By Bill Mefford
Imagine what you were doing 15 years ago. Think about everything that has happened in the last 15 years of your life. Think of how much you have changed. Think of how much has changed around you. Think of how many people you have known, how many vacations you have had, how many trips you took, how many places you might have lived in, how many jobs you have had (or lost), even how many phones you have had or hairstyles; think of how many people and experiences have passed through your life. 15 years is a long time. So much happens even in one year much less 15.
For me, 15 years ago I was just beginning my first year of doctoral studies at Asbury Seminary. It was a great time and hard time all at once. I was in the missions school and my teachers and fellow students were amazing; I learned so much. But the rest of the seminary was tough for me. The US had begun the march to war in the illegal invasion of Iraq that began in March of 2003. I was a very vocal opponent of the war and Asbury Seminary was not a popular place to be a vocal liberal.
15 years ago my youngest son was just born, Isaiah. Isaiah is the greatest joy in my life. When I think of him I just smile. My oldest son, Elisha, was four years old and he was an amazing older brother. He loved on Isaiah so much and Isaiah could not get enough of being with his “Bubba.” Watching those two still remain close friends is absolutely the greatest blessing in my life and Eli just started as a freshman this year at Virginia Tech.
15 years ago I had full head of hair! I was a lean, mean, long-haired, liberal machine! I was just starting to use a cell phone and the internet was still something of a new tool in many regards. Bands from the 1980s were touring again so I got to see my beloved REO Speedwagon again after more than a couple of decades.
When I look at the last 15 years so much has happened in my life, so much has changed.
You know what else happened 15 years ago? Guantanamo Bay prison was opened by the Bush Administration. On January 11, 2002 the first detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. According to Human Rights First, “since it opened, 780 detainees have been held there. The Bush Administration transferred over 500 detainees out of the prison, and the Obama Administration has transferred 182.” (http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/background-guantanamo-bay-prison)
This was where we supposedly sent the worst of the worst. In reality, this has been where we have sent those we thought might have been involved in some way in terroristic activity, but we did not have enough evidence to convict them. Indeed, we didn’t ever really try to convict them. Though the 6th Amendment guarantees people the right to a speedy trial and to competent legal counsel Guantanamo detainees have been held in indefinite detention for years.
Though President Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay during his campaign, he has not done it. According to Human Rights First, “only 55 detainees remain, with 19 cleared for transfer by all relevant U.S. national security agencies. Twenty-six more have been slated for indefinite detention (but are eligible for periodic review of that designation), seven are in pre-trial hearings in the military commission system, and three are either serving or awaiting military commission sentences.” (http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/background-guantanamo-bay-prison)
Incarceration is something our society can easily hide. Most who have loved ones do not want to advertise that they know someone in prison, much less in Guantanamo Bay. Most people have probably not given one thought to the detainees in Guantanamo Bay other than being told by politicians that those who are there deserve to be there. A fleeting thought that Guantanamo Bay keeps us safe from the barbarians at the gate might be all that we think of. These same spineless politicians like to sound tough, but they are hypocrites when they herald the need to follow the Constitution in all things and then so easily break it when it comes to upholding the basic dignity and human rights of the detainees, all of whom have been Muslim. Every single one. These same politicians like to talk about the deficit and out-of-control spending but yet, they neglect to tell their constituents that it costs $8 million per year per detainee to keep it open. Think of how $8 million could be used to actually prevent new adherents to terror.
Guantanamo Bay is detaining people with very little chance of being heard. On top of that, we have been conditioned to not listen. When people have no voice, our conscience is placated by strong, tough voices of reassurance that though we might be breaking the values of our own Constitution, though we could not even imagine the horror of being locked up for years at a time based on evidence that does not have to meet the rigorous standards of a U.S. criminal court, and though we could save tens of millions of dollars by providing actual trials for those who need to be tried, these strong, tough voices will keep us safe.
The truth is, these strong, get-tough-on-terrorists voices have worked. There is only one small obstacle. That obstacle is for those who hear the voice of Jesus in his call to ministry in Luke 4, that becomes the same call to the same ministry for any and ALL who claim to receive his grace and love and forgiveness. That call simply, straightforwardly, and without preface or prejudice calls for “the release of the captives.” The Spirit of the Lord is upon me….to release the captives.
This calling has no qualifier for what kind of captive is going to be released. Though the church tries to separate those worthy of receiving mercy from those not receiving mercy – the greatest anathema in the church today (where the hell is the Confessing Movement when you really come face to face with apostasy?) – Jesus never qualifies the kind of captives he wants released. Thus, we can only do what he tells us to or we can choose unfaithfulness. We can work to release ALL the captives or we can live outside of God’s will. So far, the church has chosen to make its hearers comfortable and the price of that comfort is the continued detainment of Muslims in Guantanamo Bay prison. If we release all the captives and live into the Year of the Jubilee that Jesus calls for, then that means we shut down Guantanamo Bay prison. Shut it down for good.
I have worked with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture for years. They have led the way in eradicating the use of torture in the United States, including in our prisons through solitary confinement. I urge you to sign this petition urging the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison, the upholding of our Constitutional values, and most importantly, the faithful following of Jesus in his mission to release the captives. Maybe 2017 can be the Year of the Jubilee, but regardless, 15 years is just too damn long.