Protests mark sixth anniversary of Gitmo prison camp

From Witness Against Torture, Jan. 11:

Over 80 Arrested in Guantánamo Protests at Supreme Court
WASHINGTON, DC – Early this afternoon, over 80 activists organized by Witness Against Torture delivered a message to the U.S. Supreme Court demanding the shut-down of the U.S. prison at Guantánamo and justice for those detained there. 35 activists were arrested inside the Court building and another 35 on the steps. The arrests followed a solemn march from the National Mall of 400 persons that included a procession of activists dressed like the Guantánamo prisoners in orange jumpsuits and black hoods – part of an International Day of Action that was endorsed by over 100 groups and that included 83 events around the world.

Inside, a member of Witness Against Torture delivered a letter to the nine Supreme Court justices regarding Al Odah v. United States and Boumediene v. Bush, the two cases brought by Guantánamo detainees that they are now considering, along with a writ of habeas corpus for each of the 275 current detainees. Other activists attempted to unfurl a banner inside the Court building but were prevented from doing so by police, who began arresting them and shut the front doors to the building. Another group then started reading the names of the Guantánamo prisoners, but were prevented, whereupon they sat down and started chanting, “Shut It Down!” prior to being arrested.

At approximately the same time, activists dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods representing the men imprisoned at Guantánamo, knelt on the steps of the Court building and eight others unfurled a banner on the steps. They were arrested as well. Each arrestee had previously surrendered his or her ID, and was taken into custody under the name of one of the Guantánamo prisoners.

“This group brought the names of the victims of Guantánamo right to the Supremem Court,” said Elizabeth McAlister, a member of the Jonah House community in Baltimore and the mother of one of the persons arrested inside the Court. “The Court has listened and listened to the views of the imprisoned, but ha not heard them.”

Outside the Court, advocates read testimonies and names of prisoners, performed street theater, and handed out information. One performance was a simulation of waterboarding, one of the most controversial torture tactics used at Guantánamo and in other U.S. detention centers.

January 11, 2008 marks six years of detention without hope of release for nearly 300 men at Guantánamo. “Lawyers are working hard to bring the cases of the prisoners into the courts,” said Susan Crane of the Jonah House Community, who participated in today’s action. “But lawyers can only do so much. These prisoners, who have been illegally detained, tortured, abused, and kept from their families for years, are not even able to communicate openly with their lawyers. Thats why we were here today to appeal to the Supreme Court justices to stand up now and end this abuse.”

Witness Against Torture is calling on the U.S. government to:

* Repeal the Military Commissions Act and restore Habeas Corpus;
* Charge and try or release all detainees;
* Clearly and unequivocally forbid torture and all other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, by the military, the CIA, prison guards, civilian contractors, or anyone else;
* Pay reparations to current and former detainees and their families for violations of their human rights;
* Shut down Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and all secret CIA detention facilities.

See our last posts on the torture scandal, and the Al Odah and Boumediene cases.

  1. In other Gitmo protests…
    Some 60 protesters blocked traffic outside the gates of the US Southern Command in Doral, FL. Said former US Army resister Camilo Mejia: “Everybody’s entitled to their day in court. Give them an attorney and charge them with something.” (Miami Herald, Jan. 12)

    In London, about 100 people gathered near the US embassy, wearing the orange suits similar to those worn by detainees. Protestors took turns overnight in steel cages outside the heavily-fortified embassy. “Guards” in military uniform, some with dogs, barked orders at the “detainees.”

    “This is really to show our rage against the fact that this black hole facility continues to exist, that there are still 275 people outside any rule of law, and to demand its immediate closure,” Amnesty International campaigns director Sarah Burton, told AFP.

    In Sydney, hundreds of protesters in orange jumpsuits carried placards through the central business district. A protest in the Australian city of Adelaide included Terry Hicks, whose son David—the recently-released so-called “Aussie Taliban”—is one of only three Guantanamo detainees to have faced formal charges.

    Some 40 people gathered in Rome waving placards saying “Close Guantanamo Now” and “End Illegal Detentions.”

    In Athens, about a dozen protesters—blindfolded and chained—gathered outside the Greek parliament, with a banner reading “Guantanamo: 50-star hotel.”

    A small protest was also held in freezing central Stockholm.

    In Madrid, Amnesty’s Spanish chapter presented the US embassy with a petition signed by 170 Spanish lawmakers demanding that the camp be closed.

    Several human rights groups staged an hour-long sit-in outside the justice ministry in Nouakchott, Mauritania, to demand the government do more for the release of two nationals still held in Guantanamo Bay.

    Nine rights groups were due to protest in Rabat, Morocco, calling for guarantees of the fair treatment and trial of two nationals sent back from Guantanamo.

    In Washington a petition signed by 1,100 parliamentarians from across the world and 100,000 US citizens handed in to the White House.

    Hundreds have been released from Guantanamo to various countries after being seized abroad. Some 275 remain, according to the US Defense Department.

    Also on Jan. 11, a US court turned down a claim by four British ex-Gitmo detainees claiming they were tortured at the prison, saying accused officials acted as part of their jobs. “The alleged tortious [wrongful] conduct was incidental to the defendants’ legitimate employment duties,” Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson wrote in the ruling. The four—Ruhal Ahmed, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Jamal Al-Harith—were released in 2004 without charge. (AFP, Jan. 11)

  2. First-hand account from Supreme Court protest
    From Judith Pasternak of War Resisters League:

    1:00 on a January Friday afternoon at the Supreme Court. Tourists amble through the Great Hall, looking at the portraits of Chief Justices through the centuries. Suddenly a clarion voice sings out: “Ain’t you got a right?” and a dozen voices echo back, “Ain’t we got a right!” And then two dozen voices join in—and three dozen people take off jackets to reveal bright orange “Shut down Guantanamo” T-shirts.

    Supreme Court security personnel rush forward to shut the demonstration down—a little too late. The activists from Witness Against Torture have made their point.

    Over the next hour, as the 40-plus demonstrators from inside the Court are arrested, each of them gives, instead of her or his own name, the name of one of the people who has been detained at Guantanamo over the last six years. Another 30-plus arrested outside the Court—for making speeches on Surpeme court grounds—do the same. And the next day, when the docket is posted in the DC Superior Court, a small miracle has happened: The names of 22 Guantanamo detainees—held for up to six years without beng charged with any crime—have at last appeared in U.S. court papers. The names of more than 50 detainees were announced during the court proceedings that afternoon.

    Yaser Alzahrin, for instance—the name given by Matthew Daloisio, of Witness Against Torture and the War Resisters League—was on the docket. Arkin Mahmud, the name given by Ellen Davidson of the War Resisters League—the woman who led off the singing inside the Court—didn’t make it onto the docket, but when Davidson was asked her name during the mass arraignment, she said, “I was acting on behalf of Arkin Mahmud. My name is Ellen Davidson.”