2021 Fast for Justice: Join us from home

Fast for Justice 2021 // Film

2021 Week of Action: January 11 – 15
19 Years of Guantanamo. Shut it down!

See the week’s schedule below. RSVP for these virtual events, gatherings, and actions from wherever you are!

Let’s renew our commitment to the 40 Muslim men still imprisoned in Guantanamo and the hundreds of others who suffered years of torture and abuse behind the prison’s walls.


January 11 anniversary events


Fast for Justice Circles: Monday – Friday

  • January 11-15: Zoom Circles at 8 pm ET each night to support us in our fasting and/or action. Fasting is a personal choice.
    RSVP to receive the Zoom link.

    Circles will be like our gatherings in DC: opening with centering music, a reflection, a topic or theme, checking in with each other and sharing around the circle.

    Monday, J11: WAT history – Discussion with Frida Berrigan and Matt Daloisio
    Tuesday, J12: The US “War on Terror” – Discussion and video with Maha Hilal
    Wednesday, J13: Executions and State/Police Violence – Discussion with Art Laffin
    Thursday, J14: Witnessing Against Atrocities – Discussion with Mark Colville, Kings Bay Plowshares 7
    Friday, J15: Celebrating Our Community Resilience – Celebration with Peace Poets (Lumi and LuAya)


Daily Solidarity Action Menu

Local Vigils Nationwide

In addition to these vigils, check your local happenings (let us know about others to add: witnesstorture@gmail.com):  
  • January 11: Upper NY Veterans for Peace/ Western Massachusetts Peace Action. 
  • January 11 at 10 AM PT: Interfaith Community for Justice and Peace webinar in Los Angeles: http://www.icujp.org/close_guantanamo_2021.
  • January 11 at noon to 1 PM ET: No More Guantanamos vigil, Commons, Greenfield MA.
  • January 11 at 1:30-2:30 PM: No More Guantanamos vigil, Downtown Northampton, MA.
  • January 11 at 4:00 PM: Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace vigil, corner of Delaware and Kenwood Avenues (the five corners) in Delmar.
  • January 15 at noon: Schenectady Neighbors for Peace vigil, corner of State Street and Erie Boulevard in Schenectady.

Last but not least, here are some Fasting Tips 2020!

Please join us!

In peace and solidarity, 
Helen, Josie, Maha, Jeremy and Richard for the WAT Organizing Team
 


 

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Torture Victims & Their Advocates Oppose Morell & Haines for National Security Positions in the Biden Administration

In Focus - Front Page // Film

For Immediate Release 
MONDAY, DECEMBER 21

CONTACTS
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK, Medea.benjamin@gmail.com, 415-235-6517
Marcy Winograd, Progressive Democrats of America, winogradteach@gmail.com, 424-443-9338
Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture, jvaron@aol.com ,732-979-3119

Torture Victims & Their Advocates Oppose Morell & Haines for National Security Positions in the Biden Administration.

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, torture survivors and their advocates released an Open Letter urging President-Elect Biden not to nominate torture defender Mike Morell for CIA Director and asking the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haines, a torture enabler, as Director of National Intelligence. The letter was also delivered this morning to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as President-Elect Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris.

Signatories include: Mansoor Adayfi, a writer from Yemen imprisoned for 14 years without charge at Guantanamo Bay, where he was force fed for two years; Moazzam Begg, a British-Pakistani ex-Guantanamo detainee and Outreach Director for CAGE, a service organization for torture survivors and communities impacted by the War on Terror; Sister Dianna Ortiz, a US missionary tortured by members of the CIA-funded Guatemalan army; Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Whistleblower and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; John Kiriakou, former CIA officer imprisoned after exposing CIA waterboarding; and musician Roger Waters (formerly with Pink Floyd), whose song “Each Small Candle” is a tribute to torture victims.

The organizers of the letter, Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America, Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, and Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture, have been lobbying against the inclusion of torture apologists in the Biden administration since the August Democratic National Convention, Their efforts include a letter to Biden from 450 DNC delegates, a CODEPINK petition signed by over 4,000, and calls to the offices of the Senators on the Intelligence Committee. “When we started this campaign,” says 2020 DNC Delegate Marcy Winograd, “Morell was considered the frontrunner, but opposition to his disgraceful defense of torture has cast a pall on his nomination. We want to make sure his nomination is off the table, and that Biden and the Senate also understand we reject Avril Haines for her complicity in suppressing evidence of CIA torture,”. 

Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush and Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Obama, has defended the agency’s “enhanced interrogation” program, objecting to use of the word “torture” to characterize waterboarding, sleep deprivation, starvation diets, sexual humiliation, hypothermia and painful bodily contortions. Morrell also falsely claimed that torture “worked” in foiling terrorists plots. In addition, Morell defended the CIA’s destruction of nearly 90 videotapes documenting brutal interrogations at CIA black site prisons.

As CIA Deputy Director from 2013-2014, Avril Haines overruled the CIA Inspector General in choosing not to punish agency personnel accused of hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers during their investigation into the CIA’s use of torture. She was also part of the team that suppressed evidence of CIA torture by redacting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark torture report, reducing a 6,000 page document to 500 pages.

Both Morell and Haines supported Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA Director — a nomination that then-Senator Kamala Harris, other prominent Democrats, and Senator John McCain opposed. Haspel supervised a black site prison in Thailand and authorized a memo authorizing the destruction of CIA videotapes documenting torture.

Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture:
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris promised to restore transparency, integrity, and respect for the rule of law to government. So how can their National Security team be led by people who endorsed, or tried to cover up, the clear crime of torture? It makes no sense.”

Djamel Ameziane, Former Guantanamo Prisoner (2002-2013):
“Elevating torture apologists to a leadership position within the Biden administration will damage the USA’s standing and give the world’s dictators succor and comfort.”

Jeffrey Kaye, Author, “Cover-Up at Guantanamo:
“Morell and Haines have put loyalty to CIA torturers above adherence to US treaties and domestic law, as well as basic morality. To allow them to serve in government would send a message to all that accountability for torture is passé, and that war crimes will always be dismissed with a wink from those in high office.” 

John Kiriakou, Former CIA officer who blew the whistle on agency torture:
“Morell has disingenuously said that he was unaware of the CIA’s torture program at the same time that he was the Agency’s fourth-ranking officer. As deputy CIA Director and Acting CIA Director, he oversaw illegal activities around the world.  I can’t believe that any sane person could or would consider Mike Morell as a serious candidate for CIA Director.” 

Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK:
“We can’t allow the new Biden administration to include people who have been involved–in any way–in heinous acts of torture. That’s why we are part of a groundswell of opposition to both Mike Morell and Avril Haines for key intelligence positions. No torture apologists should be allowed to serve in this administration. Period.” 

Torture Survivor Mansoor Adayfi on Morell’s assertion that torture is effective: “In Guantanamo, when they put you under very bad circumstances—like 72 hours under very cold air conditioning, and you are tied to the ground and someone comes and pours cold water on you—you are going to tell them whatever they want you to say. I will sign anything, I will admit anything!,” says Dayfi.

Torture Survivor Moazzem Begg on his treatment at Bagram Air Base before arriving at Guantanamo: “They tied me up with my hands behind my back to my legs, kicked me in the head, kicked me in the back, threatened to take me to Egypt to be tortured, to be raped, to be electrocuted. They had a woman screaming in the next room whom I believed at that time was my wife. They bought pictures of my children and told me I would never see them again.” 

Colonel Larry Wilkerson, torture whistleblower: “Kidnapping, torture and assassination have no place in a democracy and turn the CIA into a secret police …Abuses of the kind documented in the Senate’s report could happen again.”

James Dorsey, attorney for released Guantanamo detainee Ahcene Zemiri. “As a Marine Corps veteran, I have always understood that when our servicemen have been captured and tortured in the past, a real source of strength for them has been knowing that their country would never engage in such conduct. “ 

Also available for interviews:

James Dorsey, Attorney, represented released Guantanamo Detainee Ahcene Zemiri 
651.762.2837 (h)
612.492.7079 (o)
jdorsey@fredlaw.com  

*******
Letter Below
*********

Open Letter to President-Elect Biden & U.S. Senate:
From: Torture Victims and their Advocates Opposed to Mike Morell for CIA and Avril Haines for National Intelligence

Say NO to Morell; Say NO to Haines.

As survivors of torture and their advocates, we urge President-elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell for CIA Director and ask the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haine as Director of National Intelligence.   

