Listen to Excerpts from Mohamedou Slahi’s New Book

Fast for Justice 2015 // Film

I’ve just finished reading Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s new book, Guantánamo Diary. It is the first book published by a still-detained Guantánamo detainee, and, as one might expect, it is a harrowing read. However, the pages are also full of humor, compassion, and forgiveness, which is somewhat shocking coming from someone who has suffered as much abuse as Slahi has. It seems to perfectly capture the circuitous nature of interrogation of an entire decade and the no-win situations detainees were placed in over and over again, despite any evidence against them. It’s well worth the read, and I encourage you to both purchase it and sign the petition to free its author right away. Below are some excerpts read by Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hobbit, Sherlock, The Imitation Game), Stephen Fry (V for Vendetta, narrator of the Harry Potter book series), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, Pride and Prejudice), and Dominic West (The Wire, The Affair), who narrates an 8-minute documentary about the book’s creation.

— Justin


Daily Update – Day 8 of the Fast for Justice

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Dear Friends,

A powerful day of action!

Please see our press release below, press coverage in Roll Call and the Washington Post, as well as a more detailed overview of the day.

And look through and share these powerful images.

Thank you for taking this journey with us as you have been able…and thank you for continuing on the journey.

In Peace,

Witness Against Torture

Day 8 – Monday, January 12

Today, we conducted 1 action in 2 locations. At the Capitol, one group of us went in to the Senate Gallery and another group went to the Visitor’s Center. Later, yet another group went to the Department of Justice, then proceeded to the DC Central Cell Block.

In the Gallery, eleven people got arrested. Sitting in three different locations, they waited while Senator Dick Durbin, the only Senator on the floor, made a speech that began with expressing solidarity with French terror victims and then focused on Homeland Security and the Dream Act.  While he was talking about supporting the immigration reform bill, our group rose in three waves and chanting:

U.S. Torture
It’s official
Prosecute now! 

It’s official
Prosecute now!

Rectal feeding
It’s official
Prosecute now!

Within five or so verses of “Prosecute now” they were ushered out of the chamber. They continued chanting while being removed into the hallway. There, they were interviewed by reporters and handcuffed. Surrounded by officers and members of the press, they called for Dick Cheney’s arrest and continued to chant loudly, “Prosecute torture,” “Torture is a crime,” and “Shut down Guantanamo,” their voices echoing through the tiled hallways as we observers walked away.

The action in the Visitors’ Center was set into motion as the observers returned from the Gallery.  Banner holders and chanters took their place, forming a large circle in the middle of the open floor.  The banners read, “Ferguson 2 Guantánamo: White Silence = State Violence” and “We Demand Accountability for Torture & Police Murder.”  A reading took place mic-check style, with three members of the group taking turns as the leader.  Police soon descended on the group, pushing observers out of the room and making arrests. Nine were arrested.

At 4 pm, we joined the Hands Up Coalition for their weekly vigil at the Department of Justice. With the enormous help of Tighe Berry of Code Pink, we arrived with three cardboard caskets draped in canvas, labeled with the names of Emmanuel Okutuga, Tanisha Anderson, Matthew Ajibade, three young people murdered by the police.

Olubunmi Oludipe, mother of Emmanuel Okutuga (“Mama Emmanuel,” as Marsha affectionately calls her) shared her grief with those gathered, crying at the microphone and saying, “My children do not want me to be out here because they do not think that I can get justice.  But I am here because I want to help save other mothers from going through this pain.  I don’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo of the Hands Up Coalition criticized the hypocrisy of our elected officials, who ostentatiously empathize with French victims of terror and say, “Je suis Charlie,” when we have never heard them say, “Je suis Tanisha Anderson.”  She called out the “pattern of abuse, genocide, reckless abandonment of laws of this country” and invited Witness Against Torture to describe the relationship between our two campaigns.

Uruj Sheikh spoke for WAT, saying that just as the military occupies Afghanistan, so the police occupy our streets here, picking off brown and black bodies. Incarceration and murder are not solutions to the problems of our society.  We challenge the white supremacy that underlies anti-black racism and islamophobia both, and we are here to break the silence.

We processed from the door of the DOJ down the block led by Emmanuel’s mother and the caskets carried by an honor guard of four, followed by the orange jump-suited and hooded detainees. As we walked we sang, “We remember all the people/the police kill/we can feel their spirits/ they are with us still.” Then several people spoke to the group, including Emmanuel’s mother, who cried as she talked about her son. She moved all of us so much.

We then took to the streets – took the streets – and marched with caskets and detainees to the Central Cell Block stopping traffic as we went, singing “I can hear my brother saying I can’t breathe/Now I’m in the struggle singing I can’t leave/Calling out the violence of the racist police/We ain’t gonna stop ’til our people are free/We ain’t gonna stop ’til our people are free.” There was a lot of visible support from people on the street.

