In this country of unending wars, vast surveillance of whole populations, targeted killing, “enhanced interrogation,” and secret ops. the existence of the US torture camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has become a powerful symbol.
For the Cheneys and McCains, the prison projects American might, and the ability to hold anyone there with impunity, and the threat of going to the basest methods “in a minute” a la Cheney.
For the Obamas, it’s a reminder that the U.S. has ended up with nothing in the cauldron of war on terror horror — Iraq & Afghanistan, now spreading to Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya — than searing hatred of the occupiers.
Obama declared again last night that he still wants to shut down Guantanamo. He likely will continue to move some Yemenis to third countries so that fewer of the “cleared” prisoners are there. But in the unlikely event that happens, what about the “forever” prisoners? There are some 58 men the U.S. says they won’t release, but have no evidence to charge with a crime. Will they be held in U.S. military or civilian prisons without charges, a direct violation of habeas corpus? That will be an interesting political problem for the U.S. — this freest of all societies — in the 800th anniversary year of the Magna Carta.
January 8-15, World Can’t Wait sponsored panels and films on the Guantanamo prisoners in New York City, Boston, Cambridge, Springfield & Northampton, MA, and Chicago: the Close Guantanamo Now Tour with Andy Worthington, Ramzi Kassem, Omar Farah, Candace Gorman, Debra Sweet. We helped organize protests in Washington, Boston, Miami, Chicago, Berkeley and Honolulu.
Andy, co-ordinator of the Stand with Shaker Aamer campaign and CloseGuantanamo.org, answered many questions at event, and on interviews, based on his work since 2006 researching the lives of the prisoners. He’s looking now at the government’s claims that up to 25% of the prisoners have gone “back” to the battlefield, even though we know that almost none of them were ever on a battlefield taking up arms against the U.S. We look forward to Andy’s research on that, and on what has happened to men released from Guantanamo, spread as they are around the globe. Read Andy’s report on his trip to the U.S.
We were very fortunate to have Ramzi, Omar, and Candace — all of who have clients currently in Guantanamo — thoughtfully wrangle with us over the existence of the “forever” prison, and what it will take to shut it down.
A note from a college student who attended the January 8 panel in NYC, indicates the power of such events:
“I have never met anyone like you who has such oppositional/disapproving views of the United States today, except for Glenn Greenwald through his book. You are someone who knows the full story, which to me is terrifying. I am only a few years out of the time of life where you don’t know the dirty side of things, especially because I did not follow the news about Guantanamo or Snowden very well and I read Time magazine, which Greenwald alleges is bias toward the government like the NY Times and the Washington Post. I had always thought the US was better in regards to upholding its founding ideals of freedom, the right to a trial, free speech, monitored authorities, etc., but it turns out my tax dollars are funding atrocities and the repudiation of these ideals… So my friend and I are horrified and saddened and inspired by the rally, and we learned a lot.”
A couple hundred activists and supporters converged in front of the White House Sunday, January 11, 2015, the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison camp at Guantanamo, in a protest sponsored by; Amnesty International USA, the Blue Lantern Project, CCR, CloseGitmo.net, CodePink, Council on American-Islamic relations, NRCAT National Religious Coalition Against Torture, Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait and others.
Many activists were dressed in the orange jumpsuits and black hoods that the men at Guantanamo wear at Guantanamo and while being tortured. Some held signs saying: FORCED FEEDING, INDEFINITE DETENTION, while others carried a bouquet of carnations.
One group read the first letter from Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo in 2003. Shaker remains in prison even though he’s been cleared for release in 2007.
The PEACE POETS from the Bronx recited one of their poems with those dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods stood behind and in front; “We Want Justice!” “We are Powerful” “We are Together” then recited a poem called, “There is a Man under That Hood.”
Jeremy Varon from Witness Against Torture said, “The dream of closing Guantanamo may indeed become a reality. That hope is not based on some executive order or Presidential promise, or speech or vague confession that America drifted from it’s values.” “There’s nothing in the legal twisted machinery of Guantanamo that is responsible for these releases. No judge can compel the military to let men go, Congress has passed to no law saying, Set them Free, rather, every release has been in essence a political act meaning that at last the President is doing what we have long implored. Asserting his political will and exercising true leadership do what is right no matter how long over due.”
Debra Sweet emphasized that the opening of Guantanamo was not a mistake on the part of the Bush regime, but rather meant to send a message to the rest of the world – that while already illegitimately occupying Afghanistan, preparing to invade Iraq, and staging torture centers around the world, they could take anyone they wanted to, lock them up, and never release them.
After all the speakers were done the activists left the White House and marched over to the the Justice Dept. where 3 of the activists in orange jumpsuits and black hoods handed out the carnations to the crowd for them to offer it to the Dept. of Justice. Then the crowd made its way over to DC court central cell block where prisoners were below the ground of where the next set of speakers were standing. One of the Peace Poets led the crowd in a call & response, “We have the courage to see through the lies, ‘cause our hearts listen when the people cry.”
Ray McGovern, Andy Worthington (the British investigative journalist) and Debra Sweet of World Can’t Wait were all participants.
View more videos at witnesstorture.org.
