tv Democracy Now PBS May 30, 2016 12:00pm-1:01pm PDT
05/30/16 05/30/16 [captioning made possible amy: from new york, this is democracy now! >> and we cracked the weapon, it was very fragile. it was made to withstand heat of re-entry into the atmosphere of outer space, it was like eggshells, really. we had taken as our motto the great statement of isaiah 2, "they shall beat their swords into ploughshares. so we did it." amy: today in this special broadcast, we mark the passing of two social justice champions. daniel berrigan was a legendary anti-war priest and poet, one of the founders of the plowshares movement against nuclear weapons. he became the first catholic priest
to land on the fbi's most wanted list. then we remember the pioneering human rights attorney michael ratner. from attica to assange, the longtime head of the center for constitutional rights defended and spoke up for victims of human rights abuses across the world from haiti and guatemala to iraq and the palestinian territories. >> this is no time for compromise, no time for political calculation. as howard zinn admonishes us, it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioner. amy: today, michael ratner and dan berrigan, a remembrance. all that and more, coming up. welcome to democracy now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman. we begin today's special broadcast remembering the life and legacy of the legendary anti-war priest father daniel berrigan.
he died on april 30 just short of his 95th birthday. berrigan was a poet, pacifist, educator, social activist, playwright, and lifelong resister against what he called "american military imperialism." along with his late brother, phil berrigan, father dan played an instrumental role in inspiring the anti-war and anti-draft movement during the late 1960's as well as the movement against nuclear weapons in the early 1970's. he became the first catholic priest to land on the fbi's most wanted list. georgetown university theology professor chester gillis once said of father berrigan -- "if you were to identify catholic prophets in the 20th century, he'd be right there with dorothy day or thomas merton." in early 1968, father daniel berrigan made international headlines when he traveled to north vietnam with historian howard zinn to bring home three u.s. prisoners of war.
in the documentary "holy outlaw,"ather dan recalled spending time in vietnamese shelters while being bombed by u.s. jets. >> so we were in this shelter and very unexpectedly came on three children, who were crouching in there, too, against all expectations, and one of the elder children feeding rice to one of the younger ones. and i wrote this little verse within a couple days and tried to read it later at our trial. it seemed to sum up everything that catonsville was about in one image, one reality. it's called, "children in the shelter." imagine three of them. as though survival were a rat's word, and a rat's death waited there at the end and i must have in the century's boneyard heft of flesh and bone in my arms i picked up the littlest a boy, his face
breaded with rice his sister calmly feeding them as we climbed down in my arms fathered in a moment's grace, the messiah of all my tears. i bore, reborn a hiroshima child from hell. amy: on may 17, 1968, father dan berrigan, his brother phil and seven others took 378 draft files from the draft board in catonsville, maryland. then in the parking lot of the draft board office, the activists set the draft records on fire, using homemade napalm, to protest the vietnam war. they became known as the catonsville nine. the act of civil disobedience was chronicled in the 2013 documentary, "hit & stay: a history of faith and resistance." this begins with dan berrigan. >> we make our prayer in the name of that god whose name is peace and decency and unity and love.
we unite in taking our matches, approaching the fire. we're all part of this. >> while people throughout the world, and especially vietnam now, are suffering from napalm, that these files are also napalmed, to show that these lives can fall on the same fate as the vietnamese. >> amen. >> napalm, which was made from information and from a formula in the united states special forces handbook published by the school of special warfare of the united states. we all had a hand in making the napalm that was used here today. >> napalm is a very old weapon. it goes back to the byzantines. but it really came to public attention during the war in vietnam, in the pictures of napalmed people. so that was the kind of quintessential symbol of the war -- we were burning babies, literally, in vietnam. so that's why we wanted to come up with something symbolic and also something that would really destroy the files.
