Rebel Priests Push for Torture Abolition at West Side Church Appearance

 
Two priests who were jailed for demonstrating at a U.S. military base where soldiers are trained in torture techniques spoke at an Upper West Side church on Thursday night, hours after the Supreme Court ruled that detainees held at Guantanamo have a right to challenge their imprisonment before a judge.

By Inni Chowdhury

Two priests who were jailed for demonstrating at a U.S. military base where soldiers are trained in torture techniques spoke at an Upper West Side church on Thursday night, hours after the Supreme Court ruled that detainees held at Guantanamo have a right to challenge their imprisonment before a judge.

Referring to the Supreme Court, Friar Louis Vitale said, “ [The] Supreme Court says we are obviously abusing Geneva. The obvious establishments in place are not doing their jobs.”

Vitale and Kelly were imprisoned for trespassing on the Fort Huachuca military base in Arizona during a Nov. 2006 protest vigil. Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and is a training center for military and civilian interrogators who have gone on to work in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. The two priests were arrested while attempting to deliver a letter to Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, commander of Fort Huachuca. Fast had been the head of military intelligence in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Speaking to a crowd of about 50 people at Holy Name Church on W. 96th St., they said that New Yorkers have a special role to play in ending torture.

“I saw 9/11 from far away but you guys were here,” said Fr. Vitale. “The prime excuse for torture is because the Twin Towers fell.” New Yorkers, he urged, should be the first group to protest policymakers’ decisions.

Matt Daloisio of Witness Against Torture was also on hand and he emphasized that the Supreme Court’s decision by itself won’t be enough to force the closure of Guantanamo.

“Lawyers working on the case said Gitmo won’t be closed because we won a legal case,” he said. “It’ll be because there are people in the streets.”

To that end, a fellow organization, Witness Against Torture, is planning ‘100 Days in D.C.,’ where ordinary people will put direct pressure on the next president to close Guantanamo in the first 100 days in office. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have already said they intend to shut down Gitmo.

For such a horrible topic, the two priests were lively and connected with the older audience. When one older woman asked if there was hope with elections in November, Friar Vitale answered with an exuberant “Absolutely yes!!” He admits that he is a believer in Obama’s “Change” platform, and finds the Illinois Senator’s rise a remarkable event.

Thursday’s event was organized by Pac e Bene (Italian for “peace and all good”), a Franciscan organization committed to fostering nonviolence through education, community building and action. For more, see pacebene.org. For more about Torture Awareness Month, see nrcat.org.

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