Planning Document for Blueprint for Accountability Program at The Culture Project – PDF

2009 Blueprint for Accountability Planning Document

The Accountability Project presents monthly events focused on a particular issue, each conceived under a broader theme. For example, the War Crimes series will include evenings focused on extraordinary rendition, torture and, and the use of persuasive language such as “hero”, “warrior” and “barbarian” in influencing public opinion. We have already begun planning and preparation for our first six series of events, while future topics have been more flexibly sketched out so that we may respond with our partners in a very timely way to issues as they develop and change, and as the public dialogue shifts around them. Our current outline of events is as follows:


Evening 1. Extraordinary Rendition

The CIA’s extraordinary rendition program began with a presidential directive from President Clinton in 1995 to combat Al Qaeda and terrorist groups by capturing and sending them to countries where they could be prosecuted. The program grew exponentially and took a sinister turn under the Bush administration after 9/11, sending detainees to countries where they were subjected to torture for months without being officially charged with any crime and without access to legal counsel. While exact numbers aren’t known, some experts estimate that as many as 1,000 persons have been extraordinarily rendered since 2001. In response to the few who have found the means to seek justice, the US government—both before and after Obama’s inauguration—has repeatedly invoked the state secrets privilege not only to dismiss evidence that may threaten national security, but to dismiss the cases in their entirety.

This evening will include conversation, video footage. With a group of experts, artists, and with the audience, we will ask: Does rendition have a justifiable role in an open, transparent democracy? What limits can be placed on the state secret privilege? What is our responsibility to the innocent victims of rendition and their families, whose lives have been forever changed by the torture and humiliation they were forced to endure? How do we as a civil society respond? What are the limits of the CIA, and is the agency accountable to the American people?

Partners and participants may include: The Center for Constitutional Rights, The Center on Law and Security at New York University, Alex Gibney (documentary filmmaker), Jane Mayer (journalist, The New Yorker).

Evening 2. Photographs & Collective Memory

When the world was confronted by photographs from Abu Ghraib, we were all jolted —American citizens, the United States government, and our global allies — into the necessary acknowledgment that prisoners in the “war on terror” were being tortured. The shocking truth communicated in those now immortal images forces crucial questions about how and why ordinary people can commit such unspeakable acts, and the creation of circumstances that allow them to do so. The images also hold powerful echoes of other atrocities photographed in American history, including lynchings. Susan Sontag argued that the photos from Abu Ghraib were not just souvenirs, artifacts, evidence, and trophies, but were indeed “us.” What part do we (citizens and elected officials alike) play as observers to the photos? Do we somehow become complicit in the crime? Is the photographer as guilty as the perpetrator? And what will the photos from the war on terror say about our society in years to come?

This event will include a photography exhibit, facilitated dialogue between audience and artists, and presentations from leading scholars and journalists.

Partners and participants may include Nina Berman (photographer), Lori Grinker (photographer), Fred Moten (scholar), Mother Jones Magazine.

Evening 3. Heroes. Warriors, and Barbarians

Harold Pinter: “What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? I refer to a term very rarely employed these days: conscience. To do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others.”

The ancient Greeks defined a “barbarian” as anyone who was not of their extraction or culture. Because most of these “strangers” regularly practiced raids upon these civilizations, the term “barbarian” gradually evolved into a pejorative term: a person who was sub-human, uncivilized, and regularly practiced barbaric and inhuman acts — when in fact, in origin, a barbarian was someone who threatened civil order.

Following Harold Pinter, we ask a panel of soldiers, advocates and authors: Who are our barbarians today? The “terrorists,” our military, or our politicians? Where do we draw the line between “saving lives,” “protecting our citizens” and “barbarism”? What ethical compromises are necessary in a time of war—or are they necessary at all? How can we maintain a healthy democracy in the face of double standards?

Partners and participants may include: Human Rights First, Tyler Boudreau (Iraq War veteran), David Danzig (Human Rights First, Primetime Torture)


In partnership with the New York Immigration Coalition

Evening 1. Voices

An evening that incorporates NYIC’s extraordinary footage of interviews conducted around the United States with immigrants and non-immigrants about the United States’ immigration policies. This footage will be screened in advance for youth poets from Urban Word NYC. These young artists will create original spoken word poetry inspired by what they see. They will present their work in an evening accompanied by “headliners” such as acclaimed performance poets Lenelle Moise, Sarah Jones, and Staceyann Chin. The presentation will be followed by a group discussion involving experts on immigration policy and practice, as well as young people from the Youth Leadership Council.

Partners and participants may include: Youth Leadership Council, Urban Word, NYC, Lenelle Moise, Sarah Jones, Staceyann Chin.

Evening 2. An American Town

An evening focused on the effects of immigration policy on one American town as a way of outlining multiple levels of impact, highlighting U.S. detention policy and its effects in terms of economics, family relationships and integration. In 2008, Postville, Iowa was the site of the largest immigration raid in United States history, an event that decimated the town, led to the detention of hundreds of men, and the house arrest of hundreds of women. The loss to the labor force shuttered the town’s major businesses and has led to shock, grief and anger on the part of town residents, immigrant and non-immigrant alike.