>> our church has failed to act officially, and we feel that, as individuals, we're going to have to speak out in the name of catholicism and christianity. and we hope our action to inspire other people who have christian principles or a faith similar to christianity will act accordingly, too, to stop the terrible destruction that america is wreaking on the whole world. >> we regret very much, i think all of us, the inconvenience and even the suffering that we've brought to these clerks here. >> we sincerely hope we didn't injure anyone. >> our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. >> we have chosen to be powerless criminals in a time of criminal power. we have chosen to be branded as peace criminals by war criminals. amy: father dan berrigan and other members of the catonsville nine were arrested on the spot.
dan berrigan wrote "our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order. the burning of paper instead of children." the draft board raid invigorated the antiwar movement by inspiring over 100 similar acts of protest. it also shook the foundation of the tradition-bound catholic church. father dan would eventually serve time, about two years in a federal prison in danbury, connecticut. in 1980, the berrigan brothers and six others began the plowshares movement when they broke into the general electric nuclear missile facility in king of prussia, pennsylvania. the activists hammered nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files. they were arrested and charged with over tedifferent felony and misdemeanor counts. they became know as the plowshares eight. i want to turn to a clip from the from the film, "in the king of prussia." this scene features dan berrigan reciting what he told the judg
and jury during the trial. >> you've heard about hammers and blood in this room. these are the hammers of hell. these are the hammers that will break the world to bits. these are the hammers that claim the end of the world. the judge knows it. the prosecutor knows it. we've seen people walk away from these things. we've seen them disclaim them. we've seen them say they are not responsible for them. we've seen all sorts of language circling them like a dance of death. they are murder. he knows it. he knows it. you must know it. we have been trying --
we eight -- to take responsibility for these things, to call them by their right name, which is murder, death, genocide, the end of the world. their proper use is known to the judge and the prosecutor and to you. we would like you to know the name of our crime. we would like to assume responsibility for a world, for children, for the future. and if that is a crime, then it is quite clear that we belong in their jails. where they belong is something else. but in the name of all the eight, i would like to leave with you, friends and jurors, that great and noble word,
which is our crime -- "responsibility." amy: that is an excerpt from the film "in the king of prussia" directed by emile de antonio. we turn now to father daniel berrigan on one of his last appearances on democracy now! on june 8, 2006, shortly after his 85th birthday. can you talk about that first decision you made in catonsville, before catonsville, to do it, what you were doing at the time and how you made the decision? >> yeah. i was teaching at cornell, and philip came up. he was awaiting sentencing for a prior action in 1967 in baltimore, where they poured their blood on draft files in the city. and he came up to cornell and announced to me very coolly that he and others were going to do it again. i was blown away by the courage,
and the effrontery, really, of my brother, in not really just submitting to the prior conviction, but saying, "we've got to underscore the first action with another one." and he says, "you're invited." so i swallowed hard and said, "give me a few days. i want to talk about pro and cons of doing a thing like this." so when i started meditating and putting down reasons to do it and reasons not to do it, it became quite clear that the option and the invitation were outweighing everything else and that i had to go ahead with him. so i notified him that i was in. and we did it. amy: now, this was after you had been to north vietnam. >> right. this was may of 1968, and i had been in hanoi in late january, early february of that year.
amy: with historian howard zinn. >> right. amy: freeing prisoners of war? >> yes, we brought home three flyers who had been captured and imprisoned. it was a kind of gesture of peace in the midst of the war by the vietnamese, during the so-called tet holiday, which was traditionally a time of reunion of families, and so they wanted these flyers to be reunited with their families. amy: in catonsville, was this the first time you were breaking the laws of the united states? >> no, i had been at the pentagon in 1967 -- i think it was in october. and a great number of us were arrested after a warning from mcnamara to disperse. and we spent a couple of weeks in jail.
it was rather rough. and we did a fast. and we were in the d.c. jail, which was a very mixed lot. so i had had a little bit of a taste during that prior year. amy: you and your brother, phil berrigan, had an unusual relationship with secretary of defense mcnamara. you actually talked to him, wrote to him, met him? >> yes. i met him at a social evening with the kennedys in about 1965 and after this very posh dinner, which was welcoming me home from latin america. one of the kennedys announced that they would love to have a discussion between the secretary of war and myself in front of everybody, which we did start. and they asked me to initiate the thing, and i said to the secretary something about, "since you didn't stop the war this morning, i wonder if you'd do it this evening." so he looked kind of past my left ear
and said, "well, i'll just say this to father berrigan and everybody -- vietnam is like mississippi. if they won't obey the law, you send the troops in." and he stopped. and the next morning, when i returned to new york city, i said to a secretary at a magazine we were publishing -- i said, "would you please take this down in shorthand, because in two weeks i won't believe that i heard what i heard." the secretary said, in response to my request to stop the war, "vietnam is like mississippi -- if they won't obey the law, you send the troops in.'" and this was supposed to be the brightest of the bright, one of the whiz kids, respected by all in the cabinet, etc., etc., etc. and he talks like a sheriff out of selma, alabama.