Many of us stayed on the outside of the building, holding banners and singing. Each of us who identified as white took the mic and said why we were “breaking white silence” and invited other white people around the country to also break their silence and stand against racism. We also read the names of those black people murdered by the police this past year.

We had impromptu participants as well.  One man of color who stopped to listen and watch shared that he has been brutalized twice by the police.  A woman came forward as well, sharing her struggle as an African-American lawyer who cannot enter a courtroom without using hair product, as the very hair that grows from her head is criminalized.

Twenty of our group went inside the police station. They read the names of those killed by police. When they tried to go through the metal detectors, they were stopped by a black police officer. He said he agreed with the message, but asked us personally not to take it to the next level by pushing through to get arrested. He asked our group to just make their presence without coming further. Our group agreed and stayed for 28 minutes representing black men getting killed every 28 hours by a police officer, security agent, or vigilante.

Later in the evening, we met in a circle that included Mama Emmanuel. She thanked us and told us about how the police destroyed evidence, saying it’s as if her son weren’t killed by the police. She said she believes her son’s spirit is coming back from the grave to keep his case alive.

At this writing, our 22 comrades remain in jail. The word is that they will be there for the night. We can’t wait to see them soon.

As the week comes to a close, we are all exhausted, grateful, and so very moved. We hope we don’t have to come back again next year, but we are prepared to do so.

When I say we are, you say together. When I say we are, you say one family…


21 Arrested: Demonstrators Interrupt US Senate; Block DC Central Cell Block Entrance

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Washington, D.C.— Witness Against Torture held two actions in Washington, DC condemning domestic racism and the violation of human rights in the War on Terror.

Banner Wide Straight

Inside the United States Senate chamber at 2:30 pm, thirteen demonstrators interrupted Senate proceedings to call for prosecutions of those who committed torture, as detailed in the US Senate report on CIA interrogations. Chanting “Torture, It’s Official, Prosecute Now!” the protestors addressed the Senate before being arrested by Capitol Police. In the Senate Visitors Center, another group held banners with such slogans as “Accountability for Police Murder, Accountability for Torture.” Nine were arrested in the Visitors Center.

At 4:45 pm, members of Witness Against Torture obstructed the entrance to DC Metro Police headquarters for 28 minutes, in recognition that a person of color is killed by police or vigilantes every 28 hours in the United States. They recited the names of dozens of victims of police violence and spoke the words of men indefinitely detained in Guantánamo Bay calling for justice. Activists from the DC Hands Up Coalition stood outside chanting and singing.

Earlier at the Department of Justice, Witness Against Torture joined the Hands Up DC Coalition at their Justice Monday Vigil to call for the indictment of law enforcement officers who have killed people of color. The two groups brought coffins marking the deaths of three African-Americans killed by police to the doors of the Justice Department and were addressed by the mother of Emmanuel Okutuga, killed in 2011 in Silver Spring, Maryland. They also conveyed the stories of men still detained at Guantanamo, despite being clear for release by the US government years ago.

“Grand juries refused even to indict the police murderers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, just like the Justice Department has refused to prosecute CIA torturers, whose crimes are detailed in the Senate report,” said Marie Shebeck, from Chicago Illinois. “Where is justice if we are not equal under the law, if some people can literally get away with murder and torture.”

“We came to the US Senate, the Justice Department, and a DC jail,” says Uruj Sheikh, from New York City, “to convey with a new voice that racism and Islamophobia, torture tactics in US prisons like extended solitary confinement and the torture of indefinite detention at Guantánamo are two parts of the same system of white supremacy and militarized violence.”

The actions were the culmination of a week-long series of demonstrations calling for the closure of Guantánamo Bay prison, an end to torture, mass incarceration, and police violence. Activists are available for interviews.


January 11th, 2015: Videos

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“There Is a Man Under That Hood” by Luke Nephew

Jeremy Varon from WAT

Andy Worthington from We Stand with Shaker

Chris Knestrick Reads a Letter from Mohammed al Hamiri

Debra Sweet from World Can’t Wait

Aliya Hana Hussain from CCR

Zainab Chaudry from CAIR

Rabbi Charles Feinberg

Noor Mir from Amnesty International

NRCAT Litany

Rev. Ron from NRCAT

Dr. Maha Hilal from Muslims Rally to Close Guantánamo

“Welcome to the Terrordrome” by Shahid Buttar

Circle Closing


Daily Update – Day 7 of the Fast for Justice

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Dear Friends,

It is hard to believe that our time together in Washington DC is soon coming to an end.  The days have been full, and today – marking the beginning of the 14th year of indefinite detention for the men in Guantanamo, was no exception.

