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Reckoning with Torture

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October 9, 2009

Next Tuesday, writers and artists including Eve Ensler, Don Delillo, Jonathan Ames, George Saunders, Ishmael Beah and Art Spiegelman will join the ACLU and PEN American Center to bring attention to acts of torture and abuse carried out by the U.S. since 9/11. Reckoning with Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the “War on Terror” will take place on Tuesday, October 13 at 7pm at Cooper Union’s Great Hall in Manhattan.

Writers and artists will take the stage with lawyers, a former military interrogator and a former CIA agent to read from texts that have brought these abuses to light – memos, declassified communications, affidavits by officials who protested the treatment, legal opinions, and detainee testimonies. Interspersed between readings, we’ll be showing never-before-seen video interviews with former Guantánamo detainees who put a human face on the Bush administration’s torture program. The program will also feature a visual component – created specifically for the event – by noted American artist Jenny Holzer. Holzer’s imagery incorporating U.S. government documents will be integrated throughout the evening’s program.

Many of the texts we’ll be reading from were uncovered through the ACLU’s lawsuit for information about treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Since 2004, we’ve been fighting to unearth government documents that would show the origins and the scope of the Bush administration’s torture program. Litigation under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has yielded more than 130,000 pages of government documents related to the rendition, detention and interrogation program. Collectively, these documents make undeniably clear that prisoners were tortured, abused, and in some cases even killed in U.S. custody, and that those at the very highest levels of our government authorized, encouraged or tolerated the mistreatment. The remarkable thing, however, is not how much information has been released, but how much is still being withheld – and how little has been done to hold accountable those who authorized, encouraged or tolerated this mistreatment.

The United States has some reckoning to do. The Obama administration has taken important steps toward ending the abuses, but the world is watching to see what comes next. To restore the rule of law, we must condemn these violations of our Constitution, domestic and international law, and seek to hold accountable those who authorized the abuse and torture of prisoners in America’s name.

If you are in New York City, we hope you’ll join us for what will be an extraordinary evening.

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