WAT marked 20 years of Guantanamo with rallies around the country

Fast for Justice 2022 // Film

A warm hello, Witness Against Torture Community,
We have our work cut out for us, since President Biden appears to be immobilized when it comes to Guantanamo.  But we still resisted and we hope you enjoy these photos of WAT witness actions across the country on January 11, watch the videos of events you missed, and gear up for a year of raising our voices to demand that this administration close Guantanamo.   In peace and solidarity,
WAT Organizing Team 


On January 11 we were in the streets from coast to coast
….and witnessing in Tiffin, OH, Los Angeles, CA, Raleigh, NC, Greenfield, MA, Asheville, NC, Orcas Island, WA, New York City, Augusta, ME, Boston, MA, and at the White House.  Check out WAT’s post-J11 Facebook posts of photos and our 2022 Fast for Justice photoset on our website. Here is a sampling…


News stories about local rallies

J11 videos to watch if you missed the events


WAT Book Group to discuss Maha Hilal’s new book

Dr. Maha Hilal, one of our WAT organizers, has just published her book Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror, and the Muslim Experience since 9/11 Maha’s hot off-the-press book analyzes the past 20 years of the War on Terror and how the US government’s narrative justified the creation of a sprawling apparatus of state violence rooted in Islamophobia.  

WAT Book Group 
What:   Reading and discussing Dr. Maha Hilal’s book together. (In December we discussed Mansoor Adayfi’s book Don’t Forget Us Here.)   

When: Tuesdays, February 1, 8, 5 and 22 at 7 pm ET
To  join us, Email witnesstorture@gmail.com with subject “Maha Hilal Book Group.”  We have complementary copies to send to the first two people who sign up.

twitterFacebooktumblrmailtwitterFacebooktumblrmail

January 2022: Events marking 20 years of Guantanamo

Fast for Justice 2022 // Film

Close Guantanamo Rallies at the White House and virtual

• At noon local residents will stand with the men in Guantanamo, reading their names, singing, and calling out President Biden to give them justice (livestream on our Facebook page)

• At a 2 pm virtual rally we’ll hear a former Guantanamo prisoner, legal experts and activists speak about the the terrible human costs of these past 20 years. Register here.

White House Rally for local residents

President Biden: Why is Guantanamo still open?
20 Years Later and Still No Justice

Tuesday January 11, 2022
Noon to 1 pm ET

*People are being encouraged not to come to DC from out of town because of the Omicron surge. The rally will be livestreamed on our Facebook page.
*Local residents will gather at 11:30 am ET in Lafayette Park; the rally begins on Pennsylvania Ave at noon.
*Please be vaccinated and wear a mask to participate.
*Bring your orange jump suit and hood if you have one; if not, we’ll have one for you.

20th Anniversary 2 pm Virtual Rally


What: Disrupt, Confront, and Close Guantánamo 
Register here.
When: January 11, 2022 at 2 pm ET.


WAT Stay-at-home Fast for Justice with two Zoom gatherings


When: We will fast from Friday January 7 through Monday Jan 10.  We’ll meet by Zoom on Friday and on Monday, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm, both nights.  To join us, email witnesstorture@gmail.com with subject line “Fast Jan 2022” to get more information and the Zoom link.
What: We have WAT stalwarts in our midst who have fasted every Friday for years, in a Ramadan-style fast, not eating from before sundown until after sunset.  However, for most of us this will be a liquids-only fast. Choose what’s best for you, in this year when we are each fasting alone. (And this is a WAT fast:  you don’t have to fast to join us!)

A conversation between Mansoor Adayfi and James Yee

What: Remembering Guantanamo: Reflections from a Former Muslim Prisoner & the Former Muslim Chaplain, moderated by Dr. Maha Hilal
When: Sunday January 9 at 4 pm ET, 10 pm Serbia time. 
 

Other vigils around the country

Boston, MA
Boston Rally at Park St Station
Jan. 11, 1-2pm.
Will distribute stash of Close Guantánamo t-shirts, signs, orange jumpsuits and black hoods. 
Expected to be very cold (around 10 degrees) so dress accordingly.  
Come prepared to speak if you like.  

Augusta, Maine (Date change)

What: Maine says “Shut it down”  —Vigil and walk to mark the 20th year since the opening of the Guantánamo Bay
Who: Pax Christi Maine
When: Tuesday, January 15, 2022 at noon ET
Where: We will vigil in front of the Augusta National Guard Armory, at the intersection of Route 202 and Armory Street, and then process to the Capitol.

