From the Archive
Occupy the Courtroom: Activists Put Guantánamo on Trial
A jury trial for five anti-torture activists begins on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 in D.C. Superior Court before Judge Fisher on a charge of unlawful conduct.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Our strategy is to put Guantánamo on trial,” says Josie Setzler, a human rights advocate and grandmother from Ohio, “to demand action from our elected Representatives and our President, to see Guantánamo shut down and this travesty ended.”
On June 23, 2011, as the House of Representatives voted on an appropriations bill containing a measure to strip funding from any efforts to repatriate Guantánamo detainees, the activists stood one by one and addressed the men and women elected to represent their interests. Their statement began:
“Today the House of Representative is in the process of contemplating not the passage of a bill but the commission of a crime. Provisions in the proposed Defense Appropriations Bill grant the United States powers over the lives of detained men fitting of a totalitarian state that uses the law itself as an instrument of tyranny. The law would make the prison at Guantánamo permanent by denying funds for the transfer of men to the United States, even for prosecution in civilian courts.”
Spread throughout the House Gallery, the fourteen were able to complete their statements before being led away by Congressional guards. Many of the Representatives on the floor listened intently, while others jeered derisively. Everyone within hearing range understood that the activists were objecting to the continued abuse and detention of men at Guantánamo—many of whom have been cleared for release by the Bush and Obama administrations but continue to be held largely because of the political cowardice of Congress. The fourteen welcome the opportunity to make their case before a jury in a trial that is expected to last most of the week. According to court documents, the case is known as “Shakir Ami (aka Bryan Hynes) et al Co-Defendants;” a somewhat garbled reference to Shaker Aamer, one of the longest-held men at Guantánamo, a British resident of Pakistani descent. In the past, Witness Against Torture activists have been arrested without IDs and taken the names of men at Guantánamo, ensuring—at least symbolically—that these men have a day in court, a day denied them by the Obama administration. The defendants– Brian Hynes of the Bronx, NY, Judith Kelly of Washington, DC, Mike Levinson of White Plains, NY, Carmen Trotta of New York City, NY, and Josie Setzler of Freemont, Ohio—were among fourteen originally arrested and charged. The government dropped charges against the other nine just days ago, saying arresting officers could not positively identify most of the activists.
The courthouse is located at 500 Indiana Avenue NW, near the Navy Archives Metro stop. Activists will fill the courtroom each day of the trial and hold vigil outside in the mornings, lunch time and evenings.