It is hard to believe that our time together in Washington DC is soon coming to an end. The days have been full, and today – marking the beginning of the 14th year of indefinite detention for the men in Guantanamo, was no exception.
Tomorrow’s update will bring information about our January 12th activities – and will be written after the authors have had their first solid food in 7 days (folks who are local are invited to join us to break the fast at 10am – First Trinity Church).
A full recap of our January 11th activities is below. You can find Jeremy Varon’s (WAT) remarks from the White House here, and photos of our presence in DC on Flickr and Facebook.
It was good to be in the streets with many of you today. And we sign off now, preparing for our last day on the streets together…for now.
Witness Against Torture
January 11th Summary
Witness Against Torture marked January 11th, 2015 with a rally that was somber and inspiring, full of fresh energy and momentum even as the anniversary of Guantanamo Bay prison comes around for a thirteenth time. Though the weather was much more forgiving than it was yesterday, the vigil and march were still a physical challenge for the fasters. The speakers also challenged us: to continue to love, to connect the issues, to uncover the hidden injustices, and to deepen our compassion and commitment towards the Muslim men on whose behalf we act.
After an interfaith prayer service, a diverse range of people spoke in front of the White House, all speaking with the passion that comes from personal experience, shedding light on the injustice of Guantanamo from their particular perspective. Performances by the Peace Poets began and ended the White House presence. Between speakers, people read letters from the detainees out loud as the detainees’ pictures were displayed on posters. After it all, the fasters in orange jumpsuits lined up, and the crowd of observers grew hushed as they watched. It was time to march to the Department of Justice. Leading the procession in body and in spirit were Maha Hilal and other members of the group Muslims Rally to Close Guantanamo.
At the Department of Justice, Jeremy Varon explained the significance of the location, and a friend from Cleveland lifted up our desire for peace, beauty, and the release of our captives. Upon her invitation, each person from the crowd took one of 127 orange carnations labeled with the name of a current Guantanamo detainee and threw it behind the police barricade, onto the steps of the Department of Justice.
The public space between the D.C. Superior Court, the Federal District Court, and D.C. Central Cell Block was the third and final stop of our march. People with and without jumpsuits stood in a full circle, a sign of our togetherness. Emmanuel Candelario called forth our “energy, fury, life, and love” in a series of chants that ended in “Shut down Central!” referring to the prison directly underneath our feet. Shahid Buttar of the D.C. Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency performed and reminded us, “Sola una lucha hay,” that there is only one struggle. Finally Uruj thanked us for speaking on behalf of those who cannot speak right now, people who we trust will be standing here one day, beside us, in justice.
Below you will find a summary of each of the speeches today.
Zainab Chaudry of the Council on American Islamic Relations opened the prayer service, calling the participants together across their differences to ask for justice from the Divine. She read from the poem “Silence,” by Edgar Lee Masters: There is the silence of a great hatred / And the silence of a great love / … / There is the silence of those unjustly punished; And the silence of the dying whose hand / Suddenly grips yours.
Rabbi Charles Feinberg proclaimed that we can only begin to stop this war by honoring the image of God in human beings.
Luke Nephew performed his poem, “There’s a Man Under That Hood”: to the people in my country, please, / do not pretend to be seeking freedom / or justice, or any common good / until we are ready to recognize the human rights / of every / single / man under that hood.
Jeremy Varon delivered a beautiful address, highlighting the gift of hope that has emerged in the midst of the injustice of the last year. More than just promising words, we have 28 real releases to celebrate, each release representing a deliberate political act. We can see in these actions the power of the Guantanamo prisoners’ hunger strike, and the power of ordinary citizens’ resistance. “Let us grow that power,” Jeremy exhorted the crowd, “to make 2015 the year of the great Guantanamo jubilee, when the walls of indefinite detention crumble, the wails of torture quiet, when the stone in America’s heart begins to soften, when proud men, unjustly bound, walk free, and all men at Guantanamo are treated as human beings.”
Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, quoted Psalm 13 to illustrate agony of indefinite detention: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” Torture is condoned by NO faith tradition, he said. We must close Guantanamo, in the name of American values, and in the name of God.
Aliya Hussain of CCR told us stories: the story of Fahd Ghazy spending another year away from his daughter Hafsa; of Mohammed al-Hamiri, friends with Adnan Latif, who wonders if he will come out alive or share his companion’s fate; of Ghaleb Al-Bihani who struggles to manage his diabetes and related chronic pain; of Tariq Ba Odah, who has been force-fed daily during the hunger strike he began in 2007. Stories are important, not numbers, Aliya said. The only number we want at Guantanamo is zero.
Noor Mir of Amnesty International spoke next, sharing about her hometown of Islamabad, and how her life was shaped by the fear that her father would get picked up. She spoke against the culture of fear in the United States, fear that allows our sinister foreign policy to continue. And domestic policy too — Noor reminded us that black bodies, too, wear orange jumpsuits, and our national news supports the same culture of fear.
Debra Sweet of World Can’t Wait emphasized that the prison at Guantanamo was NOT a mistake, but a purposeful and potent symbol of U.S. empire. What’s more, ending Guantanamo does not end U.S. injustice — our nation has still not recognized that black lives matter. Today is not just a symbolic anniversary protest, but a REAL DAY when we commit to working together to value the lives of all.
Andy Worthington urged us to keep pressuring the Obama administration, asking them, “What are you doing with those 59 men cleared for release? the 52 Yemenis who need a country to repatriate to?” And for those not cleared for release, we must acknowledge that the “evidence” against them is useless, the product of bribery and torture, an insult to our notions of fairness and justice.
Maha Hilal spoke on behalf of the group Muslims Rally to Close Guantanamo, demanding that Guantanamo be closed. She urged Muslims especially to take an active role in condemning what is essentially an American prison for Muslims in the world.
Mary Harding of TASSC shared the solidarity of torture survivors, who know the “sense of abandonment, pain, dread” and family members’ pain that the men at Guantanamo experience. She called for accountability, and said the Senate Torture Report will be important only insofar as the movement gives it strength. Accountability should be domestic as well, because don’t U.S. citizens suffer? “What about Riker’s Island? Those people are OUR CHILDREN!”
Talat Hamdani of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows told the story of her son, who died in his work as a first responder. Instead of being honored, he was investigated. She stressed that nonviolent response to 9/11 was and is possible, and is the best way to prevent future attacks. “The America I believe in WILL close Guantanamo! Guantanamo is America’s SHAME.”
Department of Justice
Jeremy Varon explained how the Department of Justice contributed to legal messiness that plagues all efforts to close Guantanamo. Early in the Obama administration, the DOJ chose to overturn a decision that would have allowed the U.S. military to resettle more than a dozen Uighurs in the DC metro area. The DOJ is part of America failing to live up to our ideals, instead creating conditions that foster the continuing carnage. “I am frankly sick of it. Sick of being told this machinery makes us safe. Claiming the mantle of the rule of law, these officials have done damage to all of us.”
An excerpt from Shahid Buttar’s “Welcome to the Terrordrome”:
There was a time our nation offered the world inspiration
Today our policies encourage human rights violations
They push you off a plane, you can’t tell if it’s night or day
You don’t know know where you are, you’ve never been there anyway
But here, at Camp X-Ray, for years you will stay
Welcome to the Terrordrome.
Gitmo, Bagram, the presidents change, the abuses go on
apply the law
Until we jail Judge Bibey and imprison Dick Cheney.