Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XXII Number 9, September 2014

  Thursday, September 25, 7:30 PM. Monthly 
Meeting. We meet at the Caltech Y, Tyson 
House, 505 S. Wilson Ave., Pasadena. (This is 
just south of the corner with San Pasqual. 
Signs will be posted.) We will be planning our 
activities for the coming months. Please join 
us! Refreshments provided.
  Tuesday, October 14, 7:30 PM. Letter 
writing meeting at Caltech Athenaeum, corner 
of Hill and California in Pasadena. This 
informal gathering is a great way for 
newcomers to get acquainted with Amnesty.
  Sunday, October 19, 6:30 PM.  Rights 
Readers Human Rights Book Discussion 
group. This month we read "TransAtlantic: A 
Novel" by Colum McCann.


Hi All

Did you all survive the recent heat wave?!  
Thank God it is cooling down as we enter my 
favorite time of year, the fall.  I look forward to 
seeing the liquid amber tree leaves, taking 
walks, wearing sweaters, and cooking lots of 
soups and stews.

Our POC has been released but he is still under 
scrutiny from the Chinese authorities.  Let's 
hope that soon he will be able to join his family 
in the US.  Thanks to Joyce and others for all 
their efforts on his behalf.

Con Carino,

Human Rights Book Discussion Group

Keep up with Rights Readers at

Next Rights Readers meeting:
Sunday, October 19, 6:30 PM
Vroman's Bookstore
695 E. Colorado, Pasadena


Cross Over
 by Colum McCann
Published: June 20, 2013 
The New York Times

Colum McCann's new novel, "TransAtlantic," 
lifts off with a roar. The year is 1919, just after 
the end of the First World War: "It was that time 
of the century when the idea of a gentleman had 
almost become myth." The war, McCann writes, 
had "concussed the world." And yet here are 
two gentlemen, Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown, 
ready to set off in a modified bomber, a Vickers 
Vimy - "It looked as if it had borrowed its 
design from a form of dragonfly" - to fly the 
Atlantic, from St. John's in Newfoundland all 
the way to Ireland. If they succeed, they'll make 
history. They will make a brand-new world. 

The novelist who takes on not just history but 
famous historical events has a hard row to hoe. 
Even if a reader doesn't know that Alcock and 
Brown did indeed make it across the ocean, 
these days it takes only 10 seconds to Google 
their names, and the story's spoiled. Except that 
in the hands of a novelist as skilled as McCann, 
it's not: the wonder of this opening chapter is 
that his language, his close observation, his 
sense of the lives behind the history, will make 
even an aviation buff hold his breath. It's not a 
talent unique to McCann, of course. Hilary 
Mantel managed the same trick at the end of 
"Bring Up the Bodies" - Henry wouldn't really 
kill Anne Boleyn, would he? Beryl Bainbridge 
was a dab hand at this too, in novels like "The 
Birthday Boys," about Captain Scott and his 
fateful journey to the South Pole, or "Every Man 
for Himself," set aboard the Titanic. Making an 
oft-told tale seem newly minted is a rare and 
wondrous gift, and McCann locks the reader 
into "TransAtlantic" with this bold and bravura 

But "TransAtlantic" isn't a novel about Alcock 
and Brown. It isn't, strictly speaking, even a 
historical novel at all. Weaving invented 
characters' lives into the events of the 19th, 20th 
and 21st centuries, it is very much a companion 
piece to McCann's last novel, "Let the Great 
World Spin," which won the National Book 
Award in 2009. As in that book, the narrative 
here doesn't run clean from start to finish, like 
the pilots' flight across the sea; rather, it's a 
series of linked stories joined over time by a 
common thread. In "Let the Great World Spin," 
that thread was a wire, a crossing made between 
the two towers of the World Trade Center one 
August morning in 1974. Here the bond is also a 
crossing, but one that's broader and deeper 
through history and time. Over the course of 
seven chapters, each quite distinct yet integrated 
with the rest, McCann takes on the lives of men 
and women who have chosen to leap across the 
ocean from Ireland to the New World or back 
again. It's a journey that the Dublin-born 
McCann - who now teaches creative writing at 
Hunter College in New York - knows well, and 
he uses that knowledge and sympathy to create 
real voyages of the imagination. 