Tiffin, Ohio
What: Close Guantanamo Rally: 20 years – Still No Justice
When: Friday, Jan. 7, 2022 at 3 to 4 pm ET
Where: Seneca County Courthouse, 103 E. Market St., Tiffin, OH 44883
Who: Tiffin Area Pax Christi

Los Angeles, CA (2 events)
What: Annual Close Guantanamo Now Rally
In-person event, streamed live on Facebook. Speakers include Mohammad Tajsar of the ACLU of Southern California, Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild, Carley Towne of Code Pink, Shane Que Hee of Out Against War, Shakeel Syed of American Muslims for Palestine, Estee Chandler of Jewish Voice for Peace
Who: Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), co-sponsored by WAT
When: Tuesday Jan 11 at noon PT
Where: Downtown Los Angeles Federal Building at 300 N. Los Angeles St. 90012 (in front of the building)
What: Online panel discussion featuring, among others, film maker Philippe Diaz, member of the Guantanamo Bar Michael Rapkin, and Marcy Winograd of Code Pink
When: Tuesday Jan 11 at 5 pm PT

Greenfield, MA
Two events hosted by No More Guantanamos and local WAT activists
Saturday, January 8, 11 a.m. to 12:00 noon
stand out on Greenfield Town Common with signs

Tuesday, January 11, starting at noon, meet at the common with signs (and instruments if you have them).  We plan to walk up and down Main Street.  Those with orange jumpsuits will wear them.

Northampton, MA
Radio talk show:
On Jan. 10 and 11, tune in to WHMP radio from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. for Buz Eisenberg’s afternoon show, “Afternoon Buz.” Buz is devoting both shows to Guantanamo. Next Monday, he will host special guest Ramzi Kassem, who with his students at the City University of New York, has represented 15 Guantanamo prisoners. On Tuesday, Buz will talk with Pioneer Valley activists.

Asheville, North Carolina
Join WAT and Veterans for Peace, Asheville Chapter #099, as they vigil at Asheville Pack Square on January 11, 4:30-5:30 pm.

Raleigh, North Carolina
What: Close Guantanamo Vigil to commemorate 20 years since the opening of Guantánamo prison
Who: North Carolina Stop Torture Now
When: Tuesday, January 11, 2022, 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM
Where: The Federal Building at New Bern Avenue and Person Street in Raleigh: Please bring a mask to wear.  If you have a black hood, that’s even better.  Orange jumpsuits are also very welcome.  Please come and bring family and friends

Orcas Island, Washington
What: Activists in a remote town on Orcas Island, a stones-throw from Canada, will witness in orange jump suits against the injustice of Guantanamo.  
When: January 11, 2022
Where: Eastsound WA, on the roadside, in synch with ferry arrival traffic, or at the main street intersection.

Online
20th Anniversary 2 pm Virtual Rally
What: Disrupt, Confront, and Close Guantánamo 
Register here.
When: January 11, 2022 at 2 pm ET 

New York City
Close Guantanamo Now! 20 Years Too Long!

What: Join us January 11 to demand Close Guantanamo Now 
Who: The World Can’t Wait
When: Tuesday January 11, 2022 from 4 to 6 pm ET
Where: New York Public Library steps, 5th Avenue @ 41st Street

Cleveland, OH
Witness to Close Guantanamo
When: Tuesday, Jan 11th, 3 pm to 4 pm (Gather at 2:45)
Where: Cleveland Federal Building (at E. 9th & Lakeside)

Who: Cleveland Catholic Worker


And many more Events in January

CAGE invites you to join what is set to be one of the LARGEST GATHERINGS OF FORMER GUANTANAMO PRISONERS.  Join men who have not only survived Guantanamo but also continue to embody faith and resilience and have tirelessly worked towards its closure. 
When: 8th January 6:30pm GMT – 1:30pm EST
REGISTER TO JOIN > event.cage.ngo   

 

Reparations Now and Onwards: Voices of Survivors, Advocates, and Next Steps
What:
Online panel on Guantanamo as an extra-legal prison
When:  Sat, January 8, 2022 from noon to 2 pm ET
Who: DePaul Art Museum with The Tea Project observes 20 years of Guantánamo as an extra-legal prison and the 7 years since the passage of the Jon Burge reparations ordinance, the first and only of its kind in the United States. Survivors of Chicago police torture have received reparations inChicago; reparations for Guantanamo torture survivors will be discussed on this panel. 

