For Immediate Release
MONDAY, DECEMBER 21
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK, Medea.email@example.com, 415-235-6517
Marcy Winograd, Progressive Democrats of America, firstname.lastname@example.org, 424-443-9338
Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture, email@example.com ,732-979-3119
Torture Victims & Their Advocates Oppose Morell & Haines for National Security Positions in the Biden Administration.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, torture survivors and their advocates released an Open Letter urging President-Elect Biden not to nominate torture defender Mike Morell for CIA Director and asking the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haines, a torture enabler, as Director of National Intelligence. The letter was also delivered this morning to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as President-Elect Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris.
Signatories include: Mansoor Adayfi, a writer from Yemen imprisoned for 14 years without charge at Guantanamo Bay, where he was force fed for two years; Moazzam Begg, a British-Pakistani ex-Guantanamo detainee and Outreach Director for CAGE, a service organization for torture survivors and communities impacted by the War on Terror; Sister Dianna Ortiz, a US missionary tortured by members of the CIA-funded Guatemalan army; Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Whistleblower and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; John Kiriakou, former CIA officer imprisoned after exposing CIA waterboarding; and musician Roger Waters (formerly with Pink Floyd), whose song “Each Small Candle” is a tribute to torture victims.
The organizers of the letter, Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America, Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, and Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture, have been lobbying against the inclusion of torture apologists in the Biden administration since the August Democratic National Convention, Their efforts include a letter to Biden from 450 DNC delegates, a CODEPINK petition signed by over 4,000, and calls to the offices of the Senators on the Intelligence Committee. “When we started this campaign,” says 2020 DNC Delegate Marcy Winograd, “Morell was considered the frontrunner, but opposition to his disgraceful defense of torture has cast a pall on his nomination. We want to make sure his nomination is off the table, and that Biden and the Senate also understand we reject Avril Haines for her complicity in suppressing evidence of CIA torture,”.
Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush and Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Obama, has defended the agency’s “enhanced interrogation” program, objecting to use of the word “torture” to characterize waterboarding, sleep deprivation, starvation diets, sexual humiliation, hypothermia and painful bodily contortions. Morrell also falsely claimed that torture “worked” in foiling terrorists plots. In addition, Morell defended the CIA’s destruction of nearly 90 videotapes documenting brutal interrogations at CIA black site prisons.
As CIA Deputy Director from 2013-2014, Avril Haines overruled the CIA Inspector General in choosing not to punish agency personnel accused of hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers during their investigation into the CIA’s use of torture. She was also part of the team that suppressed evidence of CIA torture by redacting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark torture report, reducing a 6,000 page document to 500 pages.
Both Morell and Haines supported Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA Director — a nomination that then-Senator Kamala Harris, other prominent Democrats, and Senator John McCain opposed. Haspel supervised a black site prison in Thailand and authorized a memo authorizing the destruction of CIA videotapes documenting torture.
Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture:
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris promised to restore transparency, integrity, and respect for the rule of law to government. So how can their National Security team be led by people who endorsed, or tried to cover up, the clear crime of torture? It makes no sense.”
Djamel Ameziane, Former Guantanamo Prisoner (2002-2013):
“Elevating torture apologists to a leadership position within the Biden administration will damage the USA’s standing and give the world’s dictators succor and comfort.”
Jeffrey Kaye, Author, “Cover-Up at Guantanamo:
“Morell and Haines have put loyalty to CIA torturers above adherence to US treaties and domestic law, as well as basic morality. To allow them to serve in government would send a message to all that accountability for torture is passé, and that war crimes will always be dismissed with a wink from those in high office.”
John Kiriakou, Former CIA officer who blew the whistle on agency torture:
“Morell has disingenuously said that he was unaware of the CIA’s torture program at the same time that he was the Agency’s fourth-ranking officer. As deputy CIA Director and Acting CIA Director, he oversaw illegal activities around the world. I can’t believe that any sane person could or would consider Mike Morell as a serious candidate for CIA Director.”
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK:
“We can’t allow the new Biden administration to include people who have been involved–in any way–in heinous acts of torture. That’s why we are part of a groundswell of opposition to both Mike Morell and Avril Haines for key intelligence positions. No torture apologists should be allowed to serve in this administration. Period.”
Torture Survivor Mansoor Adayfi on Morell’s assertion that torture is effective: “In Guantanamo, when they put you under very bad circumstances—like 72 hours under very cold air conditioning, and you are tied to the ground and someone comes and pours cold water on you—you are going to tell them whatever they want you to say. I will sign anything, I will admit anything!,” says Dayfi.
