to be safe.

However, he was picked up in a sweep of “anyone who looked suspicious,” and once again tortured in Abu-Ghraib, this time by United States personnel. “It was so incongrous, he didn’t know to process this,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil said the U.S. torture in Abu-Ghraib was “right out of the manual created by the School of the Americas.”

Since the United States government has immunity from prosecution, the U.S. could not be sued for torture. With Amnesty International joining the action, a federal class action lawsuit was filed against the private security contractors who participated in the torture at Abu-Ghraib.

In Abu-Ghraib, private security forces wore the same clothing that military personnel did. US soldiers did not always know who was giving the orders. When the private security forces who provided translators -- CACI International Inc. and Titan Corporation – gave orders, soldiers often believed the private contractors to be CIA officers.

Although the lawsuit was filed in 2004, due to US and court maneuvers, the lawsuit still has not gone to trial. The court dismissed Titan from the lawsuit after the company argued it had no control over its employees’ actions. But O’Neil said Titan was supplying translators who delivered the ultimatums such as “killing family members" and participated in beatings.

Now, 256 of the US torture victims at Abu-Ghraib have been identified.

O’Neil encouraged torture victims to keep telling their stories. He said when he is driving home from work in DC, he sees others like those gathered here in Tucson, protesting torture outside the home of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Hopeful, O’Neil said he believes there will someday be fair and open trials for the victims of Abu-Ghraib. He believes free and independent courts will someday allow justice.

In the letters from prison read at the Festival of Hope, Jerry Zawada said he made his decision to risk going to prison when he saw the injustice carried out in the case of Fr.’s Vitale and Kelly. During the priests' federal trial in Tucson, attorney Bill Quigley had huge stacks of US government manuals with data of US torture, data that the judge ruled was not admissable in court in the case of the two priests.

In prison, and remembering the goodness of those in this struggle, Zawada ended his letter with these words, “How can I keep from singing?”

With the spirit of a Southern Gospel, singers Ted Warmbrand and Charlie King closed the Festival of Hope with the lyrics, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, from the jailhouse.”

Among the words remembered, were those of Sami al Haj, Sudanese journalist, covering the war in Afghanistan for al-Jazeera television. In 2001, he was arrested, tortured at both Bagram air base and Kandahar, then transferred to Guantanamo Bay, even though there was no evidence he had committed a crime.

Sami al Hajj’s poem, “Humiliated In The Shackles,” was written for his son. It is from a collection, “Poems from Guantanamo,” written with stone indentions on styrofoam cups.

When I heard pigeons cooing in the trees,
Hot tears covered my face.
When the lark chirped, my thoughts composed
A message for my son.
Mohammad, I am afflicted.
In my despair, I have no one but Allah for comfort.
The oppressors are playing with me,
As they move freely around the world.
They ask me to spy on my countrymen,
Claiming it would be a good deed.
They offer me money and land,
And freedom to go where I please.
Their temptations seize
My attention like lightning in the sky.
But their gift is an empty snake,
Carrying hypocrisy in its mouth like venom,
They have monuments to liberty
And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.
But I explained to them that
Architecture is not justice.
America, you ride on the backs of orphans,
And terrorize them daily.
Bush, beware.
The world recognizes an arrogant liar.
To Allah I direct my grievance and my tears.
I am homesick and oppressed.
Mohammad, do not forget me.
Support the cause of your father, a God-fearing man.
I was humiliated in the shackles.
How can I now compose verses? How can I now write?
After the shackles and the nights and the suffering and the tears,
How can I write poetry?
My soul is like a roiling sea, stirred by anguish,
Violent with passion.
I am a captive, but the crimes are my captors'.
I am overwhelmed with apprehension.
Lord, unite me with my son Mohammad.
Lord, grant success to the righteous.

For more information on trial and contacts: http://www.tortureontrial.org/

About Brenda Norrell

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 34 years. She is publisher of Censored News, focusing on Indigenous Peoples, human rights and the US border. Censored News was created after Norrell was censored, then terminated, by Indian Country Today after serving as a longtime staff reporter. Now censored by the mainstream media, she previously was a staff reporter at numerous American Indian newspapers and a stringer for AP, USA Today and others. She lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, and then traveled with the Zapatistas. She covered the climate summits in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Cancun, Mexico, in 2010.

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About Brenda Norrell

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Biography

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 34 years. She is publisher of Censored News, focusing on Indigenous Peoples, human rights and the US border. Censored News was created after Norrell was censored, then terminated, by Indian Country Today after serving as a longtime staff reporter. Now censored by the mainstream media, she previously was a staff reporter at numerous American Indian newspapers and a stringer for AP, USA Today and others. She lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, and then traveled with the Zapatistas. She covered the climate summits in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Cancun, Mexico, in 2010.