Frida Berrigan, a member of the WRL's National Committee, introduced the award with these words:
There are many jokes about lawyers...
What do you call ten lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.
Why won't sharks attack lawyers? Professional courtesy.
This country loves to hate its lawyers.
But, in a time of war, who is more hated than lawyers? Those labeled "the worst of the worst," terrorist, enemy, threat, hater of our freedoms.
It was lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights who cracked the silence, found the names of those being held, assembled the legal teams, mounted the legal and the political battles... and began the long and laborious and still incomplete work to advocate on behalf of men at Guantanamo and throughout the labyrinth of torture, abuse and disappearance which the Bush administration so boldly erected (or enhanced and emboldened).
No one makes jokes about the survivors of torture. But the systematic degradation they endure is explicitly to render them less than human-- A sick joke against humanity. When done in the name of the greater good, national security, triumphing in the clash of civilizations, winning the war against terrorism-it renders all of our "civilization" laughable.
To survive torture, to assert and reclaim humanity-to work on behalf of others to restore their personhood, is to have the last laugh, is to give the blindfold eyes, to resurrect the dead.
The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International is the only organization founded by survivors of torture for survivors of torture-- but it is more than a support group or a center for healing. The organization and its members assert that healing is found-at least in part-in the excruciating work of eradicating torture...
Tonight the War Resisters League honors those who take their commitment to law seriously and those for whom laughter is an act of resistance and restoration. Those who stand with the victims and those who stand through their victimhood.
I could go on and on about the particular accomplishments of each organization and the gifted representatives, but time prevents me from going on... So, if you don't know, visit their websites, volunteer with them, etc... This award is given in the hopes that before too long we will laugh together with those freed from Guantanamo, we will see broken bodies and broken families made whole again, and we will see justice done to those responsible.
Please join me in inviting to the stage the recipients of the War Resisters League Peace Award.
Dianna Ortiz for the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International and Michael Ratner and Vincent Warren from the Center for Constitutional Rights.
As they are coming up, I will read the text of the award. But before I do that I would like to point out that its creation was a collaborative effort:
When pain is a hated companion
When burning light is constant
When noise does not stop
When there is no sleep
When your hands go numb from cords
When you are hoarse from screaming
There are lawyers committed to justice and survivors who have never forgotten how to remember
These who, being free, can speak seeking to ease the pain, dim the lights, silence the noise, listen to your brokenness and end it
In an America and a world where so many are complicit by silence,
Where the unspeakable has become state policy
We honor those who keep the long watch, who set at liberty those who were bound and break the policies that break our hearts
--September 28, 2007