Day 1 Fast for Justice in DC

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

A beautiful sunrise back-lit our protest at the Pentagon early Monday morning.

O crisis, intensify!
The morning is about to break forth.
–Abdulaziz

Reflections on the first full day of our 2019 Fast for Justice in DC


O Prison Darkness

O prison darkness, pitch your tent.
We love the darkness.

For after the dark hours of the night, Pride’s dawn will rise.

Let the world, with all its bliss, fade away–
So long as we find favor with God

A boy may diespair in the face of a problem,
But we know God has a disign.

Even though the bands tighten and seem unbreakable,
They will shatter.

Those who persist will attain their goal;
Those who keep knocking shall gain entry.

O crisis, intensify!
The morning is about to break forth.

— Abdulaziz (Poems from Guantanamo: The detainees speak)

January 8, 2019

Dear Friends,
The 2019 Fast for Justice has begun!  The above poem written by Guantanamo detainee Abdulaziz served to frame our first full day in DC on Monday. We read and reflected on the poem during our solidarity fasters conference call in the evening.  The final verse, “O crisis intensify! The  morning is about to break forth” reminded us of our start to the day: our vigil at the Pentagon, where a beautiful sunrise unfolded behind us and eerily lit up the Pentagon facade we faced.  Abdulaziz kept his hope alive in the darkness of his Guantanamo imprisonment, imagining the new light of dawn in the midst of crisis.  We feel the responsibility to foster that hope on the streets of DC and in the communities of our readers who accompany us from home.  Below please read more from Paulette and Art about the Pentagon vigil.

Borrowing from the words of Clare Grady, a Kings Bay Plowshares activist who was on our conference call in the evening:  Let us remember the value of steadfastness and communal work.  May our message be heard and magnified.  In intense crisis, let us long for the dawn!

Peace and gratitude,
Witness Against Torture


At our Witness against Torture Action at the Pentagon
by Sr. Paulette Schroeder

At out Witness against Torture Action Jan. 7 in front of the Pentagon, I felt so humbled and grateful to be standing for the 40 men still detained in Guantanamo. Though many of these men have been cleared for release or for trial the men still languish in conditions that are deplorable. President Trump refuses to even consider releasing anyone during his term of office.

Every Monday a.m. The Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Community in D.C. stands in solidarity with all who suffer from U.S. militarism. Our Witness Against Torture group had the privilege of joining this faith-filled community for this freezing Monday morning.

While singing, praying, and speaking on behalf of the men, I held the sign: “Is this who we are?”  I felt the profound sadness and discouragement of these men who haven’t seen nor heard nor touched their spouse or child through many long years. It is this hope to be rejoined with their family that keeps them going, hoping for good people of conscience to give attention to these men’s unjust confinement. Please God, let it be.

Pentagon DDCW-WAT Vigil Statement/Litany Prepared by Art Laffin—January 7, 2019
(Readers: Art Laffin, Frida Berrigan and Brian Terrell)

Good Morning. We greet all Pentagon workers and police in a spirit of peace and nonviolence. Since 1987 the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker has vigiled here each Monday to uphold God’s command “Thou shalt not kill” in nonviolent resistance to an empire that sanctions global violence and killing as evidenced by its vast war machine worldwide that included over 800 foreign military bases (including Guantanamo Bay), its military intervention in numerous countries, and its policy to prepare for and threaten to wage nuclear war. We, members of the DDCW and Witness Against Torture (WAT), come to the Pentagon, the center of warmaking on our planet, to say YES to love, justice and life and NO to the death-dealing policies of a warmaking empire. God calls us to love and never to torture, kill and wage war.  WAT formed in 2005 when 25 Catholic Workers and other peacemakers from the U.S. went to Guantánamo Bay Detention site and attempted to visit the detainees being held at the facility. For the last 13 years members of WAT have fasted and engaged in numerous nonviolent actions to call for the closing of Guantanamo. Today is the first day of WAT’s week-long “Fast for Justice” to mark the 17th year when the first detainees were taken to Guantanamo on January 11, 2002. We call for the immediate closing  of Guantanamo, and for an end to the crime of torture and indefinite detention.

Refrain: End the Crime of Torture–Close Guantanamo Now!

