Stop Torture

The Harvard Anti-Torture Coalition

HLS Students Hold Funeral for US Constitution

Posted by stoptorture on November 29th, 2006

Responding to detainee bill, Harvard law students host funeral mourning death of Constitution

Paying their respects

More than 50 Harvard law students and professors gathered last Thursday to attend a staged funeral for the Constitution, a somber protest against the denial of legal rights such as habeas corpus and freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for detainees held by the U.S. in Guantanamo. Dressed in mourning attire, the organizers of the funeral offered a people’s eulogy to the nation’s most consecrated document, buried a mock-Constitution, and erected a tombstone over its grave.

“Two hundred and twenty-nine years ago the Constitution was born, but one week ago, in the mad rush as Congress closed before elections, it was killed, trampled underfoot by three hundred and eighteen Senators and Congresspersons,” Reverend Mike Jones said during the eulogy, referring to the recent passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The Act strips courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus appeals from detainees and gives the President broad authority to determine which interrogation techniques he deems permissible under the Geneva Conventions; students charge that these provisions risk leaving the door open for acts that constitute torture.

In keeping with their denunciation of the Military Commissions Act as a “Torture Bill”, the “pallbearers” of the Harvard funeral wore signs identifying them as individual Congresspersons who voted for the Act; they were also flanked by robed and hooded classmates who evoked the now-infamous image of torture in Abu Ghraib. The culmination of the funeral came as the members of the crowd came forward one by one to lay flowers on the Constitution’s grave, while the eulogy ended with a call to action for students and a clear message to members of the judiciary:

“If we bury the Constitution today, it is only to urge that the Supreme Court breathe life into it again… we know it has the means,” Reverend Jones concluded.

Held as part of a nationwide day of reflection on Guantanamo and the government’s broader response to the war on terror, the mock-funeral followed a two-hour public forum entitled, “Guantanamo: How Should We Respond?” Professors, students, and others gathered at the outdoor forum to speak out on such issues as the use of torture against detainees, the denial of due process rights to those held at Guantanamo, and the impact of U.S. anti-terror policies on the United States’ actual and perceived role in foreign policy and human rights issues around the world. This event also comes after a week-long advocacy effort by a coalition of Harvard professors who wrote an open letter to Congress urging the defeat of the Military Commissions Act. The open letter garnered 633 signatures from law faculty representing 49 states.

A copy of the letter bearing the 609 signatures that it had received prior to being sent to Congress is available here: Full Text of Open Letter

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