Torture Survivor Moazzem Begg on his treatment at Bagram Air Base before arriving at Guantanamo: “They tied me up with my hands behind my back to my legs, kicked me in the head, kicked me in the back, threatened to take me to Egypt to be tortured, to be raped, to be electrocuted. They had a woman screaming in the next room whom I believed at that time was my wife. They bought pictures of my children and told me I would never see them again.”
Colonel Larry Wilkerson, torture whistleblower: “Kidnapping, torture and assassination have no place in a democracy and turn the CIA into a secret police …Abuses of the kind documented in the Senate’s report could happen again.”
James Dorsey, attorney for released Guantanamo detainee Ahcene Zemiri. “As a Marine Corps veteran, I have always understood that when our servicemen have been captured and tortured in the past, a real source of strength for them has been knowing that their country would never engage in such conduct. “
Also available for interviews:
Open Letter to President-Elect Biden & U.S. Senate:
From: Torture Victims and their Advocates Opposed to Mike Morell for CIA and Avril Haines for National Intelligence
Say NO to Morell; Say NO to Haines.
As survivors of torture and their advocates, we urge President-elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell for CIA Director and ask the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haine as Director of National Intelligence.
Both Morell and Haines have troubling records on torture — a form of violence with lingering effects: anxiety, stress, physical and psychological trauma. We know because we have lived this nightmare, either personally or as advocates of survivors forever haunted by past torture.
We believe that the record of Morell and Haines disqualifies them from directing intelligence agencies. Their appointment would undermine the rule of law and U.S. credibility around the world. It would be a callous rebuke to people like ourselves and all those who care about human rights and the protection of basic dignity.
Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush and both Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Obama, has defended the Agency’s “enhanced interrogation” practices. These included waterboarding, physical beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and sexual humiliation. These practices have commonly, and rightly, been denounced as torture. In July 2014, President Obama plainly admitted, “We tortured some folks.”
That same year, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued the 500-page summary of its “Torture Report.” Drawing on millions of pages of internal CIA documents, the report denounced CIA torture as both inhumane and ineffective. It concluded that the Agency’s use of torture was far more frequent and gruesome than previously acknowleged. Senate investigators also documented that the CIA had lied to Congress, the President, and the American people by falsely insisting that its “enhanced interrogations” had forced detainees to reveal critical information, and thereby thwarted terrorists plots.
Yet in his 2015 memoir, Morell asserted without evidence that torture was effective. As the Military Times reported, Senate intelligence committee staffers were so troubled by Morell’s claims that they issued a lengthy rebuttal in a special report. Referencing the CIA’s own documents, the report blasted Morell’s numerous errors and misrepresentation of established facts.
In addition, Morell defended the CIA’s destruction in 2005 of nearly 90 videotapes of the brutal interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and other detainees in CIA black sites. Sought by congress, the courts, and attorneys, the tapes doubtless depicted troubling US conduct. Their destruction came in the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuse revelations, just as the country was vigorously debating the lawfulness and morality of the treatment of detainees.
To defend the elimination of the tapes, as Morell has done, is unconscionable. It defies the transparency our democracy needs to function, while serving to shield from accountability those potentially guilty of grave crimes.
The claim that “torture works” is the great lie used by tormentors throughout history to justify their abuses. When repeated by high-ranking officials to defend post-9/11 torture, it serves to excuse the inexcusable.
Morell has no place in a Biden-Harris administration. His nomination would send a chilling message to torture survivors and other victims of grave injustice that the United States government, including the Biden administration, does not uphold its own stated principles. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) from the Senate Intelligence Committee has said about Morell: “No torture apologist can be confirmed as CIA director. It’s a nonstarter.” We agree and urge the President-elect not to nominate Morell.
We also oppose Avril Haines, another toture apologist, as Director of National Intelligence. Since she has already been nominated, we ask Senators to oppose her confirmation.
As CIA Deputy Director from 2013-2014, Haines overruled the CIA Inspector General by chosing not to punish agency personnel accused of hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers during their investigation into the CIA’s use of torture. In addition, Haines was part of the team that redacted the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark 6,000-page report on torture, reducing the public portion to a 500-page summary. The full report has been sought by attorneys, human rights advocates, legislators, and scholars seeking a full account of the United States’s troubling conduct.
Haines also supported Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director. Supervising a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002, Haspel was directly implicated in CIA torture. She later drafted the memo authorizing the destruction of the CIA videotapes.
