It was the evening of October 16, 2007, and Stephen Kelly, SJ, and I were due in court the next day for our nonviolent witness against torture nearly a year earlier. That night we received a call from retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the man who wrote the U.S. Army’s report on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq. He told us, “History will honor your actions.” The next day a magistrate in a Tucson, Arizona, courtroom reached a different conclusion, and sent us to prison for five months.
And so I write from the Imperial County jail in El Centro, California, behind bars for challenging the training of interrogators at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. In November 2006, Father Kelly and I had gone to Fort Huachuca to deliver a letter opposing the teaching of torture. We hoped to speak with enlisted personnel about the illegality and immorality of torture, but were arrested as we knelt in prayer halfway up the driveway at the Army base.
Mohandas Gandhi said that the cell door is the door to freedom. In freely entering the Imperial prison in India—and the Imperial County jail in California—there is nothing more to fear. Here we achieve a transformation, a turning, a teshvua (the Hebrew term for repentance). Here we discover the path of resistance: a vocation that we must follow in the midst of empire to overcome the oppression of our brothers and sisters.
I realize this stance in my solitary cell in Imperial County jail. As the steel doors clang shut, there is freedom to surrender to God and this universe. There is freedom to be open to the creative call of compassion toward our global community.
I HAVE COME TO this prison cell because I was moved to challenge a terrible frontier that my country has entered in its ill-conceived and ill-fated war in Iraq: torture.