Each narrative inhabits the point of view of its 
central character. So after Alcock and Brown 
nose-dive into the Irish turf the novel jumps 
back to Dublin in the 1840s, and the visit to that 
city by Frederick Douglass - only seven years 
escaped from the bonds of slavery. After that, 
it's forward to 1998, when Senator George 
Mitchell is in the midst of brokering the Good 
Friday Accords for peace in Northern Ireland; 
then back again, to 1863, as Lily Duggan tends 
the wounded of the American Civil War, hoping 
for a sight of her soldier son. Lily is the 
matriarch of the clan of women who are the 
other common thread of this novel; daughters 
and granddaughters cross and recross the water, 
their destinies bound by their times - but only 
rarely by men. Lily was, in 1845, a maid in the 
home where Douglass stayed in Dublin. The 
vision of freedom, of another life, is what 
inspires her to emigrate to America. This section 
of the book - which covers 26 years, and Lily's 
complex journey into American life - feels like 
the heart of this novel; it would be wrong to give 
too much away about Lily's adventures, for they 
are moving and startling in equal measure. 
McCann captures Lily's clear, simple 
intelligence in plain words and direct 
storytelling. "She knew she was going with Jon 
Ehrlich," he writes of her eventual marriage to 
the man who would again alter the course of her 
life. "He didn't even question her when she sat 
up on the wagon and straightened out the folds 
in her dress. She looked straight ahead." Lily's 
gesture alone allows the reader into her heart. 

McCann sets up a subtle parallel, or comparison, 
between Lily and Douglass - the early section 
that weaves their two stories together, however 
loosely, is one of the most powerful in the book. 
(And if you doubt the continuity between this 
novel and "Let the Great World Spin," note how 
Douglass thinks of his life as a free man: "It was 
an exercise in balance. He would need to find 
the correct tension. A funambulist.") Douglass, 
however extraordinary his own life may now 
seem to him, is celebrated and admired in 
Ireland, while Lily - who in Douglass's own 
country would be seen as his superior simply 
because of her race - barely merits notice. 
Indeed, when she encounters Douglass again in 
Cork, on her way to America, he fails to 
recognize her: "She seemed so very different out 
of her uniform." All servants look the same, 
don't they? The tightrope on which both 
Douglass and Lily must find their balance is that 
of identity: can they remake themselves, cross to 
the other side and begin anew, without falling? 
Because if you fall, it's a very long way down. 

Lily's daughter is Emily, who becomes, against 
the odds, a journalist - you'll realize you've 
met her before, when she was a local reporter in 
Newfoundland covering Alcock and Brown's 
flight. But it's in the section set in 1929 that 
Emily's tale is truly told. Then we are taken to a 
lough just outside Belfast in 1978, the midst of 
the Troubles, and to Emily's daughter, Lottie. 
The final section takes us forward, to 2011, into 
the straitened circumstances of Hannah, Lottie's 
daughter, heading toward old age herself and 
struggling to cope now that the Celtic Tiger has 
tucked its tail between its legs and fled. 

It's only here, in the final chapter, that the novel 
shifts into the first person, and it's hard to see 
exactly why it does. This section and that 
belonging to George Mitchell are the novel's 
weakest. In the case of Mitchell (who is thanked 
in the acknowledgments) one senses, perhaps, 
too much caution in writing about a man still 
living; McCann's portrait of exhaustion brought 
about by endless airport lounges and endless 
cups of tea doesn't add to the reader's 
understanding of the peace process. "There are 
times he wishes he could knock an absolute 
simplicity into the process. Take it or leave it," 
an exhausted Mitchell thinks. After centuries of 
conflict - no kidding. And while McCann is 
skilled at creating convincing female characters, 
Hannah isn't one of them, in part because she 
seems insufficiently shaped by the sorrow that 
has afflicted her life. What these sections have in 
common is a sense that they are fulfilling a 
political or structural void, rather than an 
emotional or narrative need. 

