We are now five days into our Witness Against Torture (WAT) liquid-only fast (www.100dayscampaign.org). When we began our fast on January 11th, we knew that at least thirty of the 250 remaining Guantanamo detainees were engaged in a hunger strike; we now know that number may be as high as seventy men. We have kept to the fast and to our daily vigils and silent walks in black-hooded orange jumpsuits through the streets of Washington, D.C. Though our bodies are a bit weaker, our spirit, community life and commitment are stronger than ever. What follows are the words that I spoke at a January 11th WAT vigil to begin the fast. They point to what inspires the work of the fast and our 100 Days Campaign to Close Guantanamo.
Seven years ago today, the United States government opened the gates of Hell and plunged into an abyss of darkness. Within the cover of darkness, it found fit to mock, humiliate, pummel, torture and destroy our brothers held captive in the U.S. Naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In December of 2005, twenty-five friends decided to get to the heart of the matter. We would walk seventy-miles to Guantanamo and, in so doing, embody a narrative counter to the one articulated by our nation's government. Quite simply, we set out to resist the use of torture and to visit those in prison. We had decided that the better course was to love those considered to be our enemies.
Over the past four years in the work of nonviolent resistance that has taken us from the Supreme Court to the United Nations we have tried to remain faithful. We have tried to incarnate an insight expressed beautifully by the Jesuit and poet Daniel Berrigan: in the Gospel-- "peace is a verb." You make peace. You do not inherit it, or hoard it, or borrow it, or sit on it. You make it.
In the specific work that begins today, over 100 North Americans will engage in a nine day liquid only fast. As we begin this work together, we are mindful of 30 Guantanamo detainees who are now engaged in a hunger strike; 25 of whom are being force-fed through the nose. As the pangs of hunger bear down upon us these next nine days, let us be mindful of the fact that those who are force fed in Guantanamo are those who have refused to eat for over twenty-one days in a row or who weigh less than 85% of their ideal body weight.
The United Nations contends that the practice of force-feeding is akin to torture. The United States, however, sees it this way: We force feed the detainees, said one official, because the "worst case would be to have someone go from zero to hero." Is THIS really the worst case?
The worst case scenario, I'll suggest, is when we forget that we are human, neither "zero" nor "hero" but human. Jumah al-Dossari, who was released from Guantanamo in July of 2007, offers us instruction on what "being human" looks like. He writes, "I thought of the soldier who had offered me compassion in Guantanamo. Her words reminded me that we all share common values, and only by holding on to them can we ensure that there is mercy and brotherhood in the world. After more than five years in Guantanamo, I can think of nothing more important."
Simone Weil, the French philosopher and activist, commends to us that "compassion ... a spiritualization of the suffering being undergone is able to transfigure even the most purely physical sufferings, such as cold and hunger. Whoever feels cold and hunger, and is tempted to pity him/herself can, instead ... direct that pity toward [others] ... compassion is able, without hindrance, to cross frontiers, extend itself over all ... in misfortune ... without exception."
At this moment, we enter into the transfigurative work of nonviolence: to endure suffer and never to inflict suffering upon others. Let us give our full attention to the work of the fast. Let the pangs of hunger serve to deepen our attention and open our hearts to the truth of nonviolence. Let our failings, which often serve to hide a vast reserve of unconditional love, be forgiven so that this love may come roaring out.
Though the Pentagon defines "the whole world as a battlefield," we, in Witness Against Torture, refuse to accept this definition. We make our word good by this fast. The world is not a battlefield; the world is where we learn how to love one another and how to be human. Let us go now and continue the work that our brothers in Guantanamo have already begun. And, when we connect our lives and work with their lives and work, let us see clearly that the walls of Guantanamo are already down.
For more information on the fast, including bios of many of the fasters for justice, http://www.100dayscampaign.org/fast. Half of the fasters are in Washington, DC and will be part of a public witness each day through Tuesday, January 20. The rest of the fasters are participating from around the country. The fast will be broken in a sunrise ceremony on Inauguration Day in McPherson Square, DC. The fast is part of Witness Against Torture's 100 Days Campaign to Close Guantanamo and End Torture.