The pandemic has exposed the need to focus on inequity and injustice

Uncategorized // Film

Buffalo News | October 25, 2020

The pandemic has exposed the need to focus on inequity and injustice

By Tom Casey

The coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter, police violence, protester violence and fires in California and Australia have exposed our and humankind’s vulnerabilities, interdependence and injustices. What can we, the most powerful nation in history, do to reduce the suffering from future inevitable calamities and from how we treat one another? Can we take Rabbi Waskow’s advice on the day after the shock and pain of 9/11, “… only in a world where we all realize our vulnerabilities can we become a world where all communities feel responsible to all other communities..

We, whose ancestors emigrated from Europe, have been blessed with the moral foundation established in our Constitution. Those who have been excluded based their just demands for inclusion on their “unalienable rights” of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” as Martin Luther King Jr.’s words at the Lincoln Memorial made so morally clear. Our Dr. Khalid Qazi of the Muslim Public Affairs Council was inspired by our country’s motto in giving a talk at the Chautauqua Institute Interfaith Lecture Series titled, “E Pluribus Unum” (out of many, one). From this foundation and the land’s abundant resources we have created the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.

Buffalo’s Interfaith Peace Network believes these blessings give us a responsibility to fulfill our potential to lead the world in reducing suffering at home and abroad because God has “…made of one blood all nations,” (Acts 17:26) and in the words of Geronimo, “We are all the children of one God.” The interfaith movement has shown significant change can occur where it was once thought impossible.

We can reduce suffering by more fully committing to live core precepts of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Indigenous Native American principles. It is the Golden Rule. Each faith tradition very strongly conveys it with different words but with the exact same meaning: Treat others as you wish to be treated. Essential will be the humility to accept and acknowledge our failings, a bedrock of all the major faith traditions. A virtue that is opposite our perceived exceptionalism. While religions have very unfortunately been misused to foment and justify violence at times, they have often provided direction and a spiritual source of strength and community as evidenced by Martin Luther King Jr.

To reduce suffering today, Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth Zion noted, “In Jewish traditions the Hebrew phrase, pikuach nefesh, ‘preservation of life,’ serves as the guiding principle for individuals and communities. As we make our way through the tragedies of this terrible pandemic, Jewish communities have forged ahead by placing the preservation of life as our highest priority in decision-making.”

We must understand and feel the suffering of those who fear violence because of their skin color or as they worship God, Allah or the Great Spirit (also Great Mystery) in their temples, synagogues, churches and sacred gatherings. We can choose to better realize Chief Crazy Horse’s vision, “I see a time of Seven Generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life and the whole earth will become One Circle again.”

We must lead in the essential dialogue necessary to achieve “a world where all communities feel responsible to all other communities” by following the Quran’s directive that Dr. Qazi pointed to – that mankind was created “… from a single (pair); of a male and a female [Adam and Eve], And made you into nations and tribes, so you may come to know each other.”

We all have perpetuated violence in different ways or allowed it to happen by our silence. We need to follow Jesus’s direction to Peter to put down his sword and Isaiah’s admonition for nations to “beat their swords into ploughshares.” It becomes more evident daily in the actions of some police and some protesters that violence only begets violence in a futile and destructive cycle, sometimes exacerbating the problem it was perceived to resolve.

The pandemic has exposed extreme inequity and injustice. Many essential workers are receiving less than a family-supporting wage with no health insurance while working in contagious environments such as EMTs and health care providers. We could not survive long without those stocking our supermarket shelves, which would be mostly empty without the long, grinding physical labor of family farmers and immigrants (legal and undocumented).

The new, just normal will require real sacrifice by those of us more fortunate. This must result in some combination of a higher minimum wage, universal health care, subsidized job re-training, a tax increase for some and/or an increased Earned Income Tax Credit. If the top 50% of earners were to share in this sacrifice, their disposable income would have to decrease to varying degrees. For a two-person household, this is those earning or receiving more than $63,000 per year. Abroad, we must change our abysmally unjust track record of failing to require labor-supporting trade principles in order to more justly pay for the resources and labor we benefit greatly from and also to better protect our workers, many of whom have suffered significantly from unfair competition.

For all the world’s children, we must lead in reversing our violence to Mother Earth. The Native American Proverb says it all, “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our Children… We must provide shelter for more refugees and immigrants living in conditions we cannot imagine, some caused by our country’s unnecessary wars, political/economic interventionism to keep wages low, sanctions and support of brutal dictatorships in other countries. Reliable estimates for sanction-caused deaths in Iraq from 1990 to 2003 are over 700,000 children and 800,000 adults. Unknown numbers have died due to ongoing sanctions in Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.