Like Morell, Haines has worked both to defend torture and surpress evidence of it. She too, is incompatible with the stated aim of the Biden-Harris administration to restore integrity and respect for the rule of law to government.
The new administration must show the American people and the world that it acknowledges past disturbing U.S. conduct and will ensure that such abuses never recur. To do that, it needs intelligence leaders who have neither condoned torture nor whitewashed the CIA’s ugly record of using torture. We need intelligence leaders who understand that torture is illegal under international law; that is inhumane; that it is ineffective; that it puts at risk U.S. military personnel, should they be captured by adversaries; and that it violates the restoration of trust in American decency central to Biden’s vision for his presidency.
That is why we urge President-Elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell for Director of the CIA and the Senate to reject the nomination of Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. The people of the United States and the world deserve better.
Signed (partial list):
Moazzem Begg, Torture Survivor, former Guantanamo prisoner, CAGE, UK; signed confession under torture; while in US custody subjected to sleep deprivation, stress positions, hog tied with hood over head
Djamen Ameziane, Algerian, former Guantanamo detainee, torture survivor imprisoned without charge from 2002-2013, in solitary confinement for a decade, suffered vision loss
Maher Arar, Canadian torture and rendition survivor; whipped with an electrical chord and forced to confess while in US custody in Syria
Mansoor Adayfi, Released Guantanamo prisoner sold to US forces in Afghanistan for bounty money; imprisoned at Guantanamo without charge for 14 years, seven in isolation; torture surivor; resettled in Serbia; award-winning writer
Lakhdar Boumediene, Algerian-born citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay from 2002-2009, force fed for two years; lead plaintiff in Boumediene v. Bush, a 2008 US Supreme Court decision that Guantanamo detainees have the right to habeas corpus in US federal courts
Carlos Mauricio, College professor kidnapped and tortured by US-backed right-wing death squads in El Salvador; Executive Director: Stop Impunity Project
Hector Aristizabal, Psychologist and theater artist; torture surivor from Colombia, CoCreator of Reconectando; Theater of the Oppressed
Sister Dianna Ortiz, US missionary teaching Mayan children, tortured in 1989 by members of the US supported Guatemalan Army
Jean Marie Kalonji, Congolese youth leader tortured by the police and military, Coordinator of the Fourth Way
Mario Avila, a Guatemalan torture survivor kidnapped in 1969 and again in 1976 and tortured in clandestine jails under the directives of the U.S. government; Colectivo Guatemalteco Los AngelesTorture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)
Gloria Avila, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)
Frankie Flores, Torture Survivor from El Salvador; Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)
Jennifer Harbury, Atty, wife of deceased Guatemalan torture victim Efraín Bámaca Velásquez; author, “Truth, Torture and the American Way,” which documents the CIA’s historical use of torture
Major Todd Pierce (U.S. Army, Retired), Judge Advocate General attorney on the defense teams for Guantánamo military commissions defendants
Buz Eisenberg, Attorney for Guantanamo detainee
Jim Dorsey, Attorney for released Guantanamo detainee
Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell
Bill Binney, Retired National Security Agency official and whistleblower
Elizabth Murray, Retired Deputy National Intelligence Office/Near East
Colonel Ann Wright, US Army Colonel (retired) and former US Diplomat
Ray McGovern, Retired CIA officer, Member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Philip M. Giraldi, former CIA Operations Officer, Executive Director, Council for the National Interest
John Kiriakou, Former CIA officer imprisoned after whistleblowing re CIA torture
Coleen Rowley, former FBI special agent and whistleblower
Greg Thielmann, retired intelligence official, U.S. State Department
Valerie Lucznikowska, September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Roy Bourgeois, School of the Americas Watch
Dr. Maha Hilal, Justice for Muslims Collective
Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Marcy Winograd, Progressive Democrats of America; 2020 DNC Delegate, Author of Open Letter to Joe Biden: Hire New Foreign Policy Advisors, signed by 450 Delegates opposed to torture whitewashing
Adrienne Kinne, President, Veterans For Peace
Garett Reppenhagen, Executive Director, Veterans For Peace
Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture and Professor of History at The New School
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK Women for Peace
Andy Worthington, Director, CloseGuantanamo.org
Roger Waters, musician, songwriter, “Each Small Candle”- tribute to a torture victim
Frank Goldsmith and Robin Kirk, Co-chairs, North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture
Nancy Talanian, No More Guantanamos
Johnny Zokovitch, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA
Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation
Sue Udry, Executive Director, Defending Rights and Dissent
David Swanson, Executive Director, World Beyond War; author, “Torture is Foreplay for War”
Alfred W. McCoy, author, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror
Marjorie Cohen, Atty, author The United States And Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, And Abuse
Rebecca Gordon, author, Mainstreaming Torture
Jeffrey S. Kaye, author, Cover-Up at Guantanamo
Norman Solomon, Author, War Made Easy
Matthew W. Daloisio, Atty, Witness Against Torture
Helen Sklar, Certified Specialist in Immigration Law, represented torture victims from all over the world in asylum proceedings
Angela Edman, Esq, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)
Art Laffin, Catholic Worker House
Bogdan Dzakovic, Son of WWII torture victim
Sandra and Ulis Williams, Activists, School of the Americas Watch
Martin Melkonian, Teachers for Human Rights
Uwe Jacobs, Psychologist, Survivors International
David Segal, Executive Director, Demand Progress
Linda Lewis, Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence
Dr. Mary Helen White, Physicians for Human Rights, works with torture victims
C. Peter Dougherty, Co Founder, Meta Peace Team
Sara Olson, Women Against Military Madness, Tackling Torture Committee
Buffalo News | October 7, 2020
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
Photos by: Justin Norman, ShriekingTree.com
Rights Groups Tell Donald Trump to Close the Prison, Say “Not One Day More!”
