Religious leaders, activists speak out against Guantanamo
Bay and torture.
PHOTO: John Whipple
Is Not an American Value
of area religious groups gather together to protest on the
five-year anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay
certainly was an unorthodox way to start a press conference.
A man wearing an orange jumpsuit and a black hooded mask,
similar to the garb worn by prisoners in the infamous Abu
Ghraib photos, approached the podium, escorted by Patricia
Beetle, who sported an orange T-shirt with the words “Shut
Down Guantanamo” written across it.
believe that torture is wrong,” Beetle said simply, “and that’s
why we’ve gathered here today.”
The Interfaith Alliance of New York State held a conference
on Jan. 11 to condemn the United States’ use of torture in
its war on terror. Local leaders from the Islamic, Jewish,
Presbyterian and Roman Catholic faiths spoke at the event,
which was held at the Pastoral Center of the Roman Diocese
conference was designed to coincide with the fifth anniversary
of the opening of Guantanamo Bay as a detention center for
is morally repugnant and contrary to the values upon which
our nation is built,” said Bernard Fleishman, chairman of
the Interfaith Alliance of New York State. “It violates international
treaties to which we are a party. Furthermore, until a few
months ago, the practice of torture was a violation of American
laws as well.”
The speakers at the conference touched upon a number of common
themes. Most of the leaders spoke about torture as a moral
issue, an act of hatred against “human beings created in God’s
image,” as Rabbi Aryeh Wineman said. The speakers called for
an immediate end to their government’s use of torture, both
for moral reasons and for more practical reasons, such as
the enhancement of the United States’ standing with other
John Amidon, a member of the Interfaith Alliance, spoke about
a visit he made to Syria in 2005 as a delegate of Veterans
is extremely difficult to be taken seriously when our government
is kidnapping people, sending them overseas and having them
tortured,” he said.
The Interfaith Alliance also invited Melanie Trimble, executive
director of the Capital Region Chapter of the New York State
Liberties Union, to discuss the legal battle being waged to
outlaw torture. Trimble said her office receives more phone
calls from citizens regarding the suspension of habeas corpus
under the Military Commissions Act in 2006 than it does about
any issues surrounding torture.
legal battle against torture] is going slowly,” said Trimble.
“It’s going to take a combination of grassroots effort and
the legal system to get this done.”
Trimble stressed the importance of writing to representatives
in state and national governments regarding the country’s
torture policies. Conference attendees were also encouraged
to take one of the 100 lawn signs available reading “TORTURE
The conference coincided with protests taking place across
both the Capital Region and the country against the Bush administration
and the war on Iraq last week. The demonstrations came a day
after Bush announced an additional 20,000 troops would be
sent to Iraq in an attempt to quell the sectarian violence
in that country.
Dan Wilcox, the man dressed as the torture victim, said he
hoped the conference effectively raised awareness of torture
to Capital Region residents.
have to understand, these are not comic-book characters, these
are real people,” said Wilcox of the costumed torture victim
he portrayed. “If people thought, ‘If this is something that
could happen to me,’ no one would torture, no one would kill.”
Your Mess, Mr. President
message that congressional Democrats will be sending
to President George W. Bush is clear: We don’t
like your Iraq plan, and now it is your responsibility.
Today (Thursday), the Democrats, working with
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), plan to propose legislation
that will denounce a troop surge one week after
Bush authorized 21,500 additional troops be sent
to Iraq. The legislative move is a largely symbolic
one—it will neither remove funding from the Pentagon’s
war budget nor challenge the president’s authority
over the troops—but it will be the first time
Congress has drawn a line in the sand over the
course of the war.
confident façade is showing cracks. The normally
stoic president was spotted shedding tears at
the funeral of a dead Marine last week, and, perhaps
due to recent polls that show that more than 70
percent of the public disapprove of his handling
of the war, Bush even made a candid confession:
“I am frustrated with the progress,” the president
told Jim Lehrer on PBS’s News Hour. “A
year ago, I felt pretty good about the situation.
I felt like we were achieving our objective. .
. . No question, 2006 was a lousy year for Iraq.”
minutes till midnight on the Doomsday Clock, and
all is not well, declared The Bulletin of Atomic
Scientists this week. The group, which has
been monitoring global threats since 1945, moved
the clock ahead from 11:53 PM to 11:55 PM, citing
greater nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea,
as well as impending environmental disasters caused
by the changing climate.
Help Is Hard Not to Hit
if you are Naomi Campbell. The supermodel admitted
this week that she did in fact hurl the cell phone
that caused the cut on the back of her housekeeper’s
head. The two women were having an argument over
a pair of jeans when Campbell snapped. Campbell
said that although she threw the phone, she had
no intention of hitting her housekeeper. Now,
she faces five days of community service and a
whopping $363 fine.