Ending our excessive use of war, the present source of millions of refugees, must be achieved just as the once thought impossibilities of ending slavery and women voting have occurred. We must stop spending immense resources on the armaments of the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower said “…signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.. Four percent of our military budget could end starvation and provide clean water for the entire world. Matthew 25:35-36 and the Quran, 76:8-9, make clear our responsibility. The United States, once the bread basket for the world, is now the arms basket, exporting 80% of the world’s traded weapons, some to countries gripped in horrible violence.

Will we again fail to respond to God’s grace as we did after 9/11 and so far, are doing with the pandemic? We had the world’s sympathy, including a march for us in Tehran after 9/11. We had a golden opportunity to lead, strengthening the essential cooperation of many diverse countries, from Europe to Indonesia, to fight terrorism. Instead we started two clearly unnecessary wars that have taken at least 1 million lives, mostly children and women.

It is clear prayer alone will not meet our responsibility to create a new more just normal, and to give new meaning to the song “God Bless America” and the words “God shed His grace on thee” in “America the Beautiful.” To fulfill our county’s promise, Abraham Lincoln said, “We shall nobly save or meanly lose, the last best, hope for mankind (our country) …. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just – a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever Bless. Our children’s and humankind’s futures will be deeply affected by our choices.

Tom Casey is a member of the Interfaith Peace Network of Buffalo and an organizer with Witness Against Torture

Copyright (c)2020 Buffalo News, Edition 10/25/2020

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Martin Gugino – The “Buffalo Protestor” and our Friend

In Focus - Front Page // Film

Update:

Buffalo News | October 7, 2020

‘I’m good. The city is not good’: Man pushed by police speaks at protest

 

June 9, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Matthew Daloisio, 201-264-4424

WAT RESPONDS TO TRUMP’S MALICIOUS TWEET

Trump callously lied this morning on Twitter about Witness Against Torture’s friend and fellow activist, Martin Gugino – the 75-year-old elder who was shoved to the ground and stepped over by the Buffalo police force while protesting the death of George Floyd. WAT organizer Jeremy Varon has written the following op-ed, exposing the person Martin really is and what is truly at stake in this moment.

Martin Gugino — The “Buffalo Protestor” and our Friend
By Jeremy Varon

I too reacted with horror at seeing the video of a 75-year-old man bleeding from the head after being shoved to the ground by Buffalo police. My stomach turned tighter when I realized, “Wait, I know that guy.”  And now the president has tweeted about him, spinning the grotesque falsehood that his fall and terrible injury were somehow a set up.

The man is Martin Gugino. For years we worked together in Witness Against Torture, a close-knit group dedicated to closing the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo and opposing torture. Our community is beside itself.

None of us is surprised that it was Martin meeting the police line in a posture of non-violence. Martin is gentle, principled, and undaunted. Allied with the Catholic Worker tradition, he is also deeply committed to a tapestry of causes, from fair housing to immigrant rights. Guiding his activism is belief in the sacred power of non-violent resistance to injustice. If that makes him an “agitator,” as Buffalo’s police chief slandered him, then the world needs more agitators.

The video of Martin is already part of the iconography of our times, in which every disturbing visual seems a metaphor for something bigger. Eulogizing George Floyd, Reverend Al Sharpton used the image of the policeman’s knee on his neck as a symbol for centuries of anti-black oppression.

Each video clip of police brutalizing protesters points to a much larger system of law enforcement abuse, endemic in communities of color. I saw in my friend’s vulnerability and the scene surrounding him other meanings as well, useful for understanding our troubled society.

A galling aspect of the video is how rows of officers strut indifferently past an aged man lying still and wounded, as if dead. It made me think of the tens of thousands of elder Americans needlessly lost to Covid-19 and the callous disregard shown them by the Trump administration. Its catastrophic response to the virus has entailed the seemingly willful sacrifice of our seniors to Trump’s strongman fantasy of a virile nation. Shove the old, decrepit people out of the way. Step over them. Don’t help them. They were going to die anyway.

Covid-19 is as well an infuriating story of race, with Blacks greatly more likely to die from the virus than whites. The death of Black seniors — often in poorer health and homed in under-resourced facilities — feeds that disproportion.

The shared root of the twin crisis of Covid-19 and racism is the stunning disposability of certain lives in America, no matter its capacities and ideals. The difficult lesson of the current protest movement is to think about that failure in a new way. The police have not lapsed in their mission to serve and protect. For many communities, the police are built to dominate and abuse. Our health care system has not failed to keep us healthy. It is designed to keep only some of us healthy, while lining corporate pockets.