Protesters with the Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo gathered in the loop for a rally and march through downtown during rush hour on January 15, 2015, followed by an evening event with British journalist Andy Worthington, Guantanamo lawyer Candace Gorman Candace Gorman, and World Can’t Wait Director Debra Sweet.
Watch video of the event, broadcast on cable access (full length version available here).
Listen to Andy Worthington interviewed on Chicago Public Radio: The Future of Guantanamo.
New York City
January 8, 2015: we delved into facts surrounding torture and indefinite confinement at Guantanamo Bay. Andy Worthington, a freelance journalist who won’t let these men be forgotten, Ramzi Kassem is Associate Professor of Law at City University and part of the legal team representing Shaker Aamer and other prisoners, Omar Farah is a staff attorney at the Center For Constitutional Rights and Debra Sweet is the Director of The World Can’t Wait and has given her life’s work to ending the crimes of our government and has a hunger for a better world.
UC Berkeley Law School (Boalt Hall)
January 13, 2015, UC Berkeley Law: On the second afternoon of the new semester, 35 people arrived at Boalt Hall for a press conference and speak-out. Called by the local chapters of World Can’t Wait, the National Lawyers Guild, and Code Pink, this protest marked the 13th anniversary of Guantánamo and raised three demands: Close Guantanamo Now – Prosecute All the Torturers – and Fire, Disbar and Prosecute John Yoo.
There’s a wonderful 20-minute “minidocumentary” radio broadcast highlighting the event that was aired later that afternoon on KPFA’s Flashpoints news show, produced by Dennis Bernstein (more below). Listen here.
Under signs and banners carried by protesters wearing jumpsuits and hoods, the speak-out was a powerful collection of voices, kicked off by Stephanie Tang (World Can’t Wait) and attorney Sharon Adams for the National Lawyers Guild. Three Berkeley Law alums next took the bullhorn, all well-known for their life’s work as lawyers defending justice and rights: Ann Fagan Ginger, Dan Siegel , and Stephen Bingham all spoke to the total outrage of having illegal torture condoned as legal, and having a war criminal teaching at Boalt. Bingham spoke of the anger growing among many alumni over UC’s newest reward to Yoo, the oldest endowed chair in the law school. Toby Blome from Code Pink made the connections between the drone wars and the torture. Jeff Paterson (Courage to Resist and Chelsea Manning Support Network) brought solidarity from military resisters and recalled that one result of Chelsea’s courage was the release of the Guantanamo Files. Nova from the Revolution Club called on us all to see the connections under a system that generates these abuses and police brutality and murder at home, and to look to a whole different world. And a Boalt law student stepped forward to tell of her shame at having Yoo teaching here, and to say today she was joining this group in protest.
Then led by the “prisoners” and banners, the whole speak-out crowd filed into the law school and marched to the office of Boalt’s new dean, Sujit Choudry. We carried photographs of the Guantanamo child prisoner Omar Khadr. A Canadian native, Omar Khadr was 15 years old when he first entered Guantanamo only left 10 years later under a coerced plea bargain that sent him to spend 8 more years in a Canadian prison. Like the other 778 prisoners at Guantanamo since 2002, Omar Khadr was tortured physically and mentally. He suffers permanent damage (he lost one eye at Guantanamo and is in present danger of losing the other eye now due to lack of proper medical treatment in Canada).
In 2010 Sujit Choudry was an attorney with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and was co-counsel on a brief on behalf of Omar Khadr before Canada’s Supreme Court (which did rule that the Canadian government had violated Khadr’s rights). So Dean Choudry knows well the story of Omar Khadr’s torture, and presumably had to study up on what happened in that prison more generally. People who remember the former dean’s protection of John Yoo are hopeful that the new dean will understand his duty to open a full investigation under UC rules into John Yoo’s work enabling illegal torture, and move that process toward firing Yoo.
Sharon Adams and Therese Davis delivered to the dean’s door a petition organized by the National Lawyers Guild, protesting the awarding of the endowed chair to Torture Professor John Yoo, and bearing over 3,000 signatures gathered in just a few months. The dean wasn’t home to receive his guests, but you can hear some back-and-forth between the dean’s chief of staff and Sharon Adams and Ann Fagan Ginger, and Susan Harman. (The male voice is the law school’s public relations officer. He admitted to us that he “doesn’t think much about” what international or U.S. law say about torture.)
Outside the dean’s office hang several original paintings by Fernando Botero. They depict his nightmarish vision of the torture at Abu Ghraib. Many find this juxtaposition of proudly displaying the Abu Ghraib paintings, at the school which allows the lawyer whose work product enabled this grotesque, violent mistreatment and murder under official U.S. authority, just too bizarre for words. But we did end our visit to the dean, with a solemn presentation by Janet Weil (Code Pink) of a poem written by a Guantanamo prisoner, Mohammed el Gharani.
With no police in sight to clear the halls, we held a circle conversation for another half hour, grappling with this anniversary of torture, the incredible situation that Guantanamo is still open, and what next steps could be taken toward both closing Guantanamo AND forcing the prosecution of all those responsible including John Yoo.
Additional Media Coverage
Northeast Public Radio: Hope Seen For Closing Guantanamo Bay Prison
WWLP 22 News: British journalist speaks out against Guantanamo Bay
MuslimMatters.org: In the Forefront for Those in the Background #CloseGitmo