At a rally on the morning of January 11, 2008, Gerald Serotta of Rabbis for Human Rights North America spoke before a Washington, DC protest rally on the National Mall, recognizing the sixth anniversary of the opening of the American indefinite detention center at Guantanamo Bay. You can listen to Serotta’s remarks yourself by clicking here, or read the transcript below:
“On this dark day, the tears that are falling from the sky reflect our tears as we commemorate this sixth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison. It sacrifices a portion of our honor and credibility as a nation every single hour, every single minute that it remains open. But we can overcome this choice of death over life, of the curse of cruelty over the blessings of law and liberty. Though some in this country would sew the seed of cruel and degrading treatment and try to grow an UnAmerican weed which denies due process and habeas corpus, we know that this is a time to uproot what has been planted, and to replant the seedling of the American values of justice.
“Torture shares with slavery and genocide its status as an absolute moral prohibition in international law and Supreme Court precedent. Let fear not lead us to sacrifice our most deeply held moral convictions. Torture shatters and defiles the very image of God, which our scriptures see reflected in each and every human being. Torture as well as other cruel and inhumane treatment degrades everyone involved: not just victims, but also the perpetrators and the policymakers. As a prominent Senator who himself suffered torture told a delegation of rabbis recently, “It’s about us. It’s about who we want to be as an American people. That Senator needs to be reminded of his words, as do his colleagues, and as do the folks in the executive branch, and as do the folks in the court system here.
“I speak here as a representative of Rabbis for Human Rights North America, which believes that the abolition of torture like the abolition of slavery is fundamental to a free and ethical society. In our scriptural reading this week, my community is charged with reflecting on our experience of leaving slavery in Egypt and marching toward freedom. Let all who identify with the experience of freedom also reflect on the legacy of these six years of Guantanamo.
“In a modern scripture, secular but nevertheless holy, which teaches a lesson about Democratic societies, the Israeli Supreme Court banned torture even in the case of suspected terrorists, saying as follows: “A free and civilized society is distinguish from a barbaric and oppressive society by the degree to which it treats every human being as a human being. Although a democracy must fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nevertheless has the upper hand. The rule of law and liberty of an individual constitute important components in its very security. At the end of the day they strengthen its spirit and this strength allows it to overcome its difficulties.”
“Let me conclude with a poem written by Jumah al Dossari, a young Bahraini citizen and father of a young daughter who attempted suicide in Guantanamo and who spoke about being subjected to a series of physical and psychological abuses:
Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.
Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.
And let them bear the guilty burden before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the â€œprotectors of peace.â€
“My friends, we are the true protectors of peace. Let us lift up the soul of Jumah al Dossari and rekindle the wisdom and generosity of those who hope this nation will once again stand firm in support of the blessings of law, liberty and human rights. May this be the will of God. Thank you for being here with us today.”