Take Action: Call your senators today to denounce torture

In Focus - Front Page // Film

Witness Against Torture is concerned to learn that Donald Trump is already making cabinet picks who are willing to support his campaign calls for “waterboarding and much worse.”  Mike Pompeo, his nominee for CIA director, is an open torture supporter, who responded to the Senate intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report by calling CIA participants in the torture program “heroes.” Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions has opposed past anti-torture legislation.  National Security Advisor nominee Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn when questioned about waterboarding during the campaign answered that he believes in leaving as many options as possible “on the table right up until the last minute.”

Senator John McCain, however, spoke out against torture at a Nov. 19 conference, saying, “I don’t give a damn what the President of the United States wants to do, we will not waterboard. We will not torture. We will not torture people, and sometime I hope we can get David Petraeus up to this forum. He’s one of the great military leaders. He’ll tell you it doesn’t work. My friends, it doesn’t work. If you inflict pain on somebody long enough, they’re going to tell you whatever they think you want to hear to have it stopped.”

WAT is delivering a letter to Sen. McCain on Monday to support his stance on torture, offer WAT’s perspective on torture at Guantanamo, and ask him to continue to speak loudly in favor of a zero-tolerance stance against torture.  Click here to read the letter.

WAT is VERY concerned about what the president-elect intends to do.  JOIN WAT TODAY in calling and writing Senator McCain and your own senators. Demand that your senators join Sen. McCain to oppose this new administration’s stated intentions to “bring back waterboarding” and other forms of torture.  Ask them to question Cabinet nominees about their views on torture and oppose nominees who support torture.  Thank Senator McCain for his recent refusal to accept Trump’s plan to return to illegal treatment of U.S. captives and tell him to never back down.

US Capitol Switchboard:  (202) 224-3121

To support your advocacy, we offer links to the following WAT statements:

In this critical transition to the Trump administration, we repeat the call we made earlier this year:

We remind ourselves that Islamophobia is dangerous.  It is at the foundation of Guantanamo Bay Prison’s existence and the fuel that carries the violence we see today.  We continue to offer our love and support to our Muslim sisters and brothers who will be targeted by violence fostered by hate speech.  The work to dismantle racism and xenophobia should be our call.




Join us in DC this January

Fast for Justice 2017 // Film

Please note:  RSVP is required – email us: witnesstorture@gmail.com

Fast for Justice Schedule

Jan. 11 Rally info


We come together not only to call for the closure of Guantanamo and its legacy of institutionalizing Islamophobia, but also to invite our government and fellow citizens to choose the side of love, mercy and justice.

We demand an end to policies that maintain racism, mass incarceration, and fear of our neighbors. We come together to envision the world we want to live in where justice and equality reign.

We hope you will join us for a week of actions and fasting from January 3-12, 2017 in Washington, DC and our presence at the presidential inauguration January 19-21.

We will start fasting from the evening of Jan. 3rd and break our fast on January 11 in the morning. If you cannot make it to DC, but are considering fasting during this time – let us know. We will organize a conference call for everyone fasting across the country and we want to include you.

If you can only come for one day, join us for the rally with our coalition partners on January 11th.  Location is TBD. We will also engage in creative actions around DC between Jan. 4-12 – contact us if you are interested in participating.

Jan 10 we will host a cultural event in collaboration with the Tea Project – more details coming soon.

We also invite you to join us from afar, to participate in our solidarity actions and to organize actions in your own communities to raise awareness of torture and indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay.

January 8 – Workshop on tear gas use in prisons with War Resisters League – https://www.facebook.com/events/226640994413157/

January 9 Action with War Resister League : https://www.facebook.com/events/210198856106456/

You can join us for our annual rally on January 11 at noon at the Ellipse. More information here : https://www.facebook.com/events/1818873991715572/

Jan 10 we will host a cultural event in collaboration with the Tea Project – Space is limited so please RSVP here : https://ccrjustice.org/wordsfromthegrassroots#.

For more info and to RSVP, email us: witnesstorture@gmail.com.

The latest updates are on our Facebook event page.


WAT Workshop Presentation at the October 2016 SOAW Convergence on the Border

Uncategorized // Film


Earlier this  month Witness Against Torture members traveled to the US-Mexico border in Arizona to attend the SOAW Convergence on the Border protesting border militarization, as well as the criminalization of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and people of color.  Maha Hilal, Paula Miller, and Helen Schietinger presented a workshop at the convergence.  Helen reports below.

WAT Workshop Presentation at the October 2016 SOAW Convergence on the Border:  What connects the Eloy Detention Center, Rikers Island, Guantanamo Prison and Communication Management Units? (Hint: think racism and state violence.)

