Week of Pride and Shame - by Cat Garlit Bucher

I was so proud of Texans this week, when citizens came together to donate and pack medical supplies for tsunami survivors. Within days, Austin College students personally delivered to a Bangkok non-governmental organization more than $10,000 of donated medicines and wound care supplies, and $4000...thanks to the generosity of their larger community.

I was proud of the conscientiousness of donors who, in their passion for Southeast Asia, did not redirect their dollars away from local charities. After all, the local Red Cross is a different entity than either the U.S. Red Cross or the International Red Cross.


I wish we could extend our remarkable compassion into critical thinking about others hurting in the world -including Darfur, Sudan; but also including "unintended" victims of our U.S. government's aggression.

We need to push ourselves to experience that paradox of "both/and." While helping the 150,000+ who died in the tsunami, we need to struggle with the ethics of 100,000+ innocent civilians killed in Iraq (thousands more in Afghanistan) as "collateral damage" to the U.S. government's foreign policy, and remember that the Fallujah story is not just about insurgents.

We need to be able to mourn with the innocents of large cities our military forces have destroyed. We need to hear victims' anger about U.S. subcontractors being paid to rebuild Fallujah (instead of locals being compensated to rebuild their own city), anger we seldom hear about in U.S. newscasts. Do we realize our laws dictate that up to 90% of "relief aid" dollars actually must be spent with U.S.-owned companies? If we could wrestle with these real-life dilemmas, we might be able to express support of our troops in ways which protect and heal them, including grieving with them when they are ordered into situations and behaviors which terrorize and kill civilians. Are we really ready for the counseling many will need upon return?

Then, we might be competent to participate in what has become (thankfully) a national discussion about torture.

It is no surprise that Senator John Cornyn introduced Whilte House Legal Advisor Alberto Gonzalez at the U.S. attorney general confirmation hearings this week. After all, while Texas Attorney General, Cornyn presented Texas' Outstanding Lawman of the Year award to Tom Coleman for work in Tulia, Texas. As deputy sheriff of Tulia, Coleman catapulted the town into international human rights notoriety as an example of "drug stings" in Texas which sent amazing numbers of minorities to jail based on no physical evidence, and uncorroborated notes/names Coleman "wrote on his knee." Thankfully, there were citizens in Tulia and throughout Texas who voiced their conscience and behaved their activism, so that those prisoners were (three years later) pardoned by Governor Perry. Citizen activists also helped change Texas laws so that physical evidence and corroborated non-police testimony are now necessary before sending folks to jail (police testimony still needs no corroboration).

But in the meantime, Tulia, Texas has become an international byword for racist juries and flaws in the U.S. "war on drugs." Cornyn's excuse was that he "didn't know" Coleman's background. Currently, the jury selection process has started for Coleman's trial on purjury charges.

Does Cornyn also "not know" Gonzalez' track record for "reinterpreting" (overturning) U.S. military codes of conduct which have been in place since George Washington led revolutionary forces against the British? Does Cornyn "not know" about the letters, signed by many retired U.S. generals and admirals, stating that Gonzalez' policy interpretations generated memoranda which put our soldiers in grave danger? Is Cornyn not familiar with the FBI "torture memos" about "abuses" in Guantamo which resulted from Gonzalez' interpretations?

Last summer, I sat in the U.S. embassy in Bogota, Colombia, talking with embassy staff about the harm Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo "interrogation practices" had done to their international credibility. With 16 other U.S. citizens in a Presbyterian Peace Fellowship delegation, I saw the U.S. political officer hang his head and groan, while the human rights officer admitted his ability to speak against Colombian human rights abuses had been nullified by the Abu Ghraib photographs.

In the weeks since visiting churches and displaced persons camps in Colombia, I have followed the history of almost daily civilian massacres committed in that country, mainly by paramilitary forces. Most paramilitaries are military soldiers moonlighting in private "security" armies. There was another civilian massacre in Colombia on Christmas day, and more since then. Much of this industrialized killing was accomplished with U.S.-manufactured military equipment which the Rand Corporation has reported takes only three days to move from military to paramilitary control.

Do we care about the 7% of Colombian civilians displaced since our government started Plan Colombia? Do we know that Colombia is the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid (after Israel and Egypt), or are we too busy collecting paychecks and tax money from for-profit Texas-based private oil companies whose Colombian pipelines U.S.soldiers protect (paid by our tax dollars)? Do we talk about the Texas-based private companies who build the helicopters and guns with which massacres are committed (guns often bought at Texas gun shows)? Do we care that Texas subcontractors are recruiting from Latin American former paramilitary to supply their "security forces" in Iraq who will provide "security" in our name?

If we can't face what is happening to the international human victims of the U.S. addiction to war, can we at least advocate for the sons and daughters we are sending to do this work? Can we at least back the military generals who appeal to us for a strong stand against even the hint of torture, so our sons and daughters will not be treated likewise if they fall under the control of other countries or their citizens?

As someone who has worked in therapeutic contexts with survivors of state-sponsored torture, I have witnessed that that there is no such thing as "torture lite," and that especially the non-physical, psychological techniques used to "break down" individuals renders permanent personality destruction and even physical harm. Most CIA professionals agree torture does not render reliable intelligence, but instead is about terrorizing the surrounding population into submission... deja vu Abu Ghraib.


Nationally known psychologist/author/broadcaster Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family) this week threatened U.S. legislators who stand in the way of President Bush's judiciary nominees (such as Gonzalez). Like other people of power who do not allow voices of dissent or criticism in their midst, Dobson may have lost his way. Brainwashed by Rove Rhetoric, scarred by situation ethics, and blind to the abhorrent behaviors which have (predicted by Secretary of State Powell) led not to "abuse," but to anti-Christian and anti-human violations of the Convention Against Torture (which was ratified by the U.S. Congress), perhaps "family counselor" Dobson has forgotten that when dealing with domestic violence OR international violence alike, it is behavior that counts; intentions and rhetoric should be irrelevant to decisions about awarding future responsibility.

The essence of the Gonzalez nomination is about holding accountable the intellectual authors of policies which led to behaviors, predictable or not. It isn't any different than "family systems" psychology, which holds those in authority accountable for creating the systems which impulse harmful behavior in other family members.

Gonzalez and Cornyn's past behavior/choices do not inspire confidence. Gonzalez' answers to senators this week have been appallingly equivocal.

If we really care about the safety and integrity of our troops, if we really care about having Texans we can be proud of in the national and international spotlight, if we have any comprehension of how U.S. government sanction of torture makes torturers of us all, we'll be on the phone immediately to Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, objecting to the confirmation of Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General of the United States of America.

Cat Garlet Bucher lives in Sherman, Texas with her husband Henry. They are both third-generation mission worker to Latin America, were active in starting the Center for Survivors of Torture in Dallas. Cat is active in Presbyterian peacemaking as well.


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