In connection with the 10 year anniversary of the shameful "torture memos" written by lawyers working for the Bush-Cheney Administration, peace and human rights activists in Minnesota managed to get their Congresspersons Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum and their Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken to declare torture is wrong and, in varying degrees, touch on the need for accountability. The Ellison and Franken statements were strongest on the issue and were the first time any Minnesota Congressperson or Senator has posted something on their website about torture.
Additionally, Representative Ellison was the featured speaker in a panel discussion called "Ending Torture Now: Moving Forward by Looking Backward" with other legal and human rights experts (full video of the event as well as Ellison excerpts below). In speaking at the town hall organized by Amnesty International and the Women Against Military Madness (and endorsed by numerous peace and justice groups) to a full house gathered at the Mayflower Church UCC, Ellison declared, "Democracy works because citizens stand up and make demands" of their government, and "it's time to demand accountability." Ellison pointed out that "every country has a human rights record to apologize for, so the true mark of a nation that respects human rights is the willingness to confront blemishes and say we can do better -- and we can do better."
Speakers noted that the torture memos signify an era of overblown presidential authority, and that era featured and attempted to justify acts that shock the conscience. Ellison described the deplorable case of innocent Canadian torture victim Maher Arar, which the U.S. Government has continued to refuse to apologize or make amends for. The Representative further stated, "It is no shame or dishonor to apologize -- it is a shame or dishonor not to apologize."
Joining Representative Ellison were panel moderator David Schultz of Hamline Law School; Doug Johnson, former executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture; and Professor Barbara Frey, director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Minnesota. Representative Betty McCollum and Senator Amy Klobuchar (the latter only after repeated prodding) also submitted brief statements against the use of torture that were read at the start of the forum.
Speaker Barbara Frey was applauded for her observation that simple solutions like building in transparency -- instead of secrecy -- into government processes would go a long way to preventing future abuses. Doug Johnson cautioned the audience that accountability for torture and cruel and inhumane abuse has historically required a lengthy passage of time so anti-torture activists will need perseverance and patience.
Most in attendance, nonetheless, welcomed this beginning after ten years, a long-awaited beginning.