The Vigil (Photo: Shrieking Tree Blog)
For over a year, a group of protesters has adorned the corner of University Avenue and 22ndStreet, adjacent to the dying Valley West Mall. Some days they quietly stand, holding signs, demanding the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison and decrying torture. On other days, they clamor for attention from passersby aided by a bullhorn.
When I first saw them, I admit that my first reaction was one of mild amusement. Des Moines just is not the kind of place where people protest, or even speak up. It always seemed to me that Iowans are content to stand in quiet, orderly lines waiting for loose-meat sandwiches. Disagreement appeared to be limited to anonymous name-calling on the forum pages of the city’s only daily newspaper.
Because the protest (they call it a vigil) appeared so out of place, my amusement gave way to curiosity. In an unremarkable state where all nails are dutifully hammered flush, what would motivate these folks to risk further notice from the hammer?
An acquaintance, and member of the vigil group, directed me to Youtube where the group posts videos of the goings-on during their vigils.
I was hooked!
Members of the vigil group are witty, articulate, and armed to the teeth with counterpoints to “facts” recited by indoctrinated fans of torture by the state.
When harassed by the West Des Moines police (a fairly regular occurrence), they calmly stand their ground.
I am particularly enamored of their video entitled, “Police Tell Us It’s Okay to do Legal Things”. The opening frames of “I Pledge Allegiance to the United Corporations of America” are a close second.
I strongly doubt the West Des Moines police would take as much interest if the group were handing out little “Support the Troops” magnetic ribbons. Taking time from their daily battles against “guns, gangs, and drugs” to hammer down the nail that stands up appears to be a regular pursuit by WDMPD officers who seem to hate freedom as much as they hate the Taliban.
Again, what would motivate these folks to be attention magnets for the hammer?
Perhaps they are outraged that their government would condone child rape as a mechanism to extract information from detainees?
Omar (center) in happier days. (Wiki Leaks Center)
In fairness, Omar Khadr (age 15 at the time of the interrogation) was never raped. He was tortured. In addition to physical torture, an American interrogator threatened him with rape if he did not provide information as demanded. Khadr was eventually convicted (by a seven-member military tribunal) of killing an American soldier. He was sentenced to a forty-year term in prison.
Aside from my concerns about the impartiality of any tribunal in matters where the case involves the death of someone wearing a similar uniform as members of the judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, and jury…I have other issues.
From the American Declaration of Independence:
“He (King George III) has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries.”
“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.”
“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences.”
“For depriving us, in many Cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.”
Many people see no problem with what we have become. “Terrorists” are people we are told are “terrorists” and these “terrorists” are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.
Then, there is the story about the hapless Dilawar.
Dilawar owned a modest taxi service that supplemented his peanut farming in Afghanistan. When US soldiers stopped his cab after an attack on a US base, one of his passengers was searched and found to be carrying a “suspicious” cell phone and a voltage stabilizer.
It seemed irrelevant to his eventual killers that Dilawar had no electricity at home. He was spirited away to the Bagram torture center.
Dilawar, when his abusers were finished with him.
Diliwar was severely beaten, hung by his arms from the ceiling, and died of a pulmonary embolism (directly resulting from his legs being “beaten to a pulp” by US interrogators).
His death occurred a mere five days after his apprehension.
Again, to be fair, Dilawar’s abusers were brought to “justice”. A few of them were convicted and given slaps on the wrist in comparison to the forty-year sentence imposed on Omar Khadr.
The only similarity is that Khadr and the sadistic killers of Dilawar were provided trials by the US military.
How about the case of Ahmed Errachidi, a London chef who was denounced to the CIA for a bounty payment of $5000?
Ahmed Errachidi "Dear Chef Errachidi: We apologize for any inconvenience..." (BBC Photo)
To be fair, I will specify that a US military tribunal cleared Errachidi of charges.
I wonder if he got one of those corporate-style, “we apologize for any inconvenience”, letters?
Again, to be fair, a lot of Afghanis (and others) really do not like America.
To be fair, it must be observed that spiriting away sovereign citizens across an ocean or two, beating a few of them to death, and depriving any number of innocent people of their liberty for years (in conditions ironically similar to the “Hanoi Hilton”) tends to upset people anywhere.
England’s similar behaviors angered America’s Founding Fathers to the point that a bunch of farmers gave an eventual beat-down to what was then the world’s mightiest army.
