MARI 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. He said -- so 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.It gets better:
At that point, he just said, “America doesn’t torture people” again. And another kid, actually, from Montana came forward and said, “Please make the US a leader in human rights.” And that happened in the space of about a minute, but it was a very interesting minute with the President of the United States.
LEAH ANTHONY LIBRESCO: Well, what happened was, I know I came down thinking if I’m going to be in the room with the President, I’ve got to say something, because silence betokens consent, and there’s a lot going on I don’t want to consent to. What was really remarkable is that when I came down for the perk and I met people like Mari, everyone wanted to -- a lot of the people wanted to say something to the President. People just kept saying, “Yes, we have to do something. We’re here.”Sorry; Scooter who?
So when we started talking about the issues we wanted to address, the issue that really came out was torture, because it’s not a partisan issue, the issue of human rights, and we thought it was something everyone could get behind. And in a way it’s really a microcosm of some of the problems there have been in this administration, because we see here the secrecy that’s been going on with the way they’ve been hiding secret CIA prisons, the renditions to other countries, and also the disregard for the humanity of people we call our enemies that sort of has been the guiding principle in everything that’s been going wrong. So the more we talked about it, we wanted to write something, we wanted to say something. So we wrote a letter, and we finished it about 2:00 in the morning, the day before we met the President....
AMY GOODMAN: Mari, your mother also was a Presidential Scholar?
MARI OYE: Yes, in 1968, when LBJ was president. And she felt at the time that she wanted to say something about the Vietnam War, but she had an English teacher back at the school she came from who she didn’t want to offend. And the English teacher had stressed that it was important, you know, to stay quiet when you were in the presence of the President. And I’ve had teachers that have stressed the opposite throughout my high school career, and so I thought of them, and I thought of my mother, and I thought of what I would be comfortable with in forty years. And I think we did the right thing while we were there.
AMY GOODMAN: What did your mother say?
MARI OYE: Well, when she found out, she had been touring Washington. Our parents weren’t with us at the time we went to the White House. And she was actually in the Holocaust Museum in the last room, when I called her to say that we had given the letter. She didn’t know there was a letter beforehand, when I called her to tell her what had happened. And she said that she walked out into the bright sunlight with tears streaming down her face, but since a lot of people walk out of the Holocaust Museum that way, you know, no one noticed anything out of the ordinary.