Monday, January 26, 2015

Ron unexpectedly rants about torture

I'm totally surprised that I find this a topic to write about. Two books led me to face a topic I have previously sublimated because of its complexity and horrors.   In trying to recall issues of torture, brutality and injustice during World War II, nothing comes to  mind that compares to the accusations that are surfacing presently save for being appalled by the treatment of our personnel by the enemy and our disregard for the freedom of Japanese/Americans.  And yet the issue of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison persists as a political football as the continuing accusations of brutality and inhumane treatment of prisoners by our government continue to mount.  What should I as a citizen think - what should I do to make sure we are doing all we can to protect our citizens in the future and yet continue to feel that our government follows humane and and fair practices of justice - that we do not succumb to inhuman treatment of prisoners in seeking security?

Thus it was my good fortune to be a part of a book group discussing the Pulitzer prize-winning book, 
The Looming Tower
 by Lawrence Wright. Although published over eight years ago it was recommended as the definitive book about the role of Al Qaeda in leading to the events of 9/11. While reading the book presented me with many problems with its unfamiliar names and locales, I felt I finally had a basic understanding of the history, structure, role and methodology of Al Qaeda as led by Osama bin Laden.

I then felt that I would become further enlightened by attending a presentation about the book Guantanamo Diary, the first and only diary written by a still imprisoned Guantanamo detainee.   Discussing the book at Politics and Prose Bookstore were two of the author's attorneys since the author, Mohamedon Ould Slahi, remains a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. The book is based on notes made by him the first five years of his imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay in 2002.  In these 13 years  of imprisonment he has never been charged with a crime and five years ago was recommended for release at a hearing in Washington, D. C. by District Judge James Robertson.  The book was edited by Larry Siems, was didacted (censored), declassified by the government and released after a seven year legal battle. The information about his torture and extreme punishment has been corroborated by multiple government interventions.  The personal description of Slahi's torture and continued incarceration for over 15 years without being formally charged are extremely dramatic.

Slahi's  involvement with Al Qaeda began in 1991 when Al Qaeda was supported by our government in resisting Russia's invasion of Afghanistan. In the mid-1990s as Al Qaeda changed its focus to hostility toward America, Salah terminated his allegiance and involvement with the group.  I am impressed by Slahi's response to incarceration and the logic for his release from Guantanamo Bay. Having had the book but two days, I have only begun to feel its impact, but I feel supported in my perception of the book by the reviews of the book in yesterday's (9/25) New York Times and The Washington Post.

As I have indicated earlier blogs, I truly believe that the present crisis even exceeds that which my generation was able to overcome. We are in a time of war, and 9/11 showed the vulnerability as never before of our shores in facing an enemy that uses totally inhuman practices in striking out at civilians and military personnel alike.

Yet as too often happens in time of war nations have too often failed to live up to professed ideals out of fear. Our nation's history is fraught with examples of our abridging personal freedoms and human rights of our citizens in time of war. While I yield to no one in taking all appropriate steps to protect our citizens, I want to continue to feel that there is something about our national pride so that - even in wartime - we maintain proper respect and care for individual rights and freedoms. Thus I'll continue to study this issue and and encourage all to be knowledgeable of the issues involved.  How fortunate I feel to live in a city where so many forums are available for consideration of such issues.  Please know that my other blog - - is available every Friday listing free intellectual and cultural events in the city.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Washington DC's Elusive Visitors Center

Have you ever tried to take visitors to the Official Washington DC Visitor Center?   In my experience every major tourist city has a prominently placed tourist and visitors information center,centrally located for visitors to get up-to-date brochures and maps of tourist attractions. I've usually found its location on the Internet.

Thus I began my search for DC's Center and learned of two locations for the site in D. C.
  • White House Visitors Center at the corner of 15th St.& Pennsylvania Ave NW,  and
  • Destination DC at 901 7th Street NW #400
Since I volunteer at the White House Visitor Center, I knew we were not the place to get general tourist information. Our location is perfect, just one block from the White House, one of the most highly visited places in the city. However as a National Park we do not distribute commercial material. Ours is a recently remodeled facility telling the history of the White House and in my opinion a place EVERY one should visit.  It is also a place where we are deluged with questions about other sights in the city.

Thus 901 7th St. NW #400 must be the place!  Being a rather experienced traveler and one well acquainted with the city's attractions, it seemed like a rather strange location to attract an anticipated throng of visitors - a 4th floor somewhere between Chinatown and the Convention Center. Yet driving down Seventh Street I saw nothing on 7th Street but a bank and an underground parking garage. Disappointed, I returned home, found their telephone number and was told the entrance was actually on I Street?!  

And there, some fifty or so feet from 7th Street, halfway between the Goethe Association and 6th and I Historic Synagogue was the entrance that took me to their very attractive office.  They seemed rather surprised by my intrusion, and in response to my questions about its remote location, I was told that they serve downtown tourists and the convention center.

But where does that leave the visitor to who comes to the major attractions in the city, unattached to a convention, who wants information on the city sights?  As a volunteer at the White House Visitors Center I know there are thousands of visitors who want maps, brochures, advertisements about the city's attractions. I doubt there is an area more visited than around the White House. Ours would be a perfect spot for a Center  - Near the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue!

Eureka - there is a such a spot.  It's extremely easy to spot a vastly under-used area even closer to the White House than our Visitors Center, and that is Freedom Plaza and Pershing Park

Having spent 15 years of weekly attendance in that area I can attest to its under use. Rarely (except when there are special events) are there more than a very few people taking advantage of the enclosed gazebo or the seats in the area. Undoubtedly there would be complications from the various governmental agencies that have an interest in the site. I'm sure historians might find a Visitor Center a desecration to the memory of  General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing of World War I fame an improper homage to the man.   Although a plaque with the current statue could bring even greater attention to his past contributions to our country.

While this rant of Ron seems rather pedestrian, I hope it might alert appropriate authorities to the need for establishing a first-class visitors center in a first-class city.

 Issuing this rant a week early enables me to have a vacation in Michigan. The regular schedule is the 2nd and 4th Monday of the Month.  I hope you can check them out at