Today, 40 men continue to languish at Guantanamo, most for the last 16 years, never knowing their fate, with no resolution to their cases in sight. We need to see these men as members’ of our own blood family and act on their behalf. 

Refrain: End the Crime of Torture–Close Guantanamo Now!

We remember and pray for all victims of the U.S. empire, including the 9 men who have died at Guantanamo since its opening.  Adnan Latif was one of these men who have been all but forgotten. Latif, who spent more than ten years in Guantanamo without ever being charged with a crime, would often go on a hunger strike to protest his unjust confinement. A Yemeni citizen, poet, father and husband, Latif was subject to severe beatings, druggings and torture. He had been cleared for release at least four separate times yet continued to be imprisoned. On September 8, 2012, Latif was found dead in his cell. No independent investigation has been conducted into his death, or the deaths of the other eight detainees. In Latif’s own words he asks: “Where is the world to save us from torture? Where is the world to save us from the fire and sadness? Where is the world to save the hunger strikers?” Adnan Latif: we and many others hear your cry and that is why we are here today!  

Refrain: End the Crime of Torture–Close Guantanamo Now!

We call for an independent investigation into the death of Latif and those who died at Guantanamo! In the name of the detainees who continue to be unjustly held at Guantanamo, we call on all who work at the Pentagon to implore President Trump to issue an executive order to Close Guantanamo immediately!

Refrain: End the Crime of Torture–Close Guantanamo Now!

We also remember today all those who have died and continue to suffer from the brutal U.S.-backed Saudi war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The U.S. continues to provide direct military support and weapons to Saudi Arabia for this war, even though a recent Senate resolution called for an end to refueling Saudi warplanes, targeting and sharing intelligence. Thousands have died from the war, starvation is widespread and suspected cholera cases have exceeded one million. Save the Children conservatively estimates that 85,000 Yemeni children under age five have died from starvation and disease during the last three years. 

Refrain: The Children are Dying–End the War in Yemen!

Since 2010, according to The New York Times, the United States has sold the Saudis thirty F-15 multirole jet fighters, eighty-four combat helicopters, 110 air-to-surface cruise missiles, and 20,000 precision guided bombs. Last year, the United States also sold the Saudis ten maritime helicopters in a $1.9 billion deal. A Lockheed Martin made bomb was used in the Saudi bombing of a school bus in Yemen on Aug. 9, 2018 killing 40 children. We demand an immediate end to this war!

Refrain: The Children are Dying–End the War in Yemen!

Please join us as we commit to ending, torture, oppression, racism, Islamophobia and war. Together let us heed the biblical mandate: “to proclaim liberty to the captives…to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon and from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Luke 4:18 and Is 42:7)…to beat swords into plowshares and to train for war no more.” (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3)    Now is the time to Close Guantanamo, end the war in Yemen and ALL wars, transform the Pentagon into a center that serves life instead of death, and to create the Beloved Community! 


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17 years of Guantanamo: Rally in DC

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

Dear WAT friends,
Our community is gathering this week in DC to mark another tragic year since the opening in 2002 of the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo, where forty prisoners remain. Follow our daily updates this week on Facebook and our websiteWe would like to invite you to join us for Friday’s White House rally, a congressional briefing on Guantanamo, and Thursday’s speaker panel.  Please read on for details. 
In solidarity,
Witness Against Torture

White House Rally on 17th anniversary of Guantanamo

WHAT: Rally to Close Guantánamo

WHEN: Friday, January 11 at 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm EST

WHERE:
Lafayette Square
Pennsylvania Ave NW & 16th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

WASHINGTON, DC – On the 17th anniversary of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, Witness Against Torture will be joining Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Justice for Muslims Collective and others for a rally to demand the closure of the detention camp, end indefinite detention of the detainees, and condemn the fear-mongering, cruelty, racism and xenophobia that has defined Trump’s presidency.

More than a decade after they were detained, 40 people remain at Guantánamo including five who have been approved by the U.S. government for transfer out of the detention camp. Most of the detainees have never been charged with or convicted of a crime.

