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updated Jan 18


witness against torture processionOver one hundred and fifty people have spent the last seven days fasting, vigiling, lobbying, and calling for a closure of Guantanamo and an end to all torture. We are only five days away from the one year anniversary of President Obama's Executive Order calling for the closure of Guantanamo. 

Instead of celebrating a year marked by progress made towards the closure of Guantanamo, we find ourselves marking a time of "Broken Promises - Broken Laws - Broken Lives." 

watch videos thumAs we enter into the second week of our "Fast for Justice," we invite you to read through these brief synopses (click on the link for the full reports) of our days and some reflections thus far, and ask you to join us in working towards an end to Guantanamo and all it represents. 

videos or photos of our activities in Washington, D.C. For reflections by the fasters, click on the link to full report for each day.

on-going reports here

After that, we processed to the National Press Club in a solemn procession clad in the orange jumpsuits. Helen Schietinger offers a brief reflection from "behind the hood." At the Press Club, we participated in the Center for Constitutional Rights' Public Briefing. The briefing included presentations from CCR Executive Director Vince Warren and Pardiss Kebriaie, Staff Attorney with CCR's Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative. The most poignant component of the briefing was a live connection with Omar Deghayes and Lakhdar Boumediene, two men released from Guantanamo. The opportunity to connect directly with them and describe our fast and our daily vigil was powerful and totally appropriate as we marked eight years of Guantanamo. Frida Berrigan's remarks from the briefing are included below. 

The day ended with a grassroots discussion at Georgetown Law School, where about 80 people gathered.  Today, Tuesday, January 12, we take our daily vigil to Congress, where we will lobby and engage in creative witness. We will then gather at 5:30pm at the White House for an hour long presence there, continuing the weekly vigil that extended our 100 Days Campaign to Shut Down Guantanamo vigil from last spring. 

For daily updates, reflections, photos and videos, pleae check our website,www.witnesstorture.org. We will send updates to this announcement list every few days. 

Thank you for all you are doing, 
Peace with Justice, 
Witness Against Torture 

  1. A Sampling of Press Hits from January 11, 2010
  2. Jeremy Varon, Statement at Witness Against Torture Rally, White House
  3. Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, statement from man released from Guantanamo, read at Witness Against Torture Rally, White House
  4. Helen Schietinger, Reflection on the Guantanamo Prisoner Procession
  5. Frida Berrigan, Statement at Public Briefing, National Press Club
1. Some Press Hits2. Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture: Broken Promises -- Obama's Guantanamo 

--> Eight years ago today the first men, branded by a pseudo legal designation as "enemy combatants," were brought to the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Thus began the nightmare of illegal detention, torture, and extrajudicial power that has marked January 11 as both a tragic day in the history of our constitution and a demonic day in the spiritual life and sacred calendar of our nation. 

By all rights, we should not be here - not, at least, in anger and sorrow, condemning the continued operation of the prison.  No, we should be here in celebration of its closure, as President Obama promised nearly a year ago today. 

But the prison hasn't closed. It won't be closed by the deadline Obama set. It won't likely be closed - they now tell us - anytime this year. And if forces of reaction, fed by the manipulated fears of the public and indulged by the feckless equivocation of President Obama, have their way, it may never be closed.  It may instead become a fully institutionalized feature of American power - our democracy's own offshore gulag for the perpetual waging of cruelties that our laws should not permit and our conscience should not allow. 

But we cannot, we will not, let that happen.  So we are here today, again, calling for Guantanamo's immediate closure, in sorrow and anger, but also with a sense of hope, nourished by the untold millions in this country and around the world who share with us this vital demand. 

We may ask ourselves, why is Guantanamo still open, and in our answer receive guidance in the message we must bear.  We know well the reasons stated by our President, which now have the hollow ring of excuses.  That Bush had left a legal mess, whose cleaning up takes time. We know well the sad politics at play - how the opportunism of the right, the timeless lure of tough-guy rhetoric, the cravenness of Congress, and the menacing howls of Cheney, have ensnared our institutions in moral paralysis.  And we are painfully aware, as the last few weeks make plain, of the fragility of the American psyche, well trained to turn to vengeance as a salve for fear. 