Both Morell and Haines have troubling records on torture — a form of violence with lingering effects: anxiety, stress, physical and psychological trauma. We know because we have lived this nightmare, either personally or as advocates of survivors forever haunted by past torture.  

We believe that the record of Morell and Haines disqualifies them from directing intelligence agencies. Their appointment would undermine the rule of law and U.S. credibility around the world. It would be a callous rebuke to people like ourselves and all those who care about human rights and the protection of basic dignity. 

Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush and both Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Obama, has defended the Agency’s “enhanced interrogation” practices. These included waterboarding, physical beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and sexual humiliation. These practices have commonly, and rightly, been denounced as torture. In July 2014, President Obama plainly admitted, “We tortured some folks.”  

That same year, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued the 500-page summary of its “Torture Report.” Drawing on millions of pages of internal CIA documents, the report denounced CIA torture as both inhumane and ineffective. It concluded that the Agency’s use of torture was far more frequent and gruesome than previously acknowleged. Senate investigators also documented that the CIA had lied to Congress, the President, and the American people by falsely insisting that its “enhanced interrogations” had forced detainees to reveal critical information, and thereby thwarted terrorists plots.

Yet in his 2015 memoir, Morell asserted without evidence that torture was effective. As the Military Times reported, Senate intelligence committee staffers were so troubled by Morell’s claims that they issued a lengthy rebuttal in a special report. Referencing the CIA’s own documents, the report blasted Morell’s numerous errors and misrepresentation of established facts. 

In addition, Morell defended the CIA’s destruction in 2005 of nearly 90 videotapes of the brutal interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and other detainees in CIA black sites. Sought by congress, the courts, and attorneys, the tapes doubtless depicted troubling US conduct. Their destruction came in the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuse revelations, just as the country was vigorously debating the lawfulness and morality of the treatment of detainees. 

To defend the elimination of the tapes, as Morell has done, is unconscionable. It defies the transparency our democracy needs to function, while serving to shield from accountability those potentially guilty of grave crimes. 

The claim that “torture works” is the great lie used by tormentors throughout history to justify their abuses. When repeated by high-ranking officials to defend post-9/11 torture, it serves to excuse the inexcusable.  

Morell has no place in a Biden-Harris administration. His nomination would send a chilling message to torture survivors and other victims of grave injustice that the United States government, including the Biden administration, does not uphold its own stated principles. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) from the Senate Intelligence Committee has said about Morell: “No torture apologist can be confirmed as CIA director. It’s a nonstarter.” We agree and urge the President-elect not to nominate Morell.

We also oppose Avril Haines, another toture apologist, as Director of National Intelligence. Since she has already been nominated, we ask Senators to oppose her confirmation.

As CIA Deputy Director from 2013-2014, Haines overruled the CIA Inspector General by chosing not to punish agency personnel accused of hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers during their investigation into the CIA’s use of torture. In addition, Haines was part of the team that redacted the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark 6,000-page report on torture, reducing the public portion to a 500-page summary. The full report has been sought by attorneys, human rights advocates, legislators, and scholars seeking a full account of the United States’s troubling conduct.

Haines also supported Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director. Supervising a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002, Haspel was directly implicated in CIA torture. She later drafted the memo authorizing the destruction of the CIA videotapes. 

Like Morell, Haines has worked both to defend torture and surpress evidence of it. She too, is incompatible with the stated aim of the Biden-Harris administration to restore integrity and respect for the rule of law to government.

The new administration must show the American people and the world that it acknowledges past disturbing U.S. conduct and will ensure that such abuses never recur. To do that, it needs intelligence leaders who have neither condoned torture nor whitewashed the CIA’s ugly record of using torture. We need intelligence leaders who understand that torture is illegal under international law; that is inhumane; that it is ineffective; that it puts at risk U.S. military personnel, should they be captured by adversaries; and that it violates the restoration of trust in American decency central to Biden’s vision for his presidency. 

That is why we urge President-Elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell for Director of the CIA and the Senate to reject the nomination of Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. The people of the United States and the world deserve better.

