Friday, March 25, 2011

Here's to Freedom?


In my mind, the most shameful legacy of the Bush administration's run is Bush's acceptance of torture as viable method of interrogation. I distinctly remember feeling nauseous as I read leaked memos among top staff about appropriate torture techniques and various ways to avoid legal complications. I knew America doesn't get everything right, it's not a paragon of perfection, but that was a low-point I thought we'd never reach again. Then I read this editorial about the treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is being imprisoned for allegedly handing over government files to Wikileaks.

I don't want to pass any judgement on Pfc. Manning's culpability because I don't know enough about the case. The way he is being treated though, as a citizen of the United States, a member of the armed forces, and a human being, has me seriously concerned, though. Pfc. Manning is not being openly abused or tortured, but he has languished in prison for 9 months without being tried. In the meantime, he is held in solitary confinement, an experience that John McCain described in his memoir as one of the toughest and most terrifying mental experiences of his own confinement and torture in Vietnam. 

Manning is granted one hour of exercise a day, and is forced to strip every evening, and given back his clothes in the morning only after passing inspection, an uncanny echo of the Bush era, when one forced nudity was a common interrogation tactic and one CIA report stated that nudity was one way to weaken the mindset of the prisoner. Even a member of the State Department stated confidentially that the government treatment of Manning was "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid."

So what is President Obama, the man who promised to close Guantanamo and eliminate prisoner abuse doing about the situation? Nothing. Obama has stated that Manning's treatment is "appropriate, and meeting out basic standards." 

Manning may be guilty of a serious breach of security, I don't know.* I will stand by every citizen's right to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. More importantly, I stand by every human being's right to basic dignity and physical and mental safety. Guilt and punishment are determined in the court of law, this preemptive punishment is just wrong, and further serves to chip away at the Obama administration's credibility as a government of progress and change. 

*One of the documents allegedly leaked by Pfc. Manning is a video that was posted on Lefty's last April by Henry Vasquez. Check out the video, but be warned: it is graphic and extremely upsetting. I haven't seen the other documents allegedly leaked by Manning, but with this particular video I believe Manning is exposing a cover-up, not jeopardizing the safety of American troops. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Notre Dame Silences Workers


Three HEI workers from two different hotels in California were visiting Notre Dame Wednesday and Thursday, March 9-10. For the sixth time, workers were refused a meeting with Notre Dame’s administration, which has never met with HEI workers, and complacently relies solely on Scott Malpass for accurate information about HEI’s working conditions. Chief of Staff Francis Shavers, responding for President Jenkins, Chief Investment Officer Scott Malpass and Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said, “we have nothing additional to share beyond the information and explanations Scott Malpass has provided in the past through multiple discussions.” There is no mention of what the workers themselves are saying. Six times Notre Dame was invited to hear personal stories about work at an HEI hotel, and six times Notre Dame has silenced the workers by refusing to meet with them.

On Thursday, March 10, Notre Dame held its bi-annual town hall meeting, which was led by Affleck-Graves. He discussed Notre Dame’s financial situation as well as all of the reasons why ND is an outstanding place with Catholic values and a mission in which we can believe. “This is our time to be great,” he said. The presentation was followed by an open question and answer session. After being refused a meeting, the three workers chose to publicly ask Affleck-Graves about Notre Dame’s investment.

The HEI workers walked up to the microphone, led by a hotel housekeeper. She introduced herself and said, “I work for HEI..." Immediately, John Affleck-Graves cut her off, speaking over her, declaring that she could not ask her question, she's not a Notre Dame employee, she had to stop talking, the HEI workers had to leave, the meeting was not a space for them to speak, etc… The worker persisted with her question while Affleck-Graves continued to speak over her increasingly more agitated and raising his voice. When the HEI worker refused to be silent, her microphone was cut so that the crowd could no longer hear what she was saying. After she finished, the three workers returned to their seats. A member of security came over and asked them to leave, which they did peacefully. Affleck-Graves refused to answer Flores’s question.

Ironically, Affleck-Grave's speech right before this incident was almost entirely about Notre Dame making the world a better place, listening to suggestions, and continuing to improve. But apparently at our oligarchic institution, only certain people deserve to be heard. Notre Dame makes money off of each low-wage hour of work completed by HEI workers; they deserve a voice at our university. Yet, just like at their hotels, the workers were silenced on Notre Dame’s campus. One of the HEI workers present noted, “I thought only my managers were like this, but now I see that they’re like that everywhere.”

Scott Malpass maintains that HEI is a “good” investment, meeting Notre Dame’s ethical standards. If this is true, what was John Affleck-Graves so afraid to hear? Why did he silence Ana Flores? Was he scared about listening to how “good” her job is? How “good” her pay and benefits are? How “good” her workload is? How “good” her treatment is? How “good” it feels to be ignored? Notre Dame, in silencing the voice of the worker, has disowned many of the basic tenets of Catholic Social Teaching and is complicit in the exploitation and mistreatment of human lives.

For more information about this issue, visit http://www.heiworkersrising.org/
Props to my sister, Sarah Furman, who helped in editing this article.