Presented by Maha Hilal, Paula Miller, and Helen Schietinger
Reported by Helen Schietinger

The Plan:

We had a great workshop planned: we would begin by spending five minutes on each of four types of detention institutions:

  • Paula would use her five minutes to describe immigration detention centers and present the story of a person imprisoned in one.
  • Helen would describe Guantanamo prison and show a short video of WAT members reading the words of Tariq Ba Odah.
  • Maha would explain Communication Management Units and read the words of a Muslim person doomed to being in one.
  • Helen would describe U.S. prisons and show a video of the words of Kalief Broder, who committed suicide after being imprisoned and horribly abused at Rikers Island.

We would follow these brief spotlights with a discussion of what these institutions have in common and what state objectives they achieve through racism and violence.  The conclusion would be a video of the Peace Poets performing Mental Slavery.

The Real Thing:

Even though the video equipment ended up not working and we were competing with other intriguing workshops and the interfaith service at the border, lots of people came and they appreciated what we had to offer.  I ended by playing Mental Slavery on my laptop since the AV equipment didn’t work, wondering if the audience could hear well enough, and if so, whether the strong language in the poem would offend anyone, but most folks were rapt.

We continued to get positive feedback from people for the next two days. WAT’s instinct to connect the dots between the different forms of U.S. detention and torture is a good one. Many participants, passionately committed to opposing one form of detention abuse or torture, had no idea of the extent of human rights abuses in other institutions.  Nobody had even heard of CMU’s.  Our work to build bridges and provide education among our diverse communities is as important as ever.


WAT Update on Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab, Ex-GTMO Detainee/Hunger Striker

In Focus - Front Page // Film

Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab, a Guantanamo detainee released with 5 other men to Uruguay in 2014, is continuing a long-term hunger strike in a desperate demand to be allowed to reunite with his family in Turkey.  In a thwarted attempt to travel to Turkey this summer he was detained without counsel in Venezuela.  When he was returned to Uruguay, he took to his bed and has refused to eat or drink liquids.

Last week he fell into a coma at home, but was revived after a visiting medical team administered intravenous liquids. Declared medically stable, he was not hospitalized but is being monitored closely.  He gave the government of Uruguay an ultimatum to identify a country to send him to or he would continue his total hunger strike. On September 19, Dhiab agreed to continue drinking water until September 26, which will prevent imminent dehydration but not the critical dangers of starvation.  However, this offers additional time for Uruguay to identify a country for him to go to.  Uruguayan media reports that the government is making efforts to do so and is asking for US assistance in pressuring Arab countries to accept him.  Meanwhile, activists in Uruguay who support Dhiab are planning a week of protest vigils in Montevideo at the Foreign Ministry to call for Uruguayan solidarity and to plead his case.

To learn more, go to:

Hunger-striking Gitmo ex-detainee’s health said to worsen

Why is a former Guantanamo prisoner on hunger strike in Uruguay?

Wat responds to fate of Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab, ex-GTMO detainee/hunger striker



Case Dismissed: A Personal Reflection

News // Film

Case dismissed! On Monday morning eight bewildered-looking ex-defendants filed out of Courtroom 116 at DC Superior Court after the prosecution stated the government was “not ready,” and the case was immediately dismissed. I was one of the eight, and I felt a sort of comedic relief that overcame my letdown. After working for months on trial prep conference calls, we’d had a grueling mock trial the night before in front of our mock judge, attorney Mark Goldstone. “Fantastic performance,” according to Mark, who knows how to bring out the best in us, but we defendants were not so sure. It was a restless night for each of us. And so hearing “case dismissed” after only 30 seconds in front of the judge felt like a balloon popping! Maybe that “balloon” was our collective ego. We had so much to tell the court, so much that was so, so important. And now our “statement” came down to the simple act of standing before the judge. Well, we showed up ready to roll, right? Unlike the government! We lamented it was too early to go out for a beer, so we debriefed over coffee in the courthouse coffee shop instead. And by the time we emerged from the courthouse for our post-dismissal group photo, we were all smiles!

We offer a heart full of thanks to both our attorney advisors, Mark Goldstone and Matt Daloisio. Matt told us after the mock trial the previous evening to trust in ourselves and just keep the message simple. He reminded us that what we chanted in the Senate on January 12th was indeed a simple and powerful message: “US Torture: It’s official. Prosecute now!” Let this message guide our words at trial.

And Mark guided us with a marvelous, if nerve-wracking, pedagogical method: he just kept throwing us into the water and telling us to swim. He would plunge us into mock trials without much in the way of preliminary advice, and then after asking many probing questions of us as “judge,” he would affirm all that had emerged from us as we found our way through the practice. In this way, he taught us that the truth is within us. We know what matters. Let it emerge from our hearts and souls.

Matt reminded us that none of this preparation is lost. Not only have we learned a great deal, but we have been strengthened by the experience. And so we parted with these simple words: “Til next time!”