 Signed (partial list):

Moazzem Begg, Torture Survivor, former Guantanamo prisoner, CAGE, UK; signed confession under torture; while in US custody subjected to sleep deprivation, stress positions, hog tied with hood over head

Djamen Ameziane, Algerian, former Guantanamo detainee, torture survivor imprisoned without charge from 2002-2013, in solitary confinement for a decade, suffered vision loss

Maher Arar, Canadian torture and rendition survivor; whipped with an electrical chord and forced to confess while in US custody in Syria 

Mohamedou Ould Salahi, tortured prisoner at Guantanamo; held without charge for 14 years; beaten, force fed, deprived of sleep; released in 2016, author, Guantánamo Diary

Mansoor Adayfi, Released Guantanamo prisoner sold to US forces in Afghanistan for bounty money; imprisoned at Guantanamo without charge for 14 years, seven in isolation; torture surivor; resettled in Serbia; award-winning writer

Lakhdar Boumediene,  Algerian-born citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay from 2002-2009, force fed for two years; lead plaintiff in Boumediene v. Bush, a 2008 US Supreme Court decision that Guantanamo detainees have the right to habeas corpus in US federal courts

Carlos Mauricio, College professor kidnapped and tortured by US-backed right-wing death squads in El Salvador; Executive Director: Stop Impunity Project

Hector Aristizabal, Psychologist and theater artist; torture surivor from Colombia, CoCreator of Reconectando; Theater of the Oppressed

Sister Dianna Ortiz, US missionary teaching Mayan children, tortured in 1989 by members of the US supported Guatemalan Army

Jean Marie Kalonji, Congolese youth leader tortured by the police and military, Coordinator of the Fourth Way

Mario Avila, a Guatemalan torture survivor kidnapped in 1969 and again in 1976 and tortured in clandestine jails under the directives of the U.S. government; Colectivo Guatemalteco Los AngelesTorture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)

Gloria Avila, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)

Frankie Flores, Torture Survivor from El Salvador; Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)

Jennifer Harbury, Atty, wife of deceased Guatemalan torture victim Efraín Bámaca Velásquez; author, “Truth, Torture and the American Way,” which documents the CIA’s historical use of torture

Major Todd Pierce (U.S. Army, Retired), Judge Advocate General attorney on the defense teams for Guantánamo military commissions defendants

Buz Eisenberg, Attorney for Guantanamo detainee

Jim Dorsey, Attorney for released Guantanamo detainee

Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell

Bill Binney, Retired National Security Agency official and whistleblower

Elizabth Murray, Retired Deputy National Intelligence Office/Near East

Colonel Ann Wright, US Army Colonel (retired) and former US Diplomat

Ray McGovern, Retired CIA officer, Member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Philip M. Giraldi, former CIA Operations Officer, Executive Director, Council for the National Interest

John Kiriakou, Former CIA officer imprisoned after whistleblowing re CIA torture

Coleen Rowley, former FBI special agent and whistleblower 

Greg Thielmann, retired intelligence official, U.S. State Department

Valerie Lucznikowska, September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

Roy Bourgeois, School of the Americas Watch

Dr. Maha Hilal, Justice for Muslims Collective

Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Marcy Winograd, Progressive Democrats of America; 2020 DNC Delegate, Author of Open Letter to Joe Biden: Hire New Foreign Policy Advisors, signed by 450 Delegates opposed to torture whitewashing

Adrienne Kinne, President, Veterans For Peace

Garett Reppenhagen, Executive Director, Veterans For Peace

Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture and Professor of History at The New School

Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK Women for Peace

Andy Worthington, Director, CloseGuantanamo.org

Roger Waters, musician, songwriter, “Each Small Candle”- tribute to a torture victim

Frank Goldsmith and Robin Kirk, Co-chairs, North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture

Nancy Talanian, No More Guantanamos

Johnny Zokovitch, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA

Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation

Sue Udry, Executive Director, Defending Rights and Dissent

David Swanson, Executive Director, World Beyond War; author, “Torture is Foreplay for War”

Alfred W. McCoy, author, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror

Marjorie Cohen, Atty, author The United States And Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, And Abuse

Rebecca Gordon, author, Mainstreaming Torture

Jeffrey S. Kaye, author, Cover-Up at Guantanamo

Norman Solomon, Author, War Made Easy

Matthew W. Daloisio, Atty, Witness Against Torture

Helen Sklar, Certified Specialist in Immigration Law, represented torture victims from all over the world in asylum proceedings