Today, June 15, 2018, is a depressing milestone in the long history of U.S. detention at Guantánamo Bay. Today the Guantánamo prison, set up after the 9/11 attacks, has been open for 6,000 days.
Most of the men held at Guantánamo over the last 6,000 days (16 years, five months and four days) have been held without charge or trial, in defiance of international laws and treaties governing the treatment of prisoners. There are only two acceptable ways to deprive an individual of their liberty: either as a criminal suspect, to be tried in a federal court; or as a prisoner of war, held unmolested until the end of hostilities. The men at Guantánamo are neither. Instead, after 9/11, the Bush administration conceived of a novel category of prisoner — one without any rights whatsoever — and implemented this at Guantánamo.
Although the prisoners were granted constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights by the Supreme Court in June 2008, those rights were eviscerated by a number of appeals court decisions between 2009 and 2011, effectively gutting habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners. The unacceptable reality of Guantánamo now is that the men still held can only be freed at the whim of the president, a statutory change by the U.S. Congress, or a landmark judicial decision. None of these possibilities are remotely plausible at present.
Donald Trump inherited 41 prisoners from Barack Obama, but he has only released one man, a Saudi repatriated to ongoing imprisonment as part of a plea deal he agreed in the military commission trial system in 2014. Of the 40 men still held, only nine are facing, or have faced trials. Five were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, but are still held, while the other 26, accurately described as “forever prisoners” by the media, are being held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Every day that Guantánamo remains open is a black mark against America’s notion of itself as a nation founded on the rule of law, which respects the rule of law. We call on Donald Trump to close it without further delay, and to charge or release those still held.
Andy Worthington, the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, said: “6,000 days is far longer than the two world wars combined. It is outrageous that the U.S. government continues to perpetuate the myth of an ‘endless war,’ as a supposed justification for holding prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial, when this is, in fact, a policy for which there is no justification whatsoever.”
Sue Udry, Executive Director of Defending Rights & Dissent said: “Guantánamo Bay prison is a living symbol of America’s refusal to live up to the promise of our Constitution. Although President Trump has made clear his disinterest in human rights, due process, and the rule of law, we call on him to choose justice over inhumanity and close the prison immediately.”
Helen Schietinger of Witness Against Torture said: “It is significant — and not accidental — that all the men who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo are Muslim. How many holy months of Ramadan have they missed during these 6000 days? How many more must they endure, never being allowed visits by their families?”
Defending Rights & Dissent
Dorothy Day Catholic Worker
London Guantánamo Campaign
No More Guantánamos
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
TASSC International (Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition)
The Tea Project
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Witness Against Torture
World Can’t Wait
Please note that the photo used above is from the Close Guantánamo campaign’s Gitmo Clock initiative. The clock counts in real time how long Guantánamo has been open, and throughout the year supporters of the campaign have been taking photos with posters counting how long the prison has been open, and urging Donald Trump to close it. Those photos can be found here.