Tomorrow’s update will bring information about our January 12th activities – and will be written after the authors have had their first solid food in 7 days (folks who are local are invited to join us to break the fast at 10am – First Trinity Church).

A full recap of our January 11th activities is below.  You can find Jeremy Varon’s (WAT) remarks from the White House here, and photos of our presence in DC on Flickr and Facebook.

It was good to be in the streets with many of you today.  And we sign off now, preparing for our last day on the streets together…for now.

In Peace,

Witness Against Torture

January 11th Summary

Witness Against Torture marked January 11th, 2015 with a rally that was somber and inspiring, full of fresh energy and momentum even as the anniversary of Guantanamo Bay prison comes around for a thirteenth time.  Though the weather was much more forgiving than it was yesterday, the vigil and march were still a physical challenge for the fasters.  The speakers also challenged us: to continue to love, to connect the issues, to uncover the hidden injustices, and to deepen our compassion and commitment towards the Muslim men on whose behalf we act.

After an interfaith prayer service, a diverse range of people spoke in front of the White House, all speaking with the passion that comes from personal experience, shedding light on the injustice of Guantanamo from their particular perspective.  Performances by the Peace Poets began and ended the White House presence.  Between speakers, people read letters from the detainees out loud as the detainees’ pictures were displayed on posters.  After it all, the fasters in orange jumpsuits lined up, and the crowd of observers grew hushed as they watched.   It was time to march to the Department of Justice.  Leading the procession in body and in spirit were Maha Hilal and other members of the group Muslims Rally to Close Guantanamo.

At the Department of Justice, Jeremy Varon explained the significance of the location, and a friend from Cleveland lifted up our desire for peace, beauty, and the release of our captives.  Upon her invitation, each person from the crowd took one of 127 orange carnations labeled with the name of a current Guantanamo detainee and threw it behind the police barricade, onto the steps of the Department of Justice.

The public space between the D.C. Superior Court, the Federal District Court, and D.C. Central Cell Block was the third and final stop of our march.  People with and without jumpsuits stood in a full circle, a sign of our togetherness.  Emmanuel Candelario called forth our “energy, fury, life, and love” in a series of chants that ended in “Shut down Central!” referring to the prison directly underneath our feet.  Shahid Buttar of the D.C. Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency performed and reminded us, “Sola una lucha hay,” that there is only one struggle.  Finally Uruj thanked us for speaking on behalf of those who cannot speak right now, people who we trust will be standing here one day, beside us, in justice.

Below you will find a summary of each of the speeches today.

Prayer Service

Zainab Chaudry of the Council on American Islamic Relations opened the prayer service, calling the participants together across their differences to ask for justice from the Divine.  She read from the poem “Silence,” by Edgar Lee Masters: There is the silence of a great hatred / And the silence of a great love / … / There is the silence of those unjustly punished; And the silence of the dying whose hand / Suddenly grips yours.

Rabbi Charles Feinberg proclaimed that we can only begin to stop this war by honoring the image of God in human beings.

White House

Luke Nephew performed his poem, “There’s a Man Under That Hood”to the people in my country, please, / do not pretend to be seeking freedom / or justice, or any common good / until we are ready to recognize the human rights / of every / single / man under that hood. 

Jeremy Varon delivered a beautiful address, highlighting the gift of hope that has emerged in the midst of the injustice of the last year.  More than just promising words, we have 28 real releases to celebrate, each release representing a deliberate political act.  We can see in these actions the power of the Guantanamo prisoners’ hunger strike, and the power of ordinary citizens’ resistance.  “Let us grow that power,” Jeremy exhorted the crowd, “to make 2015 the year of the great Guantanamo jubilee, when the walls of indefinite detention crumble, the wails of torture quiet, when the stone in America’s heart begins to soften, when proud men, unjustly bound, walk free, and all men at Guantanamo are treated as human beings.”

Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, quoted Psalm 13 to illustrate agony of indefinite detention: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”  Torture is condoned by NO faith tradition, he said.  We must close Guantanamo, in the name of American values, and in the name of God.

Aliya Hussain of CCR told us stories: the story of Fahd Ghazy spending another year away from his daughter Hafsa; of Mohammed al-Hamiri, friends with Adnan Latif, who wonders if he will come out alive or share his companion’s fate; of Ghaleb Al-Bihani who struggles to manage his diabetes and related chronic pain; of Tariq Ba Odah, who has been force-fed daily during the hunger strike he began in 2007.  Stories are important, not numbers, Aliya said.  The only number we want at Guantanamo is zero.