Exhibition at DePaul Art Museum
What: Tea, Torture, & Reparations/Chicago to Guantanamo
The exhibition highlights connections between policing and incarceration in Chicago and the human rights violations of the “Global War on Terror.” It celebrates the struggle for survival, justice, and reparations by imprisoned people, activists, and artists.  Exhibition catalogue will include testimony from CCR and photos from WAT events.
When: March 10–August 7, 2022

Amnesty International Multiple Educational and Action Events 
What: Action Guide: Outreach to members, especially youth: Call/message to the White House; Poster contest for youth; Quiz for young people
When: Tuesday Jan 11, 2022

DC Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Clarification of Thought
What: The Crime of Guantanamo: Session by Attorney Mark Maher, who works with Reprieve, is counsel to 6 men in Guantanamo Prison, and worked on Reprieve US’s death penalty casework.
When: Fri Jan 7 at 7:30 pm ET
Where: 503 Rock Creek Church Rd NW, Washington DC 20010, 202 882 9649

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) Webinar
What: Rupture and Reckoning: 20 years of Guantánamo Anthology and Digital Art Exhibition Launch
Panelists: Mohamedou Ould Slahi, former Guantánamo detainee; Katherine Gallagher, CCR; Wolfgang Kaleck, ECCHR.  ECCHR will be launching a digital art exhibition and anthology, which includes contributions from current and former detainees, lawyers, advocates, and artists.
When: Tuesday Jan 11, 11 am to 1 pm ET 

Center for Constitutional Rights Webinar
What: Guantánamo, Off the Record: 20 Years in the Fight
Speakers: Aliya Hussain, Advocacy Program Manager; Katherine Gallagher, Omar Farah, and Wells Dixon, Senior Staff Attorneys;  Moderated by Vincent Warren, Executive Director.  Candid reflections on two decades of work: Lawyers and advocates will share stories that didn’t always make the headlines, but that helped define the ongoing struggle to close the forever prison.
When: Wednesday, Jan 12, 3 to 4:30 pm ET

National Religious Campaign Against Torture Webinar
What: Guantanamo 20 Years on: A Religious Perspective
Hosted by The Episcopal Church and National Religious Campaign Against Torture 
Speakers: Dr. Shaun Casey, Georgetown University; The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, Episcopal Church; Matt Hawthorne, NRCAT
When: Tuesday Jan 11, 3 pm ET

Book Launch: Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror, and the Muslim Experience since 9/11
What: Join Dr. Maha Hilal for the official launch of her book “Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror, and the Muslim Experience since 9/11.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 25th, 2022 at 7 pm ET
Where: Gov Hub 
RSVP http://bit.ly/mahahilalbooklaunch
Pre-order the book bit.ly/InnocentUntilProvenMuslim
In “Innocent until Proven Muslim,” scholar and organizer Dr.Maha Hilal tells the powerful story of two decades of the War on Terror, exploring how the official narrative has justified the creation of a sprawling apparatus of state violence rooted in Islamophobia and excused its worst abuses. Hilal offers not only an overview of the many iterations of the War on Terror in law and policy, but also examines how Muslim Americans have internalized oppression, how some influential Muslim Americans have perpetuated collective responsibility, and how the lived experiences of Muslim Americans reflect what it means to live as part of a “suspect” community. Along the way, this marginalized community gives voice to lessons that we can all learn from their experiences, and to what it would take to create a better future.
Twenty years after the tragic events of 9/11, we must look at its full legacy in order to move toward a United States that is truly inclusive and unified.
#InnocentUntilProvenMuslim #EndIslamophobia #WarOnTerror 

 

 

twitterFacebooktumblrmailtwitterFacebooktumblrmail

WAT Fast during June Torture Awareness Week

In Focus - Front Page // Film

 

We invite you to join WAT’s Torture Awareness Week Fast (June 21-26).  We will be fasting in our homes in deference to the still unvanquished pandemic. Fast for a day or two or for all five days, and meet with us on Zoom for mutual support on Monday and Wednesday evenings and Saturday morning.  Our purpose is to use our own bodies to deepen our understanding of the U.S. use of torture, especially against the Muslim men locked in Guantanamo. Read our Thoughts on Fasting.

If you would like to join us, please send an email to witnesstorture@gmail.com with “RSVP for Fast” in the subject line: you’ll receive the Zoom link and tips on fasting safely.  Below are actions to take and other Torture Awareness Week events.