Torture in the spotlight during Torture Awareness Week: by Josie Setzler

Legalized Torture: From Guantanamo Bay to Rikers Even in the wake of two WAT trial dismissals this week, many WAT activists stayed in town for events commemorating Torture Awareness Week. Tuesday evening, many of us attended a panel entitled Legalized Torture: From Guantanamo Bay to Rikers, held by Amnesty International at the Friends Meeting of Washington. Dr. Maha Hilal, executive director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, emphasized the role of dehumanization in producing torture. At Guantanamo, she told us, dehumanization took three forms: first, a cultural erasure, then a legal erasure, leading finally to the physical erasure that is torture. She emphasized that torture is part of a continuum, not a discrete act. Prior to torture, people are dehumanized to get the public conditioned to accept it and that becomes part of the torture itself. According to Maha, the word “moral” is not part of the current conversation about torture, citing a 2014 poll showing that 59% of Americans think that CIA torture was justified.

Juan Mendez, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, also emphasized that Americans have been conditioned to accept torture in recent years. Mendez was tortured in Argentina before moving to the US in 1977. He found there was more consistent moral condemnation of torture when he arrived in the US than there is today. He pointed to the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Torture as evidence that the analysis has shifted away from a moral framework. Much of the report is given over to showing that torture was not effective. The UN Convention Against Torture unconditionally condemns torture, however, without any consideration of its effectiveness. Mendez asked the audience, “What kind of price do we pay if we engage in torture?”

El-Hajj Mauri Saalakhan, a DC-based human rights advocate and representative of the Jericho Movement, said that lowering standards regarding torture affects not only us but generations to come. He quoted Frederick Douglass: “A man is worked on by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstance, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.” Mauri believes the same can be said for nations: Our nation will surely be damaged by the torture it inflicts.

We left the event with the sure conviction that the real torture debate needs to happen among American citizens in our own communities, churches, and schools. Can we recover a communal sense of torture as a moral issue? If not, we will wait in vain for legislators, judges, and civic leaders to hold torturers and torture architects accountable.

TASSC Conference on Torture Wednesday we joined hundreds of people for a day-long conference sponsored by TASSC, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, held at Catholic University of America.   Juan Mendez during his keynote address told us that 30-40 countries will not allow his request to visit their facilities, and the US is one of them.   The US tells Mendez that federal prisons are “unavailable” to him. He is told that he is allowed to visit the base at Guantanamo but not its prisoners.   Mendez will not agree to any such condition. Mendez appealed to the many torture victims from around the world who were in the audience: “We need the support of those of you who can bear witness to your experience and tell that there is life after torture.” Two panels followed the keynote: 1) Human Rights in Africa and the Middle East and 2) Immigration Detention and Torture. The second panel detailed the horrendous conditions facing many torture victims from other countries who seek asylum in the US. Although immigration detention is meant to be “civil” rather than “criminal” detention, the conditions of detention are often far worse than those experienced by criminals in this country. We were urged to advocate with our legislators for humane treatment of torture survivors and other immigrants detained in the US, supporting the efforts of many TASSC torture survivors who visited congressional offices the following day.

Community Prayer Vigil: “Called by God, Sustained by Faith, We Are Not Afraid” WAT members gathered at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, an African-American congregation in NE Washington, Wednesday evening to attend a Community Prayer Vigil to commemorate the victims of the Charleston church shooting. Many people came forward during the period for witness. As each person spoke of his or her personal response to the slayings, a woman in the crowd kept answering “Tell it. Tell it!” We couldn’t help thinking that such advice was meant for each one of us. Tell it, tell it! A minister named Alethia, meaning ‘truth,’ told us that unless there is “a blackness that includes everyone,” the future will be bleak. The moving music, prayer of resistance, candle commitment ceremony, and powerful words by Rev. Graylan S. Hagler all reminded us of the connections “from Ferguson to Guantanamo” that we are gradually learning to make. We spoke afterwards with several members of the congregation and hope to stay in touch for future work.

White House Vigil On Friday we joined the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker at their weekly vigil in front of the White House. Now it was again time to make the story personal. We held a huge canvas portrait of Guantanamo detainee Tariq Ba Odah, while Aliya Hussain of the Center for Constitutional Rights told his story. In 2006 CCR filed a habeas petition on Tariq’s behalf. Last week CCR filed a motion for his immediate release, because his weight has declined to a life-endangering 75 pounds after having been on hunger strike since 2007 and force-fed daily. According to CCR, “Tariq says that protesting by hunger striking is the only way to communicate to those of us who have our freedom what it means to be unjustly detained, to be put in a cell for over a decade without charge.” We recalled that torture continues at Guantanamo through the widely condemned practices of force-feeding and prolonged solitary confinement.

After reading a closing prayer composed by Sr. Diana Ortiz, torture survivor and founder of TASSC, Art Laffin circled us up to sing about each one sitting under her own “vine and fig tree” where we all shall “study war no more.” Passers-by paused to film us and join our circle. Earlier in the vigil a Muslim woman stepped up and hugged each and every person holding the long Close Guantanamo banner.   I was reminded of the words of encouragement we heard earlier in the week: “Tell it. Tell it!” To bear witness contains a power we do not direct or control. We simply consent to “tell it,” and the rest is grace.