For further information, please contact:
Andy Worthington, the co-founder of CloseGuantanamo.org on +44 20 8691 9316 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture on 732-979-3119 or at email@example.com
For immediate release
Jeremy Varon 732-979-3119 firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Ramos 347-581-2677 email@example.com
Human Rights Activists to Protest Trump’s Order to Keep Guantanamo Open in Grand Central Station, Thursday 2/1 @ Noon
What: Demonstration/vigil to Protest Trump’s Guantanamo Policy
Where: Main Terminal, Grand Central Terminal
When: Noon, Thursday, February 1
Human rights activists from Witness Against Torture, the Justice for Muslims Collective, World Can’t Wait, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups will gather at noon on Thursday, February 1 at the Main Terminal in Grand Central Station to protest Trump’s recent Executive Order on Guantanamo. Announced in the State of the Union address, the Order directs that the detention camp remain open, reversing the policy of President Obama to try to close the prison.
Demonstrators will hold a solemn vigil, with some people in orange jumpsuits and black hoods and others holding signs condemning Trump’s policy.
The camp at Guantanamo has been a place of torture and other gross human rights abuses. It continues to imprison 41 men — including 26 held without charge or trial and 5 whom the US government had already cleared for release. Trump’s policy also freezes any releases from the prison and orders that new captives can be brought there.
Guantanamo remains a blight on the US Constitution, the rule of law and basic democratic values. Trump’s policy, as challenged in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, is based in his well-documented racism and Islamophobia.
“Trump’s Executive Order brings us back to the darkest days of the Bush administration, when lawlessness and cruelty ruled,” says Jeremy Varon, an organizer with Witness Against Torture from Brooklyn. “President Trump is an anti-Muslim bigot, pro-torture, and favors keeping a torture prison open forever,” says Maha Hilal of the Justice for Muslims Collective. “With the Guantanamo policy, New Yorkers and the peoples of the world now have another reason to loathe this terrible leader.”
Witness Against Torture Calls for the Rejection of Executive Order Measures, Warns of Broad Dangers of Trump Agenda
The draft of an Executive Order on US detention and interrogations threatens a nightmarish return to the illegal, immoral, and un-American torture policies of the Bush administration. Its proposed measures — from the re-establishment of CIA “black sites,” to the review of interrogation practices as detailed in Army Field Manual, to the denial of International Committee of the Red Cross access to US detention centers — point to one thing: the resumption of the cruel, inhuman, degrading, and torturous abuse of Muslims.
The draft’s proposal to halt all transfers from Guantánamo and bring new captives to the prison is also outrageous. Guantánamo has never been, as the draft claims, a “critical tool” in the fight against global threats. It has been a place of rampant torture; a detention center for hundreds of innocent men making up the prison’s great majority; a cause of radicalization worldwide; and a stain on America’s reputation.
The executive order is based in two fictions: that US torture “worked” in securing critical intelligence, and that nearly one-third of men released from Guantánamo then engaged in anti-American violence. The US Senate Torture Report refutes the claim of torture’s efficacy. The figure on post-release violence is grossly inflated and obscures that only a tiny fraction of the men released under President Obama are even suspected of engaging in anti-US hostilities.
“Torture has weakened American security and brought misery to its Muslim victims and their families,” says Jerica Arents, a Witness Against Torture organizer from Chicago. “It is frightening that we are even discussing its return.” “Tough talk on Guantánamo,” says Maha Hilal, the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, “only reinforces Islamophobic fears that threaten the civil and human rights of Muslims, at home and abroad. The demonization of Muslims must end.”
“That the Trump administration would consider the executive order,” says history professor and Witness Against Torture member Jeremy Varon, “speaks to our worst fears: that Trump is an authoritarian strongman willing to use lies and criminal violence in service of a dangerous, nationalist agenda. History warns us where that leads.”
Witness Against Torture, a US-based human rights organization, pleads for continuing assurances from all relevant authorities of the safety of Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab (aka Jihad Ahmed Deyab). Dhiab poses no threat to any nation, society, or people. He should immediately be set free so that he can continue to rebuild his life after years of detention at Guantánamo.
We also call on all governments — and the United States government in particular — not to impede Dhiab’s wish to travel to reunite with his family. Dhiab spent 12 years in US detention at Guantánamo, though he was never charged with a crime. As with so many of the detained men, no credible evidence links him at any time to anti-US hostilities.
At Guantánamo, Dhiab suffered unimaginable abuse, including years of brutal forced- feedings to break his protest of his indefinite detention by hunger strike. A pending case in US federal court seeks the public release of hours of videotape of the forced-feedings. An attorney for Dhiab, who privately screened the tapes, describes them as “Abu Ghraib redux.”