But these things neither explain nor excuse the broken promise of a President who challenged us to do great and difficult things, and pledged to lead us in that courage.  The root of the failure, rather, lies in how President Obama has himself obscured the stakes of action on Guantanamo, and thereby absolved America of the responsibility to halt and atone for the evil it represents. Our president has repeatedly described Guantanamo as an administrative problem, an embarrassment, a negative symbol, and a foreign policy liability. It is all those things.  But he has never confronted Guantanamo for what it truly is: a moral disaster and a political sin.  It is only through this understanding -- honest and unsparing -- that we summon the fierce urgency of now required to close the prison.  Otherwise, we are condemned to the fickle logic of political convenience, strategic calculation, and the management of a national brand. I say to President Obama that we need to close Guantanamo, not to please the liberal base, not because of what Europe or even some Al Qaeda wanabee may think of us, but for our own sake - because it has deformed our character, our laws, and our dignity, and because closing it is the good and the right thing to do.  Guantanamo is our problem. It is our backyard. And it is ours to banish. 

A second reason that Guantanamo remains open, I truly believe, may seem just the opposite: that we as a country think too often only of ourselves. Our politics, our security, our reputation, our traditions.  Vanished from the question of what Guantanamo means for America is the question of what Guantanamo, and Bagram, and other secret prisons, have meant for those held captive within them.  By now we well know, or should know, the harrowing tales of kidnapping, torture, and psychological torment.  As men now released from Guantanamo share their stories with the world, we are learning more of the remarkable humanity of those who have every reason to be wholly cynical, about America and about life, but are not. 

But the human dimension of America's crimes seems barely to have registered in the halls of power and within the broader public -- as if there are no victims, save blows to abstract principles.  In this way also we avoid responsibility.  So I say to Obama that we owe it the men who have endured (and still endure) Guantanamo to close the prison and all others like it.  We owe them as well an apology, compensation, and the prosecution of the perpetrators, whether of high or menial rank.  Only by accepting the wrong we have done to others do we summon the conviction and humility to begin to try to set things right. 

So what is our message at this moment? First, that our President can no longer be praised for good intentions; it is now his Guantanamo, and he must fulfill those intentions with action.  We must continue to call on his conscience, while also calling him to account: not just for his failure on Guantanamo, but for a shameful pattern of sustaining the policies of his predecessor, illustrated in the signs we carry today - rendition, Bagram, immunity - each of which represents a public obscenity.  We must say to the media and to all Americans that the political right has it exactly wrong: that Obama has not been too much a jurist, but too little one.  He has been reckless not with our security, but with the constitution. 

We have another task, to learn and share the names and the stories of the men who have been at Guantanamo and who remain there.  We have carried these names throughout Washington DC in our protests.  We have taken them into the Supreme Court.  We have taken them into jail following our arrests.  And we have taken them before US judges in our criminal trials to to dramatize the denial of legal and human rights to the men at Guantanamo.  Frida Berrigan, as we entered one such trial said, "We will continue to carry these names until the men at Guantanamo can themselves walk a clear path through war politics, vengeful rhetoric, and insatiable violence."  To this list of barriers that must be overcome, I add today "presidential hypocrisy and "broken promises." 

3. Transcript of Statement from Mohammed Sulaymon Barre 

Mohammed Sulaymon Barre was released from Guantanamo on December 20, 2009, and returned to his family in Somaliland. Mr. Barre had fled Somalia during the civil war in the early 1990s. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees granted Mr. Barre refugee status in Pakistan where he lived and worked freely for many years prior to his detention. In November 2001, soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities came to Mr. Barre's house in the middle of the night and arrested him. He is believed to have been sold to the United States for bounty at a time when the United States was offering sizable sums for the handover of purported enemies. Once in the custody of U.S. forces, Mr. Barre was sent to the U.S. military base at Bagram, where U.S. guards abused him and coercively interrogated him before transferring him to Guantánamo. He was never charged with any crime. 

"I say to the torturers of Guantanamo, their leaders, and the politicians and people of power who back them in Washington: is it not time that you should awaken from your slumber? Is it not time that you should realize what you are doing and acknowledge the mistakes you have made? Time has passed, and time passes quickly. Hurry up and close this prison that has become a blot of shame upon all of America. Do it fast. Do it quickly. 

"Closing this place should not mean just the transfer of these men to other prisons. That would only make things worse. Closing it should mean the release of these men and transferring them to where they can be safe. 

"And that is not enough. There should be an appropriate and reasonable apology. "To those who say that they fear that those men, when released, would join enemy groups and therefore we should keep them in prison indefinitely, I say: don't you know that keeping these detainees in prison is the very thing that feeds the animus against the United States? I say to those who believe in these notions: the thing you fear is the very thing you cause by your wrongful actions. This is what constitutes the real threat to the national security of the United States, not the closing of the prison and the release of detainees. 

"Peace be upon you." 
-Mohammed Sulaymon 

4. Helen Schietinger, Reflection on the Guantanamo Prisoner Procession 

Once again we processed in single file, hooded in orange jump suits, our footsteps guided by Carmen Trotta's orders: "Detainees, follow me.  Detainees, stop.  Detainees, turn right."  Carmen was playing the role of the soldier. 