Martin’s abuse signals as well the perverse priorities of our current government. Among the state’s solemn obligations is to protect the lives and well-being of its people.  So too, it must protect the nation’s ideals. For America, the true meaning of “national security” must be the defense of life and liberty.  And yet, rather than tirelessly working to mitigate the virus and safeguard our freedoms, the Trump administration has declared the urgent need to rid public space of the people exercising basic rights. Like in Buffalo, police departments have gotten the message.

My last thoughts about the video are linked to the anti-torture activism Martin and I shared. In his eulogy for George Floyd, attorney Benjamin Crump named what was done to him as “torture.” It was a striking description I had not heard before. Floyd’s lynching needs no added indignity to stir our outrage. But torture has a special sting, both because of its willful cruelty and its supposed alienness to America.  

For years, we in Witness Against Torture vigorously protested what was in fact America’s systematic use of torture after 9/11. Like other human rights groups, we wanted the detained men to be subjects before the law, with basic protections and access to US courts. In our work, we did not think much about race.

Yet Black Lives Matter and other activists impressed on us an uncomfortable truth: that many of the abuses in War on Terror prisons, like solitary confinement, are routine in America’s domestic prisons, holding predominantly people of color. Access to the law, moreover, is no guarantee of justice. Sometimes the law is the problem.

We began to see torture as part of a continuum of state violence, including in its racial aspect. Almost exclusively, the victims of post-9/11 torture have been brown-skinned Muslim men, demonized with the label “terrorist.” Despite the innocence of most of the men historically held at Guantanamo, the law has been all but useless in freeing them. No one responsible for their torture has been held to legal account, including during the Obama administration. Going forward, our group sought to highlight the parallels between domestic and overseas abuses in a vast system of dehumanizing violence.

Dismantling anti-black racism is today’s urgent priority. But abuses of power crave synergies, making other causes relevant. Recall that president Trump is an avowed supporter of torture. His former lawyer John Dowd wrote a bizarre letter, tweeted out by Trump, describing the peaceful protestors cleared from Lafayette Park as “terrorists.” Trump’s own tweet branding Martin as a member of “Antifa” is of a piece with this nonsense that uses baseless fears to justify repression.

Such rhetoric makes an enemy of the American people, threatening to sic on them the tactics of the War on Terror. It seems, as yet, more a sign of desperation than strength — like heavily armored police pushing a 75-year-old man to the ground and the President lying about it. Martin will get up, god-willing, and be back on the streets. The more of us who are there, the more pitifully desperate and disarmed those opposing the tides of change will become.

Jeremy Varon – Professor of History, The New School

jvaron@aol.com

Photos by: Justin Norman, ShriekingTree.com

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Schedule – 2020 Fast for Justice: January 7-12

Fast for Justice 2020 // Film

Tentative schedule.  Please check back for updates.

Everything is at the First Trinity Lutheran Church Hostel (501 4th St NW, corner of 4th St NW and E St NW, WDC 20001) unless otherwise noted.

RSVP by emailing witnesstorture@gmail.com:  include your name, phone number and the dates you plan to be there.  

Tuesday, January 7th: 

Arrive after 2 pm at First Trinity Lutheran Church Hostel; 6 pm meal; 8 pm community circle

Wednesday, January 8th:

Fasting begins:  Fasting Information 2020

9 am: Morning circle and all day planning for WAT action, Congressional visits, and media work

2:30 pm: Leave from church for White House protest against war on Iran organized by Codepink 

6 pm: Community Dialogue

Thursday, January 9th:

9 am: Morning circle and all day action preparation, Congressional visits. 

2:30: Leave church for Demonstration at Union Station. Later proceed to US Capitol for large anti-war coalition rally.

5 pm: Exhibition: Justice for Muslims Collective poster display Shattering Justice & Re-Making the Muslim Threat (at The Festival Center, 1640 Columbia Rd NW WDC) 

 

7 pm: Evening panel: Guantanamo 18 Years Later: Witnessing and Resisting Our Carceral Society (Also at the Festival Center) Facebook event page 

Friday January 10th:

8:00 am: Pre-hearing demonstration in front of Prettyman US Courthouse, 333 Constitution Ave., NW.  **Leave church as a group at 7:30 am to head to courthouse.

9 am: Hearing (In re: Ammar Al-Baluchi) at Prettyman US Courthouse (333 Constitution Ave., NW, WDC). 