Press release: Torture Awareness Week — WAT June 2021 Press Release

Menu of Actions to Take During the Week

Choose the actions that are meaningful to you. Even if you decide not to fast, you can still join in taking concrete actions to oppose torture and support torture survivors. Keep checking back for details: list is in progress!

-Write to the men in Guantanamo: Names and instructions are here.

-Email/call Congresspersons:  This week, call or email your representative and Senators telling them you’re concerned about the men in Guantanamo, and why.  Urge them to press the administration to clear and release detainees and close Guantanamo. Find your members: House, Senate

-Email/call President Biden: Tell President Biden why you’re concerned about the men in Guantanamo and urge him to act more quickly to empty the prison and close it. Email: www.whitehouse.gov/contact/  Call: 202-456-1111

-Vigil in your home town:  Make a sign stating your own demand and stand on a busy street corner for an hour.  Ask your friends to join you, but even a one-person vigil can have an impact.  

-Write a letter to your home town paper: Use your own words or draw on some of the ideas in this Sample Letter to the Editor . Draw on the stark facts as reasons to close Guantanamo. Your viewpoint counts, especially in your own community!  

Watch The Mauritanian, the film about former Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi, starring Jodie Foster and Tahar Rahim.  Now available online for only $5.99.  Watch it yourself, or organize a group of friends to view it together!  

Events

Keep checking back for what other groups are doing: the list is in progress!
(And send us your local anti-torture and close Guantanamo actions and events to post.)

–WAT Fast

Monday, June 21 – WAT Fast Begins: Zoom circle at 8 pm ET (Send email to witnesstorture@gmail.com with “RSVP to fast” in subject line for Zoom link)

Wednesday, June 23 – WAT Fast Zoom circle at 8 pm ET

Saturday, June 26 – 11 am WAT Fast Zoom circle and breaking of fast

–TASSC online conference – The Asylum Crisis in the US

Wednesday, June 23 –  Info and Zoom sign-up here.

–Close Guantanamo Vigil Livestream 

Saturday, June 26, 2 pm – We will livestream a WAT Close Guantanamo Vigil in Lafayette Park, Washington DC. 

Torture Awareness Week is the lead-up to June 26, the International UN Day of Support for Victims of Torture — a day that WAT has traditionally observed in conjunction with TASSC: Torture Abolition and  Survivors Support Coalition.  TASSC was founded in 1998 by Sister Dianna Ortiz after she was captured and brutally tortured while teaching in the highlands of Guatemala.  Upon her return to the U.S. she fasted in front of the White House demanding information about U.S. involvement in her torture.  Tragically, this courageous woman, who not only survived kidnapping and torture but used the experience to become a voice for torture victims everywhere  died of cancer February 19 at the age  of 62.  We miss her greatly.  Dianna, Presente!

In the early years of WAT we gathered in June to vigil in solidarity with torture survivors at the TASSC vigil in Lafayette Square, donning orange jump suits and protesting nonviolently.

This year a small group of WAT and other local activists will hold a vigil in Lafayette Square at 2 pm Saturday June 26, to read the names of the 40 Muslim men in Guantanamo.  Watch it live-streamed at facebook.com/rehumanizeintl.

–Buffalo, NY
Silent Vigil for UN “International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.”

Saturday, June 26, 2021 from 6 to 7 pm at University Presbyterian Church, at the intersection of Main Street and Niagara Falls Boulevard, Buffalo (across from UB Main Street Campus).
All are welcome to bear living witness to Micah 6:8 through peaceful action.

–Starvin’ for Justice Anti-death Penalty Events

June 29 – July 2, Supreme Court Washington, DC

Starvin’ for Justice Anti-death Penalty Fast and Vigil   
Death penalty abolitionists from around the country will gather for the 28th year at the steps of the Supreme Court to call for an end to capital punishment in the United States.


Donate

–Online donations: Click here.

–By check:  Please make your check out to Witness Against Torture and send it to:

New York Catholic Worker
Attn: Witness Against Torture
55 East Third Street
New York, NY 10003

 

 

 

twitterFacebooktumblrmailtwitterFacebooktumblrmail

Lobby Congress about Guantanamo

Fast for Justice 2021 // Film

We encourage you to contact your Congress members on or around the anniversary of Guantanamo on January 11 to encourage them to:

·      close Guantanamo in a just and quick manner,

·      charge or release remaining prisoners,

·      allow for transfers to US for trial or medical needs,

·      reopen the State Dept. resettlement office.

