This update feels incomplete as we write, but it is getting late and we are leaving in a few short hours for the Torturer’s Tour, and preparing for a panel discussion Saturday night entitled From Ferguson to Guantanamo….followed by Sunday’s demonstration marking January 11th, and breaking the fast and actions on Monday.
This powerful 3 minute film of our presence at the White House is well worth watching and sharing, and these images capture some of the beauty of holding Fahd Ghazy’s portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.
Our days are full thru Tuesday and we will be gathering to break our fast Monday morning. We have a space reserved for our meal together, and are now asking for our extended community to help provide that meal. If any folks are able to help us either coordinate food locally, or share some resources to help us have food brought in, please be in touch to let us know.
Witness Against Torture
Links to Press Releases
“Torturers Tour” at Homes of John Brennan and Dick Cheney, Followed by Vigil at CIA Headquarters
Groups to Rally Sunday at White House on 13th Guantánamo Anniversary
WITNESS AGAINST TORTURE SOCIAL MEDIA
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Friday, January 9 – Day 5
Today, we did a variation of the performance we did on Tuesday at Union Station focusing on the words and image of Fahd Ghazy. This time we did it at the White House with a larger group. We dramatically positioned Frank in a jumpsuit and hood kneeling on the ground to represent Fahd during the readings.
At the end, right after reading Fahd’s words, “Now that you know, you cannot turn away,” we had each person in our troupe come to the microphone to finish the phrase: “I will not turn away because…” The voice and expression of each person, one after the other, was a powerful and moving testament to our commitments and an invitation to those watching to also refuse to turn away.
I will not turn away because…
“… I see beauty in the eyes of each person.”
“… I am a mother who has lost a son.”
“… I am a human being, a Muslim, a target of the war on terror.”
“… I am blessed to know love and family, and will never deny that to another.”
“… the existence of the prison at Guantanamo is illegal and immoral.”
“… we need the courage to face the truth of the ugliness.”
“… I am a human being horrified at enforced hopelessness.”
“… I too, in a small way, have suffered.”
“… the U.S. does this in my name and I never gave my permission.”
Then, some of our group took our action to the National Portrait Gallery. The gallery’s entrance leads into a lovely, large atrium. Seeing the space, and noting that about 50 people, seated at small tables, were conversing over meals, we decided that we would begin with soft singing.
We quickly arranged ourselves in a V-formation. In the center, Brian and Paulette held the banner carrying a portrait of Fahd Ghazy’s face. Leaflets were distributed to onlookers. No one expressed animosity. A little girl seemed especially pleased to see us, and when she approached, her parents seemed not to mind.
Frank Lopez invited people to open their hearts to Fahd Ghazy’s story and see his humanity. Our soft singing was interspersed with excerpts from Fahd’s letter. We unraveled Fahd’s portrait. Onlookers were reading the leaflets and many were listening. Some would have seen a security guard approach Brian to tell him that he couldn’t show that portrait in this place. Some might have heard the guard tell Chrissy, as she read, “This can’t happen here.” Kathy walked forward to read the next excerpt, we continued singing, and then Frank, in the role of Fahd, began to recite his excerpt as the security guard, joined by other armed guards, ordered Frank to stop.
Slowly he rose, and slowly we processed out of the National Portrait Gallery. Frank, who had memorized the final excerpt from Fahd’s letter, filled the space with Fahd’s words: “Now that you have heard me, you cannot turn away.” The little girl, wide-eyed, watched us every step of our way.
Luke rejoined us on the front steps for a brief closure time. He had stayed behind to thank the onlookers.
As we go through this week living in community with the focus of calling attention to the horrors of Guantanamo and torture, we challenge ourselves to look at ways of practicing compassion within a system of such widespread dehumanization. A sense of hope is brought to the public while we stand in front of the White House singing “We’re gonna build a nation that don’t torture no one…” Taking action as a spiritual practice also raises the question of who has the power to forgive? Fahd Gazy wrote that there is no guilt or innocence in Guantanamo, but there is right and wrong. It is difficult to see what is in a person’s heart and what leads to a change of heart. In our creation of community here in DC we envision a true world house where all belong, where there are no winners and losers. Fahd’s story invites us to admit mistakes, and forgive. We want to liberate the prisoners and make amends.
Chris Spicer wrote this reflection today:
When I write a letter to a detainee it must begin politely. Great greetings of peace, Yes peace! And I know you have peace, have a peaceful heart, that you long for peace; and as a follower of the way of peace I acknowledge anger and resentment, brutal wrongdoing. As a follower of the way of peace, I send my hope for your patience.