But a book as ambitious and wide-ranging as 
this is bound to be a little inconsistent, and its 
strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Over and 
over, McCann allows the reader to see through 
his characters' eyes: description serves instead of 
judgment. Douglass, who has known the misery 
of slavery, sees the approach of the potato 
famine in the Irish countryside: "The children 
looked like remnants of themselves. Spectral. 
Some were naked to the waist. Many of them 
had sores on their faces. None had shoes. He 
could see the structures of them through their 
skin. The bony residue of their lives." Ireland's 
past haunts and shapes this novel, yet McCann's 
stories offer us hope. When Arthur Brown first 
spies the Irish coast "rising up out of the sea, 
nonchalant as you like: wet rock, dark grass, 
stone tree light," he knows he'll remember this 
simple sight forever. "The miracle of the actual," 
he thinks. No small wonder, that.

Erica Wagner is the literary editor of The Times of 
London and the author, most recently, of the novel 


Colum McCann was born in Ireland in 1965. He 
is the author of six novels and two collections of 
stories. He has been the recipient of many 
international honours, including the National 
Book Award, the International Dublin Impac 
Prize, a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the 
French government, election to the Irish arts 
academy, several European awards, the 2010 
Best Foreign Novel Award in China, and an 
Oscar nomination. His work has been published 
in over 35 languages. He lives in New York with 
his wife, Allison, and their three children. He 
teaches at the MFA program in Hunter College.

By Stevi Carroll

We Humans Are Fallible

If any of us had doubts about confessions 
obtained from suspects in custody prior to 
reading this month's Rights Readers book (Devil 
in the Grove), those doubts have been supported.  
After the 'interrogation' scene of 16-year-old 
Charles Greenlee, the extent to which officers of 
the law would go to get the confession they 
wanted was clear.  But that situation was a long 
time ago, the late 1940s and early 1950s, and in 

September 2, 2014, became Freedom Day for 
Henry McCollum and Leon Brown. In 1984 in 
North Carolina, both men found themselves 
convicted of murder and sentenced to death; 
although, Mr. Brown's sentence was later 
changed to life.  Their confessions sealed this 

At the time of the crime, Henry McCollum was 
19 years old, Leon Brown 15.  Both were 
interrogated and confessed while implicating 
three other men.  The other men were not 
arrested because of alibis or lack of evidence. 
Mr. McCollum's IQ test showed an IQ of 51.  Mr. 
Brown's IQ scored at 49. Not only were Mr. 
McCollum and Mr. Brown chronologically 
young but mentally they were very young.  An 
IQ of 49 equals a mental age of about a seven 
year old. According to an article at The National 
Registry of Exonerations website, "...for over 
four hours, police fed information to McCollum 
until he confessed to participating in the crime." 
A witness in this case, L. P. Sinclair, testified that 
both Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown told him 
they'd raped and murdered the victim, Sabrina 
Buie; however, under cross-examination, he 
admitted that in his three prior interviews with 
the police, he had not mentioned this 
information.  Although no physical evidence 
was found to link the two defendants to the 
crime, they were, nonetheless, tried, convicted, 
and sentenced to die.  That all changed early in 
September.  Through the work of lawyers from 
the Center For Death Penalty Litigation, both 
men were exonerated, and not just because of 
some legal technicality, but because they both 
could not have committed the crime. Another 
man's DNA was found at the crime scene.

Along with Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, 
we send our heartfelt thanks to the legal team at 
the Center For Death Penalty Litigation.

To read about Mr. McCollum's re-introduction 
to life outside prison, go to
From that article:
Upon his release, McCollum expressed his belief that 
there are still other innocent men on the inside. He is 
at least the seventh death row inmate freed in North 
Carolina since 1976, the year the death penalty was 
reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It's very painful when you are attached to somebody 
like a brother or family, and you see that person on 
his last days," McCollum said. "A lot of them don't 
really want to die. ... And it hurt me the most to see 
the state take somebody's life, when they are 
committing murder their own self. But they don't see 
it that way."
Support for the Death Penalty Lessens in 
A recent Field Poll shows 56 percent of 
Californians support the death penalty.  For 
those of us who work for death penalty 
abolition, this could be disheartening, but that 
56 percent is down from 68 percent just three 
years ago.  That's cause for hope.  And 
apparently, nationwide support for the death 
penalty continues to slide downward.