Noor Mir of Amnesty International spoke next, sharing about her hometown of Islamabad, and how her life was shaped by the fear that her father would get picked up.  She spoke against the culture of fear in the United States, fear that allows our sinister foreign policy to continue.  And domestic policy too — Noor reminded us that black bodies, too, wear orange jumpsuits, and our national news supports the same culture of fear.

Debra Sweet of World Can’t Wait emphasized that the prison at Guantanamo was NOT a mistake, but a purposeful and potent symbol of U.S. empire.  What’s more, ending Guantanamo does not end U.S. injustice — our nation has still not recognized that black lives matter.  Today is not just a symbolic anniversary protest, but a REAL DAY when we commit to working together to value the lives of all.

Andy Worthington urged us to keep pressuring the Obama administration, asking them, “What are you doing with those 59 men cleared for release? the 52 Yemenis who need a country to repatriate to?”  And for those not cleared for release, we must acknowledge that the “evidence” against them is useless, the product of bribery and torture, an insult to our notions of fairness and justice.

Maha Hilal spoke on behalf of the group Muslims Rally to Close Guantanamo, demanding that Guantanamo be closed.  She urged Muslims especially to take an active role in condemning what is essentially an American prison for Muslims in the world.

Mary Harding of TASSC shared the solidarity of torture survivors, who know the “sense of abandonment, pain, dread” and family members’ pain that the men at Guantanamo experience.  She called for accountability, and said the Senate Torture Report will be important only insofar as the movement gives it strength.  Accountability should be domestic as well, because don’t U.S. citizens suffer?  “What about Riker’s Island? Those people are OUR CHILDREN!”

Talat Hamdani of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows told the story of her son, who died in his work as a first responder.  Instead of being honored, he was investigated.  She stressed that nonviolent response to 9/11 was and is possible, and is the best way to prevent future attacks.  “The America I believe in WILL close Guantanamo! Guantanamo is America’s SHAME.”

Department of Justice

Jeremy Varon explained how the Department of Justice contributed to legal messiness that plagues all efforts to close Guantanamo.  Early in the Obama administration, the DOJ chose to overturn a decision that would have allowed the U.S. military to resettle more than a dozen Uighurs in the DC metro area.  The DOJ is part of America failing to live up to our ideals, instead creating conditions that foster the continuing carnage.  “I am frankly sick of it.  Sick of being told this machinery makes us safe.  Claiming the mantle of the rule of law, these officials have done damage to all of us.”

D.C. Superior Court / Federal District Court / D.C. Central Cell Block

An excerpt from Shahid Buttar’s “Welcome to the Terrordrome”:

There was a time our nation offered the world inspiration
Today our policies encourage human rights violations
They push you off a plane, you can’t tell if it’s night or day
You don’t know know where you are, you’ve never been there anyway
But here, at Camp X-Ray, for years you will stay
Welcome to the Terrordrome.
Gitmo, Bagram, the presidents change, the abuses go on
We can’t
apply the law
Until we jail Judge Bibey and imprison Dick Cheney.


Jeremy Varon’s Full Remarks from the White House Rally

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– Rally at the White House, January 11, 2015

Today we enter into the 14th year of the operation of a prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba that never should have existed. Many of us have been coming to the White House every January 11th since 2007, with an unbending message:

– to close Guantanamo

– to end torture and indefinite detention

– to ensure accountability for the torturers

– to win justice for the victims

We bring that same message today. We will carry this message as long as it is needed.

But we also bring today new things, even new gifts that grace our gathering this year in a special glow, like the bright sunshine on this uncommonly warm January day.

Above all, we bring a true hope that the dream of closing Guantánamo may indeed become a reality.

That hope isn’t based in any executive order, or presidential promise, or speech, or vague confession that the United States has drifted from its values. All these have proven themselves to be of little or no consequence.

No, our hope is based at last in concrete action from the administration housed behind us to set innocent men free.

This last year, 28 men at Guantánamo were repatriated or resettled – many of them in the last few weeks. Dozens more releases may be quickly to come.

More prisoners have left Guantánamo this year than at any year since 2009, when Obama first took office.

Why, and why now? It is important to recognize that nothing in the twisted legal machinery of Guantánamo is responsible. No judge or administrative procedure can compel the military to release prisoners. No law frees them.

Rather, every release has been in essence a political act, meaning that at last President Obama is doing what we have long implored: asserting his political will, and exercising true leadership to do what is right, no matter how long overdue.

And what brought the president to this point? First and foremost, it was the resistance of the detainees — their hunger, their eloquence, and the irrepressible power of their cause — who insisted that they would not be forgotten in that dusty gulag, discarded, buried alive.