Released by the US government to Uruguay in 2014, Dhiab has experienced continued hardship. This includes physical and emotional distress, financial difficulties, and the pain of separation from his family and broader culture. While still at Guantánamo, he was promised that his family would meet him in Montevideo upon his release. Until now he has not been reunited with his family. Born in Lebanon and raised in Syria, Dhiab seeks to live within the Arabic-speaking world, reconnected with his loved ones.
The United States owes Dhiab, like other men it has held at Guantánamo, an official apology, substantial financial compensation, and other resources to aid in their resettlement. They are victims, in the vast majority, of wrongful detention. All have suffered torture, physical or psychological, at US hands.
And yet, the United States assumes little to no responsibility for the well-being of men it has kidnapped, tortured, and spat out of its island prison — often years after clearing them for release. It imposes onerous restrictions on their travel. It burdens countries like Uruguay, generous in taking in men from Guantánamo, with financial costs and other challenges associated with resettlement. Finally, some in the media and US government use grossly exaggerated concerns of former detainees engaging in anti-US hostilities to falsely paint innocent men like Dhiab as villains and to thwart further transfers from the prison.
Dhiab deserves the world’s sympathy, assurances of safety, reunion with his family, and just compensation from the US government. The videotapes of his forced-feedings should be released so that that people may see — as Dhiab himself wants — the detail of his abuse at Guantánamo. The prison must close, with the United States contributing to the long-term well-being of the men it has detained and tortured.
Witness Against Torture (WAT) formed in 2005 with the goals of closing the prison camp at Guantánamo and ending US torture. It has held marches and solidarity fasts, lobbied Congress and other US officials, sponsored petitions, held numerous educational events, and engaged in non-violent direct action. WAT members have twice been to Cuba to protest the prison, first in 2005 and again in 2015.
Washington, DC – This Monday, a coalition of human rights activists, torture survivors, Guantánamo attorneys, and members of diverse faith communities will hold a rally at the White House to mark the 14th anniversary of the first arrival of detainees at Guantánamo on January 11, 2002.
The coalition is calling on the Obama administration in its last, crucial year in office, to close Guantánamo and end indefinite detention. With recent transfers, 104 men remain at Guantánamo, dozens of them cleared for release, the majority from Yemen.
The rally will include a giant, inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer – the last UK resident held at Guantánamo, released in October. The figure was displayed outside the British Parliament where MPs and celebrities posed with it to press for Mr. Aamer’s release. Members of the coalition will share the words of Mr. Aamer and of Mohammed Al Hamiri, Ghaleb Al Bihani, Zaher Hamdoun, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, all of whom remain at Guantánamo. The rally will be followed by a “detainee procession” of figures in orange jumpsuits and black hoods and signs marking the anniversary.
The organizations drafted a call to action:
Last Chance for Leadership: Close Guantánamo
President Obama has just one year left to fulfill his first-term promise by closing Guantánamo and ending indefinite detention. Doing so will demonstrate leadership and fidelity to the principles on which he campaigned and won office.
On January 11, 2016, the prison at Guantánamo will enter its 15th year of operation. More than 100 men remain there; the vast majority will never be charged with crimes. Dozens of prisoners are cleared for transfer. Some remain on hunger strike and are force-fed, and a handful are facing charges in unfair trials. There has been no accountability for the torture that many detainees have suffered.
Though Congress has placed obstacles to closing Guantánamo, President Obama can and should make significant progress towards reducing the population and shuttering the prison. He must order the Secretary of Defense to expedite transfers and accelerate the Periodic Review Board process, and tell the Justice Department not to reflexively oppose habeas petitions in federal court. He must also reject a policy of indefinite detention, and formally try or release all detainees.
In addition, President Obama should order all relevant agencies to read the full Senate torture report. Refusing to read the report, more than a year after receiving it, reflects the “bury your head in the sand” mentality that will prevent the country from adequately learning from its past and permanently ending torture. Further, the Obama administration should prompt the Department of Justice to open a new, comprehensive investigation into the clear acts of criminality described in the report.
Now is the time for Obama to accomplish a central goal of his administration by closing Guantánamo. There is today a renewed climate of fear and hate reminiscent of the post-September 11 mindset that led to torture and indefinite detention in the first place. Guantánamo is the bitter legacy of a politics of fear, which must be rejected.
This is the president’s last chance to keep his promise and close Guantánamo. If he does not do so, there is a real chance that the current detainees will die there, and that more detainees will join them.
We cannot let that happen. Close Guantánamo now.
