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Young Scholars Tell the President ‘No’ on Torture

Posted on Jul 10, 2007

By Amy Goodman

President Bush got a lesson from a group of recent high school graduates. They were Presidential Scholars, a program designed “to recognize and provide leadership development experiences for some of America’s most outstanding graduating high-school seniors.”

The 141 Presidential Scholars were being honored at the White House. One of them, Mari Oye, from Wellesley, Mass., describes what happened: “The president walked in and gave us a short speech saying that as we went on into our careers, it was important to treat others as we would like to be treated. And he told us that we would have to make choices we would be able to live with for the rest of our lives. And so, I said to the president, ‘Several of us made a choice, and we would like you to have this,’ and handed him the letter.” It was a letter Mari had handwritten. It read:

“As members of the Presidential Scholars class of 2007, we have been told that we represent the best and brightest of our nation. Therefore, we believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions. We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants.”

The letter was signed by close to 50 of the students, more than a third of the Presidential Scholars.

Mari described Bush’s reaction to the letter: “He read down the letter. He got to the part about torture. He looked up, and he said, ‘America doesn’t torture people.’ And I said, ‘If you look specifically at what we said, we said, we ask you to cease illegal renditions. Please remove your signing statement to the McCain anti-torture bill.’

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“At that point, he just said, ‘America doesn’t torture people’ again.”

In fact, after Bush signed the bill that outlawed the torture of detainees last year, he quietly issued a “signing statement” reserving the right to bypass the law, as he has more than 1,100 times, issuing more signing statements than all other U.S. presidents combined.

Mari knows a little bit about detention. Not high school detention, but detention Guantanamo-style. Mari recounted this to the president: “I said that for me personally, the issue of detainee rights also had a lot of importance, because my grandparents had been interned during World War II for being Japanese-American.” The government has since apologized for imprisoning more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans during the war.

Mari said she was also inspired to act by her mother, Willa Michener. She, too, was a Presidential Scholar—40 years ago, in 1968—and had wanted to confront President Lyndon Johnson with her opposition to the Vietnam War. She deferred to a teacher, who Mari said “stressed it was important to stay quiet when you’re in the presence of the president.” Willa Michener has regretted it since, Mari said.

Mari called her mother as soon as she left the White House to tell her what she had done. “She was actually in the Holocaust Museum in the last room when I called her to say that we had given the letter. She didn’t know there was a letter beforehand. ... And she said that she walked out into the bright sunlight with tears streaming down her face, but since a lot of people walk out of the Holocaust Museum that way, you know, no one noticed anything out of the ordinary.”

Another Presidential Scholar, Leah Anthony Libresco, from Long Island, N.Y., helped write the letter. She, like Mari, is remarkably eloquent. “If I’m going to be in the room with the president, I’ve got to say something, because silence betokens consent, and there’s a lot going on I don’t want to consent to.” Her middle name, Anthony, comes from the famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony.

Afraid that Mari’s letter would be confiscated before she was able to deliver it to the president, Leah had a handwritten copy of it—yes, up her sleeve. She handed it to a reporter, as she said later in a blog, “at The No Child Left Behind photo op for which the Scholars were apparently supposed to be a backdrop.”

With young leaders like Mari Oye and Leah Anthony Libresco speaking truth to power at so young an age, and demonstrating such eloquence, courage and discipline, the only thing that looks likely to get left behind are politicians like George Bush and his torture policies.

    Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America.

  © 2007 Amy Goodman; distributed by King Features Syndicate


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By cann4ing, July 18, 2007 at 6:23 pm Link to this comment

Skruff, Good post!

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By Skruff, July 18, 2007 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

geoffludt on 7/11 at 7:01 am

“How is this relevant?  Are we looking now to the wisdom of high school graduates for guidance?  Talk about “American Idiot"s ...”

Maybe you are right, but personally I was far more passionate, far more involved, and considerablly closer to giving a shit when I was in high school. 

Also, these young people are closer to the front lines in Iraq than any of their supposedly “more aware” elders.

People here have quoted the bible, and Johnny Cash…. I hear the words of Pink Floyd.

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By Scott Enk, July 13, 2007 at 6:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Talk about youths speaking truth to power!

These refreshingly honest and courageous young people, despite so much of what we’ve read, heard, and seen in recent years, give one heart for the future of our nation and world.  I am far from alone in being honored by being able to publicly salute them!

As I’ve long said, if we are to have any hope of taking back our country, our government, our rights, and a free, democratic way of life, we need to make the coming years an era that will make the 1960s look tranquil.  May this be a sign of things to come.

Scott Enk

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

-o0o-

A little boy of three sittin’ on the floor
Looks up and says, “Daddy, what is war?”
“Son, that’s when people fight and die.”
The little boy of three says, “Daddy, why?”
A young man of seventeen in Sunday school
Being taught the Golden Rule—
And by the time another year has gone around
It may be his turn to lay his life down.
Can you blame the voice of youth for asking:
“What is truth?” . . .

