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MailTribune.com
  • Vets for Peace stand up for Guantanamo detainees' rights

  • Guantanamo Bay Naval Station is 3,161 miles from Medford, Ore.
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  • Guantanamo Bay Naval Station is 3,161 miles from Medford, Ore.
    But for the members of Rogue Valley Veterans For Peace Chapter 156, its prisons constitute an unlawful and ever-present outrage against all they hold dear. It's a place where medical professionals repeatedly abandoned their ethics and where high-ranking officers routinely violated our Constitution, devising new means of torture to extract dubious information and to silence helpless hunger-strikers who dare to protest.
    Meanwhile, Congress voted to exonerate those who authorized, designed, ordered and carried out these tortures — even as new abuses were devised, and the courts denied habeas corpus protection to those detained.
    "Until we do the right thing by these men," declares 71-year-old Allen Hallmark of Talent, "I am ashamed of my country."
    Hallmark, who reached the rank of E-5 while intercepting enemy communications in Vietnam in 1967-'68, keenly remembers the first time he felt such shame. Hallmark didn't go out on patrols, but came in contact with some who committed war crimes and weren't ashamed to brag with photos of body parts that they or their buddies had cut from the bodies of Viet Cong irregulars and North Vietnamese Army officers. The photos repulsed him, but he admits he didn't have the guts to blow the whistle then. Reports of the My Lai massacre finally pushed him to act, and though by then the Army had stationed him in Texas, he immediately began organizing with other soldiers and veterans committed to ending the war. Hallmark's been working for peace ever since.
    Ivend Holen, 69, of Medford, was a fire controlman on the USS Galveston off the coast of Vietnam in 1965. He helped lob 5,000 rounds of high explosive shells into jungle 12 miles away, destroying Vietnamese lives and food stores in devastating explosions he'd never see. Post-deployment, the E-4 sailor received a certificate of merit for helping his captain reach the "5,000 Shots Club," advancing his captain's career and pay.
    Holen would later decide that his captain had done "something terribly evil," and throw his certificate away. But Holen hadn't left for Vietnam before witnessing torture. Initially assigned to shore patrol in San Diego, the big man saw two Marine guards in the drunk tank delighting in wrenching a drunken sailor's arms from his sockets. The screams have haunted him since.
    "I was shocked and horrified then," Holen said. "And I find torture no less repugnant and horrifying today — no matter who is on the receiving end."
    Though the revelations of water-boardings, mock executions and sexual humiliations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have ended some tortures, Holen and his friends are determined that all torture be halted immediately. This would include use of prolonged isolation and the rough, twice-daily forced feedings inflicted — sometimes for months on end — on hunger strikers, practices which have persisted under the Obama administration.
    VFP Chapter 156 is asking that the president and Congress immediately:
    • Repatriate the remaining 83 prisoners who have been cleared for release — some cleared years ago.
    • Relocate remaining prisoners to mainland federal prisons and grant prompt trials through federal courts.
    • Shut down the obsolete naval station and return full sovereignty to the Cuban people.
    • Begin a full and open investigation into detainee abuse that extends beyond the enlisted ranks.
    VFP's message is simple. Soldiers have rights. Even irregulars do. And certainly, civilians sold down the river for $4,500 U.S. bounties also have rights. If we truly hold human rights to be inalienable — and we have signed several Geneva Conventions, the Istanbul Agreement and federal laws attesting so — then the people should not be afraid to demand that our government honor those words.
    While one person's rights are violated, everyone's rights remain at risk. What is inflicted upon one group may later be inflicted on many. Any people who consent to the existence of secretive prisons on foreign soil already have surrendered in large measure their own right to habeas corpus at home.
    VFP Chapter 156 joins an international day of protest at noon Saturday, Jan. 11, marking the 10th anniverary of Guantanamo detentions. Members will rally at Medford's Vogel Plaza. To awaken the conscience of others, these warriors for peace will present themselves in orange prison garb, black-hooded, protesting the deaths of eight detainees who died waiting for justice, some under suspect circumstances. A volunteer strapped to a wheelchair will endure a nasal-gastric feeding to convey the hardships of the living.
    All who hope for peace and uphold our Constitution are invited to attend.
    Alberto Enriquez lives in Medford.
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