Check if your member of Congress is a member of one of these committees. If not, you may contact the chair of each committee. Find membership and contact info at the following links. House Armed Services: Chair-Adam Smith House Foreign Affairs: Chair-Gregory Meeks Senate Foreign Relations: Ranking Dem-Robert Menendez Senate Armed Services: Ranking Dem-Jack Reed

Find the contact information for your members of Congress at the following links:

https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Background reading: Toward a New Approach to National and Human Security: Close Guantanamo and End Indefinite Detention

twitterFacebooktumblrmailtwitterFacebooktumblrmail

Block Torture Apologists from Top National Security Posts

Fast for Justice 2021 // Film

Jan. 6, 2021

Join Us to Block Torture Apologists from Top National Security Posts

It worked! In December, human rights groups helped to block torture apologist Mike Morell from being nominated to lead the CIA. The groups circulated this letter detailing Morell’s lies about torture and contempt for the rule of law. The letter was signed by many torture survivors, including former Guantanamo detainees Mohamedou Slahi, Mozzam Begg, and Djamel Ameziane.

Now we are working to prevent Avril Haines from being appointed as Director of National Intelligence. We need you to take action!

Action Alert: NO on Haines for Director of National Intelligence

Please join CODEPINK, Witness Against Torture, Progressive Democrats of America, Roots Action and World Beyond War in urging Senators to VOTE NO on torture apologist and drone strike authorizer Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence.  

Haines, Deputy Director of the CIA under Obama, signed off on drone murders and co-wrote the guidelines that blurred the difference between enemy combatants and civilians. She also redacted the Senate report on torture from 6,000 pages to a 500-page summary, covering up the CIA’s crimes. In addition, she overruled the CIA Inspector General in failing to discipline CIA agents who hacked into the computers of Senate investigators. So we’re calling Senators to insist that they vote no on Haines.

See the script and contact information below:

Script

Hi, my name is ____________ and I’m calling from zip code ___________ to urge Senator __________ to vote NO on the nomination of Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. Haines signed off on drone strikes that made us less safe, suppressed evidence of CIA torture and failed to discipline agents who hacked into the computers of investigators. 

No on Haines!  Thank you.

Contact Info for all US Senators (Write your senator, too.)
https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Call and leave a message for Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader

(202) 224-6542

Senate Intelligence Committee Members

Democrats & Independent

Mark Warner (D-VA, Ranking Member)

202-224-2023

Angus King (I-Maine)

202-224-5344

Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

202-224-5521

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

310-934-7100

Michael Bennet

202-224-5852

Kamala Harris (D-CA, urge her to let Biden know that activists are calling members of the Senate Intell Committee to publicly object to Morell for CIA)

202-224-3553

Republicans

Marco Rubio(R-FL, Ranking Member)

202-224-3041

Richard Burr (R-NC)

202-224-3154

James Risch (R-ID)

202-224-3154

Susan Collins (R-Maine)

207-780-3575

Roy Blunt (R-Missouri)

202-224-5721 (only takes calls during business hours)

Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska)

202-224-4224

Tom Cotton (R-AK)

202-224-2353

John Cornyn (R-TX)

202-224-2934

For more on Haines see:

“Senators Must Reject Haines for National Intelligence”

by Medea Benjamin and Marcy Winograd 

https://www.salon.com/2020/12/30/bidens-pick-for-intelligence-chief-avril-haines-is-tainted-by-drones-and-torture/

“The Dark Past of Biden’s Nominee for National Intelligence Director”

by John Kiriakou 

https://consortiumnews.com/2020/12/29/john-kiriakou-the-dark-past-of-bidens-nominee-for-national-intelligence-director/
twitterFacebooktumblrmailtwitterFacebooktumblrmail

2021 Fast for Justice: Join us from home

Fast for Justice 2021 // Film

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

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

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


January 11 anniversary events


Fast for Justice Circles: Monday – Friday

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

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

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


Daily Solidarity Action Menu

Local Vigils Nationwide

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

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

Please join us!