Media contact: Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture,  732-979-3119,  jvaron@aol.com


Read WAT’s 2019 statement marking 17 years of Guantanamo:

CLOSE GUANTANAMO — Rule of Law, Not Rule of Trump
Stop Cruelty, Fear, Islamophobia, Racism, and Lies

 

Please encourage your members of Congress to attend the Congressional briefing on Guantanamo to be held at 10:00 am, Friday, at Longworth House Office Building, Room 1539.


Thursday evening speaker panel:
The State of Muslim Rights in the US War On Terror

 

Thursday at 6 PM – 8:30 PM
Public Welfare Foundation Inc
1200 U Street Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia 20009
RSVP

Sponsored by Justice for Muslims Collective, Center for Constitutional Rights, Defending Rights and Dissent, Codepink, and Witness Against Torture

From drones, to proxy wars, to CIA Black Sites, to Communication Management Units, Muslims domestically in the US and around the globe have continued to be targeted under the guise of the War on Terror seventeen years after its onset. The panel will be moderated by Kristin Garrity Sekerci and will begin with a keynote from Dr. Maha Hilal (Justice for Muslims Collective), and followed by a panel featuring Darakshan Raja (Justice for Muslims Collective), Aliya Hussain (Center for Constitutional Rights), and Aya Saed (Center for Constitutional Rights) will speak to the impacts of the War on Terror on Muslims, both in it’s current manifestations under the Trump administration and it’s systemic nature, while addressing the role of institutionalized Islamophobia as part and parcel of the post 9/11 national security apparatus.

Artwork painted by Guantanamo prisoners will also be on display.

 

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Call to Fast in Solidarity: From Gitmo to Kings Bay Plowshares

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

Join us from home or in DC

Dear Friends,

We’ll be gathering tomorrow in DC for Witness Against Torture’s week-long Fast for Justice. If you can’t join us in person, we invite you to join us from home, fasting with us in solidarity with the men in Guantanamo or taking action in other ways. We welcome you to join a conference call with us on Monday evening. 

This year, we will also be fasting in solidarity with the Kings Bay Plowshares 7(KBP7), our friends who are currently awaiting trial for their dramatic anti-nuclear weapon action at the Kings Bay nuclear submarine base in Georgia last April. Many of them have been deeply involved with our WAT community.

In November’s KBP7 evidentiary hearings on their Religious Freedom Restoration Act motion, defendants presented testimony that can provide us with insights for WAT’s resistance to the prison at Guantanamo. 

Martha Hennessy opened the Nov. 19th hearing by recounting that her mother and her grandmother Dorothy Day taught her to pay attention to others’ suffering and to practice loving kindness.  The KBP7’s concern for the death of billions in a large-scale nuclear conflagration is firmly rooted in their concern for the dignity of each person they meet in daily life.  Similarly, we in WAT carry in our hearts and proclaim in the public square the personal stories of men who have been tortured and imprisoned without charge or trial at Guantanamo.  Holding fast to the human dignity of each person unites our two causes to resist violence on every scale.

Carmen Trotta told the court that the possession of nuclear weapons freezes nations in hatred.  We must let go, he said, to become a cohesive community.  Likewise, we in WAT recognize that we can never achieve true security for the family of nations while our own nation clings to torture chambers and offshore prisons.

KBP7 members Mark Colville, Liz McAlister, Patrick O’Neill, Clare Grady, and Steve Kelly addressed the idolatry of nuclear weapons and the false sense of security these idols are meant to provide.  This idolatry of things hugely powerful has a flip side: the dehumanization of the utterly powerless.  The US attempts to make demons out of the 40 men still detained at Guantanamo, stoking citizens’ fear and then satisfying that fear with lawless brutality against these men.

We fast to keep their humanity in front of our own eyes and the eyes of our nation. Let us fast–and act–together this week in the search for a solidarity that transforms.

We invite you to join our fast next week wherever you are and in whatever way you choose.  Let us know of your intentions by writing us at witnesstorture@gmail.com

We will hold a conference call with those who are fasting or taking action in solidarity with us on Monday evening at 8:00 pm.


Conference Call information  
Dial-in Number: 
1-605-475-5950 
Participant Access Code: 1860434
 

We will be sharing advocacy and action information and reflections on our website, our Facebook page, and through daily update emails to this list. We look forward to being in community with you, in person or in spirit, this coming week!

