Friday, November 20, 2009

Understanding What Guantanamo Means

On reflection, I think the biggest event of 2009 for me turned out to be a screening of "The Response" --a film about Guantanamo detainees and the military tribunals at the Siskel Film Center this past summer.

The experience was a knockout for me, for at least three reasons. My most prominent memory is of one of the stars of the film -- Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek fame -- participating in a panel after the screening. I was blown away when she said, "I did this because our civil liberties in our country have been gravely damaged and we all need to contribute to repairing them."

The Response
Kate Mulgrew, Peter Riegert, and Sig Libowitz portray military judges
in a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) at Guantanamo

The second thing that struck me was the presentation by Thomas Sullivan, a prominent Chicago lawyer who also participated in the panel and described his work defending Guantanamo suspects pro bono. I thought to myself, "Here's this hugely successful big city lawyer, and yet it's important enough to him to spend a massive amount of his time making sure these guys get the benefit of a proper defense."

Third, but far from least, was the quality of the film itself. It raised the basic question: is due process important? What does it really look and feel like when corners are being cut? The filmmaker, Sig Libowitz, did a spectacular job of bringing the core issue -- legal process -- into the foreground and making it compelling. (That's probably why the American Bar Association gave the film its prestigious Silver Gavel Award.)

"The Response" and its creator, Sig, have spurred me to learn a lot more about this issue, share what I've learned with others, and try to contribute to solutions in any way I possibly can.

This past week, the Governor Quinn announced a plan to house Guantanamo detainees at a correctional facility in Thomson, IL. When I went to see "The Response" months ago, I had no idea at the time that Guantanamo -- and all the issues related to it -- would soon become a special concern to all of us in Illinois!

 Related posts

The French Embassy's cultural center in Washington, D.C. screened The Response Tuesday, February 16, for a crowd of about 220 - including many representatives of the military, legal, government, and media community. Screenings of "The Response" are supposed to stimulate engaged discussion, and this one succeeded.

(See Guantanamo: "The Response" and Obama's State Department )

I believe Easter is God's gift to humanity of victory over death, hopelessness and frailty, and I believe that God is alive and in our midst. The witness of the Guantanamo lawyers has confirmed me in those beliefs.

(See Easter Victory: The Guantanamo Lawyers )

Chicago was the site of major protests against U.S. detention practices in Guantanamo, as well as in Bagram, other prisons throughout Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the world, on and around January 11, 2012. We called for an end to indefinite detention, unfair trials, and torture.

(See Chicago Protests Guantanamo Detention)

I think the U.S. is in the midst of a big shift.  I think that for over a decade following 9/11 people have been so enmeshed in fear that their instincts weren't working properly. I think that we are in the midst of a slow process of awakening: people are emerging from the shadow of fear to a wider range of sensibility -- and they are realizing there are some things that are out of joint.

(See Too Much State Power? (Asymmetric Warfare and Asymmetric Policing))