whose law? won't obey whose law? well, that was the level at which the war was being fought. amy: so you went to catonsville, you went into the draft office. we hear about draft card burnings. but this was draft file burnings. in you went in with a group of people. now, some of them -- you talked about having been in exile in latin america, and some of them were there more about treatment of what was going on in the u.s. government in places like guatemala than vietnam, is that right? >> that's right. amy: why were you exiled to latin america? >> well, there was a lot of controversy and a very hot scene here in new york city beginning about 1967 into 1968. and i think the occasion of my being kicked out was the immolation
of a young catholic worker in the city here named roger laporte. he went to the u.n. and burned himself. of course, the whole catholic worker community was devastated by this terrifying event. they wanted to hold a memorial service, and i was invited to officiate. and in the course of it i cast doubt upon the judgment of the cardinal that this had been suicide. i said, i don't think we know. a i think this could have been some kind of misguided heroism that said, i'm going to give my life rather than take life. and that word, of course, got out and there was panic. there was panic in the authorities of the archdiocese of new york and in my order. and they said we've got to -- he's got to -- he's become a very hot item,
we've got to get him out of town. amy: where were you exiled to? >> well, it was a one-way ticket to latin america. so i was down there i think about five months. and i was in at least 10 countries purportedly reporting back to my editorial people in new york about conditions down there. it was a wrong move. it generated huge publicity not just in the catholic community but across the country. and they were forced to call me back. so i came back with a stipulation that i go on with my peace work. they said, ok, ok. amy: so you certainly did in force. and from catonsville, you served how many years in prison for that? >> well, i think it was about two years. amy: and then with your brother phil you founded the ploughshares movement -- your first action in 1980,
king of prussia, pennsylvania. explain what you did at the g.e. plant. >> well, we had had meetings, i recall, all that spring and autumn with people about the production of an entirely new weapon, the mark 12a, which was really only useful if it initiated a nuclear war. it was a first strike nuclear weapon. it was being fabricated in this anonymous plant -- huge, huge factory in king of prussia, pennsylvania. and there had never been an attempt -- in the history of the anti-nuclear movement, there had never been an attempt to interfere with the production of a new weapon. with the help of daniel ellsberg and other experts, we were able to understand that this was not a hiroshima-type bomb, it was something totally different. it was opening a new chapter in this chamber of horrors.
so we decided we would go in there in september of 1970. and we did. amy: september of 1980? >> 1980. excuse me. amy: what does that mean, "you did"? >> well, we didn't know exactly where in that huge factory these weapons were concealed, but we had to trust in providence that he would come upon the weaponry, which we did in short order. we went in with the workers at the changing of the shift and found there was really no security worth talking about. very easy entrance. in about three minutes, we were looking at doomsday. the weapon was before us. it was an unarmed warhead about to be shipped to amarillo, texas, for its payload. so it was a harmless weapon as of that moment. and we cracked the weapon. it was very fragile.
it was made to withstand heat of re-entry into the atmosphere of outer space, so it was like eggshells, really. we had taken as our motto the great statement of isaiah 2, "they shall beat their swords into ploughshares." so we did it. poured our blood around it. and stood in a circle. i think reciting the lord's prayer until armageddon arrived, as we expected. amy: and you were tried? >> we were tried and convicted in short order and sentenced, eventually, to three to 10 years. and we were out on appeal for 10 years. the trial was such a farce that the state of pennsylvania really didn't know what to do with it. and it went on and on and on. finally, in 1990, a retired judge, kind of weary of the whole thing, gave us time served.