Angela Edman, Esq, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)

Art Laffin, Catholic Worker House

Bogdan Dzakovic, Son of WWII torture victim

Sandra and Ulis Williams, Activists, School of the Americas Watch

Martin Melkonian, Teachers for Human Rights

Uwe Jacobs, Psychologist, Survivors International

David Segal, Executive Director, Demand Progress

Linda Lewis, Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence

Dr. Mary Helen White, Physicians for Human Rights, works with torture victims

C. Peter Dougherty, Co Founder, Meta Peace Team

Sara Olson, Women Against Military Madness, Tackling Torture Committee

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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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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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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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To let suffering speak: Our final update from our week in DC

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

To let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. –Theodor Adorno

January 12, 2019

Dear friends,
After a full day in DC yesterday marking the day 17 years ago that the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo, we took today to debrief our week-long Fast for Justice and look toward the future.  We opened with a circle of over 40 people, each person speaking to the question, what was the highlight of your experience.  One member of the circle quoted Theodor Adorno to make his point: “To let suffering speak is a condition of all truth.”

“To let suffering speak” captures the essence of the events that marked the January 11th anniversary of Guantanamo.  Stories of the detainees’ suffering were lifted up again and again during the day, during panels, a rally, and a post-rally procession through the streets of DC. 

See our photos below and then scroll down for more about all these events plus news of solidarity vigils in other cities.
Former Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Slahi addressed a Congressional Briefing from Mauritania  by Skype.
 
Congressional Briefing on January 11

Mohamedou Slahi, former Guantanamo detainee and author of the Guantanamo Diary. addressed a Friday morning congressional briefing by Skype from Mauritania.  Mohamedou told us that “Guantanamo is a concept not a place,”  because detainees lives cannot return to normal after their release.  Mohamedou knows he risks a great deal by speaking out, but he continues because he wants to have the same freedom that Americans have. Members of our community were uplifted by Mohamedou’s smile as he observed the packed meeting room and answered questions. 

CCR Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei spoke about her client Sharqawi Al Hajj.  While we see only his military mug shot taken 17 years ago, Pardiss reported that his face now shows decay. He weighs only 108 pounds and is in chronic pain.  She told us that the long years of imprisonment are causing accelerated physical decline in the men, adding 15 years to those in their 40’s and 50’s. One detainee shows up to his proceedings in a hospital bed.  She asserts that two major issues for the detainees is access to good medical care and to family contact.

What can Congress do?  Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International, laid out three actions: Hold a congressional hearing about releasing those prisoners who have been cleared.
Lift restrictions on transfer to the US for trial and for medical care.
Do not fund transfers of any new prisoners to Guantanamo.
Panel at New America

Andy Worthington, who spoke on a later panel at New America, reports: Check out the video of the powerful panel discussion, ’17 Years of #Guantanamo‘, at the New America think-tank yesterday, the 17th anniversary of the prison’s opening. I was part of a panel discussion with the attorney Tom Wilner, my colleague in the Close Guantanamo campaign, and Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, moderated by David Sterman.
The event – which, I’m glad to note, was also broadcast live by C-SPAN – was extremely well-attended, and in complete contrast to last year, when everyone seemed crushed by Trump’s first year in office. This year there was a real spirit of resistance, in part because of people’s realization that there is no option but to resist, and partly because of the slim glimmer of hope offered by the Democrats taking the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.
 
J11 Rally to Close Guantanamo – Rule of Law, Not Rule of Trump
Stop Cruelty, Fear, Racism, Islamophobia, and Lies



We came together to demand the closure of Guantanamo and its legacy of institutionalizing Islamophobia, and to invite our government and fellow citizens to choose love, mercy and justice. A dozen organizations including WAT cosponsored the rally. In addition to the prison at Guantanamo, speakers also addressed connected issues such as the war in Yemen, Latin American solidarity, Cuban sovereignty, and more.  WAT speakers included Luke Nephew, Kathy Kelly, Maria Luisa Rosal, and Maha Hilal.  Jessica and Leila Murphy, who lost their father at the World Trade Center on 9/11, spoke out against vengeance.  They believe the men imprisoned at Guantanamo must be dealt with justly and the prison closed before they can feel closure about their father’s death. They joined  September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows in order to work toward this end.