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


 

twitterFacebooktumblrmailtwitterFacebooktumblrmail

Martin Gugino – The “Buffalo Protestor” and our Friend

In Focus - Front Page // Film

Update:

Buffalo News | October 7, 2020

‘I’m good. The city is not good’: Man pushed by police speaks at protest

 

June 9, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Matthew Daloisio, 201-264-4424

WAT RESPONDS TO TRUMP’S MALICIOUS TWEET

Trump callously lied this morning on Twitter about Witness Against Torture’s friend and fellow activist, Martin Gugino – the 75-year-old elder who was shoved to the ground and stepped over by the Buffalo police force while protesting the death of George Floyd. WAT organizer Jeremy Varon has written the following op-ed, exposing the person Martin really is and what is truly at stake in this moment.

Martin Gugino — The “Buffalo Protestor” and our Friend
By Jeremy Varon

I too reacted with horror at seeing the video of a 75-year-old man bleeding from the head after being shoved to the ground by Buffalo police. My stomach turned tighter when I realized, “Wait, I know that guy.”  And now the president has tweeted about him, spinning the grotesque falsehood that his fall and terrible injury were somehow a set up.

The man is Martin Gugino. For years we worked together in Witness Against Torture, a close-knit group dedicated to closing the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo and opposing torture. Our community is beside itself.

None of us is surprised that it was Martin meeting the police line in a posture of non-violence. Martin is gentle, principled, and undaunted. Allied with the Catholic Worker tradition, he is also deeply committed to a tapestry of causes, from fair housing to immigrant rights. Guiding his activism is belief in the sacred power of non-violent resistance to injustice. If that makes him an “agitator,” as Buffalo’s police chief slandered him, then the world needs more agitators.

The video of Martin is already part of the iconography of our times, in which every disturbing visual seems a metaphor for something bigger. Eulogizing George Floyd, Reverend Al Sharpton used the image of the policeman’s knee on his neck as a symbol for centuries of anti-black oppression.

Each video clip of police brutalizing protesters points to a much larger system of law enforcement abuse, endemic in communities of color. I saw in my friend’s vulnerability and the scene surrounding him other meanings as well, useful for understanding our troubled society.

A galling aspect of the video is how rows of officers strut indifferently past an aged man lying still and wounded, as if dead. It made me think of the tens of thousands of elder Americans needlessly lost to Covid-19 and the callous disregard shown them by the Trump administration. Its catastrophic response to the virus has entailed the seemingly willful sacrifice of our seniors to Trump’s strongman fantasy of a virile nation. Shove the old, decrepit people out of the way. Step over them. Don’t help them. They were going to die anyway.

Covid-19 is as well an infuriating story of race, with Blacks greatly more likely to die from the virus than whites. The death of Black seniors — often in poorer health and homed in under-resourced facilities — feeds that disproportion.

The shared root of the twin crisis of Covid-19 and racism is the stunning disposability of certain lives in America, no matter its capacities and ideals. The difficult lesson of the current protest movement is to think about that failure in a new way. The police have not lapsed in their mission to serve and protect. For many communities, the police are built to dominate and abuse. Our health care system has not failed to keep us healthy. It is designed to keep only some of us healthy, while lining corporate pockets.

Martin’s abuse signals as well the perverse priorities of our current government. Among the state’s solemn obligations is to protect the lives and well-being of its people.  So too, it must protect the nation’s ideals. For America, the true meaning of “national security” must be the defense of life and liberty.  And yet, rather than tirelessly working to mitigate the virus and safeguard our freedoms, the Trump administration has declared the urgent need to rid public space of the people exercising basic rights. Like in Buffalo, police departments have gotten the message.

My last thoughts about the video are linked to the anti-torture activism Martin and I shared. In his eulogy for George Floyd, attorney Benjamin Crump named what was done to him as “torture.” It was a striking description I had not heard before. Floyd’s lynching needs no added indignity to stir our outrage. But torture has a special sting, both because of its willful cruelty and its supposed alienness to America.  

For years, we in Witness Against Torture vigorously protested what was in fact America’s systematic use of torture after 9/11. Like other human rights groups, we wanted the detained men to be subjects before the law, with basic protections and access to US courts. In our work, we did not think much about race.

Yet Black Lives Matter and other activists impressed on us an uncomfortable truth: that many of the abuses in War on Terror prisons, like solitary confinement, are routine in America’s domestic prisons, holding predominantly people of color. Access to the law, moreover, is no guarantee of justice. Sometimes the law is the problem.

