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'We Do Not Want America to Represent Torture'

'We Do Not Want America to Represent Torture'

Amy Goodman: Explain the scene, Mari.

Mari Oye: Well, it actually took place outside on the White House lawn. We were facing the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, so that seemed like a good omen in some way. And we were all lined up. It was 95 degrees outside. The president walked in and... gave us a short speech saying that as we went on into our careers, it was important to treat others as we would like to be treated. And he told us that we would have to make choices we would be able to live with for the rest of our lives.

I had the letter in my hand, and Leah had another copy. And so, I said to the president, "Several of us made a choice, and we would like you to have this," and handed him the letter. He put it in his pocket and said, "I'll have it." And they took the photo. After that, he took it out and said, "Should I read it now, or should I wait?" And I said, "It's up to you, Mr. President." And he did read the letter to himself right there. And then we were able to talk about it very briefly.

Goodman: And what did he say? How did he respond?

Oye: He read down the letter. He got to the part about torture. He looked up, and he said, "America doesn't torture people." And I said, "If you look specifically at the points we made" — because we were careful to outline specific things that are wrong with the administration's policy. I said, "If you look specifically at what we said, we said, we ask you to cease illegal renditions," and then I said, you know, "Please remove your signing statement to the McCain anti-torture bill." And then I said that for me personally, the issue of detainee rights also had a lot of importance, because my grandparents had been interned during World War II for being Japanese-American.

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