Teach-In Series Concluded with Panel Discussion

By Edward Perkins
A panel discussion in the McGregor building capped off a week of teachins concerning rights and wrongs in the global war on terror. A small but engaged audience consisted of Antioch students, faculty members, and locals from Yellow Springs. The panel was comprised of four experts: Dr. William O’Brien, who works for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Gordon Chapman, who worked for the CIA and military intelligence following WWII, Julie Gallagher, a historian and the Ohio coordinator for Amnesty International, and Antioch’s own Dr. Hassan Nejhad who specializes in Middle East Affairs.

Antioch professor Jean Gregorek, PHD, warmed up the audience with a concise but precise introduction to the discussion topic. Jean began by recapping the events of the past few days, which included films and teach-ins. She also informed the audience about the Military Commissions Act, which recently passed Congress. Jean explained how the act gives the CIA and military unprecedented power, including “The power to incarcerate prisoners of war indefinitely? and “absolute power to decide the fate of these so called enemies?. After the introduction, Jean handed the microphone over to the panel members.

Hassan spoke first. His presentation was strong, and spiked the interest of the audience. He began “torture is nothing new? but then stated, “It is a shame that it is still with us?. The audience was visibly engaged at this point. Hassan gave an overview of definitions of what torture is, how the Bush administration defines torture, and international laws governing torture, including the Geneva Convention. He spoke passionately, citing examples of US conduct that could be described as torture, before demonstrating how such actions are defined as torture by international law. Hassan cut through the confusion surrounding the issue of torture. He explained the governing bodies that prosecute torture, the documents that define torture, and how the USA has violated these guidelines.

Dr. William O’Brien was next, speaking about the psychology of POW’s (prisoners of war). His 33 years of experience working in clinical psychology for the Dept. of Veteran Affairs made him uniquely suited to address these topics. O’Brien gave chilling tales of former POW’s and how their experiences have mentally scarred them for life. Listening to his tales, it was hard not to feel terrible for the CIA’s prisoners, regardless of what crimes they stand accused of. The Doctor also spoke about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its effects. PTSD is common and severe with many POWs.

Gordon Chapman, who worked in military intelligence, had terrific insight to convey in his lecture. Since 1993, he has worked for Veterans for Peace, a non-profit whose function is explained by its name. Gordie shone some perspective on the matter. He cited examples of US terrorism before 9/11, including the relocation of Japanese-American citizens during WWII and covert actions/operations in Latin America. Gordon also noted that “Ho Chi Minh was a US ally in WWII?, drawling a parallel to Osama Bin Laden, another former US ally. He then spoke about torture at the CIA during his career there. Years after leaving, he found out about incidents of torture that allegedly went on just doors from his office without his knowledge. Dr. Julie Gallagher (also an Antioch professor) wrapped things up with a lively speech. She spoke about an anti-torture bill, which failed to pass Congress. This bill would have prevented many of the abuses allowed by the Military Commissions Act. The MCA allows for all kinds of outrageous conduct, suspends the writ of Habeas Corpus, and gives the government unprecedented and maybe illegal powers. Julie, the regional coordinator for Amnesty international, talked about her group’s extensive anti-torture work. She made an excellent point, saying at this point we need to at minimum “regain the human rights that have been lost?, but ideally need to do far, far more.

The evening ended with a brief, but lively, Q&A. The intelligent and thoughtful comments demonstrated how much the audience had soaked up from the panel. The questions ranged from the Supreme Court’s response to what course of action concerned citizens should take next. Hassan explained that parts of the bill may be turned down, but reiterated the urgency of the situation by saying “it could take time and the government can go ahead in the mean time?, meaning the government could continue to torture until such changes are made.