President Bush got a lesson from a group of recent high school graduates. They were Presidential Scholars, a program designed “to recognize and provide leadership development experiences for some of
The 141 Presidential Scholars were being honored at the White House. One of them, Mari Oye, from
“As members of the Presidential Scholars class of 2007, we have been told that we represent the best and brightest of our nation. Therefore, we believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions. We do not want
The letter was signed by close to 50 of the students, more than a third of the Presidential Scholars.
Mari described Bush’s reaction to the letter: “He read down the letter. He got to the part about torture. He looked up, and he said, ‘
“At that point, he just said, ‘
In fact, after Bush signed the bill that outlawed the torture of detainees last year, he quietly issued a “signing statement” reserving the right to bypass the law, as he has more than 1,100 times, issuing more signing statements than all other
Mari knows a little bit about detention. Not high school detention, but detention Guantanamo-style. Mari recounted this to the president: “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.” The government has since apologized for imprisoning more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans during the war.
Mari said she was also inspired to act by her mother, Willa Michener. She, too, was a Presidential Scholar–40 years ago, in 1968–and had wanted to confront President Lyndon Johnson with her opposition to the Vietnam War. She deferred to a teacher, who Mari said “stressed it was important to stay quiet when you’re in the presence of the president.” Willa Michener has regretted it since, Mari said.
Mari called her mother as soon as she left the White House to tell her what she had done. “She was actually in the
Another Presidential Scholar, Leah Anthony Libresco, from
Afraid that Mari’s letter would be confiscated before she was able to deliver it to the president, Leah had a handwritten copy of it–yes, up her sleeve. She handed it to a reporter, as she said later in a blog, “at The No Child Left Behind photo op for which the Scholars were apparently supposed to be a backdrop.”
With young leaders like Mari Oye and Leah Anthony Libresco speaking truth to power at so young an age, and demonstrating such eloquence, courage and discipline, the only thing that looks likely to get left behind are politicians like George Bush and his torture policies.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in