But the pressure came also from advocates: attorneys, human rights professionals, professors, students, journalists, faith leaders, poets, artists and songwriters, marchers, and pilgrims, and righteous disobedients dressed in orange, and pink, and black, ordinary Americans and everyday people from all over the world – people like you and me and all of us here

Let us dwell for a moment on that awesome power — in this case, the power to help free men from cruel bondage — even as we know it is never enough. And let us grow that power to make 2015 the year of the great Guantánamo jubilee: when the walls of indefinite detention crumble, the wails or torture quiet, when the stone in America’s heart begins to soften, when proud men, unjustly bound, walk free, and all men at Guantánamo are treated as human beings.

Our voices today are amplified by something else, quite grave. I speak here of the US Senate report on CIA interrogations, that verifies to all but the most benighted or self-serving that the US committed torture, with both ingenious and banal cruelty. We are all haunted by this shameful fact.

Part of our struggle is to define what it means for this country and the world. The report — assembled from the CIA’s own documents — should compel the prosecution of all those who designed, authorized, ordered and carried out torture policies. Either the rule of law is universal, and indivisible, or it is no rule, no law, at all.   Part of our work is stitch together the fragments of these shattered ideas — to assemble into living truths the democratic catechism of “liberty and justice for all” mumbled by every American schoolchild, because the whole world indeed is watching what this country is and what it does. If American law won’t honor itself by prosecuting its desecrators, we can at least convict the torturers in the courts of common sense, and deliver our own sentence of public shaming — like we did yesterday at the doorsteps of John Brennen and Dick Cheney.

Last, the spirits of this movement have been lifted, as its horizons have been expanded, by the movement for racial justice rising in response to the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Roughly two years ago the anti-Guantánamo movement began seriously exploring the connections between domestic incarceration and foreign military detention. Perhaps most obviously, solitary confinement – likened to torture by medical and human rights bodies – is practiced on a massive scale in US prisons. Solitary is part of the regime in Guantánamo, along with other “behavior modification” techniques that were first developed in US domestic prisons. In 2013, inspired by the mass hunger strike in Guantánamo, tens of thousands of prisoners in California and other states went on hunger strikes to protest solitary confinement.

This brave act, in turn, inspired anti-Guantánamo activists to engage in solidarity hunger fasts lasting as long as 100 days. News of this solidarity made it through lawyers to the hunger strikers at Guantánamo, whose expressions of thanks caused us to push harder. Here we have global solidarity, not only among prison advocates, but among imprisoned human beings themselves. Let us dwell also on the awesome power of this fact, and the world-changing potential it has.

The #blacklivesmatter movement has brought into sharper focus a series of chilling parallels in the operation of state violence and white supremacy domestically and abroad. Just as police offices can kill black men with impunity, elected officials, the military, and rogue lawyers can, as of now, torture with impunity. So many people of color are incarnated as a consequence of racial profiling; the men at Guantánamo are themselves victims of religious and racial profiling.

Here and there, the rule of law is broken, because applied unequally. And mass incarceration, police brutality, and Guantánamo are ultimately tolerated by much of American society based on the toxic assumption that some lives are more worth defending than others. Today we reject that poison as something alien, incompatible with our understanding of life.

As we make these connections between here and there, diverse oppressions, and the particular techniques of a many-headed apparatus of economic, military, and racial domination, the problems seem to grow bigger, more complicated — even impossibly complex. But as we develop new solidarities, learn from and with each other, we grow more powerful. We become better able to speak out for human rights, true equality, freedom and human dignity with all the thoughtfulness and majesty these proud ideas deserve.

Jeremy Varon
Witness Against Torture


Daily Update – Day 6 of the Fast for Justice

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Dear friends,

Today was a busy one – and tomorrow and Monday will be busier still.

Still lots of organizing and planning and meeting and acting – all of which become a little more difficult as we go deeper into our fast.  But a spirit has also descended on our community here, now numbering over 70 people…a spirit of connection, and gratitude, and resolve.

Today we joined friends in Code Pink for the Torture Tour, visiting the Virginia homes of John Brennan and Dick Cheney (where two were arrested), then going to CIA headquarters in Langley for a vigil and speaking event.  A photo album of the tour can be found here.  In the afternoon, some of our group joined a planning meeting for organizing an anti-militarization mobilization in DC in March, and some went to a rally to remember Leelah Alcorn and honor Leelah’s wishes for folks to stand up for the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people everywhere. The day ended with our From Ferguson to Guantanamo panel discussion.

And tomorrow we will be at the White House at 1pm for a demonstration marking January 11th.

Thanks to those who responded to our invitation to share resources for the breaking of our fast on Monday.  More details on how to join us if you are local – but much more to happen before (and shortly after) then.