After the rally, WAT members dressed in jumpsuits formed a circle in front of the White House, while members of the larger community presented them with candles of solidarity.  Then they processed singing —

“Courage Muslim brothers
You do not walk alone
We will walk with you and 
Sing your spirit home. “
 
We processed down Pennsylvania Avenue to Trump Hotel where we vigiled in solidarity with indigenous peoples.  We ended at a plaza above DC Central Cell Block where we stood in a circle and held a candlelight vigil in solidarity with the prisoners housed below ground, disappeared from public eyes.  Afterwards we headed back to the church to break our fast with a marvelous feast of Middle Eastern and Salvadoran food.

Over fifty of us circled up at the church Friday morning and many more allies joined us along the way.  More than forty stayed on for Saturday’s retreat.  A snowstorm greeted us as we emerged from the church and returned home!


Solidarity Vigils
 
We were pleased to receive word from a couple of groups who vigiled in solidarity on the J11 anniversary. 

From Peace and Justice Works in Portland, Oregon
Last night at the “Close Guantanamo– Still America’s Shame” action, the 12-foot-tall Tower of Peace was visible to thousands of Portlanders driving past Pioneer Square for 90+ minutes during rush hour.* Over 15 people participated in the rally/march and handed out roughly 150 fact sheets. About half the crowd wore orange jumpsuits to remind people of the dehumanization imposed on the inmates by the United States. Many passers-by in cars honked their horns and gave thumbs up, and pedestrians thanked us for being there. Several grassroots media folks including PSU students and the famous Joe Anybody came by to document the event.

New York City
Twenty-five people vigiled in New York City’s Union Square for an hour on Jan. 11 to mark the anniversary. Four students from Xavier University in Cincinnati, who were visiting the Catholic Worker, wore the orange jumpsuits.

We’ll be happy to receive news from other groups doing work in solidarity with us.  Email your news to  witnesstorture@gmail.com. 

For more photos and news of our work, please visit our website www.witnessagainsttorture.com. 

We’re deeply grateful for your solidarity.  Let’s challenge one another to continue to “let suffering speak” and to carry that truth to the American people.

In peace,
Witness Against Torture

 

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Join Witness Against Torture in DC in January

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

WAT’s 2019 Fast for Justice

We invite you to gather with us in community in Washington, DC, January 6th to 13th for Witness Against Torture’s 2019 Fast for Justice.

Once again we will fast and witness through dramatic actions to mark a tragic and ongoing history. Seventeen years ago on January 11th the prison camp at Guantanamo opened. To this day it remains a living symbol of US torture and human rights abuses, and is still a place of misery for 40 Muslim men.  And under this president we face the ominous threat that the number imprisoned there will rise again.

It is easy to lose hope in these troubling times. But hope resides in bearing witness to injustice, lifting up human dignity, and imploring our fellow citizens not to turn their eyes away. And so we gather. Learn about our actions in past years at witnessagainsttorture.com

See our Fast for Justice schedule.

Please join us – for the week or for a day, but especially on Friday January 11th.  To RSVP and to reserve your space at the hostel, send an email to witnesstorture@gmail.com. We will get back to you with more information.

If you would like to fast in solidarity with us from home, please let us know at witnesstorture@gmail.com.  We will keep in touch with you while we are in DC.

See our Fasting Tips 2019.

Read our messaging for the January 11 rally marking 17 years of Guantanamo.

 

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June Newsletter: Torture Awareness Month

In Focus - Front Page // Film

Please join us as we mark Torture Awareness month with a vigil and teach-in, described below.  For our full  newsletter, please click here.

The Dark Legacy of The War on Terror & Muslim Victims of Torture

Vigil & Teach-In

Tuesday, June 26, 6:30 pm
White House, Lafayette Park

From the Bush administration to the Trump administration, torture has continued to be a tactic in the War on Terror. With Gina Haspel, a known torturer now leading the CIA, torture in it’s most egregious form may soon be revived. In the course of all of this, those who have been targeted most by the U.S.’s post 9/11 torture apparatus – Muslims have been marginalized and invisiblized. Join us during torture awareness month on the UN Day in Support of Victims of Torture for a vigil and teach-in on torture in the War on Terror to uplift the voices and stories of Muslim survivors. The program will conclude with a light meal.

 

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