Options after the hearing:   Congressional visits or Fire Drill Friday demonstration

3:00 pm: Circle

7 pm: Until Justice, We Resist: An Evening of Music, Poetry and Political ComedyTom Neilson and Lynn Waldron (Folksingers); Gustavo Vargas and Cesar Mazat (Wayta); Frank Lopez (Peace Poets); Maha Hilal (Standup comedy) (in the First Trinity Lutheran Church sanctuary) 

Saturday January 11th:

9 am: Morning circle and preparation for rally.  James Yee will be with us for a discussion during the circle. Yee was the first Muslim chaplain, serving at Guantanamo, and author of For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire.

WAT members should arrive at Lafayette Park at 12:30 to be ready for rally

1:00 pm: Justice Now: Close Guantanamo & End Torture Rally (Lafayette Park, in front of the White House) See CCR’s Facebook page for event livestream.  The rally will be followed by a procession to the Trump Hotel.  Mock coffins representing the men who have died at Guantanamo will lead the procession.

5:00 pm: Break the Fast Together

Sunday January 12th:

Breakfast!

9 am: Morning circle

10 am – 4 pm: Retreat (Debriefing, Planning and Enrichment led by WAT organizer Herb Geraghty of Rehumanize Intl)

Monday January 13th: The hostel space is available through Sunday night for those who want to stay over, and in the event of any arraignments on Monday morning

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Come to DC for WAT’s Fast for Justice: Jan. 7-13, 2020

Campaigns // Film

A week of witness against Guantanamo and all it represents

Witness Against Torture will begin to gather on Tuesday evening, January 7th, to embrace the 40 Muslim men still locked up in Guantanamo and the hundreds of others forever scarred and haunted by the trauma of having been there.  We will remember, we will witness and we will move forward in community with each other.

The highlight will be Saturday, January 11th, with a rally and action marking 18 years since the U.S. landed the first plane full of Muslim men bound for that house of horrors.  We’re also planning an evening performance event, a panel addressing mass incarceration, and a showing of Justice for Muslims Collective’s poster display Shattering Justice & Re-Making the Muslim Threat.  See our schedule here.

We invite you to join us to sing, create, plan, witness, act, fast if you wish, and celebrate our community.  RSVP by emailing witnesstorture@gmail.com:  include your name, phone number and the dates you plan to be there.  We will get back to you with housing and other information.  

Fasting-Tips-2020

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Manijeh Saba Acquitted in Jan 9, 2019 Supreme Court Protest Case

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

March 29, 2019

On March 27, U.S. District Court Judge Deborah A Robinson granted Manijeh Saba’s Motion for Judgment of Acquittal of the charge of illegally protesting on the steps of the Supreme Court on January 9, 2019. She agreed that the government failed to show that Manijeh had violated the statute by bringing into public notice a party, organization or movement.  Judge Robinson went on to explain that although she appeared as one of five holding a sign, the sign did not refer to a party, organization or movement.  The sign read, “We Target, We Torture, We Terrify: Who Are We?”  There was no mention of Guantanamo Bay on her clothing or on the sign or in the words to the song they were singing: “Know where you stand — No More War; Know where you stand and stand there!”

Manijeh’s trial began on March 6.  On March 27, she continued her cross-examination of Supreme Court Chief of Police, Jeffery Smith.  Acting as her own attorney (pro se), she asked carefully constructed questions making the point that the charged offenses, and subsequent treatment during over 24 hours in police custody, were far harsher than the defendant’s nonviolent conduct warranted.

Here is an excerpt from her cross examination of the Supreme Court Chief Of Police:

Saba: Were we orderly and peaceful? Smith: Yes

Saba: Is it true that we did not interfere with ingress or egress to the Supreme Court? Smith: Yes

Saba: Was it standard procedure to arrest me?  Smith: Yes.

Saba: Did you know they would hold me overnight? Smith: Yes.

Saba: Was it standard procedure not to have a phone call?  Smith: I can’t answer that.

Saba: Was it standard procedure not to have enough clothing? ….. My outer garments were removed and held, and when I was released from jail without any ID or money I had to find my way back to the Supreme Court without winter garments. Smith: That was transport.  I cannot speak for what happened.

When all the testimony had been presented, Manijeh delivered her Motion for Judgment of Acquittal (MJOA), a motion asking that the charges be dropped. Her statement began:

Firstly, the law is too broad, as Chief Judge Howell articulated [in Hodge v. Tarsi].  The law is intended to ensure decorum and prevent disruptive demonstrations that would prevent ingress or egress to the Court, which did not occur in this case.  Therefore, a conviction for being behind a banner on the lower steps is not in keeping with the intention of the legislature and is an improper application of this law.

