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Women’s Division supports call to drop torture case

Jill-Soffiyah Elijah, legal adviser to the San Francisco 8, speaks at a news conference as part of the "International Call on the San Francisco 8." The anti-torture statement was signed by Lois Dauway (right) of the Women’s Division, United Methodist
Board of Global Ministries. A UMNS photo by Don Reasoner, United Methodist
Board of Global Minstries.

By Linda Bloom*
Dec. 3, 2007 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

It happened 34 years ago, but Harold Taylor remembers everything.

He remembers being chained to a chair, in his underwear, and beaten on nearly every part of his body by New Orleans police officers. "They put a plastic bag over my head and waited until I about suffocated," he said.

The torture continued as a cattle prod sent electric shocks to sensitive areas of his body until he started to talk.

The alleged confessions elicited from Taylor, now 58, and two other former members of the Black Panthers led to charges in the 1971 murder of San Francisco Police Sgt. John Young and conspiracy related to numerous acts from 1968-73. The charges, brought in 1975, were dismissed because the statements used as evidence were made after torture had occurred.

But a reopening of the case this year by California’s attorney general has drawn fire from supporters of the men now know as the "San Francisco 8"

Supporters, including the Women's Division of The United Methodist Church, issued an "International Call on the San Francisco 8" during a Nov. 30 news conference at the Interchurch Center in New York.

A stand against torture

Lois Dauway, one of the signers, noted the organizations that she represented — the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and the World Council of Churches — have taken "a very clear stand on torture," even though "there is a belief amongst many that torture does not exist in this country."

The United Methodist Social Principles state that "mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever and whenever it occurs."

Other signers of the call include the Rev. Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and the 1984 Nobel Peace Laureate, and four other past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jill-Soffiyah Elijah, a legal adviser to the men and deputy director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School, said the original case occurred during a period when law enforcement, particularly the FBI, was targeting the Black Panther Party.

"The tortured confessions extracted from these men" was used to bring the charges in the 1970s and the current case, she noted. "Torture is the foundation of the case today."

Taylor was jailed after his Jan. 23 arrest because, he said, he refused to confirm the lies of the forced confession for the grand jury. Like most of the other defendants, he is now out on bail. But the reopening of the case has convinced him to go public about his experience.

"I never talked about this to anybody because I was so ashamed of what they did to me," he said.

The San Francisco 8 included Taylor, Herman Bell, Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Henry W. (Hank) Jones, Jalil Muntaqim (Anthony Bottom), Richard O’Neal and Francisco Torres. Bell and Muntaqim have been incarcerated since the early 1970s.

In addition to Taylor, two other men were tortured in 1973 — John Bowman, who is now deceased, and Ruben Scott, who is thought to be a government witness.

International call

The International Call on the San Francisco 8 demands that the appropriate legal and governmental authorities:

  • Investigate and end all incidents of torture within the U.S. criminal justice system;
  • Drop all current charges for all eight men in question;
  • Convene official investigations into the possible continued operation of programs such as the FBI Counter Intelligence Programs;
  • Release Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim immediately on humanitarian grounds.

As the issue of torture has been raised in recent years, the Women’s Division has responded. In 2005, in reaction to allegations of torture in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, members of United Methodist Women were asked to study, reflect and act on the issue.

Women’s Division directors also called upon the denomination — through its agencies and Council of Bishops — "to reflect on this grave concern and move towards a prophetic stance against the use of torture."

Following up, the division has submitted a resolution on torture to the 2008 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, which meets next spring in Fort Worth, Texas.

That resolution calls upon The United Methodist Church to continue "to publicly condemn and oppose torture wherever it occurs through legislative and other means" as well as to "find ways to keep the information about torture, its perpetrators, the victims, their families and their communities continuously in the conscience of United Methodists."

In the case of the San Francisco 8, the use of torture to gain evidence violates basic principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture, according to the International Call.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Lois Dauway: “Torture is a crime…This evil must stop.”

Lois Dauway: “We are under God’s judgment.”

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