BREAKING: The Daily Universe Sides with the ACLU Against Torture!

The situation with the ACLU demanding investigation into torture of enemy combatants provides this generation with a perfect litmus test to see whether we will hold ourselves up to the inspired principles and beliefs of our founding fathers. We have the choice to become participants in the political process and encourage enforcing those laws or of becoming subject to men, turning our backs without taking proper measure to discover who violated the law and who should be prosecuted for it. -- Michael Edwards, The Daily Universe

I was pleased (and shocked) as punch to read this editorial from the BYU Daily Universe's news editor, Michael Edwards: Torture Revisited: Why the ACLU is right about a torture probe [the subtitle is from the print edition, but doesn't show up online]. Basically the DU agrees with the ACLU that the people in the Bush administration who authorized American torture should actually be held accountable for the laws they broke. Right on!

The main reason I'm writing this post is to encourage members of BYU Amnesty to write in and thank Michael Edwards for writing this excellent editorial, especially as I fear the backlash among torture-defenders who may start writing in to the DU. So write the Daily Universe a letter [email] at letters@byu.edu or just respond with a comment to the online version of the editorial. Rock on, Daily Universe!


BYU Speaks Out:

A Letter Writing Campaign.
Speak for those who can’t speak for themselves!

Each year thousands of pro-democracy advocates (whether political, student, religious, or other in nature) are continually held without trial in poorly maintained prisons by some of the most abusive and totalitarian regimes around the world.
Such persons are referred to as “prisoners of conscience”.

Every month BYU’s Amnesty International club selects one of these nations (our “Country in Focus”) to which we direct our letter writing. Our writing aims to reach five principal audiences (with varying scope):

1. The prisoner of conscience (to support him/her until their release).
2. The family of the prisoner of conscience (to show them our solidarity).
3. The government of the prisoner of conscience (to demand their release).
4. Our political representatives (to ask that our government pressure theirs).
5. Local media outlets (to raise awareness about the issue via editorials).

How to be a part of the action:

1. Read about the “Country in Focus” where freedom is being denied to its people and become knowledgeable about the facts surrounding the issue.

2. Select one of the target audiences above and Write a quick letter using the materials provided at the booth. Some sample letters are available if you’re unsure of what to write, but be sure to put it in your own words. You might decide to send a piece of art, instead, for the children of the prisoner who are often confined to nearby refugee camps.

3. Insert your letter into the amnesty box for Mail when you’re done (this will be semi-permanently located at our booth in the Wilk). All letters will be mailed in bulk to their target audience at the end of each week.

4. Spread the word!


It's Official

When the Bush administration starts admitting it's torture, then it's most definitely torture. The senior Pentagon official in the Bush administration, Susan Crawford, says that the US government's treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani "met the legal definition of torture." It's a very interesting article, I recommend reading it.

And speaking of recommended reading, I got The Dark Side for Christmas (I love my parents) and it is an amazingly detailed, thorough, and well-written account of the legal and political wranglings behind the United States' decisions to use "enhanced interrogation techniques", perform extraordinary renditions, and operate "black sites" around the world where prisoners are tortured. It's chilling and disheartening, but it's a story that needs to be told. One thing that I found really interesting was the behind-the-scenes look at exactly how Dick Cheney managed to be the most powerful vice president in American history, and how he and his staff were able to prevent any meaningful discussion of our morally dubious methods to combat terrorism even within the Bush cabinet.

I strongly hope that with a new administration we, the American people, can turn a new chapter in our history. Or rather, that we can turn back to the chapter we used to be on; you know, the one about being a moral beacon for the world, liberty and equality for all, etc. It's going to take a lot of work, and I hope you all are committed to doing something, no matter how small, to help out.


60 Years of Declaring Human Rights Universally!

Wow, has it been 60 years already? Time flies when you're promoting equality for all humankind. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the UN's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a remarkable document, and truly inspiring. It has had a large impact on the world--the Guinness Book of World Records says it is the most translated document in the world. Read it, read about it, tell your friends about it, tell your enemies about it, and, if you read this today, come by the booth in the Wilk, it'll be up til 6. We're passing out pamphlets with the text of the UDHR as well as a letter from Jack Healey at no extra cost!


Crisis in Congo

I personally don't know too much about the current humanitarian crisis going on in Congo, but I'm learning more and it really saddens me. Just today I saw a collection of pictures from the amazing photoblog "The Big Picture" that puts faces to the numbers. The pictures are beautiful, tragic, and sometimes a bit graphic, but definitely worth viewing.