Secondly, the charge is for a de minimus violation which should not result in a conviction. There is no signage to indicate that you lose your first amendment rights at the temple of justice, the very place where such rights should be protected. There was no proper warning, since the police could have easily told us that we could lawfully demonstrate just a few feet away on the sidewalk. It is not proper for the police to say that the warning is meaningful, since they say “You are in violation of Title 40″ – am I really in violation of all several hundred pages of that title of the US code?

Judge Robinson obviously understood the reasonableness of Manijeh’s MJOA and the importance of the First Amendment.  After hearing the government’s and defendant’s testimony and reviewing the videotape of the arrests and arrest photos she concluded that the government failed to offer evidence that their purpose was for assemblage or display to bring into public notice a movement.  Moreover, she stated that there was no proof that Manijeh was in a nexus with the people on the sidewalk who were protesting Guantanamo.

Afterwards Mark Goldstone, her Attorney Advisor, said, “Manijeh Saba has tirelessly advocated for First Amendment freedom of speech rights since becoming a citizen many years ago.  She spoke out non-violently on the steps of the Supreme Court.  She defended herself in Court and her voice was heard as she won an acquittal using her voice to speak truth to power.”

Manijeh’s persistence should give us hope, even in the times when we do not prevail in court. She had no idea she would be acquitted when she said in her opening statement on March 6:

I engaged in a peaceful, inspiring demonstration against unending bombing and killing of Yemenis that our government supports.  With respect to Guantanamo, I was protesting the unlawful detentions and demanding the release of five Muslim men who have been approved for release, and 32 Muslim men who shouldn’t have been detained in the first place, as determined by the courts.  I was standing on the safe public grand plaza of the Supreme Court.  I crossed no barrier or barricade.  My conduct was heartfelt and peaceful in defense of my inalienable right to speak for peace and Justice.  Therefore, it did not seem reasonable to me for the officer to stop us from speaking out peacefully by arresting us.  

Manijeh’s legal defense was expensive and although WAT has been able to contribute some from general funds, she’s still got a long way to go.  To help her, write checks out to Witness Against Torture, with “Manijeh legal defense” in the subject line and mail to:

New York Catholic Worker
Attn: Witness Against Torture
55 East Third St.
New York, NY 10003

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Manijeh Saba fell ill during court proceeding: Her trial continues on March 27

In Focus - Front Page // Film

Manijeh Saba’s trial in U.S. District Court for the charge of protesting on the steps of the Supreme Court began on Wednesday March 6th.  On January 9, she and four others were calling out the U.S. government’s complicity in war atrocities against the people of Yemen as well as its ongoing torture of Muslim men at Guantanamo Prison.  They were arrested on January 9, but charges were dropped against three others and Joanne Lingle pleaded guilty.

Early in Wednesday’s proceedings Manijeh fainted, and Judge Deborah A. Robinson scheduled a continuation of the trial on March 27 at 10:30 in Courtroom 4 of the Prettyman U.S. District Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue NW, 2nd floor.  Please come for support, if you can!

After trial preliminaries Manijeh presented her opening statement.  As she spoke, she needed to pause as she became overcome with emotion and also began to feel faint.  Judge Robinson asked if she would like to sit down, but she insisted on completing her statement:    

Good Morning your Honor, I’m Manijeh Saba. 
 
Today, you will hear that I allegedly violated a law by protesting.  I intend to show you that my actions were not illegal, that they were an exercise of my First Amendment Rights.  I will ask you, at the end of this trial, to find me not guilty, because my conduct is protected by the First Amendment of our Constitution.
 
I am a 72 years old Iranian-American mother, grandmother of three, and married to Majid Maleki for 46 years.  I came to the United States in 1977 for graduate studies.  I am a political sociologist with focus on women and development.
 
I was born in Iran, in a military household during a short-lived, decade of burgeoning democracy whose life was cut short, thanks to the US-British coup d’état of 1953.  Hence, I have experienced two authoritarian regimes in Iran, one that of the Shah, and the other the continuing brutal theocracy of the Islamic Republic.  As a result, I know what it means to live under a dictatorial regime.  
 
As I remember, I have always been curious, asked questions, and pushed against unreasonable boundaries. Therefore, resistance against totalitarianism, regardless of where it exists, and however it rears its vicious head, is a fundamental part of who I am.  
 
I became a US citizen in 1996 and have voted in every election since then.  As part of the citizenship process, I took the oath to “support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic”.  I have great respect for our constitution and carry a copy with me at all times.  I took the pledge of nonviolent resistance and have tried to follow the path of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King who, in the face of violence, gave their lives in promotion of peace and justice. 
 
