Project Peace is to host a free program, by Josie Setzler, a member of Witness Against Torture. She is to present "U.S.-sponsored Torture and Our Response" at 7 p.m. March 14 in St. Francis Spirituality Center.
Actively involved in trying to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, Setzler said she is eager to have the larger population understand and empathize with the 166 people who are imprisoned there, some without charge.
The program to examine the recent history of U.S. involvement in torture and the moral landscape that accompanies it. The discussion also is to cover the influence of politics, media and entertainment on public attitudes toward torture.
Setzler said Witness Against Torture was founded in 2005. Their first formal action that year was a trip to Cuba during which about 25 members marched to the gates of Guantanamo and asked permission to visit the prisoners.
The trip was a response to President George W. Bush's invitation to "come see" what was going on there. At the time, some forms of torture were being used and WAT members hoped to learn more, she said.
"They were objecting to that, and they were objecting to the indefinite detention without charges or trial of the majority of the people who were there. That continues to this day. Very few have been charged with any crime," Setzler said.
The visitors were not admitted to the prison in 2005, but Setzler said she was "amazed and excited" by their actions. She joined WAT in 2008 and participated in an demonstration that year and about five others, all in Washington, D.C.
At the start of President Barack Obama's first term, she was part of the week-long 100 Days Campaign.
"That was when we had quite a bit of hope that there would be change with his executive order. I risked arrest on that one. We did a protest in front of the White House. There were 60 of us, one for each detainee who was cleared for release but was still being held," Setzler said.
They wore black hoods and prison jumpsuits with the names of the detainees displayed on their backs. Although some prisoners have been released since then, Setzler said more than 80 people who have been cleared repeatedly have not been released.
The anniversary of Guantanamo's opening is Jan. 11, 2002, so WAT usually conducts a protest on the anniversary each year. In June 2011, 14 people went to the Capitol and staged a protest from the gallery in the House of Representatives. One by one, they stood up to protest the National Defense Authorization Act that was before Congress at the time. The NDAA authorizes spending for defense.
"Congress was refusing to fund the transfer of any detainees out of Guantanamo, either for trial or repatriation or whatever it might be. They were inserting that provision in the NDAA ... They have done it since then, in the NDAA of 2012 and 2013," Setzler said.
When Setzler and fellow protesters stood to speak, they were arrested, as they had expected. They had a jury trial in January 2012, just before the 10th anniversary of Guantanamo's opening.
A military commission now is conducting a trial at Guantanamo for five detainees who allegedly planned the terror attacks Sept. 11, 2001; however, that is only a handful of the people still imprisoned. Indefinite detentions and torture are going on other places, as well, Setzler said.
Her talk will examine the kinds of torture most recently done under U.S. auspices and that no one has been held accountable for these actions, which violate international law.
WAT emphasizes torture is morally wrong in all cases. Setzler said Obama put a stop to the practice at Guantanamo, but she said she believes the public is becoming more accepting of torture to curb terrorism.
"There are people, both within political leadership and among ordinary Americans, who believe that when it comes to the war on terror, all our previous standards are out the window," Setzler said.
A Fremont resident and former Heidelberg University instructor, Setzler also is founder of Tiffin Area Pax Christi and People for Peace and Justice in Seneca County. Project Peace is sponsoring her presentation in Tiffin.
For more information, call (419) 447-0435, ext. 136. To learn more about Witness Against Torture, visit www.witnesstorture.org.