In solidarity,
Witness Against Torture

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CLOSE GUANTANAMO — Rule of Law, Not Rule of Trump

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

WAT’s 2019 statement marking 17 years of Guantanamo

CLOSE GUANTANAMO — Rule of Law, Not Rule of Trump
Stop Cruelty, Fear, Islamophobia, Racism, and Lies

On January 11, human rights activists and attorneys will gather at the White House in Washington, D.C. to mark another tragic year since the opening in 2002 of the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo, where forty prisoners remain. The demonstrators will call for the closure of the prison camp.

Shut Down Guantanamo

Playing to Islamophobic fears of Muslim peoples, Guantanamo was founded with the lie that it houses only “the worst of the worst” terrorists.  It continues to hold exclusively Muslim men, many of whom were severely tortured, without charge or trial. 

Other detained men face prosecution in the Military Commissions.  The unworkable Commissions have failed to provide due process for the accused or justice for the victims of terrorism.

Guantanamo has been a place of physical and psychological torture, the imprisonment of innocent men, brutal forced-feedings to break hunger-striking prisoners, and the pain of indefinite detention without charge. 

The prison remains a profound violation of law. It is a threat to American security and a blow to American ideals.  It is an insult to the world, to the tenets of all religious faiths, and to the idea of human rights. 

Guantanamo must close.

Guantanamo Today

Trump has put his own terrible stain on Guantanamo. Trump openly supports torture. Last year he appointed as CIA head Gina Haspel, who supervised a CIA torture “black site” in 2003.

The Trump administration has ended the U.S. policy of seeking Guantanamo’s closure. Trump has threatened to bring new prisoners there. And he has forbidden the release of anyone from Guantanamo into freedom.  This includes five men long cleared for release by the U.S. government itself. 

With no functioning mechanism for the release of any prisoner, Guantanamo has plunged deeper into lawlessness. Federal lawsuits are challenging this detention regime that deprives prisoners of nearly all rights of due process.

The newly elected Congress and the American people must awaken to the persisting damage of this immoral and illegal prison and demand its closure.

Rule of Law — Not Rule of Trump

Guantanamo is now subject to the Rule of Trump.  It feeds the fear-mongering, cruelty, racism, xenophobia and lawlessness of his presidency.

Much of the world has been aghast at Trump’s defining policies and rhetoric: the Muslim travel ban; the separation of migrant families; physical and other assaults on asylum seekers; and the incessant slander of “foreigners” as threats to the American nation.  

Such cruelty and racism has always been part of Guantanamo.  They now lie at the heart of vast domains of Trump’s policies.  Images of Guantanamo detainees behind barbed-wire and in cages are echoed by those of migrants in detention camps. The hateful, fear-mongering rhetoric long used to denounce Muslim “terrorists” is now used to tar the people of whole nations and whole categories of immigrants.

Now entering its seventeenth year, the prison at Guantanamo is newly dangerous in the hands of a bigoted authoritarian, contemptuous of the rule of law and human rights.

We must work to establish the rule of law and respect for the rights and dignity of all peoples.  We must close Guantanamo.

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Schedule – 2019 Fast for Justice

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

(Please check back periodically for latest updates.)
Sunday, January 6 to Sunday, January 13, 2019
First Trinity Lutheran Church Hostel
501 4th Street NW (entrance on 4th St)
Washington DC 20001 (4th and E Sts NW)
(Judiciary Square Metro)

Sunday, January 6
We gather: People can arrive after 3 pm.
Contact person on Sunday: Don Cunning (848 200 0847)
7 pm: Last meal together before the fast begins on Monday
8 pm: Opening Community Circle

Monday, January 7
6:15am: Leave for Pentagon
7-8am: Pentagon Vigil w/ Dorothy Day Catholic Worker
9am: Community Circle and day of planning and action
1 pm Action planning meeting
8 pm: Conference call with solidarity fasters and Kings Bay Plowshares. Email us for call info.