amy: this is democracy now!, democracy now.org. the war and peace report. i am amy goodman. today a special broadcast remembering the lives of two champions of social justice, father daniel berrigan and attorney michael ratner. in a moment, we will return to my 2006 interview with dan berrigan. but first, i want to go back to the documentary "hit & stay" looking at the time father berrigan spent living underground as a fugitive from the fbi while his conviction in the catonsville nine case was under appeal. >> during the time he was in hiding, father berrigan changed his location often. he stayed with 37 different families in 10 eastern and midwestern cities. well, father dan, you've been underground for some time now. what's it like to be underground in the united states of america? >> well, i'd say that it looks as though it could go on forever. it looks good enough, looks useful enough,
for the movement. >> so there were some, what, four months that they looked for dan everywhere. and he was everywhere and available to everyone, except the fbi. amy: an excerpt from the documentary, "hit & stay." that last voice was peace activist liz mcalister, phil berrigan's wife. on may 6, liz gave the eulogy at dan berrigan's funeral. we return now to my 2006 interview with father berrigan. after the trial, you went underground. why did you decide to do that? >> well, the war had worsened, and the spring of 1970, the campuses were aflame. nixon had invaded laos. there was secret bombing going on. the war had widened. it was a bad time to turn oneself in, and we were comparing that order
to military induction. it was like saying, "well, i'm going off to war. i'm going to obey them and go off to war. i'm going to take the penalty for what we did to make the war evidently, evidently unwinnable and unwageable." so a group of us said, "no go," and went underground. amy: and what does that mean when you go underground? >> well, it meant that the fbi was on your tail and that hoover was outraged and very angry and kept marking up sheets--that we got out, freedom of information, later saying, "get him! get him!" and scrawling all these orders around and putting extra people on our tail. amy: but you were showing up in the strangest places. >> all sorts of places, including preaching in church and getting on national television with a good interview and so on and so forth. so it really increased the edginess of the whole thing.
amy: can you explain what happened -- was it at cornell? they almost caught you there? >> that was at the beginning of all this. in early spring of 1970, they had a big rally in our favor at cornell. and i showed up unexpectedly and got away again, in spite of the presence of fbi all over. amy: how did you get out? >> i went out in a puppet of one of the 12 apostles. they had had a beautiful mime on stage that night showing the last supper. and somebody whispered in the darkness, "wouldn't you like to go out?" and i said, "well, let's try it." amy: so you went out as one of the apostles. >> yes. amy: and you slipped past the fbi. >> got away, for months. amy: how did they catch you? >> there were letters exchanged between philip in prison and elizabeth.
amy: philip berrigan, your brother. >> yes. his fiancée or wife at that point. and they gave a kind of a hint as to the fact that i would be visiting friends on block island, which proved true, so we had birdwatchers out there and they got me. amy: there was that famous picture of you with a peace sign and the authorities on either elbow, taking you in. and how long did you serve then? >> i think that was two years then. amy: we're sort of talking about this lightly, but what does it mean to serve time in jail? >> well, at that point, it just meant -- i think that we had kind of demythologized the fact that now philip and i were under lock and key, and that there was work to be done in there as there had been good work to do on the street. so we were dealing with prisoners who had no other access. we were teaching, counseling.
i was -- i was leading a bible study. there was all sorts of good work to be done with prisoners, so we did it. amy: we're talking to father dan berrigan, has probably been arrested more times than years he's lived on this earth, now 85 years old. father dan berrigan, i was wondering if you could read some of your poetry. your latest book is "a sunday in hell: fables & poems." why did you choose that title? >> well, it's the title of one of the -- the--one of the fables in here. i talk about a preacher who suddenly has to face the fact that he hasn't made it himself, and finds himself in very strange circumstances. i won't give it away because i hope everyone will get the book. but i'd like to read a poem in honor of by brother philip, who died three years ago. and this was written
when we both were in prison around 1970 to 1972, and i think the occasion was philip's birthday. but anyway, i presented this poem to him called "to philip." and it goes like this. compassionate and casual as a good face a good heart goes without saying someone seen on the street or infinitely rare once, twice in a lifetime that conjunction we call brother or friend biology, mythology cast up clues. we grew together, stars made men by cold design instructed sternly, no variance, instructed sternly in course and recourse in the heavens in our mother's body,
by moon and month were whole men made we obeyed then, and we are born. so he liked it, and that was enough. amy: you survived your brother, phil. as you reflect on that relationship you had with him, as you're talking about this special bond, brother and friend, prison mate, activist, fellow activist, can you talk about what it meant to live with him and to lose him? >> well, it doesn't get easier. i'll start with that. i think the best clue i had, let's say, out of reading and meditating about philip, especially around the time he died,
was a statement by augustine of hippo, saint augustine, who had lost a good friend. and he said in his memoirs that he had lost, "the half of my soul." so a while at least, after an event like that, a terrifying event, i think one feels like an amputee in the world. there's something very disabled going on, and you're asked to continue walking. and it's very hard, something like that. but in time, i think one gives up that feeling, because there's work to be done and there's another war. and philip would be the first to say, "walk it."
