Anti-torture activists at the White House fence. Credit: Creative Commons

On January 11th, the dedicated activists from Witness Against Torture broke new ground: they raised public consciousness about the Obama administration’s ongoing torture regime at the Guantanamo Bay military prison and other military prisons, not by holding signs in front of the White House, but by creating a “living exhibit” at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, an unauthorized demonstration where the activists donned the orange jump suits that the United States government forces upon human beings who have never been charged with a crime.

The video of this “living exhibit” demonstration is compelling. Hundreds of tourists of all stripes, who thought they were in for a day of absorbing the extraordinary exhibits on display at the American History Museum, got to witness an exhibit on the most important feature of America’s founding document: the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the right of free speech, free assembly, and the freedom to petition our government for the redress of grievances – of which protest against the torture of human beings must be paramount, if all the other rights are to have any meaning whatsoever.

The Youtube link to this moving, unauthorized, live-person exhibit of the First Amendment and basic human decency is down below. Thankfully, however, all those of us who are not able to see, or participate in, these crucial anti-torture demonstrations taking place in our nation’s capitol and around the country have another outlet to voice our support.

The organization Women Against Military Madness is sponsoring an anti-torture activist video contest called “Tackling Torture at the Top.” There are eight short videos that have been selected as the finalists, and members of the public are encouraged to cast their votes. The public voting will end on January 30th, and the winner will be announced on February 7th. Make sure to cast a vote.

After viewing the eight selections, five serious pieces and three satirical, I have two favorites that I cannot decide upon.

I’m torn between the “Fast for Justice Day 3″ video, which documents an incredibly somber and chilling anti-torture demonstration at Washington’s Union Station, and the editorial-style video recorded by Jason Girouard of Brimfield, Mass.

What is so compelling about “Fast for Justice Day 3″ is that, in addition to taking place a few hundred yards from the U.S. Capitol building, the orange jumpsuit-fitted activists quote aloud from a letter from one of the Guantanamo detainees: Shaker Amer. In his letter, repeated by the activists, Mr. Amer says that he and the other detainees are routinely referred to by the military guards as “packages.”

That’s right, “packages.”

The activists recite in the main hall of Union Station a mantra apparently common at Guantanamo: “the package has been delivered.” Indeed, the language of deliberate dehumanization so often employed by those engaged in that practice never ceases to amaze me. For example, in a recent piece in The Atlantic by Olga Khazan about the new Texas laws restricting abortion access, an abortion provider quoted in the article, instead of saying the word “baby,” or even the word “fetus,” refers to the aborted babies as, simply, “the contents of the uterus.”

It’s chilling, really, the language that human beings are capable of inventing to destroy the human reality, and the human dignity, of those whose lives they have absolutely zero respect for.

Another reason the “Fast for Justice Day 3″ video moves me is that, at the end, the activists are escorted out of Union Station singing, in classic civil rights fashion, “We who believe in freedom will not re-eest, we who believe in freedom will not re-eest.” I think it’s important to be as humble as we possibly can when we talk about MLK, and what he would or would not support in our own times. But with this Union Station video in the contest, I certainly feel his spirit.

The other video that is vying for my vote is Jason Girouard’s “Tackling Torture,” which is just three short minutes, but is jam-packed with compelling, indisputable arguments that will not only deflate the right-wing GWOT types, but is likely to inspire and educate regular folks who may not be so impassioned about ending torture and closing Guantanamo. In addition, the video has an inspiring black-and-white flash of Eleanor Roosevelt holding up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

All eight of these finalist videos for the “Tackling Torture at the Top” video contest can be found here:

The bad news is this: I don’t know which video I support more. But, the good news is this: Women Against Military Madness, the organization sponsoring this contest, has decided to make it ranked choice voting. They’ve also decided to separate the more serious videos, like the two aforementioned, from the satirical submissions. After watching the eight video submissions at the Youtube link above, you can cast your ranked choice votes here:

Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb, Age 13. Arrested, tortured, and mutilated by the Assad regime in March, 2011. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

As you vote, please say a prayer, or if you are secular humanist, send loving thoughts, for all those in the United States, not just at Guantanamo, who have endured unjust imprisonment and torture. Ditto for those torture victims throughout the world, including the children living under the regime of the truly evil Bashar al-Assad, who are being tortured right at this moment.

The video of last week’s demonstration at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which is not included in the video contest, can be found here:

For more information on the organization sponsoring this contest, Women Against Military Madness, whose stance on Western military intervention in Syria I profoundly disagree with, visit:

*UPDATE: This morning, The New York Times linked to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour’s interview with former UN war crimes prosecutors and a forensic expert, who have obtained 55,000 photographs of tortured corpses in Syria’s detention centers. Here is the link to the CNN interview:

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