In Peace,

Witness Against Torture

Links to Media Coverage of Torture Tour

Two anti-torture protesters arrested at Dick Cheney’s house

Human Rights Activists Protest Torture Policies on Former VP Dick Cheney’s Porch

Demonstrators mark 14th anniversary of opening of Guantanamo prison with torture protest on Dick Cheney’s lawn

Dick Cheney Has Anti-Torture Protesters Arrested At Demonstration Outside of His House

Two Arrested After Protests At The CIA And Home Of Dick Cheney [VIDEO]


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Saturday, January 10 – Day 6

John Brennan’s home, in a modest suburban neighborhood, was remarkably unprotected. Only a few police officers and cars were there to meet us when we arrived (although more showed up soon). Medea Benjamin led the group from the street up the short driveway that led to a cluster of houses in a circle, including Brennan’s house. Singing what has become our theme song (“we’re gonna build a nation/that don’t torture no one/but it’s gonna take courage/for that change to come”), we walked past the police officers who tried to stop us and moved directly in front of Brennan’s house. There, using our sound system, we spoke directly to Brennan. Several people from the group spoke, condemning the CIA’s and his actions. After about a half hour of speaking, singing, holding banners, and capturing images, and with a police force growing in size and agitation, we filed away from Brennan’s home, singing ‘we’re gonna build a nation…’

At Dick Cheney’s house, police stood in front of the front door.  Our group processed toward a gate that was slightly ajar which led to the back door, where we could easily see through the windows.  When the police who were out front did arrive in the back yard, Tighe Barry of Code Pink was wearing a mask representing Dick Cheney and standing behind a prop for prison bars.  Members of the group encouraged the police to arrest Dick Cheney, and they did, but they actually had nabbed Tighe.  Eighty-three year old Eve Tetaz, longtime Witness Against Torture community member, was also arrested, apparently for moving too slowly.   Both were released a few hours later.

The planning meeting for the spring anti-war action brainstormed ideas and debated some organizing strategies for a national call to action. At the moment, it appears there will be a mobilization in Washington DC March 20-21 that would consist of town hall type meetings, live streaming, and localized teach-ins. Stay tuned for more information in the near future.

In the shadow of the old Carnegie Library, the city’s former central library, a crowd of more than 500 concerned citizens rallied to remember and honor Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen who committed suicide last month when she walked out into a highway near her Ohio home. Lordes, one of the speakers, said that at 38 years old she was already three years past the average lifespan of transwomen in the U.S. “We are here to declare that Leelah’s life mattered, and that she commissioned all of us to fix society.” Following the rally the large group marched in the cold streets to the Department of Justice (DOJ) with a stop at the Family Research Council where a memorial for Leelah was built. Once at the DOJ, the group’s list of demands were read. The demands include an immediate ban to the dangerous pseudo-scientific “conversion therapy,” required sensitivity training for teachers, parents and other public officials, and greater access to needed hormone treatment for those transitioning. It was a powerful and dramatic march and rally and the organizing group pledged further actions in the near future in the pursuit for full trans rights and respect.

The evening panel discussion took place in the sanctuary of the church where we are staying and begun with powerful poems from the Peace Poets. They performed “Power Concedes Nothing” (derived from Frederick Douglass), “Everything is Possible,” and “Sweet, sweet solidarity.”

The panel that followed was challenging and affirming, engaging and instructive.  The four panelists were Marsha Coleman-Adebayo (DC Hands-Up Coalition), Salim Adofo (National Black United Front), Aliya Hana Hussain (Center for Constitutional Rights), and Kathy Kelly (Voices for Creative Nonviolence) –  with facilitation of the panel by Jerica Arents (Witness Against Torture).

Among some of the reflections panelists shared:

Ferguson turned a moment into a movement.

Ferguson and Guantanamo have in common White Supremacy, impunity for police, and so many innocents who have been jailed.

We have to deal with this White Supremacy Beast.

What feeds the Beast of White Supremacy is the constant promotion of fear, that white people need to protect what they have and their “security.”

Prisoners at Guantanamo talked about Ferguson, saying “They’re being treated like non-humans, like us.

One of the challenges of activism is stepping out and not knowing what you’re going to find on the other side.

People in our movement have actually been given strength from the mothers whose children have been killed.

We are getting better at working together, forming coalitions. It’s hard because people come to the table with all their isms and schisms.

Attica is connected to South Africa is connected to Guantanamo is connected to Ferguson. We have to look at the global picture.

Malcolm X said, “Don’t be surprised that I was in prison. Don’t you know that if you’re black in America, you’re in prison?”

I want us to question uniforms. Because someone wears a uniform and has been trained to kill does not mean he should be exalted.

About being allies: You have to give people the space to solve the problem on their own.

We need to enlarge our understanding of what genocide means.

We need to have brutally honest conversations with each other.

We need to teach our children and young people about militarism.

All of these struggles are preparing us for the really big struggle where we confront the class of people who are destroying life on this planet.