and so i keep trying. amy: you've continued to get arrested. do you think these arrests, what you have engaged in, protests, even when people are not being arrested or jailed, have an affect? i mean, you have gone through a number of wars now. do you think things are getting better? >> no. amy: or do you think they're getting worse? >> no, this is the worst time of my long life, really. i've never seen such a base, cowardly violation of any kind of human bond that i can respect. these people appear on television -- the unwritten, unspoken motto seems to be something about "we despise you. we despise your law. we despise your order. we despise your bible. we despise your conscience.
and if necessary, we will kill you to say so." i've never really felt that deep contempt before for any kind of canon or tradition of the human. amy: what do you mean, "we despise your bible"? it is often said it's done in the name of the bible. >> well, yes, these people are -- they're making a scrapbook out of the bible in their own favor. and they're omitting all the passages that have to do with compassion and love of others, especially love of enemies, or the injunction to peter, "put up your sword. those who live by the sword will perish by the sword," all of that. all of that gets cut out in favor of, well, a god of vindictiveness, the god of the empire, the god who is a projection of our will to dominate and to prove ourselves over your body.
amy: do you think that it means, the fact that things are getting worse, the strategy has been wrong? the strategy of peace activists? >> no, the point of -- my understanding of the spirituality of nonviolence is that you cut yourself free of any kind of necessity of succeeding. you cut yourself free of the other end of the good work you're trying to do, and concentrate upon the goodness of the work you're trying to do. amy: what recommendation would you have for young people today? >> well, i don't have a great deal to say directly to young people. i have a great deal to say to their elders, their priests, their parents, their teachers, people that i'm grandfather to. and it would go very shortly like this -- the young people will be different if you are different. that is to say, you elders.
and people like myself are not moved by anything except example. and as a teacher, i have tried to give a good example and get arrested first and then invite the students to look more seriously at this matter of war. father dan berrigan speaking on amy: democracy now! in 2006. days after that interview, hundreds gathered in new york to mark his 85th birthday. dan recited one of his best loved poems, "some." >> and this poem was played before tonight, but i'd like to dedicate it to all of us, and who keep at it. "some." some stood up once, and sat down. some walked a mile, and walked away. some stood up twice, then sat down.
"i've had it," they said. some walked two miles, then walked away. "it's too much," they cried. some stood and stood and stood. they were taken for fools, they were taken for being taken in. some walked and walked and walked -- they walked the earth, they walked the waters, they walked the air. "why do you walk?" they were asked, and "why do you stand?" "because of the children," they said, and "because of the heart," and "because of the bread," "because the cause is the heart's beat, and the children born, and the risen bread." thank you. [applause] amy: father daniel berrigan reciting his poem "some."
amy: this is democracy now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman. as we continue today's special broadcast by remembering the life and legacy of the trailblazing human rights attorney michael ratner who died on may 11 at the age of 72. for over four decades, michael ratner defended and spoke up for victims of human rights abuses across the world. he served as the longtime head of the center for constitutional rights. attorney david cole told "the new york times" -- "under his leadership, the center grew from a small but scrappy civil rights organization into one of the leading human rights organizations in the world. he sued some of the most powerful people in the world on behalf of some of the least powerful." in 2002, ccr, the center for constitutional rights,
brought the first case against the george w. bush administration for the indefinite detention of prisoners at guantánamo. the supreme court eventually sided with the center in a landmark 2008 decision when it struck down the law that stripped guantánamo prisoners of their habeas corpus rights. michael ratner began working on guantánamo in the 1990's, when he fought the first bush administration's use of the military base to house haitian refugees. michael ratner's activism and human rights work dated back to the 1960's. he was a student at columbia law school during the 1968 student strike there. michael was a clerk for the legendary federal judge constance baker motley. when he graduated from law school, she was the first african-american woman judge and protégé of thurgood marshall. in a 2004 letter, constance baker motley wrote -- "michael ratner was in retrospect, the ablest law clerk
i have had in my tenure on the bench." michael ratner joined the center for constitutional rights in 1971. his first case centered on a lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners killed and injured in the attica prison uprising in upstate new york. michael ratner was deeply involved in latin america and the caribbean, challenging u.s. policy in cuba, haiti, nicaragua, guatemala, puerto rico and elsewhere. in 1981, he brought the first challenge under the war powers resolution to the use of troops in el salvador, as well as a suit against u.s. officials on behalf of nicaraguans raped, murdered, and tortured by u.s.-backed contras. in 1991, michael ratner he led the center's challenge to the authority of president george h.w. bush to go to war against iraq without congressional consent. a decade later, he would become a leading critic of the george w. bush administration, filing lawsuits related to guantánamo, torture,
domestic surveillance, and the 2003 invasion of iraq. he also helped launch the group palestine legal to defend the rights of protesters in the u.s. calling for palestinian human rights. in recent years, he was the chief attorney for wikileaks founder julian assange and became a leading critic of the u.s. crackdown on whistleblowers, including chelsea manning and edward snowden. michael ratner was also the husband of karen ranucci, a longtime member of the democracy now! family. today we spend the rest of the hour looking at the life and legacy of michael ratner. we begin by going back to 2006 when michael ratner appeared on democracy now! to talk about the u.s. torture program, guantanamo, his effort to sue defense secretary donald rumseld, and the nomination of alberto gonzalez to become u.s. attorney general. i began by playing for him a clip of president george w. bush being questioned about torture.
