In a number of theology classes, we talked about the unity of all beings and things on the earth. We are all interconnected. As I have sat with this over the last few years, the more I have come to believe this (from a scientific, theological, and social perspective, etc.). Today our group – Witness Against Torture – did a Ghost Walk in the Senate Hart office building. A number of us walked in orange jumpsuits with names of prisoners who have been cleared for release on our backs. We each walked separately on a different floor and wing in a very prayerful and solemn way. We went to “lobby” those in the Senate to help remember these men who have been “cleared for release” and are ready to leave yet remain in Guantánamo.
We put the jumpsuits on once in the building and after about 20 minutes a police officer came running up to me (very out of breath) as I was walking at a Thich Nhat Hanh pace… very slowly and deliberately. He respectfully asked how I was doing and what I was doing here. Then he requested my ID, followed by a number of investigative questions. We weren’t doing anything illegal in our action, but they were checking on us. After I was allowed to continue walking, another person – from the capitol police – wanted to talk to me. As I told him that I was with Witness Against Torture, that I was not protesting or demonstrating, that I was lobbying to help follow the executive order to close Guantánamo and end torture, and that we were completely nonviolent, he responded: “Oh, Witness Against Torture. I know you guys. I’ve seen you for a number of years.” They let me (and our whole group) continue to walk.
Apparently, I was one of the few who received this much attention from the police. To be faced with this interrogation and questioning does make me feel uncomfortable. I want there to be harmony in all relationships, so I don’t like lying or not telling the whole truth. So it is difficult to engage with the police because my experience in past actions is that some of the officers have lied and significantly misled us. After going through this relatively brief questioning (which Jerica Arents, another Witness Against Torture activist, overheard and described as “tough”), I was relieved to be able to continue walking.
It took a while to get re-centered. I imagined what it would be like to face continued pressure and questioning like the men in Guantánamo, Bagram, and the many other prisons. I got just a little taste of it. But it moved me. Then I thought of the horrific abuse on top of that. I don’t know how people could withstand this. I felt this deeper “interconnectedness” (that I mentioned above) because of this experience. Tasting it in a tiny way made me feel this connection – the binding and connection of my heart, life, and soul to theirs. We are all one. We are all interconnected. This leads me a step further.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes about an exercise of saying “You are me. And I am you.” This can help us grow in our awareness of our interconnectedness. And even further, that we are literally all one. So as I sit with the fact that I am the man at Guantánamo (Sayf Bin Abdallah) and he is me, what does this tell me? If I am then being held and mistreated in Guantanamo, what must I do? If I am yearning to be reconnected with my family and wife and kids after years and years apart, what does this mean? I don’t have the answers. But I think it calls for a deeper and more intimate journey with this issue. I am hopeful and confident that we will be exploring and walking down that path as this Fast and Vigil for Justice continues. We will be here through January 22, President Obama’s self-imposed “deadline” for closing Guantánamo, which won’t be met. So our work continues.