12:00pm: Interfaith service in front of the White House sponsored by the National Religious Coalition Against Torture
12:30pm: Rally and program in front of the White House, followed by procession
Sponsors: Amnesty International USA, Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation, Center for Constitutional Rights, CODEPINK, Council on American-Islamic Relations, CloseGuantanamo.org, Interfaith Action for Human Rights, National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, No More Guantanamos, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), Witness Against Torture, and others.
“Every year, for the last seven years, concerned activists and citizens have called on President Obama to fulfill his promise during his first year in office and demanded that Guantanamo be closed once and for all; every year, these calls have remained unheeded. This is President Obama’s final year in office. That means this is also his final opportunity to follow through on his promise, shut down Guantanamo, and restore some semblance of dignity to our justice system. This opportunity must not be left ignored.” ~ Dr. Zainab Chaudry, Interfaith Action for Human Rights
“It’s not enough for President Obama to say he tried, but that Congress and other obstacles are preventing him from closing Guantanamo. Obama has the authority to make significant progress. He is the Commander in Chief, yet officials within the Department of Defense openly defy his policy objectives and derail closure efforts. He could order the Department of Justice not to fight the habeas petitions of cleared men like 74-lb Tariq Ba Odah, but he hasn’t. There are more than 40 men, cleared for release, who could go home today, yet they continue to languish as the prison enters its 15th year. The president has real choices in front of him. Now is the time for him to take meaningful action. The clock is ticking.” ~ Aliya Hussain, Center for Constitutional Rights
“In November 2015, a CODEPINK delegation traveled to Guantanamo Bay and met with members of the Cuban government and civil society who are calling for the base to be closed immediately and the land given back to the Cubans. The Cubans are horrified that the United States government has committed torture on their land and continues to indefinitely detain prisoners who have never been charged with any crime. The prison facility within the naval base is a stain on US foreign policy, and we urge President Obama to issue an executive order to close the prison — and the base — immediately.” ~ Nancy Mancias, organizer, CODEPINK
“One day let alone 14 years is too long for the U.S. to imprison one hundred men at Guantanamo without charge or trial. For seven years the president has promised to close this prison – a blemish on our nation’s commitment to the rule of law – yet the situation has not improved. We are responsible for safeguarding the constitutional values which are meant to protect all Americans, persons who reside in the U.S., and those in our custody from the abuses of indefinite detention and lack of due process. We must shut down Guantanamo.” ~ Nihad Awad, national executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations
“It must be stated clearly and boldly that the premise upon which Guantanamo Bay prison exists is illegal. Moreover, the prison symbolizes the ways in which Muslims have been dehumanized, while at the same time, criminalizing the Muslim identity by virtue of housing a population of men adhering to Islam. While the number of prisoners has decreased from its height at 779 to 104, it is disturbing that the United States government continues to house men cleared for release while holding others hostage in protracted military commissions that seemingly have no resolution in sight. We call on President Obama to close the prison once and for all and end the destructive policies of the War on Terror that have so callously targeted Muslims.” ~ Dr. Maha Hilal, executive director, National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms
“After fourteen years, our experience with an official policy of detaining suspected terrorists without trial has not brought us security, but only more fear, more terrorism and worst of all, a deep stain on our honor and debasement of our most basic values. It’s long past time for us to end this inhumane and profoundly ineffective experiment with lawlessness.” ~ Bruce Miller, president, No More Guantánamos
“As an organization that serves torture survivors from all over the world, TASSC is appalled by the fact that Guantanamo –synonymous with a U.S. torture chamber – is still open after 14 years. During his last year in office, President Obama should honor his promise to finally close this facility and either release the detainees or transfer them to other locations where they have access to justice.” ~ Gizachew Emiru, Esq., executive director, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)
“As Guantánamo enters its fifteenth year of operation, there is a real risk it is becoming a permanent offshore prison for an endless global war. The longer Guantánamo stays open, the more likely it is to become a fixture of U.S. counterterrorism—and a permanent system of American injustice. President Obama has just one year left in office to make good on his commitment to close Guantánamo. His human rights legacy, and that of the nation, are on the line. It won’t be easy, but President Obama can and must come through.” ~ Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security With Human Rights Program
“Guantanamo is a moral disaster zone where the U.S. tortured people and continues to hold people without charge or trial, some for more than a decade. It would be a grave sin and a national disgrace for President Obama to leave office without closing Guantanamo.” ~ Rev. Ron Stief, executive director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
“Guantanamo is the bitter legacy of the vengeful over-reaction to 9-11. A politics of fear and Islamophobia still rage. The United States can never truly embrace human rights, the rule of law, and its own democratic values so long as Guantanamo remains open. Obama doesn’t get points for trying to close the prison. Either he gets it done this year, or adds to his disgrace on this issue. ~ Mason Otaibi, Witness Against Torture
“It’s now or never. Seven years after he promised to close Guantanamo within a year, President Obama now has just one year left to make sure that a failure to close the prison, as promised, is not part of his legacy. There must be no more excuses. Guantanamo is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, and every day it remains open poisons the U.S.’s claims to be a nation that respects the rule of law.” ~ Andy Worthington, CloseGuantanamo.org
Demand Release of Detainees, Closure of the Detention Center and US Base
Activists Decry Islamophobia in the US Following Terrorist Attacks
As people in the United States enjoys Thanksgiving with their families, 14 human rights activists with Witness Against Torture are in Cuba protesting the ongoing operation of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay. At an encampment outside the base, the delegation demands that the prison close and that it not simply be moved to North America by holding men without charge or trial in federal prisons. The group returns November 30 from Guantánamo to Havana, where it will request a meeting with the US ambassador.