This video from Condition: Critical (an awesome Doctors Without Borders webpage) tells more about what's going on:

What can you do? Get educated, spread the word, donate to Doctors Without Borders, or investigate the situation yourself and figure out another way to help (and let us all know too!)


Close Gitmo

Sign the ACLU's open letter to President-elect Barack Obama encouraging him to follow through on his promises to close Guantanamo Bay if you care about ending our government's use of torture and disregard for basic human rights. He's stated many times that he wants to, most recently just this week on 60 Minutes, so let's remind him that it is a top priority as he takes over in the White House.


Maryland Considers Abolishing the Death Penalty

I came across some good news today: the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment has recommended that the state abolish the death penalty. They cite the "real possibility" of executing an innocent person and the huge costs associated with death penalty cases going through the court system. Hopefully they make the right choice!

Read more from the Washington Post or the ACLU blog.


Some Positive Stastistics

Humanity's efforts to promote peace and human rights is working!

"The Human Security Report Project which, to the surprise of many, revealed that there had been a dramatic decline in political violence around the world in the wake of the Cold War.

After nearly five decades of inexorable increase, the number of violent conflicts dropped by 40 percent. The deadliest conflicts, and genocides, dropped even more dramatically––by more than 70 percent.

Wars are not only far less frequent; they are also much less deadly. In 1950, the average armed conflict killed 38,000 people; by 2005, the figure was just 700."


Save Darfur!

Today we heard about one of the largest ongoing human rights tragedies of our time, the Darfur Genocide. We heard from two awesome representatives from the BYU/UVU Darfur Action Committee (Facebook group) about the history of the conflict there and also what we can do to help stop it. We talked about the awesome Save Darfur website, and specifically the things you can do to help listed in the Current Initiatives section.

As pointed out at the meeting today, the situation there is unique in that it is the first genocide ever to be recognized as such while it is going on, rather than looking back afterwards and going "Whoops, that was genocide, huh?" as happened with Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and basically every other genocide in history. So now that we're not in the denial stage, we can do something about it!

Next week, we'll be talking about the situation in Burma, which is also an ongoing nightmare. Same time and place: Wednesday, 6 pm, 117 HRCB. See ya there!



Sure, talking about issues is good--we have to get educated, right? However, to slip into a classic BYU cliche, we enter to learn but then go forth to serve. So after you leave the weekly BYU Amnesty meeting, what are you doing to promote human rights? Hopefully, a lot. Here's a few ideas to help ya out. More will be added, and we invite your ideas in the comments section too, so check back often!

  • Join and/or donate to Amnesty International. They also have a section of their website called Ways You Can Help that has some great ways to be involved in some international human rights issues.
  • America's a democracy, so act like it! Write or call your senator or congressperson and ask what they're doing to promote equality and fairness for all Americans, and for all humans for that matter!
  • Be a Pen Pal with a Death Row Inmate - If you'd like to learn more about what it's like to be on death row, why not write to someone who's there? The Jail Outreach organization can get you in touch with an inmate who you can write to. If you're interested, email Austin at biggins2 at gmail dot com with "Death Row Penpal" in the subject line and we'll get you set up.
  • Get a free bumper sticker that lets everyone know you're a Constitution voter. When people ask what that means, you can let them know about your beliefs in equal rights and human dignity; you know, the things our Constitution is supposed to protect.
  • Sign a petition to close down Guantanamo, the site of some of America's most egregious human rights abuses.
  • Letter to the editor - write in to your local paper. If you're a student at BYU, write to the Daily Universe at letters@byu.edu and let them know what you think about the human rights issue that you're most passionate about!
  • Talk to all of your friends and family about human rights issues and help them get educated about all the ways they can help too!
  • Save Darfur! - Check out the list of current initiatives that you can get involved in to help stop a genocide.
  • Keep your eyes open for events happening right here in Provo/Orem. For example, did you know UVU has an annual symposium discussing the death penalty? Or that BYU's rallies in support of the monks involved in last year's Saffron Revolution in Burma were some of the biggest on any college campus in America? We're not quite as out of the loop here as you might think!

Again, we'd love to hear your ideas, either here on the blog or at our weekly meetings (Wednesdays at 6:00 in 117 Kennedy Center).