Tuesday, January 8
9:00 am: Community Circle and day of planning and action
1 to 3 pm: Community Dialogue at Code Pink House (1241 Evarts St. NE, Washington, DC 20018) with local tenants rights activists struggling to protect their homes and local Poor Peoples Campaign activists demanding the minimum wage for all restaurant workers in DC.
7:00 pm Community Circle

Wednesday, January 9
9:00 am: Community Circle, day of planning and action
Noon: Demonstration against US violence in Yemen and Guantanamo,
Capitol lawn across from the Supreme Court
7:00 pm: Community Circle
8:00 pm:  Conference call with solidarity fasters

Thursday, January 10
9:00 am: Community Circle, and day of planning and action
Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill: Leave the hostel at 11:30 am to go to the Hill, reconvene at 2:30 at Russell Senate Office Bldg.
6:00 – 8:30 pm: Panel Presentation
The State of Muslim Rights in the US War on Terror,
Public Welfare Foundation Inc, 1200 U Street Northwest
Speaker list and RSVP are at this link.

Friday, January 11 – commemorating 17 years of Guantanamo
8:00 am: Community Circle
10:00 am: Congressional briefing on Guantanamo, 10:00 am, Friday, at Longworth House Office Building, Room 1539.
12:15 pm – 1:45 pm:  Panel-17 Years of Guantanamo
New America, 740 15th St NW #900 Washington, D.C. 20005
2:30 – 4:00 pm: Coalition Rally at White House.  See the Facebook event page  and WAT’s J11 Statement.
Post-rally: Candlelight procession back to hostel, followed by a meal to break the fast.

Saturday, January 12
9:00 am: Retreat to reflect on the week and plan moving forward

Sunday, January 13
9:00 am: Breakfast, closing circle and cleanup
12:00 noon: Return home

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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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On Speaking Truth to Power

News // Film

On Speaking Truth to Power

June 21, 2018
By Helen Schietinger

Haspel the Torturer

On May 9th seven human rights activists spoke out at Gina Haspel’s Senate confirmation hearing.  When I stood up, the first words out of my mouth were, “The question is, what did you do to human beings in U.S. custody?”  I was referring to the Muslim men tortured in the secret CIA prison Haspel was in charge of, but the question could also be asked of another administration head, Jeff Sessions, about the now over 11,000 unaccompanied children being jailed indefinitely in ICE detention centers, including over 3,000 who were cruelly separated from their parents at the border.  It is clear that neither the president nor Congress is willing to recognize our responsibility as a nation to respect the human rights of all human beings, including the right not to be imprisoned without just cause, much less the right not to be tortured.

In Senator Roy Blount’s banter with Haspel during the hearing, he noted that “truth to power” is a “time-honored tradition” of the CIA.  Haspel replied that bringing truth to power is her favorite CIA motto.  Already outraged at the whitewashing of the language of torture by the Democratic Senators and the accolades being heaped upon Haspel by the Republican Senators, I felt compelled to invoke that time-honored tradition by asking Haspel what no senator was willing to ask her:  “What did you do to human beings in U.S. custody?”  The answer was pretty obvious to me: you tortured them.

But even before addressing the grotesque fact of now CIA head Haspel having been in charge of torturing human beings, let’s go back to the fact of the US taking people into custody without due process in the first place, often indefinitely.  We live in a country that now is holding hundreds of thousands of human beings in prisons and “detention centers” — and perhaps black sites as well, although with so much state secrecy we have no way of knowing.  And decent people are rising to the demand to speak truth to power.

WAT member David Barrows paid his fine for speaking out in Haspel’s confirmation hearing and then a week later attended the full Senate session where she was confirmed.  As many of us know, David has a booming voice, and he made a powerful statement to that august body:

“You senators who vote to approve a human torturer and destroyer of evidence of human rights violations are violators yourselves of the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture and you violate the Nuremberg principles.  Hitler, too, had lawyers to excuse torture. All my life the CIA has committed crimes against humanity. No one has ever been held accountable. We tortured 3,000 Vietnamese to death under Operation Phoenix.  The CIA has overthrown four democracies: Iran, Guatemala, Chile…”

Asylum Seekers and their Children

Although torture has unfortunately receded from mainstream consciousness, across the country decent people are being moved to speak truth to power against the administration’s indefinite detention of asylum seekers at our borders. The administration’s justifying rhetoric invokes a brand of isolationist nationalism that is not only cruel, it’s unAmerican.

The administration added a cruel strategy to punish refugees who enter our country: in the past three months, over 3,000 infants and children have been jailed, separately from their parents, ostensibly to send a warning for other parents not to have the audacity to flee dangerous situations with their children.  When media coverage was substantial a massive public reaction followed.