>> that there are some responses that judge gonzales gave to his senate testimony that has troubled some people, specifically his allusion to the fact that cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of some prisoners is not specifically forbidden so long as it's conducted by the cia and conducted overseas. is that a loophole you approve? >> al gonzales reflects our policy, and that is we don't sanction torture. he will be a great attorney general. and i call upon the senate to confirm him. >> i think the clip you played of president bush being asked: "what about cruel, inhuman degrading treatment, isn't there a loophole where you can still do that basically inhumane treatment to foreigners overseas?" and he answers, "we have a policy against torture," really says a lot of it because what gonzales said here is that, "yes, i'm against torture," -- and we can talk about that in a second -- "but i don't think the prohibition of the torture convention prohibiting cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment applies to foreigners held overseas."
well, you can drive a huge truck through that. that's basically saying if you are a non-citizen held outside the united states, you can be treated inhumanely. what does it mean? it's defined in the law. all this kind of stuff, stress positions, stripping, hooding, all that kind of stuff is considered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, violates international law, violates treaty commitments of the united states. this is not just about gonzales and what the government has done in the past. this is about what they're doing right now and currently. so that is the first thing i want to say about gonzales. the second thing is we're putting in someone who really has his hands deep in the blood of the conspiracy of torture in this country. he is the one who wrote the memo saying the geneva conventions shouldn't apply. he is the one who asked for the memo redefining torture so narrowly that the worst abuses we've seen would not constitute torture under his definition. here's what they've done to this guy. not only has he basically said he agreed with those conclusions, but they put him in as the chief law enforcement officer
of the united states. that means that it is now a conspiracy to continue the cover-up so that this does not go to the higher ups at all, so that nobody, not rumsfeld, not cambone, not gonzales will obviously ever be investigated. these are the people responsible, these are the people who lower level soldiers are really angry at because they're the ones who got led into this by these guys at the top. amy: what about these guys who have been released from guantanamo? four men from britain have just returned home and an australian as well. >> you know, i got called just as mamadou habib arrived in australia, and i have to tell you it was incredible to me and incredibly moving. after three years in a prison where this man habib where first he was sent to egypt and tortured for six months in egypt, electroshock, the whole thing and then recent revelations by mr. habib about the use of women and even, whether it was real or fake, menstrual blood, rubbing it on his face as a way of making him unclean, taking away water from him so
that he couldn't wash himself and that therefore he couldn't communicate with god in any sense at all. these are recent revelations that have come out. in fact, recently the last couple of days there are some revelations about one of the people who was in guantanamo, one of the interrogators, a soldier, trying to write a book about this and revealing how women were used in this way. that's mr. habib's story. juan: michael, there have been reports in the past we that conditions at guantanamo got so bad for some of the detainees that there were attempts at a protest in terms of suicide hangings. do you have any information on that or any speculation about -- >> there's been attempts at suicide throughout the guantanamo period and serious ones, and the united states decided they don't like the word "suicide" so they called them self-injurious behavior or, you know, words that don't use that. this one happened about a year ago. it was 23 people who attempted to commit a mass suicide. got stopped. some of them had to be hospitalized.
