Thomas Merton on bearing witness to the truth—permanent war, human rights and civil liberties

The late Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk and mystic, once said: “There can be no question that unless war is abolished, the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation. . . . Really we have to pray for a total and profound change in the mentality of the whole world. . . . We must always direct our action toward opening people’s eyes to the truth.”

You don’t have to subscribe to Merton’s religion to see the spiritual value of opening people’s eyes to the truth about war and its negative repercussions. In the case of the Bush Administration’s war on terrorism, one repercussion is the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The book Poems From Guantanamo by Mark Falkoff, published in 2007, says that since 2002, at least 775 men have been held at Guantanamo on unproven suspicion of terrorism, with fewer than half of them accused of any hostile act against the U.S. or its allies. At the time of the book’s publication, 33-year-old Bahraini national Jumah al Dossari had been held without charge or trial for over five years.

Former military intelligence soldier Erik Saar reported that Dossari received physical and psychological abuse and had been held in solitary confinement for four years when the book was published. Though he has now been released from Guantanamo, by 2007, Dossari had tried to kill himself twelve times.

Dossari wrote the following poem:

“Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.

Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.

And let them bear the guilty burden before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden before their children and
before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the
“protectors of peace.”

The poem echoes Merton’s idea that people of conscience should bear witness, or remind the world of the suffering war has inflicted, and continues to inflict, in the name of protecting the peace. Our political leaders have taken advantage of the public’s fear and shock over 9/11 and used that as an opportunity to abuse human rights at home and abroad and to take away U.S. citizens’ civil liberties.

This is even more important today with the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the military to detain American citizens indefinitely without charging them with a crime if they are suspected of terrorism. Critics of the act, including former Congressman Alan Grayson, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the ACLU and others, have said the wording allows the definition of terrorism to be stretched too far.

The definition can include anyone who “was part of or substantially supported” not just al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but also “associated forces.” Kucinich has said the NDAA allows for permanent global war and “takes a wrecking ball to the Constitution.”

The average citizen might feel powerless to end war and its horrific consequences, but there is at least one thing anyone can do. We can witness, or as Thomas Merton said, we can “direct our action toward opening people’s eyes to the truth.” In fact, that’s the very least we can do.

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2 Responses to Thomas Merton on bearing witness to the truth—permanent war, human rights and civil liberties

  1. “The longest journey of thousands of miles begins with the fist step.” Our first step is a new Constitutional Convention according to Article 5. 27 States have called for it, 34 will make it happen. Check out “Friends of Article 5″ about this effort…

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