America's Youth Reject Torture, Bill O'Reilly and Right Wing Ideology

This post, written by Marty Kaplan, originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Before everyone goes all misty-eyed about the courage it took for Indiana's Republican Senator Richard Lugar to express gentlemanly doubts about the surge -- after all, he also said he had no intention of "voting with Democrats, particularly in their efforts to limit war funding or set a timetable for withdrawal" -- look instead to Mari K. Oye, a high school senior from Wellesley, Massachusetts, who at the White House this week presented President Bush a handwritten letter, signed by her and 49 other Presidential Scholars, protesting his Administration's use of torture.

When these Presidential Scholars from all over the country met one another in Washington, they discovered how many of them felt so strongly about the issue, and about seizing the opportunity to be heard. As Leah Libresco, a Scholar from Mineola, Long Island, New York, said the next day on CNN, the view among many of them was that torture is a non-partisan issue: "I don't think this is a controversial issue. I don't think human dignity and human rights is a controversial issue, so once we started talking to people about the idea of speaking up, people kept coming forward and saying yes, this is important."

So Mari and Leah and others drafted a thoughtful statement to hand to the President when it came time for their big moment with him in front of their parents and the press.

"We brought up some very specific points in the letter about the treatment of detainees, even those designated as enemy combatants," Mari Oye told John Roberts, "and we strongly believe that all of these detainees should be treated, according to the principles of the Geneva Convention... I asked him to remove the signing statement attached to the anti-torture bill, which would have allowed presidential power to make exemptions to the ban on torture."

Mari's own background -- her grandparents were interned during World War II, simply for being Japanese-American -- played a part in her views. So did something her mother, also a Presidential Scholar, told her: Ever since her own White House ceremony in 1968, she has regretted not saying something to Lyndon Johnson about the Vietnam war. "That's something that weighed heavy on my mind," said Mari, "and I wanted to think about how we would feel 40 years from now if we had the opportunity to speak, and also the privilege to speak to the President of the United States, and to not use that privilege in order to make a difference."

So the Scholars lined up for their photo-op. Bush arrived. According to Colin McSwiggen, a senior from Cincinnati, the President "said that it's important to treat others as you wish to be treated, and he said that we really need to think about the choices that we make in our lives." What a cue! "As he lined up to take the photo with us," Colin continued, "Mari handed him the note, and said, 'Mr. President, some of us have made a choice, and we want you to have this.'"

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