The outrage over these vulnerable children being taken from their parents has not only mobilized the people; our elected leaders are speaking out.  Senator Nelson and US Representative Wasserman Schultz challenged the administration after being refused entry to a detention center holding vulnerable minors.  ICE assures that detained children have all their needs met, but the cloak of secrecy prevents us from knowing.

The word democracy can’t be used for a government in which elected representatives are not allowed access to the State’s prisons.  While the president has now ostensibly reversed the policy of separating families, lack of transparency and expressed unwillingness to reunite families already torn apart indicate that the injustice continues.

Refugees and Their Families

Communities are speaking out about other ruthless anti-immigrant activities.  Immigrants living and working productively in communities throughout the US have increasingly been terrorized by the fear of imprisonment and deportation. ICE oversees internment camps which contain “a hidden population of detainees who are effectively forever prisoners of the agency….. in 2015 ICE detained more than 355,000 people — some 3,166 of them had been held for more than a year, including 169 for more than three years, 32 for more than five years, and five for more than eight years.”  Communities across the country have mobilized to protest this outrageous policy and support the impacted immigrants.

On June 6, 2018, heavily armed ICE agents backed by helicopters and dogs raided two garden stores in Sandusky, Ohio, arresting 115 employees.  Alarmed by the raids, the community centered its concern on the impact of the arrests on the families. WAT member Josie Setzler and Tiffin Area Pax Christi helped organize a Rally for Justice in Immigration. According to local news, “People gathered at Suhr Park … to let the country know they wouldn’t remain quiet about more than 100 people being taken away from their families and the community.”  Fifteen-year-old Natalie Alonzo and her friends organized “Los Ninos de Corsos” to raise money for the families whose bread-winners had been taken into the black hole of ICE, where lawyers and family-members have no idea if and when their loved ones are to be deported.

Grass-roots organizations such as No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes have long attempted to help prevent asylum-seekers crossing the US-Mexico border from dying in the desert.  WAT and No More Death member Paula Miller says that volunteers putting out water and providing first aide to vulnerable immigrants in the desert risk being prosecuted themselves for assisting and harboring “illegal aliens.”

The People Speak Truth to Power

So what do we do? We speak truth to power.  Those with the power — whether Senators or heads of agencies — may attempt to co-opt our ideas and phrases, but they can’t stop us from resisting and challenging their insidious double-think.  Entire communities are speaking truth to power over the injustice of ICE’s accelerating overreach. The world is watching.

On June 20, the United Nations observed World Refugee Day.  Not many Americans may know about World Refugee Day, but we do know it’s wrong to lock up people who are fleeing danger or economic disaster, and especially wrong to separate children from their parents.

WAT will stand with Justice for Muslims Collective on June 26th, the UN International Day in Support of Survivors of Torture, remembering especially the Muslim men who have been held for over 15 years and tortured in Guantanamo prison. We will continue to challenge torture by agents of the US that has gone unpunished.

We who choose to speak truth to power in the halls of Congress will continue our witnesses.  Of those arrested for speaking out against Haspel’s confirmation, four are still in court.  Medea Benjamin, Tighe Barry and Pete Perry paid fines, and Janice Sevre-Duszynska will go to trial on July 16th.  Ray McGovern, who was knocked to the ground and injured by the police after speaking in the hearing, was charged with resisting arrest and disrupting Congress and has a hearing on July 23rd.  I was charged with disrupting Congress and have a hearing on July 25th. David Barrows has a hearing on July 11th for his speech from the Senate Gallery.

Is it enough? It depends on what you consider enough.  We certainly weren’t able to prevent Haspel’s inevitable confirmation, any more than we’ve been able to hold her and others accountable for facilitating torture of human beings in their custody.  In the hearing, it was suggested that waterboarding is illegal now, but that it was legal when Haspel was in charge of the prison.  Somehow, the fact that Congress passed a law making waterboarding illegal wiped out the fact that this modern-day euphemism for a medieval torture method was already illegal in U.S. law, international law and in the Constitution.  Why was there not one Senator on the Committee able to insist on this fact, and by extrapolation, to ask why Haspel and numerous other high-level U. S. officials are not being prosecuted for participating in torture?  So we will continue to call out the many U.S. officials, both elected and appointed, who are complicit in this travesty of justice.

