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Letter to US Ambassador
Mr Charles Swindells,
11 September 2002
Dear Mr Swindells,
With people of good-will everywhere, I offer my sympathy to you, in your capacity representing all citizens of the United States, at this grief-filled time.
In my faith community we marked September 11 with a requiem eucharist, praying for all the innocent dead. It was indeed "a day of tears," in the words of your President George W Bush. The President also said, "It needs to be a day in which we confirm the values which make us unique and great."
These values of liberty, truth and freedom most of the world's people would want to affirm, and defend. All peoples of integrity will be affronted by the hiding and harbouring of criminals and terrorists. Wherever international laws and United Nations resolutions are resisted or violated there is cause for concern, and reason for action.
It is for these reasons that the world also looks to the United States to embody the "unique and great values" the President speaks about.
But in the current climate, fuelled by hot-headed and vengeful rhetoric, there are disturbing contradictions which threaten to undermine these values, even more decisively than actions of other governments or 'terrorist groups'. The United States' reputation as 'international good citizen' is seriously at risk.
For instance, it has been claimed that those imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are being held against conventions of war and international law, with no actual evidence of their alleged crimes produced, and that only one is a genuine suspect. Further, that more than 1000 people of Moslem background are being held in the United States under the "Patriot Act", none of them actually being charged.
In recent years the United States has acted in ways that threaten the establishment of an international criminal court, and by threatening the use of nuclear weapons in 'pre-emptive' strikes corrodes any sense of international citizenship.
The United States undermined the United Nations by blocking a UN investigation of the Israeli assault on a Palestinian refugee camp.
At summit conferences in Canada and Indonesia US officials blocked hundreds of millions of dollars going to the most deprived people on earth, those without clean water and electricity.
The United States' refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol does not instill confidence in these "great values", especially since the United States is one of the greatest contributors to the causes of global warming. The President's absence from the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg sent a deafening message to the world's poorest peoples.
As for dealing with terrorists and criminals, it mocks the United States' "unique and great values" to give safe-keeping to the likes of General Jose Guillermo Garcia, the former head of El Salvador's military during the 1980s, where death squads with ties to his army murdered thousands of people.
Likewise, General Prosper Avril, the Haitian dictator who liked to display his bloodied victims of torture on television, who, when overthrown, was flown to Florida by the US government.
Then there is Thiounn Prasith, Pol Pot's henchman and apologist who lives in New York, and General Mansour Moharari, who ran the Shah of Iran's notorious prisons and is wanted in Iran, but lives freely in the US.
Worse still, the great values are sullied by the training of tens of thousands of Latin American special forces, paramilitaries and intelligence agents in terrorist arts at Fort Benning, formerly known as the School of the Americas. When the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador named the army officers who had committed the worst atrocities of the civil war, it was revealed that two thirds of them had been trained at Fort Benning.
In Chile, Benning graduates ran Pinochet's secret police and the three principal concentration camps. When, in 1996, the US government was forced to release copies of the "school's" training manuals it was revealed that they recommended blackmail, torture, execution and the arrest of witnesses' relatives.
It must surely be in the United States' best interest - not to mention the peace and stability of the whole world - for the US to give congruent expression to the great values of which it is rightly proud. This can only start with its own behaviour and on its own soil - before talking the world into precipitous and reckless actions on others' soil.
I have no doubt that defenders of freedom and justice the world over are looking to the United States for a truly moral and just lead in these difficult times.
During this challenging time, be assured of my prayers for your country, that it may indeed come to confirm the values which make it unique and great.