When the Field Poll asked voters if they 
supported speeding up the trip to the gurney for 
the condemned, 52% responded yes.  
Unfortunately, we continue to have the pesky 
problem of exonerations.  Henry McCollum is 
the 145th and Leon Brown is the 146th. How are 
Americans going to square their desires for 
justice and the rule of law with their desires for 
the ultimate punishment?

Austin Sarat is a capital punishment scholar at 
Amherst College.  His most recent book is 
Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and 
America's Death Penalty.  In an interview with the 
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, 
he discusses the dilemma in which we 
Americans find ourselves.  The "botched" 
execution is not new.  It is in fact one of the 
reasons we have moved from the hangman's 
noose and firing squad to the electric chair to the 
gas chamber to the gurney and the needle.  In 
the 20th century, he found that botched 
executions were excused as unfortunate and 
isolated "misfortunes":  "oh the executioner was 
drunk" or "the electrode wasn't screwed on 
tight enough." These "misfortunes" occurred 3% 
of the time in the 20th century.  For lethal 
injections, he found these foul-ups happened 
7%.  When he looked state-by-state from 1980 to 
2010, he found states like Ohio or North 
Carolina had an 18% rate of "botching".

While the inefficiencies of our means for State-
sanctioned murder have been what has 
motivated us to use different methods, Mr. Sarat 
suggests some questions for us to consider.

Do we want to be a society that risks executing 
the innocent? 
Do we want to be a society that risks executing 
people because of the race of their victim? 
Do we want to be a society that keeps people on 
death row endlessly? 
Do we want to be a society in which 3%-7% is an 
acceptable error rate?

When we look at the execution table at the end 
of this article, we see Texas executed a woman 
this month.  Lisa Coleman's crime is horrific.  
Ms Coleman and her girlfriend tortured and 
starved to death her girlfriend's nine year old 
son.  The article I read said the child may have 
had special needs, and the women did not know 
what to do to care for him. Of course, my 
question is "Where were the other people who 
may have intervened to help that child?" This 
family lived in an apartment, not in an isolated 
fortress surrounded by razor wire. Also just as 
an aside, following Ms Coleman's conviction 
and sentencing to death, the boy's mother, 
Marcella Williams, took a plea bargain and now 
serves a life sentence with a possible 2044 parole 
date.  The only reason I bring this case up is 
because of the comment thread following this 
article. In our righteous indignation at this 
crime, some of us believe, and believe enough to 
post for all to see, to post the following.
"I'm so glad she's dead. My fondest dream - that 
she suffer horribly - was not realized, but good 
riddance to nasty-ass trash."
"Too bad Illinois lawmakers don't have the 
stones to re-instate the death penalty here. 
Could use a house cleaning."
"If you've been given the death sentence, you 
should be executed no more than a week after 
your conviction, why waste the tax payer's 
money on keeping someone alive and 
comfortable for 10 years when they were always 
going to be executed?"

I am pretty sure the authors of those thoughts 
believe they are on the right track to justice and 
righteousness. Recently as I was reading 
Nature's God about our Founding Fathers, I was 
reminded of the famous preacher Jonathan 
Edwards. I think the antecedent for the kind of 
thinking found in the comment thread can be 
found in his work.

"The view of the misery of the damned will double the 
ardour of the love and gratitude of the saints of 
heaven...The sight of hell torments will exalt the 
happiness of the saints forever. . .Can the believing 
father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving 
children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his 
sense of justice that it will increase rather than 
diminish his bliss." [Source: Jonathan Edwards 
"The Eternity of Hell Torments" (Sermon), April 
1739 & Discourses on Various Important 
Subjects, 1738]

Or to put it another way, "I'm in Heaven. You're 
in Hellfire. Ha Ha Ha." Now of course that was 
276 years ago, so our attitudes do change.  But 
as I was looking for the source of the Edwards 
quote, I found from the Catholic Truth Society:
What will it be like for a mother in heaven who sees 
her son burning in hell? She will glorify the justice of 
God. - Pamphlet from the late 1960s, part of a 
catechismal teaching 

And " and pity for hell's occupants will not 
enter our hearts." [Source: J.I. Packer in article 
"Hell's Final Enigma" in "Christianity Today 
Magazine, April 22,2002]
Edwards' righteous thoughts are with us today.  
Our change of attitude precedes our change of 
law.  When we Americans think deeply about 
the questions Mr. Sarat poses, our hearts may be 
touched, and we may arrive at different, more 
humane, conclusions.