My final salvo, as I was being led from the room by police, was, “You are a torturer!” I could not leave this elephant in the room unacknowledged.  This truth did not matter to the high government officials in the room.  The torturer being interviewed by the esteemed Senators ultimately said all the right things and was promoted to head the CIA.  But this won’t stop some citizens from speaking truth to power.

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Invitation: Action opposing Gina Haspel for CIA on Wednesday

In Focus - Front Page // Film

May 7, 2018

Dear Friends and Supporters,

My name is Dr. Maha Hilal and I am a member of Witness Against Torture’s organizing team.  I’m writing to you today to express my rage and sadness over President Trump’s nomination for CIA Director – Gina Haspel.  For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Haspel, she played a critical role in the CIA’s torture, interrogation, and rendition program, supervising the first black site in Thailand where both Abu Zubaydah and Al-Nashiri were waterboarded repeatedly.  The torture that was inflicted on them would be replicated again and again as this first site provided a blueprint for others.  The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence provides extensive detail on the CIA torture apparatus, identifying at least 119 prisoners – all Muslims in the report they published in December of 2014.  

It is Haspel’s participation in this violent apparatus of torture that makes it outrageous for her to be nominated, when she should, instead, be prosecuted.  But not only does the U.S. have a long and sorted history when it comes to the practice of torture, the era of the War on Terror has created an entirely separate system of justice where the laws that apply to others are malleable when it comes to Muslims.  This is by design, not accident.  But because the dehumanization and degradation of Muslims in the context of torture has been almost entirely omitted by the mainstream narrative, I wrote this piece to highlight the many Muslim victims of the CIA and beyond.

As a Muslim, knowing that the country I live in and of which I’m a citizen has chosen to promote an individual who participated in the torture and criminalization of other Muslims is outrageous and inexplicable.  That’s why I’m leading an action on Wednesday between 8:30-9:30 AM in front of the Hart building where Haspel’s hearing is set to take place at 9:30 in room 216.  I hope you will consider joining this action and helping us push back on the gamut of racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic acts of state violence that the CIA has spearheaded against Muslims in the War on Terror. We need to make it clear that torturers should not be promoted, but should instead, be held accountable.  Moreover, this is a critical time to hold the CIA accountable for their crimes of torture that spans the globe.

Will I see you on Wednesday at the Hart building?  I hope so.

Sincerely,
Dr. Maha Hilal

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Day 3 Fast for Justice: We grieve

Fast for Justice 2018 // Film

 

In the dark times shall there be singing?

Yes.
There will be singing about the dark times.

–Bertolt Brecht

Day 3 Update – January 10, 2011

Friends,

Wednesday afternoon, we began a ceremony of grieving at the Museum of Native American History Museum, with the song:

‘Earth, my body; water, my blood; air, my breath, fire, my spirit.’

We then processed, singing and carrying flowers, to the Senate Park where the largest immigration support rally occurred just a month ago.

We remembered the long history of violence and oppression in the US and our hopes, from ending Islamophobia to ‘justice for the hills and rivers’.

Even this week we hear in the news more stories of violence intensifying: the loss of protective status for Salvadoran refugees and, that very afternoon, immigration raids on dozens of convenience stores.

Wise leaders among us sense that grieving is fundamental to the emotional life of nonviolence, as John Dear tells us in a passage read for our ritual.

We need to make grief a regular part of our daily meditation.  Grief needs to become a way of life for us.  For the millions of impoverished people in the world –from El Salvador to Chile to Malawi to South Africa to India and the Philippines–this is an old lesson.  The indigenous peoples of the world have long practiced grief.  But wealthy first world people, especially North Americans, do not know how to grieve.  We presume this is a morbid practice.  In fact, it is a way toward healing and comfort, as those who care for the human family and the earth show us.

The practice of grief allows the compassion within us to breathe and stretch, and the possibilities of universal love to grow within and among us.  If we learn to grieve regularly, we will awaken to our common humanity, expand our hearts, widen our compassion, and discover new horizons of peace.