It is this background that has brought me before you today. 
 
On January 6th of this year, the 17th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo prison, I joined Witness Against Torture for a week in Washington DC to fast, remember, and raise awareness about the 9 Muslim men who died in Guantanamo, and the condition of the 40 remaining in the extrajudicial trap of indefinite detention each for at least 10 years.  Of the 40 Muslim men still detained there, 5 have been cleared for release, as not a threat to security.  The US Federal courts have determined that 32 others are detained unlawfully.  How could this happen in the United States?  I could neither forget nor stand by, when innocent people including the hundreds who have already been released without charge from Guantanamo are targeted and tortured with no end in sight.
 
Also, we spent the week remembering the horrific condition of the people of Yemen due to the US backed Saudi led coalition war since March 2015.  This war is being fought with the support of United States Intelligence as well sale of bombs made in the United States.  This forgotten war on Yemen has so far killed 146, 000 people, at least 70,000 of them children, and has displaced millions of people, causing a humanitarian catastrophe.  On August 9th 2018 a Saudi warplane dropped a US made 500 pounds laser-guided bomb killing 40 school boys and 11 adults.  And of the 79 civilians wounded by this bomb, 56 were children.  
 
On January 9, we marched to the United States Supreme Court protesting all forms of torture and the on-going Guantanamo detentions, as well as the unending wars and mass destruction that our government is concurrently involved in globally, particularly in Yemen since 2015.   
 
Dozens of us, members of Witness Against Torture, most in orange jump suits and black hoods, representing the Guantanamo detainees, arrived on the sidewalk before the steps of the Supreme Court in the early afternoon.  We were singing and chanting, we carried signs and banners denouncing the United States-backed Saudi bombing of Yemen and called for the closure of Guantanamo.  
 
Several people in orange jumpsuits and black hoods laid down on bloodied shrouds on the sidewalk.  We also placed 36 blue children’s book bags on a bloodied shroud, bearing names of the children killed in Yemen on a school trip.
 
At first, I stood without a sign at the foot of the steps.  Later, I was given a sign bringing attention to the boys Killed in Yemen.  I held it up high.  Several minutes later, someone else took the sign and I joined four others who were holding a banner that read:  
We Target, We Torture, We Terrify!   Who Are We? 
 
As we stood there we repeatedly all sang:   “Know where you stand. No more war. Know where you stand, and stand there.” 
 
A short while later, we who held the banner walked up the first few steps of the Supreme Court and stood on the grand front plaza.  It was a place that was safe, open for us, and we posed no threat and or obstruction to anyone who would enter or leave the building.  It was a very cold (about 35 degrees), quiet day with very little public activity on the front plaza of the court.  We repeatedly sang the song, along with our group standing on the sidewalk at foot of the steps.  
 
After a while standing there, a Supreme Court security officer gave us three warnings to disperse or get arrested.  I continued holding the banner and singing “Know where you stand, no more war.  Know where you stand and stand there.”  I risked arrest and did not leave.  Why didn’t I leave?  Because I believed then, as I do now, that the First Amendment of the United States constitution that states:  
 
“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, …or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”   
 
protects my action.  
 
I engaged in a peaceful, inspiring demonstration against unending bombing and killing of Yemenis that our government supports.  With respect to Guantanamo, I was protesting the unlawful detentions and demanding the release of 5 Muslim men who have been approved for release, and 32 Muslim men who shouldn’t have been detained in the first place, as determined by the courts.  I was standing on the safe public grand plaza of the Supreme Court.  I crossed no barrier or barricade.  My conduct was heartfelt and peaceful in defense of my inalienable right to speak for peace and Justice.   Therefore, it did not seem reasonable to me for the officer to stop us from speaking out peacefully by arresting us.  Nor does it seem reasonable that they did not offer us the alternative to speak out with others a few feet away on the sidewalk.  There is nothing that distinguishes the sidewalk from the step.  
 
Around 1:00 PM I was arrested along with 4 other fellow protesters, and was taken to the basement of the Supreme Court for processing.  I was not given a phone call.  I was questioned after I said I did not want to speak without an attorney being present. And then, I was sent to jail overnight in terrible conditions before conviction.  My experience in custody of the Supreme Court police of the United State was most unusual and shocking. 
 
Who are We?
 
I appear before Your Honor today, asking if the Constitution condones the arrest and jailing of five peaceably assembled protesters.  It is my belief that it does not.  That is why I was there that day and why I continued to protest.  I will show the court throughout this trial that the law under which I am charged criminalizes peaceful demonstration of dissent, and therefore, it is a thoughtless affront to our Constitution and our values as Americans.  I hope you will find that peaceful political protest is fundamental to our democracy and not a crime in our society.  This is, who we are.

