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Day 5 Update: Hope in a Time Like Ours

“Hope in a Time Like Ours.”

“If we are not nearly in despair there is something the matter. The only thing that is to be regretted without qualification is for one to adopt perfectly to totalitarian society. Then one is indeed beyond hope. Hence we should all be sick in some way. We should all feel near to despair in some sense because this semi-despair is the normal form taken by hope in a time like ours.”

Brian Terrell opened our morning reflection with these words taken from a letter that Thomas Merton wrote to Czselaw Milosz in September of 1959. In a time like ours despair is reality for many of us in the movement. Yet Merton reminds us that this despair is the most human and normal response from us when realizing that Guantanamo will survive into the Trump administration, the prison industrial complex continues to expand, and Islamophobia and racism determines public policy. These policies we can never accept. And so we protest, “not to establish our own innocence but to acknowledge and claim our part of the collective responsibility for the world as it is.”

In the afternoon, we attended The Tea Project where Aaron Hughes and Amber Ginsburg welcomed us into their gallery, which will be held from January 8th to January 20th at George Washington University. Aaron and Amber created 779 porcelain cups, each dedicated to a man detained at Guantanamo. On the base of each cup is the name of a Guantanamo prisoner, with the sides decorated with flowers indigenous to the prisoner’s country.

The project originated from a story told by Guantanamo guard, Chris Arendt.  In an interview in Esquire magazine, he said, “I liked working night shifts, because whenever they were awake, I wanted to apologize to them. When they were sleeping, I didn’t have to worry about that. I could just walk up and down the blocks all night long.”  In the evenings, detainees were given tea in styrofoam cups. The prisoners would decorate their cups, sometimes using their fingernails. Often they etched floral drawings onto the cups. Every night, Chris would collect the cups and turn them over for a security analysis, and then the cups would be destroyed.

Furthermore, this exhibit also includes artwork created by two men imprisoned in Guantanamo. Fifty-eight works of art from Ghaleb Al-Bihani, who is still detained, are on display there. The other artist featured, Djamel Ameziane, was detained from 2002 to 2013.

We joined Aaron and Amber’s efforts to unpack and display the cups — with songs, stories, and tearfulness interspersed. First, we unpacked nine cups dedicated to the nine people who have died in Guantanamo. Matt Daloisio was first to place a cup and shared about one of the prisoners, Yasser Talal Al Zahrani. He recounted how authorities said that Zahrani, along with Mana Al Tabi and Ali Ahmed, died on the night of June 10th, 2006, because they committed suicide. However, that has been called into question by a subsequent investigation by Scott Horton, reporting for Harper’s Magazine, who raised the possibility that they died of asphyxiation at the hands of Guantanamo authorities.

Later,  we placed cups on the racks to represent the 55 detainees still imprisoned in Guantanamo. Luke Nephew led us in singing: “We hear a beautiful song. It is the breaking of chains. We see a path full of hope. We have found the way. Let them go home. Let them go home. Let them go home. Let them go today.”

Witness Against Torture will continue to build with the Tea Project. We are partnering with them for their opening reception and program entitled, “Words from the Grassroots” on Tuesday, January 10, at 7 p.m. They are also hosting us to break our fast on the morning of January 11.

In the evening, four members of the War Resisters League (WRL) joined us. Ali Issa, Tara Tabassi, Emma Burke and Raul Ramos presented a teach-in which helped us understand the extent of tear gas usage in prisons in the U.S. and also raised issues about the ways that military forces, internationally, have used tear gas to attack peaceful protesters. The 1925 Geneva Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the use of tear gas in international warfare. Yet, used domestically, tear gas is allowed as a “riot control agent.”

Younous Chekkouri, a detainee who was held in Guantanamo for 13 years, called his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith and told him about an April 13, 2013 attack in which Guantanamo prison guards used tear gas and shotguns with small rubber bullets to subdue a peaceful protest after detainees covered cameras inside their cells.

The War Resisters League received over a hundred letters from people facing the brutality of tear gas while locked up in 21 states. “Tear gas is one front of violence that those locked in the mass incarceration system face; it is a part of militarism in action against an already vulnerable and captive community.”

To connect with WRL’s campaign to ban tear gas, Click Here.  

Learn more about our activities this week by checking out our Daily Schedule, and January 11th: Call to Action,

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