For some the grief was personal, raw and recent.  Afterwards, one member remarked that the ritual helped her fold her personal loss into the suffering outside our doors and borders.  Our breaking hearts are strengthened for the work.

We ended with a litany:  We are grieving, we are sorry, let us hope.  You may find the litany at the end of this message.


There Is a Man Under That Hood:  book launch
Wednesday evening, at the Impact Hub down the street we held a book launch event.  WAT’s new book, There is a Man Under That Hood, features Luke Nephew’s poem by the same name, accompanied by photos taken or curated by Justin Norman.  The afterword is written by Omar Farah, staff attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights.

Many of you will remember Luke’s spoken word performance of the title poem in front of the DOJ on a snowy, cold J11 in 2011.  See it again at this link.

The book’s arresting photos provide us with a moving record of our work over the years.  As Omar Farah writes in the books afterword:

WAT has been fearless in giving voice to the prisoners’ lived experiences.  WAT has honored the prisoners’ humanity, even when the government cynically vilified them, and it has unflinchingly stood as witness to their suffering, even when the world’s attention turned away.

Learn more and order a copy at this link.


Yet another J11
It’s early in the morning on January 11th, as we write this message.  Can it be yet another J11 that we must come together?  Today we mark 16 years since the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo.  We join with a coalition of 15 organizations to rally at the White House at 11:30 am.

At 9:30 this morning,  CCR will be livestreaming a morning press conference from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where they will announce a significant new filing challenging Guantánamo under Trump.

At 2:30 this afternoon, a panel entitled Guantanamo Under Trump, moderated by Peter Bergen, will take place at New America, 740 15th St., NW, Suite 900.  Featured speakers will be Andy Worthington, Karen Greenberg, and Thomas Wilner.


In closing, we offer you the litany we used in Wednesday’s grieving ritual.  Together may we find strength for this journey.

A Litany:  We are mourning. We are sorry. Let us hope

Response: We are mourning

From the arrogance of power….
From the tyranny of greed
From the politics of hypocrisy
From the addiction of control
From the idolatry of national security
From the cancer of hatred
From the hysteria of nationalism
From the sin of racism
From the sin of sexism
From the sin of torture
From the sin of war
From the waste and preparation of war

Response:  We are sorry.

For our hardness of the heart….
For wasting our gifts
For wanting too much
For wounding the earth
For ignoring the poor
For trusting in weapons
For refusing to listen
For exporting arms
For desiring dominance
For lacking humility
For failing to risk
For failing to trust
For failing to act
For failing to hope
For failing to love
For failing to negotiate
For our arrogance
For our impatience
For our pride
For our silence

Response: Let us hope

That we learn compassion…
That we embrace nonviolence
That we act in justice
That we live in hope
That we do your will
That we love our enemies
That we strive to be peacemakers
That we live simply
That we practice sharing
That we protect the earth
That we cherish all life

 

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Press release: WAT seeks answers from UAE on torture and secret prisons in Yemen

Uncategorized // Film

Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: witnesstorture@gmail.com

January 9, 2017

Witness Against Torture (WAT) Seeks UAE Response to Allegations that the UAE runs a network of secret prisons in southern Yemen where “abuse is routine and torture extreme.”

On January 9, 2018, WAT members demonstrated in front of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. They tried to deliver a letter to UAE Ambassador Yusuf Al Otaiba, raising questions based on a June 22, 2017 AP report which documented 18 secret prisons in Southern Yemen where detainees were subjected to extreme forms of torture, which include being trussed to a grill called “the grill” that rotated over an open fire. “2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons,” the AP report says, “a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.”

Also released on June 22, 2017 was a Human Rights Watch report which accuses the UAE of supporting Yemeni forces that have “arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured and abused dozens of people during security operations.”

One of the main detention complexes is at Riyan Airport in Yemen’s southern city of Mukalla. Former detainees, speaking on condition of anonymity, told of “being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the ‘grill,’ and sexually assaulted.

A member of the Hadramawt Elite a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, said that American forces were at times only yards away.

The AP report notes that Amnesty International has called for a U.N.-led investigation “into the UAE’s and other parties’ role in setting up this horrific network of torture” and into allegations the U.S. interrogated detainees or received information possibly obtained from torture. “It would be a stretch to believe the US did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” said Amnesty’s director of research in the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf.

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