And Now For Some Action

For those of us so moved, we have two petitions 
for the abolition of the death penalty.

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

No government should experiment with human 

Also these are not death penalty actions, but 
they are online actions available from Amnesty:

Executions stayed
10	Leon Taylor		Missouri
18	Ronald Phillips	Ohio

10	Earl Ringo, Jr.		Missouri 
		Lethal injection - pentobarbital
10	Willie Trottie		Texas	 
		Lethal injection - pentobarbital
17	Lisa Coleman		Texas 
		Lethal injection - pentobarbital

Gao Zhisheng

by Joyce Wolf

Group 22's adopted prisoner of conscience, 
human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, needs our 
support now as much as ever, even after China 
released him from Shaya Prison on August 7.

Gao is now living with relatives in Urumqi, 
Xinjiang. Police harass the family with long 
visits morning and afternoon every day. In 
Urumqi Gao cannot obtain the medical and 
dental care that he so urgently needs after more 
than 5 years of torture and ill-treatment, and the 
authorities refuse to permit him to travel. 

Gao's plight has not gone unnoticed. In the 
Washington Post on September 7, Teng Biao 
"A month ago, the human rights lawyer Gao 
Zhisheng - my friend and colleague - limped 
out of Shaya Prison in northwestern China. 
According to relatives, Gao was pale as a ghost. 
He had spent the past five years - his sentence 
was for three - in solitary confinement, 
underfed and with no access to sunlight." Teng 
Biao continued, "We are happy to see Gao come 
out of jail alive. But he is not yet free." He 
appealed to China's leaders, "Give back Gao 
Zhisheng's freedom to seek treatment and allow 
him to reunite with his family."

In separate press conferences during the month 
of September, Gao's wife Geng He and his 
daughter Grace Geng asked for President 
Obama's help.

"[Grace Geng] spoke of her father's physical and 
mental condition upon his release in August 
after five years of isolation and imprisonment. 
The picture she painted of her father is a far cry 
from the articulate, establishment lawyer, who 
pro bono represented persecuted groups such as 
Falun Gong practitioners and peasants who 
were robbed of their land.
[...] She begs the President and Secretary of State 
John Kerry to help her father reunite with the 
family in the United States, where he can get his 
illnesses treated."

In their report on Geng He's press conference, 
the Epoch Times quoted U.S. lawyer Jared 
Genser: "My hope is that with greater and more 
intense public pressure, other governments, 
human rights groups, the media, will shine a 
bright light on what's happened to Gao... and 
enable the family suffering to come to an end."

Shine a bright light - that's what Amnesty does, 

President Obama will meet with Chinese leader 
Xi Jinping in Beijing November 10-12. I suggest 
that we stand with Geng He and Grace Geng 
and appeal to President Obama to urge China to 
allow Gao Zhisheng to seek medical treatment 
and to be reunited with his wife and daughter 
and 11-year-old son.

Submit comments to the White House at

You can also use these phone numbers for 
President Obama:
Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414
Letters to President Obama can be addressed to
	The White House
	1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
	Washington, DC 20500

Of course, we can continue writing to China 
government officials about Gao Zhisheng, 
urging that he be allowed to seek necessary 
medical treatment and that he longer faces 
harassment and restrictions on his freedom of 
movement, speech and association. For 
addresses and salutations, see

I apologize for not having a Gao Zhisheng 
action prepared for our September Letter-
writing. However, at our Amnesty table at the 
Pasadena Farmers Market on September 13, we 
got 35 signatures on petitions to Xi Jinping for 
Gao, thanks to Group 22 member Vince 
DeStefano. Copies of the petitions were mailed 
to three other Chinese officials and to 
Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

UAs                        10
Total                      10
To add your letters to the total contact 

Amnesty International Group 22
The Caltech Y
Mail Code C1-128
Pasadena, CA 91125

Amnesty International's mission is to undertake research and action focused on 
preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, 
freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the 
context of its work to promote all human rights.