Read to the court on March 6, 2019.

The government then began its case by putting the Supreme Court Chief of Police, Jeffery Smith, on the stand.  Manijeh was sitting down while cross examining him, as she wasn’t feeling well.  Judge Robinson called a ten minute recess for her, but during that time Manijeh fainted.  She quickly revived, nurses and paramedics arrived, examined her and asked if she wished to go hospital but she declined. After the recess Judge Robinson decided to schedule a continuation at 10:30 am on Wednesday March 27 in Courtroom 4 of the Prettyman U.S. District Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue NW, 2nd floor.  

Many local peacemakers were unable to attend on March 6 because of other events, including the annual Ash Wednesday service in front of the White House.  Now everyone is encouraged to come to support on March 27th!

To help Manijeh with her legal defense, write checks to Witness Against Torture with “Manijeh legal defense” in the subject line and mail to:
New York Catholic Worker 
Attn: Witness Against Torture
55 East Third St.
New York, NY 10003    

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David Barrows’ Day in Court: A Most Persuasive Guilty Plea

News // Film

by Helen Schietinger

What’s a good outcome when you’re pleading guilty to calling out a major crime by breaking a minor law?  On March 8, when David Barrows pleaded guilty to “disrupting Congress” last spring — warning the senators not to confirm Gina Haspel as CIA director —  he achieved what some of us would call a significant achievement: the judge acknowledged that the government should not try to stop civil disobedience.

Here’s how the hearing went: David, with Attorney Mark Goldstone at his side, appeared in respectable Court Drag: he displayed a distinguished presence in his dress shirt, vest, tie and cuff links.  David’s guilty plea was established, and then the government’s prosecutor spent an incredible amount of time presenting the government’s sentencing recommendation.  First he extensively reviewed David’s (admittedly extensive) record of prior arrests and convictions.  Then he correlated those events with when David had been on probation for previous infractions. 

Arguing that David is a “Career Protestor,” the prosecutor said, “Mr. Barrows doesn’t stop his conduct unless he is on probation and threatened with jail…. The government doesn’t want him to go to jail, or do community service, or pay a fine, or report to CSOSA.  The only way to stop his behavior is to order him to stay away.  Therefore he should have a 6-months stay-away from all Congressional buildings and 5 years of probation.”

When Attorney Goldstone began his response, Judge Solerno cut him off, saying, “This isn’t about torture.” Mark pushed back, arguing that David spoke out because our government had destroyed videotapes that would have documented crimes, and the Senate was deciding whether to approve Gina Haspel, the very person who had authorized the destruction of those tapes, to head the CIA.

Judge Solerno reiterated that that wasn’t what this case was about.

Attorney Goldstone concluded by insisting that it was unreasonable for the government to ask for a maximum sentence for a nonviolent offense, in particular for saying something in a public place simply because the government wants to prevent speech there.  Moreover, because the people have every right to be in and to speak out in Congressional buildings — public buildings — he challenged the stay-away order as inappropriate.

David then read his sentencing statement:

Your Honor, I would like to inform you about my state of mind and motive involved in the protest for which I enter a plea of guilty.

I admit that I spoke out during the Senate confirmation vote on Gina Haspel to head the Central Intelligence Agency, speaking from a visitor balcony in the United States Senate chamber so that my words of warning could be heard by the senators below.  I did not curse, nor did I use obscenity, nor was I violent.

I simply warned that any senator who voted for Gina Haspel to become head of the CIA would be knowingly giving approval to, and career advancement to, an unrepentant overseer of torture and destroyer of evidence of torture who had never been held accountable.  Ms. Haspel had supervised torture at a black site (a secret site) in Thailand where at least one man had been tortured to death under her watch.

Therefore, those senators voting for her would be rewarding behaviors deemed criminal in violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Principles and the Eighth Amendment.  As a former United States Government employee I took an oath to defend the United States Constitution against all enemies, domestic and foreign.  Haspel is now, despite all this, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

I had just heard Senators Leahy and Wyden say they would not vote for Haspel because of her unrepentant involvement in torture and her destruction of evidence of torture.  The late Senator McCain, who was a torture survivor himself, had days before implored other senators to take this stand.

During the week of this critical vote I had stood in front of the Senate office buildings for 3 hours in the rain with a sign that read, “Any senator who votes to affirm a torturer as head of the CIA is a criminal as well.”  I also wrote two letters about this issue to the editors of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Today with the increased threats of nuclear wars and ever increasing climate disasters the whole human race is virtually floating on a life raft.  When we entrust our fate to torturers and criminals, we sink our own ship.