—Johnny Cash, _What Is Truth_ (1970)

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By CitizenDefender, July 13, 2007 at 10:23 am Link to this comment

Artist: Louis Armstrong
Title: What a Wonderful World

Link to song…...
http://video.stumbleupon.com/#p=7x6c3ncxfy

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By cann4ing, July 12, 2007 at 10:39 pm Link to this comment

I wonder, geoflutt, when you spoke of “America’s idiots” were you looking in the mirror?

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By CitizenDefender, July 12, 2007 at 5:19 pm Link to this comment

Artist: Louis Armstrong
Title: What a Wonderful World

I see trees of green…..... red roses too
I see ‘em bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.

I hear babies cry…... I watch them grow
They’re gonna learn…...A whole lot more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself .....what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself .......what a wonderful world.

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By An Ottawa Reader, July 12, 2007 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Damn. Those are some pretty brave kids.

There are stories told about Nicolae Ceausescu that towards the end of his reign, when he did walkabouts in his kingdom, people would sometimes try to pass him notes telling him how desperate things had become in Communist Romania, thinking the Leader couldn’t possibly have let things get so bad if he’d known what was going on out there.

Ceausescu would accept the letters graciously, and pass them on to the Securitate, the secret police. The petitioners were rewarded for their bravery by being imprisoned or shot.

I have to wonder what Bush did with the letter.

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By cyrena, July 12, 2007 at 7:45 am Link to this comment

Comment#85943 by ~B~ on 7/11 at 10:29 am

What!? No references to The Emperor’s New Clothes?

If that story doesn’t describe our current situation I don’t know what does.

For those unfamiliar with the piece by Hans Christian Anderson here’s a link:

http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/Emperors-New-Clothes.htm

Sadly, it’s a story most people seem to have forgotten. Particularly sad considering our current state of affairs.

B

************
~b~
Your post caught my eye, because actually, I DO occasionally see references to the Emperors Clothes in pieces from time to time, it really isn’t very often. It makes me wonder if many people are now unfamiliar with the story.

Anyway, I went back and read it again, just for a refresher from 40 years ago. And yep, it’s still very timely. Almost eery.

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By jbart, July 11, 2007 at 7:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In commenting to another story, I asked a single question. How can we, as we did in the 7-tees, affect change. The answer is here, like right in front of our eyes, the next generation. Our kids. They don’t have the burdens of support we’ve gotten ourselves into, over the years. They have the “flexibilities” that we all had in the 7-tees(when we were their ages). Brilliant answer. Get our kids to fight the “good fight”. But…are they willing to? These scholars seem to be, but all of our kids aren’t scholars, are they? Are they willing to “stand up” for their futures? And the futures of their kid’s generation? Maybe the answer is to get them to understand the power of protest. Maybe get them to get involved in their futures. Good idea, I think.

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By great_satan, July 11, 2007 at 5:39 pm Link to this comment

Rage says, “And, a little child shall lead them!”
  while geoffludt says,
“How is this relevant?  Are we looking now to the wisdom of high school graduates for guidance?  Talk about “American Idiot"s ... ” 

Y’know, in so many ways I’ve been waiting for the kids to rise up in protest. Maybe I’ve viewed college age kids as the sort of canary in the coal mine for public complicity.
  Kids have an immediate network of association through campus life and rallying and organizing is easy within that medium. Historically, kids are the radicals. Its more their future than mine. Its their age group getting killed in war. They have the abundance of energy and enthusiasm.

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By rage, July 11, 2007 at 4:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

And, a little child shall lead them! Out of the mouths of babies!

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By Dale Headley, July 11, 2007 at 3:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

These are the future leaders of America; and I rejoice that they got to watch the craven lying of the man first hand.  Maybe this will prepare them for making wiser political choices than did many of their parents.  My guess is that every one of these students would score 500 points higher, at least, on the SAT test than George Bush.  The future is starting to look a little brighter than it did a couple of years ago.

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By jsep, July 11, 2007 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment

Young scholars need to be aware that there are details in place to help reduce and bring an end to global poverty. The 191 UN member nations agreed to the Millennium Development Goals. One of these eights goals is to eradicate poverty including cutting malnutrition and hunger in half by 2015. More predominate congressional leaders need to be encouraged to support these issues. Young people have the ability to make a difference and encourage congressional leaders to make a change.

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By vet240, July 11, 2007 at 1:28 pm Link to this comment

This action gives me hope. Even though we find ourselves in the hands of an amoral executive branch for what may be the only time in our history, this will pass.

With young people like these, our future looks brighter.

I hope these young people never listen to the boot lickers who say you must follow the “Leader” at all costs. That’s what many Germans said of Adoplh Hitler.

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By ~B~, July 11, 2007 at 11:29 am Link to this comment

What!? No references to The Emperor’s New Clothes?

If that story doesn’t describe our current situation I don’t know what does.