but that is about the conditions. when we talk about alberto gonzales, we cannot separate him from guantanamo. guantanamo is where the stuff began. it's where -- it is an experiment in torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and it is not just habib in australia. the other people who were released, the other four british people also subject to all of this kind of stuff from dogs to stripping to the whole range of stuff. the sad thing is, it's still going on. it's still going on, whether it's in guantanamo or abu ghraib. juan: but it seems that the more revelations come out about how systemic this kind of treatment was, the less attention it is getting in the u.s. corporate media compared to obviously when the abu ghraib scandal first broke. you are getting less and less actual coverage or even outrage about how systemic this has been. >> you know, i don't get it. it's not only systemic, you had gonzales essentially admitting it, essentially saying this is the way we do it. this is what we're willing to do. and these guys are going to confirm this guy.
i think almost anybody who votes for him could conceivably be, if this were germany, part of a conspiracy to commit and cover-up war crimes that are being committed at the highest level of officials. we're having that vote next week. we have a senate that's 55-45 in favor of the republicans. i don't know what the vote will be like. that eight democrats finally voted against him -- i think had there been a screaming outcry in the beginning against gonzales by all these -- all human rights organizations, all the democrats, it's possible the guy could have been beaten. but i agree with you. the media has been a disaster here. i'm saying to you right now no one is complaining in any of the major media about the fact that we are saying we can inhumanely treat people right now as we speak who are non-citizens all over this globe. amy: speaking of germany, michael ratner, you went to berlin. we spoke to you when you filed suit against donald rumsfeld, the war secretary, the defense secretary. he is now not going to a conference in germany in february
because the german government did not quash this suit. can you explain? >> there is actually a lot going on here in germany right now. there was an article in the "washington post" today that said that the pentagon denies that he isn't going because of the lawsuit. what i think is really happened here is floated a -- it's not a rumor, it may be true he's not going -- but floated it as a way of putting pressure on the german government to say, "get rid of this lawsuit." this is serious business, we're considering not sending rumsfeld there. but on the high -- on the level of calling them, "no, no, no, this isn't what this is about." and i think what the conferences february 11 and 12, it is the major security conference for europe, the secretary of defense has been going for 40-some years. my view is we're reaching a point in this lawsuit in germany where something is going to give. we're filing major new papers, actually, today and monday. one of them, of course, names alberto gonzales now as an additional defendant in the case. his testimony is one that really they could have put into a war crimes trial in germany
and said, "you're convicted." someone told me this incredible story about germany and what happened with torture. one of the key people, keitel, who got a death sentence in germany, was the man who scrawled on a memo to the high command about russian soldiers that said, "geneva conventions? obsolete rubbish." remember the word that gonzales used to describe geneva, "obsolete." and when they sentenced keitel to death, what they said was one of the reasons we're giving you the death penalty is for basically saying the geneva conventions are obsolete. so this is a very serious issue in germany. amy: that was michael ratner speaking in 2006 on democracy now! i last interviewed michael on the program on july 20 last year in washington, d.c., at the reopening of the cuban embassy after it was closed for more than half a century. it was boiling hot. michael was drenched in sweat. but it was one of the happiest times i never seen him.
michael talked about the significance of this historic day. >> well, amy, let's just say, other than the birth of my children, this is perhaps one of the most exciting days of my life. i mean, i've been working on cuba since the early 1970's, if not before. i worked on the venceremos brigade. i went on brigades. i did construction. and to see that this can actually happen in a country that decided early on that, unlike most countries in the world, it was going to level the playing field for everyone. no more rich, no more poor, everyone the same, education for everyone, schooling for everyone, housing if they could. and to see the relentless united states go against it, from the bay of pigs to utter subversion on and on, and to see cuba emerge vectorial us -- and when i say that, this is not a defeated country. this is a country -- if you heard the foreign minister today, what he spoke of was the history of u.s. imperialism against cuba,
from the intervention in the spanish-american war to the platt amendment, which made u.s. a permanent part of the cuban government, to the taking of guantánamo to the failure to recognize it in 1959, to the cutting off of relations in 1961. this is a major, major victory for the cuban people, and that should be understood. we are standing at a moment that i never expected to see in our history. >> let me tell you, as someone said to me here, if obama wants to solve guantánamo and the prisoners at guantánamo, give it back to cuba. there will be no prisoners left in guantánamo. easy way to do it. satisfy the cubans, satisfy guantánamo. let it happen now. think about cuba's place in history. when we think about it for young people, not just for the fact that it leveled a society economically, gave people all the social network that we don't have in the united states, but think about its international role. you think about apartheid in south africa
and the key single event took place in angola when 25,000 cuban troops repulsed the south african military and gave it its first defeat, which was the beginning of the end of apartheid. it had an internationalism that's just unbelievable. and i remember standing in front of -- in the 100,000 people in front of a square in havana in 1976. i was on a venceremos brigade. and fidel gave a speech, and he said, "there is black blood in every cuban vein, and we are going into angola." i'm telling you, i still cry over it. amy: michael ratner speaking at the cuban embassy in washington, d c, at its reopening after more than half of last july. michael was diagnosed with cancer just weeks later. we end today's program with a speech michael ratner gave in 2007 when he was awarded the puffin/nation prize for creative citizenship.
