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Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Guantanamo, President Bush and the Invasion of Iraq

StoryOctober 05, 2004
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Once a leading campaigner against apartheid, former South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu has become a vocal critic of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay. We speak with the Nobel Peace Prize winner about the similarities between Guantanamo Bay and apartheid in South Africa, President Bush and the invasion and occupation Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

An excerpt of “Guantanamo–Honor-Bound to Defend Freedom.” This weekend, former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu made his debut on the play as a British judge, Lord Justice Steyn who questioned the legal justification of the detention regime.

Once a leading campaigner against apartheid, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Tutu is a vocal critic of the Guantanamo system. I had a chance to speak to him last weekend. I began by asking him for his response to what is happening at Guantanamo.

  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace prize winner.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This weekend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu made his debut in the play, as a British judge, Lord Justice Steyn, who questioned the legal justification for the detention regime. Once a leading campaigner against apartheid, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, now a vocal critic of Guantanamo. After the play, we had a public conversation for the audience at The Culture Project. I began by asking Archbishop Desmond Tutu what his response is to what’s happening at Guantanamo.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: I thought I knew what was taking place there, and I was quite shocked when I sat through the play yesterday, just how devastated I was. I was particularly so because I had such an awful sense of déjà vu. For someone coming from South Africa, you say, “But, I mean, that’s exactly what they were doing for exactly the same reasons that they gave.” I mean, you said, “Why do you detain people without trial? Why do you ban people as you are doing?” And the response from the South African government was, “Security of the state.” And anyone who questioned it would then be regarded, especially if you’re white, as being unpatriotic.

And I just want to say to you: Is this something that you want done in your name? Isn’t it time there was the same sense of outrage that people had about apartheid, which people should have had about the Holocaust? And what would happen if it was Americans held by some other country under these conditions? The point is, God has actually got no one. The god we worship is strange. They say this god is omnipotent, but God is also very weak. There’s not a great deal that God seems to be able to do without you.

AMY GOODMAN: During your years in South Africa before the end of apartheid, you were a deep advocate of nonviolence, yet you saw so many detained, so many killed. What do you feel, and what did you feel then? How did you make it through those days? What did you advocate? How did you stick to your principles of nonviolence?

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: One of the wonderful things actually is — well, I’ve got to speak as a Christian — is belonging to the church and knowing that you belong to this extraordinary body. When things were really rough, it’s wonderful to recall for me now that I sometimes got — when the South African government had taken away my passport, I got passports of love from Sunday school kids here in New York, and I plastered them on the walls of my office. But although I couldn’t travel, hey, here were all of these wonderful people all over the world. And I had a — I met a nun in New York at a particular time, and I asked her, “Can you just tell me a little bit about your life? How do you” — and she said, “Well, I am a solitary. I live in the woods in California. I pray for you. My day starts at 2:00 in the morning.” And I said, “Hey, man! I’ve been prayed for at 2:00 in the morning in the woods in California. What chance does the apartheid government stand?” So, one was being upheld.

And, you know, when frequently you say to people, the victory that we won against apartheid — a spectacular victory — that would not have happened without the support of the international community, without the support of people like yourselves, without the support of those who were students at the time, who might have been crazies, but they were fantastic in their commitment. And in this country, actually, they showed that you could in fact change the moral climate, because, at the time, the Reagan administration was totally opposed to sanctions, and students, but not just students, the many, many people who were prepared to be arrested on our behalf, who demonstrated on our behalf, who boycotted on our behalf, well, they changed the moral climate to such an extent that Congress passed the anti-apartheid legislation, and they even managed a veto override, which was fantastic.

And so, I just happened. I always say I was a leader by default because our real leaders were either in jail or in exile. And sometimes when people say, “And he got the Nobel Peace Prize,” I say, “Well, actually, you know, it was that they thought maybe it was time it was given to a Black,” and, ah, he has an easy surname: Tutu. Tutu. Imagine. Imagine if I had had a surname like Wukaokaule.

AMY GOODMAN: Archbishop Tutu, how do you feel — how do you feel about —

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: You can pronounce that!

AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel about the invasion and occupation of Iraq?

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: It was fantastic seeing the many, many people who came out in opposition. It was fantastic. You know, sometimes when you say, “Ah, Americans,” or, “Oh, people nowadays don’t care,” it’s not true. Millions turned out. Millions. Millions said, “No. Give peace a chance.”

And I said, as so many others — I mean, I wasn’t the only one. The pope said so, too. The archbishop of Canterbury said so. The Dalai Lama said so. But this war, if it was to be a justifiable war in terms of the just war theory, would have to be one that was declared by a legitimate authority. And the administration here was aware of that. That’s why they went to the U.N. There’s no point in going to the U.N. if you had already decided — they probably, of course, had decided, but, I mean, there was no point unless they believed or they realized, I mean, that in order for it to be legitimate, and therefore justifiable, the only authority would have to be the U.N. And when they didn’t get what they wanted from the U.N., they did what they did. We said then, and we keep saying so, not just that it was illegal, it was immoral.

And the consequences of it just now — I mean, you have to be — you’ve really got to be blind to say, “Well, yeah, it’s OK. We removed Saddam Hussein.” Why didn’t you say that was the reason for going? Because the world would have said, “No, no, no, no. That isn’t a reason that will be allowable for you to declare war.”

And I’m sad. I’m sad that we seem so inured now. They tell you a hundred people have been killed, and the United States and its allies are doing that, and they say, “No, no. We targeted that house because our intelligence said so.” Intelligence. The same intelligence that said there were weapons of mass destruction? Please. That’s been done in your name, that mothers and children have been killed. And when you say, “What about the civilian casualties?” they say, “Sorry, our intention was to target insurgents.” And most of us, I think, just shrug our shoulders.

But, you see, you experienced a little bit on September the 11th the kind of thing that is meted out on a regular basis. And they are not — they’re not casualties. Collateral damage. Collateral damage, I tell you. How do you feel if someone says the people who died in the World Trade Center and in Washington, D.C., collateral damage? Say that to someone who lost a wife. Say it to someone who lost a child, someone who lost a friend. Collateral damage. It’s an obscenity. It’s an obscenity. It’s in order to say, “No, no. They don’t have faces. They don’t have names.” No, this is someone’s mother, someone’s wife, someone’s child, not statistics.

And you know what? God is weeping. God is weeping. God is weeping because — One of the incredible things, I mean, is that Saddam Hussein, bin Laden, George Bush are all God’s children. And as God says, “What ever got into me to create that lot?” And then God sees some of you, all of you, all of you who care, and God then begins to smile through the tears. Please, God wants peace. God wants prosperity for everyone. And do you know what? I have yet to meet people more generous than Americans. And I’m not being smarmy. I have experienced it. My family has experienced it on a personal level. Why don’t you want to export your generosity, your compassion, and not bombs?

AMY GOODMAN: Archbishop desmond Tutu. We’ll come back to him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. democracynow.org. As we return now to the former South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think George Bush should have done after September 11, and what do you think he should do now?

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: You know, one of the things that annoyed us most when we were struggling against apartheid was have someone arrive from another country and pontificate about how we ought to solve our problems, but having said so — No. It would actually be wonderful one day if politicians found it in themselves to say, “I booped.” It would be such a wonderful — I’ve suggested it to — I suggested it to Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush that, look, you’re not infallible. You’re human. You can make mistakes. You make mistakes. We all do. It would have been such an incredible element into the situation. We’ve seen it at home in South Africa in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when people who had made, I mean, perpetrated some of the most ghastly atrocities say, “Sorry.” It has an incredible capacity to change the dynamics of a situation. Well, those of us who are married know just how difficult it is. It is the most difficult set of words to say in any language. I find it difficult to say it in the privacy of our bedroom, to say, “Sorry, darling, I — yes, I’m sorry.” But what it can accomplish. You say sorry. It pours balm. We’ve seen it do that. A country that should have gone up in flames, South Africa, was saved by the fact that people were ready to forgive, and people were ready to say sorry. That would be the first step.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think George Bush would win if he said, “I’m sorry?”

