Berkeley to Own Up to Its Torture Sins

Ultra-PC enclave signs up for United Nations agreements

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    A Berkeley activist wants to make John Yoo part of the city's report to the United Nations.

    A Berkeley activist wants her city, a progressive enclave known for taking stands on international issues far from its city borders, to file human-rights reports to the United Nations.

    Ann Fagan Ginger has plenty of source material. Since 1955, the civil rights activist has made it her life's work not to look away, chronicling the nation's human rights struggle, case by case. In a small concrete room in back of her Berkeley home, she runs the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute. A circular book shelf reaches to the ceiling, packed with binders filled with clippings of human rights cases from around the country. She opens one of the binders and points to a list of cases from the McCarthy hearings. There is a list of everyone who testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Another binder holds records of every school desegregation case.

    "I come from a English-Quaker, Irish-Catholic, Lithuanian-Jewish, Midwestern, socialist, journalist family," she explains.

    But now Ginger wants the City of Berkeley to air its own human-rights laundry for all the world to see.

    The city's record isn't as good as one might think. John Yoo, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has drawn frequent protests over his role in crafting the Bush administration's policies on torture.

    Legislation that Ginger helped draft would require the city to file reports every two years with the United Nations, detailing its human-rights conditions -- such as Yoo's continued presence in town.

    "If the city of Berkeley is going to make an accurate report under the torture convention, they're going to have to mention John Yoo is a resident of Berkeley," Ginger said.

    "The city of Berkeley is not perfect," she added. "There are a lot of homeless people. Are they getting the proper care? There are a lot of African-American kids in Berkeley. Are they getting equal treatment in the public schools?"

    She says the reports would also detail statistics on police arrests.

    Ginger says U.N. treaties with the U.S. require cities to provide the information. But so far, it's never been done. Her legislation calls on Berkeley to enlist interns to compile the reports from readily available city statistics. She says the cost to the city would be minimal.

    "Everybody's worried about a lot of different things, holes in the road and all the different problems," she said. "One of the things to be concerned about is human rights."

    But some on the Berkeley City Council aren't convinced the reports are necessary.

    "Is that data really of any use?" said councilman Gordon Wozniak. "I don't think we should be spending city money, city taxes basically doing a report that isn't really useful."

    Wozniak said he has no problem with the group using city statistics to compile reports for the United Nations. But he worries about wording in the legislation that would allow Ginger's group to turn in the reports as official Berkeley business, without first being reviewed by council.

    Councilman Kriss Worthington understands why people would point a cynical finger at liberal Berkeley. But he reasons that if a small city like Berkeley can file the reports, other cities might follow suit. "Berkeley taking a small step to implement the reporting requirements does take a small baby step of momentum in the right direction," he said.

    The city council was set to take up the issue on Tuesday night. If passed, Berkeley would become the first city in the country to comply with U.N. treaties on torture, civil rights and racial discrimination. Ginger says whether it passes or not, she hopes to convince other cities to open their books to the world.