What does it mean to live in a multicultural United States? What impact does rhetoric of multiculturalism and tolerance have on our understandings of who “the American people” are? After the impact of Affirmative Action, what strides have been made in breaking the elite structures of belonging and thriving in this country? What would a humane and productive immigration policy look like, and how might citizens and government work towards that goal?

This event will incorporate video footage, expert speakers, and actors bringing to life some of the individual immigrants who have been interviewed by NYIC.

Evening. 3 Integration

How do people become Americans? This evening will examine the processes of immigration. What do people go through to become United States citizens? What is the process? What challenges do they face? What are their experiences in relation to healthcare, education, voting, housing, rights at work and other issues?

The experience of integration will be juxtaposed with an examination of U.S. detention and deportation practices. Is it possible to maintain a just and effective prison system that respects the individual while holding prisoners accountable for their crimes? How can citizens demand greater transparency from a prison system that is increasingly becoming privatized? What is our moral responsibility to illegal, non-combatant immigrants that become tangled in the detention system? What is our relationship to these immigrants and their home countries?


Evening 1. Speed versus Slowness

We are living in an era of speed: fast food, instant access to information and in an culture where “multitasking” is the norm. Do we ever pause to enjoy and appreciate our lives, much less contemplate the depth of what has happened to our country and our world over the past 8 years? Decisions of grave magnitude have been made — the decision to go to war, the financial bailout — under the guise of urgency, feeding into the culture of fear that politicians often use to pass their agendas. What are the repercussions of life in the “fast lane” in terms of our ability to respond with sustained thoughtfulness and compassion to grievous wrongs, as well as to take meaningful action in reaction to those wrongs? How can we begin to hold the system accountable for what has happened? What tools do we need? What role should the government play? How can corporations and corrupt individuals make reparations?

Partners and participants may include: U.S. Slow Food Movement, Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan.

Evening 2. The War on Terror and Protectionism: A “New Cold War”?

Robert Gates, when asked how long he thought the U.S. would be in Afghanistan alluded to the Cold War when he responded: “I think we are, in many respects, in an ideological conflict with violent extremists,” he said. “The last ideological conflict we were in lasted about 45 years.” In what ways are the War on Terror, the current economic collapse, and the responses to both (on the part of government, U.S. citizens, and the world) interrelated? Is the government bailout of Wall Street and Main Street, replete with “buy American” clauses, a move towards a new type of protectionism? How might this be connected to the United States’ War on Terror and ongoing climate of fear?

Participants may include: Paul Krugman (New York Times), Naomi Klein (Disaster Capitalism), Witness Relocation (dance/theater company).

Evening 3. Education

Participants may include: Bob Herbert (New York Times), Randi Weingarten, Donors Choose, New York Civil Liberties Union.


Evening I. Water

Participants may include: Daniella Topol and Sheila Callaghan (theater piece called Water), Lekha Singh (photographer).

Evening 2. Green is the New Black: Environmentalism, Sustainability and Hipsterism

Participants may include: Majora Carter (Sustainable South Bronx), Marc Bamuthi Joseph (dancer and spoken word performer), Al Gore, Good Magazine.

Evening 3. Healthcare

Participants may include: Paige Ruane, Patrick Kearney (founders, Integrated Medicine Foundation)


Evening 1. Heroes

How do we reach beyond these mythical concepts and ground heroic activity in the everyday? Or, in turn, how can heroic myths inform our ideas of the modem hero? What is our modem definition of hero? Protector or rebel? Where do we draw the line between activism and heroism? Who are our heroes in the “war on terror”? Our soldiers? Our politicians? Or ordinary citizens who stand up to power? What are some of the sacrifices necessary in order to become a hero? How do heroes hold themselves and others accountable? How can we empower ourselves to take heroic steps in our own lives and in our communities?

Evening 2. Art, History, and Opposition

Participants may include: A.O. Scott (New York Times film critic), Axis of Justice, Working Films, Creative Counsel.

Evening 3. Myth-making and the Media

Participants may include: David Danzig (Human Rights First), Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!), Bob Edgar (Common Cause), the CIVILIANS (artist collective).


Culture Project has established partnerships with a number of influential partners in the realm of social action and public policy. In addition to bringing in a wide range of participants for individual components of each theme, we are building on-going relationships with venues, social advocacy groups and media outlets to further our reach and creatively develop our ideas for the duration of the Accountability Project and into our future work.

  • The Center for Constitutional Rights will partner with Culture Project on a series of evenings focused on accountability for torture, extraordinary renditions and other violations of human rights in the name of the War on Terror. They will collaborate on the development of programming, make introductions to expert participants for the evenings, and share information about the Accountability Project with their own networks.
  • will partner with Culture Project to disseminate the Accountability evenings nationally and even globally. They will film each event for broadcast on their website and television station and will work with Culture Project to create additional supplementary interactive content for web viewers.
  • Judson Memorial Church is a key venue partner. The majority of Accountability Project events will be held in their main auditorium.
  • Center on Law and Security is a Culture Project programming partner, advising on the creation of programming, helping to spread the word about the event, and providing their staff of expert lawyers and advocates to participate in events.
  • New York Immigration Coalition is partnering with Culture Project to develop and present three evenings centered around immigration-related issues. They will provide support in developing content, identifying participants, and marketing the evenings to their networks.