For those unfamiliar with the piece by Hans Christian Anderson here’s a link:

http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/Emperors-New-Clothes.htm

Sadly, it’s a story most people seem to have forgotten. Particularly sad considering our current state of affairs.

B

http://b-political.blogspot.com/

Report this

By noodle, July 11, 2007 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

What a couple of marvelous kids!

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By Expat, July 11, 2007 at 8:16 am Link to this comment

#85887 by geoffludt on 7/11 at 7:01 am
(1 comments total)

“How is this relevant?  Are we looking now to the wisdom of high school graduates for guidance?  Talk about “American Idiot"s ...”

Oh, gee, like, us grown-ups are doing so well?  Would you kindly explain how us grown-ups are dealing with this “stuff” so effectively?  How many of us “grown-ups” have had the guts or opportunity to speak directly to the “decider moron”?

These kids, by all measure, had more of what it takes, than 90% of the elected officials…good on them!

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By geoffludt, July 11, 2007 at 8:01 am Link to this comment

How is this relevant?  Are we looking now to the wisdom of high school graduates for guidance?  Talk about “American Idiot"s ...

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By ctbrandon, July 11, 2007 at 7:33 am Link to this comment

Bravo to the youth of America. Perhaps the older generations are content to sit and watch the principles our nation was founded on be flushed away, but the new generation is informed, intelligent, and prepared to question authority.

brandon
http://www.actforyourself.org

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By middlepath, July 11, 2007 at 7:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Correction to faith’s post below, President Bush graduated from Yale, not Princeton.

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By Debra Keasal, July 11, 2007 at 6:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The scary bit is the fact that the students were worried their letter would be confiscated. I hadn’t realised that the First Amendment had been repealed.

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By THOMAS BILLIS, July 11, 2007 at 5:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am not a religious person but as I read the blog the phrase “and a child shall lead them"kept popping into my head.Whether you agree or disagree with politics of the note it has to make you feel good about America that we can produce kids like this who understand the concept of speaking truth to power.Kids you are my heroes.

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By Expat, July 11, 2007 at 5:07 am Link to this comment

Whew!...a breath of fresh air just blew into the cespool.

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By Enemy of State, July 10, 2007 at 11:04 pm Link to this comment

I’ve known for a couple of years, listening to my son’s Greenday tape “American Idiot” that the kids “get it”. If we can just get them to the voting booth a lot of problems will be solved.

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By faith, July 10, 2007 at 9:56 pm Link to this comment

The current President of the United States, George Bush, aka “shrub”, graduated from Princeton University and belonged to the famous Skull & Bones society (as I understand it), and furthered his academic prowess at the prestigious Harvard University with an MBA degree in business.  Impressive.  AND, we know that those two famous universities are noted for their academic intellect and pursuits.  Mr. George W. Bush is a classic example of just what they produce at those fine schools.  Along with several of the Keating 5, you know, the ones noted for junk bonds and bilking many out of their life savings and retirements who also were Harvard MBA grads. Impressive, indeed.

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By eric swan, July 10, 2007 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

interesting.  the girls seem to have more courage than the boys.

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By weather, July 10, 2007 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment

Well george, you can’t fall off the floor.

I’d like to think you were just inept, unkept and irrelevant, but you’re not. You and the 1000 or so sad souls that masterfully choreographed the odious events these children will inherit are indeliably relevant.

Who says you can’t fall off the floor?

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By PaulMagillSmith, July 10, 2007 at 7:51 pm Link to this comment

RE: #85758 by QuyTran on 7/10 at 6:00 pm
(404 comments total)

“I’m so scared because GWB doesn’t know the meaning of this Presidential Scholar’s letter. Didn’t he graduate from high school; did he ?” (edited)

Thanks QuyTran, and you bring up an interesting point. Having enough college credits for a Masters Degree myself, and viewing how GWB mangles something that should be a rudimentary skill for even a high school student…the English language, I have long been of the opinion Bush got his MBA the same way he has gotten many things in his life—-he, or his father, bought it.

This article gives me some hope for the future. Speak out, youth! A lot of us know how to listen, and we hear you (some) loud & clear.

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By cyrena, July 10, 2007 at 7:16 pm Link to this comment

.....“Afraid that Mari’s letter would be confiscated before she was able to deliver it to the president, Leah had a second handwritten copy of it—yes, up her sleeve. She handed it to a reporter, as she described later in a blog, “at The No Child Left Behind photo op for which the Scholars were apparently supposed to be a backdrop.”....


Me too mid-cities mike, they GIVE ME HOPE!!!

I love it. They can’t dumb all of us down.

Oh…this is just too good.

Go scholars!!! We are countining on you, and….we’ll help. You have mega support behind you. (truth tellers always need support).

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By QuyTran, July 10, 2007 at 7:00 pm Link to this comment

I’m so scare because GWB doesn’t know the meaning of Presidential Scholars’ letter. Didn’t he graduate from high school, did he ?

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