It is up to the people to stand up for principle and morality when their institutions and public officials refuse to do so. The fates of those who are maimed or killed by our government’s policies are inextricably intertwined with our own; we must listen and respond to their cry for justice. (From the Close Guantanamo Now! Statement)
This week World Can’t Wait will be running a full-page advocacy ad in The New York Times, “the paper of record.”
This major statement calling for Guantanamo’s closure, an end to torture and to the attacks on fundamental civil liberties could not be timelier. It will be published very close in time to Obama’s nationwide speech this Thursday in which he is expected to defend his drone and detention policies.
The GTMO prisoners on hunger strike have passed 100 days in their strike and their lives hang in the balance. The battle to shut down Guantanamo is also part of a larger picture, which the statement also speaks directly to: you cannot separate GTMO from the overall so-called “war on terror.”
The WCW statement has already been signed by over 1100 people from all walks of life, including a truly impressive, sizable, and growing list of famous and highly respected individuals such as Cornel West, Glenn Greenwald, Alice Walker, Daniel Ellsberg, Michael Moore, S. Brian Willson, Noam Chomsky, Ray McGovern, M. Cherif Bassiouni (the “godfather of international law”), Mark Ruffalo, Moby, Bianca Jagger, Wallace Shawn, Dave Eggers, Oliver Stone, Ron Kovic, Tom Morello, Andy Worthington, Denis Haliday (former UN Assistant Secretary-General), Junot Diaz, Carl Dix, Cindy Sheehan, Boots Reilly, Rev. Michael Lerner, Harper’s Editor Jeff Sharlet, Margaret Ratner Kunstler, Outernational, Le Tigre, attorneys for GTMO detainees, and so on. See here for the names as of this writing.
This growing list of endorsers is extremely significant for a number of reasons.
One is that the statement they have signed and donated to is not worded in a “safe way,” designed so as not to ruffle any feathers; it doesn’t mince words. It speaks the hard truth and it is giving voice to widespread sentiments because it concentrates what people know to be true and raises it up in a call to action.
People are endorsing the statement and calling on others who they know to join in this fight because they recognize the imperativeness of action and grasp the gravity of the situation. They are acting upon the understanding that the situation will not change unless people of conscience step forward and demand justice. Simply reminding Obama of his promises of six years ago to close GTMO, end torture, and restore habeas corpus, has not worked. Electing this man who promised to change things has obviously not worked in ending the policies that Obama decried and campaigned against while running for office, but once winning the election proceeded to embrace and defend, even while rhetorically claiming to do the opposite.
I am the principal author of the statement and want to briefly speak to the statement’s objective.
We aim to create a political situation in which Obama feels that he has no choice but to close Guantanamo and can no longer afford to put its closure off into some indefinite future. For that situation to develop an alternative moral authority has to emerge and contend for the people’s allegiance. The growing number of signatories to the ad and their leadership role in the larger society are a sign that this is coming into nascent being.
What we aim to do can be analogized to a not well-known variation of the famous Milgram Experiment. As many people know, the Milgram Experiment was inspired by the Nazis’ success in getting Germans to go along with atrocities. The experiment was based on a hypothesis that there was something about Germans that made them more susceptible to following orders and not questioning fascists. It was pilot tested by Milgram in America with the intention to take it to Germany.
Stanley Milgram found, however, that Americans were just as willing to follow orders to hurt and potentially kill strangers. He never took the experiment to Germany because he had found the answer here at home. The experiment was designed to see how willing people were to follow authority and how far they would go in inflicting electrical shocks to a stranger in another room when asked to by a person in a gray coat and a clipboard, when they could hear the agony and shouts of the person who was being shocked that he had a “heart condition” and yelled repeatedly “Let me out! Let me out!”
In this specific, not well-known, variant of his experiment,
[T]hree teachers (two actors and a real subject) administered a test and [electrical] shocks [to the subject in another room]. When the two actors disobeyed the experimenter and refused to go beyond a certain shock level, thirty-six of forty subjects joined their disobedient peers and refused as well.[*]
Let me repeat that result: thirty-six out of forty people joined the rebellion of refusing the orders to continue shocking the stranger in the next room. In other words, when two others (confederates or actors) were brought into the room to administer shocks, instead of just one real subject in the room by himself or herself, and when these two actors refused to continue dealing potentially lethal shocks to the stranger in the other room, the vast majority of real subject/shockers also refused. This is in stark contrast to the main variation of the experiment in which 63% obeyed and took the shocks to the highest possible level, marked in the experiment on the machine as “X X X”, two stops higher than “Danger: Severe Shock.”
We are participants in a society-wide experiment like the Milgram Experiment. We are bringing into being an alternative moral authority that takes the moral high ground against those in authority such as Obama who are telling us with honeyed words that we should endorse the ongoing use of assassinations by drones, preventive and indefinite detentions without charges, and torture. We refuse to follow those orders and will lead others in rebellion against them. The question is being posed now and in the coming weeks, months, and years: whose stance wins out in the larger society? Those who use torture and kill thousands with drones, or those who demand that all peoples be treated justly and fairly? Will fear win out, or will justice prevail?
[*] Stanley Milgram, “The Perils of Obedience,” Harper’s, December 1973, 62-77. The article can be found also at “The Perils of Obedience,” http://home.swbell.net/revscat/perilsOfObedience.html, accessed February 14, 2011.
Dennis Loo is Professor of Sociology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is a Harvard honors graduate in Government and received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of “Globalization and the Demolition of Society” and Co-Editor/Author of “Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney”. Website: Dr. Dennis Loo