>> over the last few years, i've become acquainted with a man named henri alleg. henri alleg is a french algerian in his 80's who was water-tortured -- or as this administration says, waterboarded -- by the french. here is how henri alleg described his water torture, a practice that goes back to the inquisition -- "the rag was soaked rapidly. water flowed everywhere -- in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. i tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs as long as i could. but i couldn't hold on for more than a few minutes. i had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me." think about henri alleg
when you hear the cia talk about enhanced interrogation techniques. or think about a terrible agony, that of death itself -- that of death itself -- taking over you when you hear our new attorney general refuse to condemn waterboarding or when you hear that some of our democratic leaders were briefed and made not a peep -- not a peep of objection. let there be no doubt, the bush administration tortures. it disappears people. it holds people forever in offshore penal colonies like guantánamo. it renders them to be tortured in other countries. this is what was done to ccr's client maher arar, who was rendered to syria for torture. and sadly, a majority of our congress, our courts, and our media have given bush a free hand --
and in fact, worse, have been the handmaidens of the torture and detention program. but it has not been given a free hand by the center for constitutional rights. it has not been given a free hand by the nation. it has not been given a free hand by jeremy or naomi. today we're in the midst of a pitched battle, a pitched battle to put this country back, at least ostensibly, on the page of fundamental rights and moral decency. the battle is difficult and the road is long and hard. on occasion, i get pessimistic. sometimes i and my colleagues feel like sisyphus. twice -- not just once, twice -- we pushed the rock up the hill and won rights for guantánamo detainees in the supreme court, and twice the rock was rolled back down by congress
over those rights. so we pushed it back up again. five days ago, we were in the supreme court for the third time. it was difficult, more difficult than before because the justices have changed. four are antediluvians, lost forever to humanity. [applause] but before i get us all depressed, we've had our victories. we've gotten lawyers to guantánamo, stopped the most overt torture, and freed half of the guantánamo detainees -- over 300. [applause] we have gotten maher arar out of syria. canada has apologized for his torture, given him a substantial recovery -- in canadian dollars, which is no embarrassment anymore. [laughter]
they said he was an innocent man, but he remains on the u.s. terror list. we have slowed, but not yet stopped a remarkable grab for authoritarian power. i also don't look hope -- i also don't lose hope, because i think about the early days of guantánamo. at first, we were few. but now, we are many. at first when ccr began, we were the lonely warriors taking on the bush administration at guantánamo. now we are many. now we, just on antánamo alone, are over 600 lawyers, most from major firms of every political stripe. [applause] these lawyers have an understanding of what is at stake -- liberty itself. this struggle --
this struggle will be seen as one of the great chapters in the legal and political history of the united states. [applause] today, war, torture, disappearances, murder surround us like plagues. most in this country go on their way oblivious. some don't want to know and are like ostriches. some want to justify it all. some want to make compromises. but be warned, we are at a tipping point. a tipping point into lawlessness and medievalism. we have our work to do. for each of us, the time for talking is long, long over. this is no time for compromise, no time for political calculation. as howard zinn admonishes us, it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.
the puffin/nation prize reminds us all that the job for each of us is not to be on the side of the executioners. thank you all. [applause] amy: michael ratner speaking in 2007 when he was awarded the puffin/nation prize for creative citizenship. michael died on may 11 at the age of 72. you can visit our website democracynow.org to see our full coverage looking at the lives of michael ratner and father daniel berrigan. and that does it for today's show. democracy now! is looking for feedback from people who appreciate the closed captioning. e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to democracy now! p.o. box 693 new york, new york 10013. [captioning made possible
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