Because when I write a detainee I trust the final end of all knowing, the great return to our common origin, this nature and destiny of the human being, and wanting really to put this act of knowing in the service of recognizing your dignity, your way of peace; I consider this act enabling liberty for both of us, preserving our endowment for the right to choices of faith, family, friends, a corner to mark private.
Composing words through which to meet you in power’s place, at rest in peace, I exercise the desire for shared ground, for a place where truth resides, for a moment, lasting, with a freedom that has the ground of peace. Finally I move the pen. I hail you, I fast for you.
By Frida Berrigan
This is how it starts.
I am sitting on the floor in the living room. My son Seamus — a two-and-a-half-year-old — is cuddled in my lap. I am talking to my sister on the phone and then, suddenly, I am covered in vomit.
“Ah, Kate. I am going to have to call you back. Seamus just hurled all over me.”
I throw down the phone and carry my screaming son upstairs and into the bathtub. He has the flu.
Meanwhile, my friends are fasting in Washington, D.C. They are vigiling, witnessing and organizing to shut down Guantánamo, end torture and ensure accountability for the perpetrators. They are wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods (over very warm coats). They are at the Pentagon, the White House and the Capitol, as the new Congress is sworn in. They are embodying solidarity by showing up for demonstrations against police brutality and U.S. military aid to Mexico. They are waking up early, going to bed late and sleeping on mats on the floor. They are hungry and cold. They are meeting, planning, praying and singing.
I am not there. I am missing it and I am missing them.
Witness Against Torture started nearly 10 years ago as a small group of people looking at the issues of torture, indefinite detention, collective punishment, scapegoating, racism and violence in the George W. Bush administration’s Global War on Terror. Through prayer, study and building community, we were able to stretch ourselves over fear to do what our consciences told us was right. We got on a plane, flew to Cuba and began walking to Guantánamo. We aimed to walk right onto the U.S. naval base and visit the men (at the time there were more than 700 Muslims and Arabs and others interred there). We got pretty close to the base and there we vigiled and prayed and fasted for five days while we held press conferences, did international media work and called the U.S. base incessantly asking to be let in. Flying back to Newark, N.J., we told customs agents that we had been to Cuba, hoping that we’d be tried for violating travel and financial restrictions. We never were.
Nine years later, those Cuba travel laws are all changing, but the reality for the more than 100 men still at Guantánamo remains the same. More men (nine) have died at Guantánamo than have been tried for their alleged crimes by military commissions (eight). Sixty-three of those still imprisoned at Guantánamo have been cleared for release by both the Bush administration and the Obama administration. Shaker Aamer, Fahd Ghazy and 61 others: These are the men my friends are fasting for in D.C. and beyond. This coming Sunday will mark 12 years of indefinite detention and separation for the men at Guantánamo.
Since coming home from Cuba in December 2005, Witness Against Torture has grown from 25 people to thousands. We have worked to make January 11a day of national shame. Each year, we have gathered in Washington, D.C., in anger, outrage and the hope that we won’t have to do it again the following year. And then we do it again the next year, and now it is 2015.
Today is day five of their fast. Our fast? I am not fasting. I am still nursing a 17-pound, 10-month-old and her demand for liquid nutrition is near constant. I am not fasting, but I have sworn off sweets and beer until the Witness Against Torture fast ends with breakfast on Tuesday, January 13.
It does not feel like enough, especially because I am not in D.C.
Seamus has stopped vomiting, but he still has a fever and is miserable. It is just by grace (and the bionic nursing baby immune system) that Madeline has not gotten his nasty bug, but she is teething and has a runny nose. While my friends have been marching, vigiling and singing, I have been marooned in various rooms in our house, with Seamus whining on one side of my lap and Madeline nursing on the other. My clothes are covered in kid snot, I have not been able to go to the bathroom by myself, and all I want at the end of the day is a beer and a brownie. (This unmet want makes me feel like my token fast is some small sacrifice after all. I guess that is something.)
I planned to take the kids to Baltimore to see their Grandma Liz and then on to D.C. on Wednesday, and then on Thursday, and now maybe Friday or evenSaturday. We will see how they feel. I am struggling so much with this! I am still getting used to this being responsible for other people phenomenon called motherhood: I have to think about the health and warmth, food and nutrition, well-being and safety of two very little people. When we went to Cuba in 2005, I was not a mother, I was not nursing and I had never been covered in baby snot or toddler vomit. It doesn’t seem like so long ago and I am not a different person, but it is hard to be here when my friends and part of my heart are in D.C., working so hard for justice, accountability and all that I hold so dear.
Thank you friends. I am with you in spirit. But those of you with immune systems degraded by cold, fasting and tiredness are surely happy I am not any closer.