It, and They Will Achieve
of education reform expect Spitzer’s budget to be a first
step in change
On Jan. 31, Gov. Eliot Spitzer is expec ted to announce his
first state-budget proposal and, with it, to have the opportunity
to demonstrate the sincerity of his many Day One promises.
Proponents of increased education funding anticipate that
the new governor’s spending plan will be the fiscal realization
of Spitzer’s promise to reform education, reverse more than
a decade of state-level resistance, and include billions in
additional aid for school districts throughout New York.
very excited, and we’re very optimistic about what’s happening
in the future for education here in New York state,” said
Michael Davoli, campaign coordinator with the New York-based
Alliance for Quality Education. “Gov. Spitzer has made it
very clear that when it comes to education he is not [former
Gov.] George Pataki, and he said everything that we could
possibly want to hear out of a governor.”
AQE is one of two self-described education-advocacy organizations
involved in the recently launched “100 Days to Educational
Excellence Campaign.” The 100-days effort—the time frame in
which an on-time budget would be signed—is designed to support
Spitzer in bringing his educational rhetoric to fruition in
three ways: increasing state aid to school districts, reforming
the state-funding formulas, and developing an accountability
system to measure performance.
AQE’s partner in the project is the Campaign for Fiscal Equity,
a statewide reform-based organization that, until November
2006, was embroiled in a 13-year-long lawsuit to secure additional
funding for public schools, especially in New York City. CFE
argued in the courts that the state’s inadequate public-school
funding denied students the right to a “sound basic education”
that is guaranteed by the state constitution.
In 2003, the Court of Appeals ruled that the “sound basic
education” requirement means that the state must ensure that
students receive a “meaningful high school education.” The
court also ruled that the state must allocate additional money
to New York City public schools and gave the state government
until July 2004 to determine what that additional amount should
be. When neither Pataki nor the Legislature acted, the court
determined in a November 2006 decision that $1.93 billion
would be the minimum for additional funding.
It is likely, however, that New York City schools will see
significantly more than that court-ruled floor. In his budget
proposal, Spitzer is expected to allocate as much as $8.5
billion in new funding for schools statewide, with $4 to $6
billion going to New York City alone.
Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton has been involved with and
vocal in the CFE campaign for years. He said that Schenectady
public schools could see about $50 million in additional funding
if Spitzer proposes, and the Legislature approves, the budget
advocates hope for and expect.
To put this figure into perspective, Stratton noted that the
Schenectady school district currently levies about the same
amount in school taxes. In other words, $50 million in additional
state aid could theoretically eliminate the school tax all
While advocate organizations such as AQE and CFE acknowledge
the property-tax-relief implications of additional state aid,
they are pressing for additional revenue to be used primarily
to fund programs that have shown to improve educational performance.
The reduction of class sizes, guarantee of universal pre-kindergarten
and recruitment of quality teachers are among the strategies
shown to improve student success that have been articulated
by AQE, CFE and Spitzer.
Last week, the state Education Department released a list
of underperforming schools, which included several schools
in the Capital Region. Two Schenectady schools were named,
but Stratton said increased state funding could help to address
such performance concerns.
you’re talking about Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Binghamton,
wherever, inner-city schools always face a harder challenge,”
he said. “I certainly think those are issues that could be
remedied by an increase in state funding.”
Increased state-education funding must not, however, come
without other long-term reforms, advocates argue. Also included
as part of the 100-days campaign is to revise the complex
formulas the state currently uses to allocate education funds.
have talked about the need for real school-finance formula-funding
reform in that we need to move away from a politically manipulated
funding system to one having transparent, reliable formulas
based on need,” said Geri Palast, executive director for CFE.
“Eliot Spitzer has also committed himself to that, so we would
anticipate in the 100 days that would certainly be a part
of whatever gets passed as part of the on-time budget.”
Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown) agreed that
school-funding-formula reform is necessary but said he doesn’t
expect the issue to gain significant headway this term. “It
is a real tug-of-war between upstate and downstate, the city
versus the rest of the state, upstate and downstate versus
the city,” he said. “It’s a very difficult struggle.”
Fitzpatrick is one of three assemblymen who received a “bad
apple award” from AQE during 2006 for what the organization
called an anti-education record. (Senate Majority Leader Joseph
Bruno [R-Brunswick] and Pataki also were named.)
Fitzpatrick laughed at the designation and called it “nonsense,”
noting that just because he doesn’t always see eye-to-eye
with educational advocacy organizations doesn’t mean he’s
anti-education. For example, he agreed that school funding
formula reform is necessary, but while organization such as
AQE and CFE argue for a need-based system, Fitzpatrick said
he’s worried about how a “Robin Hood” approach could affect
Long Island is educating 17 percent of the kids, then our
funding formula should be adjusting so we’re getting 17 percent
of the aid,” he said. “That is fair.” Long Island currently
receives less than that, about 13 percent of the state aid
pie, according to Fitzpatrick.
loose ends this week-