It would seem there is a lesson for contemporary America in our own history.
Okay, I get it. Now I understand why these half-dozen or so young “nails” refuse to be hammered down.
But what about their methods?
The vigil-holders use a variety of props to make their point.
They dress in orange jumpsuits and wear black hoods in a fashion identical to detainees and US torture victims. Occasionally a member will lay on a cross in Jesus fashion. They wave, place on the ground, and stand on a flag.
Ah, the flag.
No, it is not the flag. It is a facsimile of the US flag. It differs by virtue that the stars have been replaced by familiar corporate logos.
When waving the flag failed to arouse reactions from spectators, the group began laying it on the ground and walking on it.
That got attention.
I find the video content absolutely enthralling. The angry veteran listens to the group’s explanation. After a few minutes, it is clear that he is thinking about what the group is telling him and the lights seem to come on for him.
He eventually leaves. He does not agree with the group’s methods, but he is thinking about their message.
And that was the intention of the vigil-holders.
I have to admit I have some mixed feelings about their flag antics.
From a distance, the piece of cloth looks every bit like an American flag. I certainly understand how this may distress people. I would be similarly upset if I saw a group of neo-Nazis burning a sefer Torah (Torah scroll).
(NOTE: Torah scrolls are pricey, often costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is an amount typically out of reach for even the most productive neo-Nazis. Therefore, seeing a skinhead burning a real sefer Torah is only a remote possibility.)
I also understand the point made by the vigil group’s front man, Justin Norman.
“Why is it that people get more upset about a symbol than they do about people?”
It is an excellent question and a valid point. If I had to tear a US flag to shreds so I could manufacture a makeshift bandage with which to staunch the flow of blood from a severely injured person, I would do so without hesitation. If I had to set fire to a US flag so I could ignite a life-saving fire in the midst of an Iowa winter, I would do it.
(NOTE: And yes, I would use a sefer Torah to start a similar, life-saving, fire.)
So, what is wrong with attempting to save lives by being disrespectful of a mere facsimile of a US flag?
Mr. Norman makes that point eloquently.
Why are passersby benign to acts of torture committed, in their name, by their government…but incensed by a facsimile of a national symbol on the ground?
How can passing Iowans look at the autopsy photo of Dilawar and not feel the same outrage? Is it because what the flag represents is “real”, while the dead Dilawar is not real to them?
How would they feel if, instead of Dilawar, the dead man’s name were “Sorensen”, “Williams”, or “Jones”? What if it was their loved one who was anonymously denounced, abducted in the dark of night, taken to a distant place, tortured, perhaps killed by his torturers, or returned years later without as much as an apology.
Would they say, “Well, to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.”
I do not like seeing our flag, or a close representation of it, laying on the ground or being trod upon. I am not distressed out of patriotism, or what passes for patriotism these days.
I am distressed because the vigil group fails to understand that the American flag does not represent any past or current US government.
The flag represents an idea.
The flag represents an idea that every human being is created equal and that every human being has inalienable rights bestowed on him/her, not by governments, but by a Creator.
I want Justin Norman’s group to stop placing a representation of the American flag on the ground. They will not stop until we do something.
The fastest and most efficacious way to get them to stop is by us demanding that America stop acting like the very tyrant Americans shed over two hundred years ago!
The American Declaration of Independence belongs to Americans. But, the principles behind it belong to every human being.
Every time I see the vigil with its mock flag in the dirt, I am mildly distressed. At the same time, I am overwhelmingly elated.
Except for the behaviors of a few members of the West Des Moines Police Department, I know that all is well with liberty in America.
And while the self-described anarchists within the vigil group may wrinkle a brow in puzzlement of my assertion, their group is as patriotic as any action by any soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman.
What America should stand for, stands regularly on the corner of University Avenue and 22nd Street…in front of a dying mall.
To be sure, there are likely people who have committed, or conspired to commit, evil deeds behind the razor wire of detention centers. Justice demands that they be held accountable for their crimes.
The emerging American Dictator
Less than 1% of detainees have been convicted of anything and one does not create justice by imposing injustice upon the innocent or by rampant cruelty upon the guilty.
We are what we believe. It is time for America to return to believing in the reasons that compelled them to rebel against the injustice and cruelty of the Crown.
It is past time that our own government started acting like Americans, and not like a tin-hatted, banana-republic dictator with a funny moustache.