On November 16 around one hundred demonstrators converged on the headquarters of a San Jose company linked to CIA “extraordinary rendition” flights. Some had marched from a commuter rail stop, where they distributed copies of an October 2006 New Yorker article by Jane Mayer which outed San Jose’s Jeppesen International Trip Planning, a subsidiary of Boeing, as a service provider for “war on terror” detention and transport. Mayer’s piece quotes Jeppesen managing director Bob Overby telling an employee, “We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights — you know, the torture flights.”
The action was part of the ongoing Iraq Moratorium campaign, a national grassroots project which encourages local anti-war activities throughout the U.S. on the third Friday of every month.
The Peninsula Peace and Justice Center worked with more than a dozen other peace groups to coordinate the action. Charlotte Casey of the San Jose Peace Center told the crowd that after reading the 2006 New Yorker article, “people were shocked to find out Jeppesen was involved with torture,” and in the past year San Jose activists had held protests at the building “many times.” Casey emphasized that Jeppesen “can continue to do business in San Jose, they just can’t do business with the CIA.”
Henry Norr of the group Act Against Torture, wearing an orange jumpsuit like the ones made infamous by Guantanamo prisoners, recalled the many protests he’d attended at Jeppesen, and that he was “delighted to see the numbers growing.” Norr congratulated San Jose Peace Center volunteers on their “sustained work taking it to the City Council and Supervisors.”
Norr opined that national legislation thus far advanced to attack “extraordinary rendition” didn’t go far enough, and that defenders of civil liberties should “challenge torture more broadly … the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is really an outrageous piece of legislation. It strips habeus corpus provisions, but that’s only one part of it. Even the New York Times editorial board said if there ever was a time for a filibuster, this is it.” Norr noted that after researching various legislative initiatives, the group Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC) also came to the conclusion that the Military Commissions Act had to be repealed, and had launched a campaign to do so. Norr encouraged efforts to pressure presidential candidates to take a stand against the law.
Standing near a woman holding a sign reading “Jesus said visit prisoners, not torture them,” Rev. Diana Gibson of the Santa Clara Council of Churches announced that she had invited representatives of Jeppesen to speak with protest organizers. Gibson said she had “told them we know as well as they do that this is abhorrent and illegal activity. I told them we’d be here until 12:30, so maybe they’ll come down.” They didn’t.
Local Presbyterian minister Rev. Ben Daniel spoke next, inspiring the noisiest applause of the day.
Rev. Daniel said, in part:
“For too long the language of morality and sin has been commandeered by those among us who think the primary goal of religion is to regulate human intimacy. People like you and me – that is to say, thoughtful people of faith whose souls are inclined to the work of making the world a better place — we don’t want our religious faithfulness to be confused with prudishness, so we shy away from anything that might look like a pounded pulpit or that might smell like brimstone.
“Brothers and sisters, dear friends, when it comes to torture, we need to lose that inhibition, because how can torture be anything but immoral? And if we cannot condemn as sin that which truly is immoral, then what might our God-given voices be for? [...]
“Torture is a sin … And woe unto you if you are torturing your fellow human being. Woe unto you if you are getting rich by providing material support, service, or assistance to the purveyors of torture, for how does it profit a person to gain the whole world but lose his or her soul? Woe unto the politicians who have abused our nation’s fear to find support for torture and who change the definition of torture in order to say with a straight face, ‘Americans don’t torture.’ Woe unto the politicians who have not spoken out loudly enough to condemn torture. Woe to the religious communities and leaders who have been silent. Woe unto you, for you will have to go to bed each night knowing that you have sinned against humanity and against God.”
Rev. Daniel then made clear whom he was criticizing:
“We are a people of Grace who refuse to stand by while our country dispenses cruelty. We march on in the Grace of God, and everyone is welcome to join us.
“That means you who are employed by Jeppesen or by the CIA. It means you, Mayor Reed, and the members of the San Jose City Council; you who sit on the Santa Clara board of Supervisors, you, Governor Schwarzenegger and the state legislators, you, senators and members of Congress in Washington, you, justices and you, Mr. President. It’s time to put off the immorality that has so infected the nation. It’s time to be done with the sin of torture. It’s time to come home, into the fold of God’s Grace, and into the joyful peace and security of a new day.”
On the train back to San Francisco, I ran into Penninsula Peace and Justice Center organizer Paul George, who, instead of basking in the success of his organizing, was finishing up an online commentary on the demonstration for his web-based newscast Orwell Was An Optimist. That weekly show, and news about future demonstrations against Jeppesen, can be found at , the Center’s website.