Eugene (OR) and Amherst (MA) Take Strong Stands
April 12, 2005FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEEugene (OR) and Amherst (MA) Take Strong Stands Against U.S. Use of Torture
Contact: Nancy Talanian, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Director, 413-582-0110Hope Marston, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, West Region, 541-683-1604Jessie Baugher, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, East Region, 413-582-0110
Eugene, OR, and Amherst, MA—On Monday evening, the Town of Amherst’s Select Board voted unanimously to sign on to a letter rejecting U.S. use of torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners, drafted by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. That same evening, by a vote of 7-1, Eugene’s City Council approved a resolution based on the letter. Many more communities are expected to join Eugene and Amherst in the coming weeks, as the BORDC’s grassroots coalition seeks to challenge the Bush Administration’s tacit approval of torture and rendition post 9/11.
The letter asks the United States government to affirm that it will not through its own actions, or through others acting on its behalf, engage in any acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment anywhere in the world. The BORDC asks local government bodies, veterans groups, retired military officers, and national organizations to sign on to its letter because U.S. use of torture places U.S. and allied military forces at greater risk of similar treatment if they are captured. The BORDC plans to deliver the letter to President Bush and all members of Congress in early May.
Nancy Foster, Amherst community member and longtime civil liberties supporter, introduced the letter to the Amherst Select Board. The five-member Board praised Foster and offered their unanimous support for the letter. They plan to send their own copies of the letter to Amherst's Congressional representatives, in addition to endorsing BORDC's letter.
Initially, the Eugene resolution faced a hurdle common among issues of national or international significance. Hope Marston, a local organizer for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, reminded the council that “when each of you was sworn into office, you promised to defend the United States Constitution.” She went on to describe the many ways in which the U.S. Constitution is clear in its rejection of torture and its commitment to human rights. “We cannot violate our principles just because torture is happening in a far away country to citizens of other countries. Our own principles must be upheld for all the world to see,” she said.
Former Attorney Karl Sorg of Eugene, who argued before the Supreme Court in the 1950s, was among the local residents who spoke in favor of the city resolution. Recalling his Army days in Nazi Germany, Sorg said, “I was frightened by fascism then, and now I see our own country engaging in terrorism.”
Gordie Albi, founder of Eugene’s Amigos de Los Sobrevivientes (Friends of the Survivors), told the councilors that torture is a local issue because Eugene is home to the first U.S. center that cares for survivors of torture.
Three councilors who initially opposed the resolution eventually found the issue of torture important enough to make an exception, and voted in favor. Other councilors, like Andrea Ortiz were grateful for the opportunity to vote against the use of torture. She said, “If we as leaders of the community can’t make a statement about war crimes, I don’t know what we can make a statement about.” Councilors Betty Taylor and David Kelly echoed her sentiment and gave the resolution their strong support.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee invites people nationwide who are outraged that U.S. personnel have engaged in torture to urge their local governments, human rights commissions, and veterans’ groups to sign on to its letter opposing torture, and to gather signatures on an anti-torture petition it has cosponsored with the Center for Constitutional Rights. According to BORDC director Nancy Talanian, “The American people are frustrated by the lack of action from both President Bush and Congress in stopping this obvious wrongdoing. We hope our letter and petition together will generate more than a million signatures. People clearly need an outlet for expressing their outrage at U.S. support for and complicity in torture.”
Information on BORDC’s campaign against torture, including the anti-torture petition: www.bordc.org/torture.htm.
Web site of Center for Constitutional Rights: www.ccr-ny.org.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is a nonprofit civil liberties group based in Northampton, MA, that develops tools and strategies for communities to uphold their civil rights and liberties locally and to join together in a national debate about threats to liberties. The organization was the impetus behind the national movement in which 378 communities and states have passed resolutions upholding the Bill of Rights, in opposition to parts of the USA PATRIOT Act and other laws and policies enacted since September 11, 2001.