I admit that I broke the Senate’s rules of etiquette and its criminal statute, but I did so because I believed that it was my duty as an American citizen to non-violently stand up and speak out for justice itself.

I thus ask this court for a sentence of community service in lieu of jail.  I can do more good for the community outside of jail than within.  What I did was speak up for victims and try to prevent further victims of torture.

Thank you, Your Honor.


When David finished, the courtroom was silent for an entire two minutes: his words had reached Judge Solerno.

When the judge finally spoke, he said he understood the prosecutor’s point about preventing repeat conduct, but “What we’re preventing — there’s nothing particularly dangerous or violent about it.  There’s no reason to prevent civil disobedience.  I don’t think a 5-year stay-away or probation would be useful.”  He sentenced David to a 30-day suspended sentence with 9 months unsupervised probation, and 30 hours of community service and $50 to the Crime Victims Fund.  During that time he is not to enter 11 of the 14 Congressional Buildings, but he is allowed on Congressional grounds.

David entered his guilty plea as part of a plea deal with the Government in return for their dropping charges in a more recent arrest, which resulted in not only the charge of interrupting Congress but also contempt of court. Only a few weeks before David had – in a Congressional hearing – confronted Elliott Abrams whom Trump had appointed as head of U.S. interventions  in Venezuela. (Years ago Abrams was convicted of the felony of perjury for lying to Congress to cover up massacres in Central America by the Contras.)  Given these multiple charges, David was faced with almost certain jail time.

David Barrows is extremely grateful to those who were able to be in court for him. He wants them to know that they were as important an audience as the judge: “They were the friends who could bring the best out in me.”

Some activists would wish for the ultimate goal: for the court to find David innocent because he was fully justified in using civil resistance to call out injustice and criminal behavior by the government.  But until that day comes, this was a very successful day in court!

Attorney Mark Goldstone poses with client David Barrows after a “successful day in court.”
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WAT Podcast Series “Is This Who We Are?” with Bar Crawl Radio

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

We were delighted to host Alan Winson, a podcaster with Bar Crawl Radio, as he embedded himself with us for our 2019 Fast For Justice, interviewing our activists throughout the week. On our last evening in DC, he and his partner Rebecca McKean interviewed eight of us at the Iron Horse Tap Room, just blocks from our church hostel. You can listen to that program here.

Alan then took home to Manhattan the many hours of interviews he conducted throughout his week with us and produced four additional podcasts in a series he entitles “Is This Who We Are?” The podcasts are posted on iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher.

The podcasts are also available on the Podcast Archives page at the Bar Crawl Radio website, listed as BCR #29 (the Iron Horse Tap Room broadcast) and BCR #29 Extra (the series “Is this who we are?” released in four parts Feb. 12 – 15).

Alan introduces the series in this message to his subscribers:

“Is this who we are?”  is an up-close, 4-part podcast series covering four days of protest by Witness Against Torture in Washington, D.C. to close the Guantanamo Prison.  Each episode presents the sounds and actions of one of the days of a week long action in early January, 2019. The schedule for posting each of the episodes follows.

I lived with WAT members in the First Lutheran Trinity Church Hostel – and followed their actions and talked with them about their experiences of fasting and being arrested. 

For me – it was a formative experience.
You can find the “Is this who we are?” podcast series at Bar Crawl Radio on iTunes / Stitcher / Spotify – or at barcrawlradio.com


Posting on –
Feb. 12 — Tuesday’s actions — Singing at Code Pink / Yelling at the White House.
Feb. 13 — Wednesday’s actions — Arrests at the Supreme Court.

Feb. 14 — Thursday’s actions — Arrests at McConnell’s office.

Feb. 15 — Friday’s actions — A long march to the White House.  An anti-WAT protestor. And the fast ends.
BCR#29 now posted — Conversation with WAT members at the Iron Horse Tap Room in Washington. D.C.

Alan used his interviews to hold up a mirror to ourselves. His questions challenged each of us to articulate what brings us to our work and how we sustain ourselves. Listening to the podcasts, we’re surprised and delighted to learn so much more about each other and to appreciate again how central community is to our work. Thanks, Alan and Rebecca, for your creative and strengthening work, lifting up our cause to close Guantanamo, end torture, and surely deepen compassion.

Learn more about BCR and subscribe to its podcasts at barcrawlradio.com. BCR is broadcast on Upper West Side Radio at upperwestsideradio.com.

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