We need to stick in there for the long haul.


Daily Update – Day 5 of the Fast for Justice

Campaigns // Film

Dear friends,

This update feels incomplete as we write, but it is getting late and we are leaving in a few short hours for the Torturer’s Tour, and preparing for a panel discussion Saturday night entitled From Ferguson to Guantanamo….followed by Sunday’s  demonstration marking January 11th, and breaking the fast and actions on Monday.

This powerful 3 minute film of our presence at the White House is well worth watching and sharing, and these images capture some of the beauty of holding Fahd Ghazy’s portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.

Our days are full thru Tuesday and we will be gathering to break our fast Monday morning.  We have a space reserved for our meal together, and are now asking for our extended community to help provide that meal.  If any folks are able to help us either coordinate food locally, or share some resources to help us have food brought in, please be in touch to let us know.

In Peace,

Witness Against Torture

Links to Press Releases

“Torturers Tour” at Homes of John Brennan and Dick Cheney, Followed by Vigil at CIA Headquarters

Groups to Rally Sunday at White House on 13th Guantánamo Anniversary


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Friday, January 9 – Day 5

Today, we did a variation of the performance we did on Tuesday at Union Station focusing on the words and image of Fahd Ghazy. This time we did it at the White House with a larger group. We dramatically positioned Frank in a jumpsuit and hood kneeling on the ground to represent Fahd during the readings.

At the end, right after reading Fahd’s words, “Now that you know, you cannot turn away,” we had each person in our troupe come to the microphone to finish the phrase: “I will not turn away because…” The voice and expression of each person, one after the other, was a powerful and moving testament to our commitments and an invitation to those watching to also refuse to turn away.

I will not turn away because…

“… I see beauty in the eyes of each person.”

“… I am a mother who has lost a son.”

“… I am a human being, a Muslim, a target of the war on terror.”

“… I am blessed to know love and family, and will never deny that to another.”

“… the existence of the prison at Guantanamo is illegal and immoral.”

“… we need the courage to face the truth of the ugliness.”

“… I am a human being horrified at enforced hopelessness.”

“… I too, in a small way, have suffered.”

“… the U.S. does this in my name and I never gave my permission.”

Then, some of our group took our action to the National Portrait Gallery. The gallery’s entrance leads into a lovely, large atrium.  Seeing the space, and noting that about 50 people, seated at small tables, were conversing over meals, we decided that we would begin with soft singing.

We quickly arranged ourselves in a V-formation.  In the center, Brian and Paulette held the banner carrying a portrait of Fahd Ghazy’s face.  Leaflets were distributed to onlookers.  No one expressed animosity.  A little girl seemed especially pleased to see us, and when she approached, her parents seemed not to mind.

Frank Lopez invited people to open their hearts to Fahd Ghazy’s story and see his humanity.  Our soft singing was interspersed with excerpts from Fahd’s letter. We unraveled Fahd’s portrait. Onlookers were reading the leaflets and many were listening.  Some would have seen a security guard approach Brian to tell him that he couldn’t show that portrait in this place.  Some might have heard the guard tell Chrissy, as she read, “This can’t happen here.”  Kathy walked forward to read the next excerpt, we continued singing, and then Frank, in the role of Fahd, began to recite his excerpt as the security guard, joined by other armed guards, ordered Frank to stop.

Slowly he rose, and slowly we processed out of the National Portrait Gallery.  Frank, who had memorized the final excerpt from Fahd’s letter, filled the space with Fahd’s words:  “Now that you have heard me, you cannot turn away.”  The little girl, wide-eyed, watched us every step of our way.

Luke rejoined us on the front steps for a brief closure time. He had stayed behind to thank the onlookers.

As we go through this week living in community with the focus of calling attention to the horrors of Guantanamo and torture, we challenge ourselves to look at ways of practicing compassion within a system of such widespread dehumanization. A sense of hope is brought to the public while we stand in front of the White House singing “We’re gonna build a nation that don’t torture no one…” Taking action as a spiritual practice also raises the question of who has the power to forgive? Fahd Gazy wrote that there is no guilt or innocence in Guantanamo, but there is right and wrong.  It is difficult to see what is in a person’s heart and what leads to a change of heart. In our creation of community here in DC we envision a true world house where all belong, where there are no winners and losers. Fahd’s story invites us to admit mistakes, and forgive. We want to liberate the prisoners and make amends.

Chris Spicer wrote this reflection today:

When I write a letter to a detainee it must begin politely. Great greetings of peace, Yes peace! And I know you have peace, have a peaceful heart, that you long for peace; and as a follower of the way of peace I acknowledge anger and resentment, brutal wrongdoing. As a follower of the way of peace, I send my hope for your patience.