Inside the stuffy hood, my glasses fogged up.  I kept my eyes on the person in front of me and tried to maintain the pace without stumbling -- light-headed on this, the first day of the fast.  When would we get there?  Block after block we walked -- slowly, deliberately, our handlers leap-frogging the procession to stand at curbs and warn us where we might stumble.

Today I could feel the presence of an amazing number of press people all around us.  All along our route, photographers crouched to capture the solemn image of the human chain we have become. Newscasters posed beside our line, talking into the camera as we walked by, creating sound-bites for the evening news.  Today the media attention never stopped. 

When we arrived at the National Press Club and again stood in a line, cameras continued to snap photos of our hoods, our shapes, our collective statement.  I hope they throw the images up on TV and computer screens and pique the conscience of the world. 

5. Frida Berrigan, Statement at Public Briefing, National Press Club 

Witness Against Torture is a grassroots movement that began with the question: "how do we resist the cruelty our country perpetrates in the name of opposing terror." In 2005, the answer led 25 of us to go to Cuba and walk to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo with the intention of visiting the men detained there. Since then, we have organized demonstrations, vigils, rallies and direct action aimed at drawing attention to policies of torture, abuse and inhumanity and reminding the American people of the political and human costs of these policies. 

And as such, Guantanamo--and all it represents--is not only the concern of the men detained, their families and their lawyers. It is something that should concern us all. And I am here to say that it does. There are conscientious people all over this country and throughout the world -- students, mothers and fathers, activists, regular people-- who are organizing to close Guantanamo, to make sure that the U.S. does not open new regimes of detention without charge or trial, to push the U.S. to charge or release the men held at Guantanamo and to ensure that those who have tortured are held accountable. 

A year ago today, January 11 2009, we gathered in DC to mark what we hoped would be the last anniversary of Guantanamo's existence.  We fasted until the inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20th. We shared the relief and satisfaction felt by many when-- on his second day in office--President Obama signed the Executive Order and pledged to close Guantanamo within the year.  The hope that animated our coming together last year has now been replaced with anger and indignation.  The promise of Guantanamo's closure, is mocked by the fact that--for the men at Guantanamo-- the only significant change they see is that the Presidential portrait hanging on the prison wall in Cuba, is of Barack Obama, not George W. Bush. 

Today, in a moment marked by deeply manipulated and nearly hysterical fear and punctuated by some of the most hateful, retrograde rhetoric we've heard in nearly a decade, Witness Against Torture is launching another fast: a twelve-day fast and daily vigil through the streets and corridors of power of Washington. More than 50 of us are together in DC through this time and we are joined by over 100 more who are fasting and witnessing in their own communities. 

For us, this fast is
  • An act of moral witness -- against the crimes of torture, indefinite detention, rendition, and the denial of legal and human rights
  • A political demand -- that Guantanamo close, tortured be definitively banned, and that all U.S. detainees receive true justice and equality before the law
  • An act of solidarity -- with the suffering of the men, boys, and women held in Guantanamo, Bagram or other U.S. detention facilities around the world
  • An act of atonement -- for our nations' violation of domestic and international law, human rights, and its own principle
  • An expression of hope -- that President Barack Obama finally honor his pledge to close Guantanamo, not by exporting it to Illinois or hiding it away in Afghanistan, but by really closing it and ending the injustice it represents
  • An act of renewal -- that calls America back to its senses and to its core values; that seeks to make those values stronger, inviolable; and which helps to reconnect America to the peoples of the world.
Speaking personally, I am not excited about fasting. I like food, a lot. But, President Obama's promises of change have atrophied into empty rhetoric. And, now, I watch in horror as my country rises up in fear and vengeance once again; as the debased torture policies of the Bush administration are defended and described once more as necessary. 

Mahatma Gandhi said: "under certain circumstances, fasting is the one weapon God has given us for use in times of utter helplessness." 

Binyam Mohamed participated in the hunger strikes at Guantanamo, and his reason was simple: "we ask only for justice: treat us as promised under the rules of the Geneva Conventions for civilians prisoners while we are held and either treat us fairly for valid criminal charges or set us free." And so, I fight against the feelings of "utter helplessness" with Gandhi's peaceful weapon, with Binyam's peaceful weapon-- by fasting. This act is my small attempt--as part of Witness Against Torture and in concert with all those working for justice-- to answer the ultimate question Guantanamo poses: how do we conquer fear and remain human? 

Thank you. 

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This page contains a single entry published on January 12, 2010 11:28 AM.

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