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: I — ah — I think one has got to ask Americans: What is it that you want to be known for? Do you want to be known for a country who, having become the superpower, realized actually that in this moral universe, power is for service. That you are going to use your power to try to transform the world into what God wants it to be. Where there is gentleness, and laughter, and compassion, and caring. You have got the capacity to help eradicate poverty and disease and ignorance. You have got that capacity. Do you want for people to say, “Yeah, that’s the kind of country we’d like to live in.” Or do you want, as now. People who were deeply sympathetic to Americans after September 11. Well, in the popularity stakes, America is not number one. And yet, you can be. But it is up to you. It really is up to you. God has given you remarkable prosperity and all of the goodies, but if you don’t realize that, as long as there are conditions that make people desperate in other parts of the world, you are not going to be able to enjoy your prosperity. Ultimately, that it is in your best interests to be generous. It’s not being altruistic. It’s not being altruistic. It’s how God operates, actually. God has taken a huge risk on all of us; and at the moment, God has taken a risk and says, “Yeah, I am letting you have all of these, my goodies. And I hope you realize I have given them to you so that you help me to make this world more humane. It’s up to you.”

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that Osama bin Laden should be charged with war crimes? And do you think that George Bush should be charged with war crimes?

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Who would be the tribunal?

AMY GOODMAN: An international criminal court.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: Yes, well, of course, you said you don’t — you are not signing onto it. Hmm? It’s actually quite incredible that it is possible for here to — I mean, you know, you say, “No, we want to belong to the international community.” Ah. How about Kyoto? “What? That’s for everybody else, not for me. Go jump in the lake.” How about the International Criminal Court? Everybody says, “Yeah, if we are serious about human rights and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, this is something that we should have.” Actually, everybody signed onto it. And you say to the world, “Go jump in the lake.” And then, and then, and then you say — there is this thing called terrorism, and you discover that even the most powerful nation in the world can’t go it alone. You need others. But you need others for everything, really. In our part of the world, we have something called ubuntu. Ubuntu. Ubuntu. Ubuntu. The essence of being human. We say a person is a person through other persons. I can’t be human in isolation. I need you to be all you can be so that I can become me and all that I can be. That we are made for family. And if we’re made for family, then, yeah, the rule of law is one of the things that says you want to make sure, especially that the powerful don’t go around throwing their weight about. I’m afraid the impression that the rest of the world has, especially the so-called third world, is that there’s actually just one model of power: power that clobbers. Power that says, “Me, I’m above the law.” And then we’re surprised at all the tin despots and dictators we get around who see, ah, that is what you do when you have power. That is what you do. Now, again, speaking as a Christian, you might have thought that Jesus was actually a bit stupid when Jesus said, “If you are the one who wants to be first, you must be as the last. If you want really to be a leader, you must be prepared to serve.” And you think, “Ah, now, that’s crazy.” But why do we revere someone like Mother Teresa. She’s not —-I mean, she’s many things, but one of those is certainly not macho. Why? Why? Why? Because she’s good. Because she’s generous. Because she’s being someone who was a spendthrift on behalf of others. The Dalai Lama. I mean, one of the world’s outstanding -— I’ve not met anyone more holy, more serene. But this is a guy who has been away from his country as a refugee in exile. A sense of fun. I mean, he bubbles over with joy. And I say to him — I mean, that he’s also even mischievous. He’s like a schoolboy. But he’s wonderful to behold. And Nelson Mandela, the world admires — no, reveres those people. Not because they’ve got power of the kind where you can clobber. Power to serve. And how about helping God bring about the kind of world that all of us actually long for? Because, you know — did you know — you are made for goodness. You are made for love. You are made for caring. You are made for sharing, for gentleness. And God says, “Aren’t they neat? Aren’t they something? Aren’t they cool?” Because, again, God has no one, absolutely no one, except you. And God says, “Yeah, I’m still going to wager on them.” And in that kind of world, I would say there are rules that have to apply, and apply universally.

AMY GOODMAN: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, thank you very much. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of South Africa, speaking after the play, Guantanamo, that is now in New York. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. This is Democracy Now!

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