Because when I write a detainee I trust the final end of all knowing, the great return to our common origin, this nature and destiny of the human being, and wanting really to put this act of knowing in the service of recognizing your dignity, your way of peace; I consider this act enabling liberty for both of us, preserving our endowment for the right to choices of faith, family, friends, a corner to mark private.

Composing words through which to meet you in power’s place, at rest in peace, I exercise the desire for shared ground, for a place where truth resides, for a moment, lasting, with a freedom that has the ground of peace. Finally I move the pen. I hail you, I fast for you.

How’s a busy mom supposed to find the time to protest Guantánamo?

By Frida Berrigan

This is how it starts.

I am sitting on the floor in the living room. My son Seamus — a two-and-a-half-year-old — is cuddled in my lap. I am talking to my sister on the phone and then, suddenly, I am covered in vomit.

“Ah, Kate. I am going to have to call you back. Seamus just hurled all over me.”

I throw down the phone and carry my screaming son upstairs and into the bathtub. He has the flu.

Meanwhile, my friends are fasting in Washington, D.C. They are vigiling, witnessing and organizing to shut down Guantánamo, end torture and ensure accountability for the perpetrators. They are wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods (over very warm coats). They are at the Pentagon, the White House and the Capitol, as the new Congress is sworn in. They are embodying solidarity by showing up for demonstrations against police brutality and U.S. military aid to Mexico. They are waking up early, going to bed late and sleeping on mats on the floor. They are hungry and cold. They are meeting, planning, praying and singing.

I am not there. I am missing it and I am missing them.

Witness Against Torture started nearly 10 years ago as a small group of people looking at the issues of torture, indefinite detention, collective punishment, scapegoating, racism and violence in the George W. Bush administration’s Global War on Terror. Through prayer, study and building community, we were able to stretch ourselves over fear to do what our consciences told us was right. We got on a plane, flew to Cuba and began walking to Guantánamo. We aimed to walk right onto the U.S. naval base and visit the men (at the time there were more than 700 Muslims and Arabs and others interred there). We got pretty close to the base and there we vigiled and prayed and fasted for five days while we held press conferences, did international media work and called the U.S. base incessantly asking to be let in. Flying back to Newark, N.J., we told customs agents that we had been to Cuba, hoping that we’d be tried for violating travel and financial restrictions. We never were.

Nine years later, those Cuba travel laws are all changing, but the reality for the more than 100 men still at Guantánamo remains the same. More men (nine) have died at Guantánamo than have been tried for their alleged crimes by military commissions (eight). Sixty-three of those still imprisoned at Guantánamo have been cleared for release by both the Bush administration and the Obama administration. Shaker Aamer, Fahd Ghazy and 61 others: These are the men my friends are fasting for in D.C. and beyond. This coming Sunday will mark 12 years of indefinite detention and separation for the men at Guantánamo.

Since coming home from Cuba in December 2005, Witness Against Torture has grown from 25 people to thousands. We have worked to make January 11a day of national shame. Each year, we have gathered in Washington, D.C., in anger, outrage and the hope that we won’t have to do it again the following year. And then we do it again the next year, and now it is 2015.

Today is day five of their fast. Our fast? I am not fasting. I am still nursing a 17-pound, 10-month-old and her demand for liquid nutrition is near constant. I am not fasting, but I have sworn off sweets and beer until the Witness Against Torture fast ends with breakfast on Tuesday, January 13.

It does not feel like enough, especially because I am not in D.C.

Seamus has stopped vomiting, but he still has a fever and is miserable. It is just by grace (and the bionic nursing baby immune system) that Madeline has not gotten his nasty bug, but she is teething and has a runny nose. While my friends have been marching, vigiling and singing, I have been marooned in various rooms in our house, with Seamus whining on one side of my lap and Madeline nursing on the other. My clothes are covered in kid snot, I have not been able to go to the bathroom by myself, and all I want at the end of the day is a beer and a brownie. (This unmet want makes me feel like my token fast is some small sacrifice after all. I guess that is something.)

I planned to take the kids to Baltimore to see their Grandma Liz and then on to D.C. on Wednesday, and then on Thursday, and now maybe Friday or evenSaturday. We will see how they feel. I am struggling so much with this! I am still getting used to this being responsible for other people phenomenon called motherhood: I have to think about the health and warmth, food and nutrition, well-being and safety of two very little people. When we went to Cuba in 2005, I was not a mother, I was not nursing and I had never been covered in baby snot or toddler vomit. It doesn’t seem like so long ago and I am not a different person, but it is hard to be here when my friends and part of my heart are in D.C., working so hard for justice, accountability and all that I hold so dear.

Thank you friends. I am with you in spirit. But those of you with immune systems degraded by cold, fasting and tiredness are surely happy I am not any closer.