We began to see torture as part of a continuum of state violence, including in its racial aspect. Almost exclusively, the victims of post-9/11 torture have been brown-skinned Muslim men, demonized with the label “terrorist.” Despite the innocence of most of the men historically held at Guantanamo, the law has been all but useless in freeing them. No one responsible for their torture has been held to legal account, including during the Obama administration. Going forward, our group sought to highlight the parallels between domestic and overseas abuses in a vast system of dehumanizing violence.

Dismantling anti-black racism is today’s urgent priority. But abuses of power crave synergies, making other causes relevant. Recall that president Trump is an avowed supporter of torture. His former lawyer John Dowd wrote a bizarre letter, tweeted out by Trump, describing the peaceful protestors cleared from Lafayette Park as “terrorists.” Trump’s own tweet branding Martin as a member of “Antifa” is of a piece with this nonsense that uses baseless fears to justify repression.

Such rhetoric makes an enemy of the American people, threatening to sic on them the tactics of the War on Terror. It seems, as yet, more a sign of desperation than strength — like heavily armored police pushing a 75-year-old man to the ground and the President lying about it. Martin will get up, god-willing, and be back on the streets. The more of us who are there, the more pitifully desperate and disarmed those opposing the tides of change will become.

Jeremy Varon – Professor of History, The New School

jvaron@aol.com

Photos by: Justin Norman, ShriekingTree.com

twitterFacebooktumblrmailtwitterFacebooktumblrmail

Schedule – 2020 Fast for Justice: January 7-12

Fast for Justice 2020 // Film

Tentative schedule.  Please check back for updates.

Everything is at the First Trinity Lutheran Church Hostel (501 4th St NW, corner of 4th St NW and E St NW, WDC 20001) unless otherwise noted.

RSVP by emailing witnesstorture@gmail.com:  include your name, phone number and the dates you plan to be there.  

Tuesday, January 7th: 

Arrive after 2 pm at First Trinity Lutheran Church Hostel; 6 pm meal; 8 pm community circle

Wednesday, January 8th:

Fasting begins:  Fasting Information 2020

9 am: Morning circle and all day planning for WAT action, Congressional visits, and media work

2:30 pm: Leave from church for White House protest against war on Iran organized by Codepink 

6 pm: Community Dialogue

Thursday, January 9th:

9 am: Morning circle and all day action preparation, Congressional visits. 

2:30: Leave church for Demonstration at Union Station. Later proceed to US Capitol for large anti-war coalition rally.

5 pm: Exhibition: Justice for Muslims Collective poster display Shattering Justice & Re-Making the Muslim Threat (at The Festival Center, 1640 Columbia Rd NW WDC) 

 

7 pm: Evening panel: Guantanamo 18 Years Later: Witnessing and Resisting Our Carceral Society (Also at the Festival Center) Facebook event page 

Friday January 10th:

8:00 am: Pre-hearing demonstration in front of Prettyman US Courthouse, 333 Constitution Ave., NW.  **Leave church as a group at 7:30 am to head to courthouse.

9 am: Hearing (In re: Ammar Al-Baluchi) at Prettyman US Courthouse (333 Constitution Ave., NW, WDC). 

Options after the hearing:   Congressional visits or Fire Drill Friday demonstration

3:00 pm: Circle

7 pm: Until Justice, We Resist: An Evening of Music, Poetry and Political ComedyTom Neilson and Lynn Waldron (Folksingers); Gustavo Vargas and Cesar Mazat (Wayta); Frank Lopez (Peace Poets); Maha Hilal (Standup comedy) (in the First Trinity Lutheran Church sanctuary) 

Saturday January 11th:

9 am: Morning circle and preparation for rally.  James Yee will be with us for a discussion during the circle. Yee was the first Muslim chaplain, serving at Guantanamo, and author of For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire.

WAT members should arrive at Lafayette Park at 12:30 to be ready for rally

1:00 pm: Justice Now: Close Guantanamo & End Torture Rally (Lafayette Park, in front of the White House) See CCR’s Facebook page for event livestream.  The rally will be followed by a procession to the Trump Hotel.  Mock coffins representing the men who have died at Guantanamo will lead the procession.

5:00 pm: Break the Fast Together

Sunday January 12th:

Breakfast!

9 am: Morning circle

10 am – 4 pm: Retreat (Debriefing, Planning and Enrichment led by WAT organizer Herb Geraghty of Rehumanize Intl)

Monday January 13th: The hostel space is available through Sunday night for those who want to stay over, and in the event of any arraignments on Monday morning

twitterFacebooktumblrmailtwitterFacebooktumblrmail