Forced-Feeding, Not Feasting at Guantánamo
On Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 26), the delegation will hold a vigil outside the base under the banner “Forced-Feeding, Not Feasting at Guantánamo.” The vigil highlights the continued forced-feeding of hunger striking prisoners, as well as the separation of the detained men from their families. The US activists are fasting in solidarity with the prisoners.
“While most people in the US are enjoying meals with their families,” says Marie Shebeck, a social worker in Chicago, Illinois, “I am fasting at the site of one of our country’s greatest shames. If the detained men can’t have a homecoming, we must bring our humanity to them.”
With its vigil, WAT seeks to bridge the distance between their encampment and men like Tariq Ba Odah, detained without charge since 2002. Tariq weighs 74 pounds after years of hunger striking. “Our actions are a simple act of solidarity,” says Chris Knestrick from Cleveland, Ohio. “We are here to say: We know you are suffering; we have come to stand with you.”
“There is real power in showing compassion to Guantanamo prisoners,” says Omar Farah, an attorney representing Tariq Ba Odah. “I saw firsthand when I visited him a week ago the impact of his learning that there are people beyond the prison wires who bear witness to his torment.”
Time is Up: Close Guantánamo Now
Witness Against Torture, which visited the detention camp in 2005, is returning after 10 years. “We are impatient. That is the understatement of the century,” says Frank Lopez, an educator from New York City. “Obama promised to close Guantánamo in 2008, calling it a moral outrage. But there are still 47 prisoners who have been cleared for release. It’s great that Shaker Aamer and a couple others have been freed recently. But whole prison must shut down.”
The protestors carry a stern message for President Obama and for those in Congress who have stood in the way of the prison’s closure. “Failing to close Guantánamo will be a terrible stain on Obama’s legacy,” says Jeremy Varon, a Professor of History in New York City. “Those lawmakers who worked to keep scores of innocent men imprisoned will be judged harshly by history.”
Close, Don’t Move Guantánamo
The Obama administration is developing a plan to move the men in Guantánamo to prisons in the US, while detaining some indefinitely without charge or trial. “Simply moving Guantánamo is no solution,” says Helen Schietinger of Washington, D.C. “That would mean holding on to the barbaric practice of indefinite detention. Besides, the entire domestic system of ‘correctional’ institutions is a travesty, poisoned by racism. We need to overhaul the US justice system, not add Guantánamo to it.”
Say No to Islamophobia
In the wake of attacks in Paris, Lebanon and Mali, Islamophobia rages in the US, evident in anti-Muslim violence and the bigoted statements of presidential candidates and others in positions of power. Witness Against Torture denounces this surge of xenophobia and hatred. “Our presence at Guantanamo is more important than ever,” says Jerica Arents, a professor from Chicago. “Guantanamo is the bitter legacy of the US’s devastating reaction to 9/11, which has meant the unjust detention and torture of Muslim men. This is a disgrace we can’t repeat.”
Many Faiths, One Message
Two Muslim Americans are on the trip. “It’s important for me to come to Guantánamo,” says Maha Hilal, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, “to protest a ‘war on terror’ that has so callously and indiscriminately targeted Muslims. My identity as a Muslim obliges me to pursue justice, while my identity as a US citizen demands that I challenge my government’s role in the dehumanization and torture of Muslim prisoners.”
The delegation includes Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and atheists. Many members are affiliated with the Catholic Worker movement, whose founder Dorothy Day was praised by Pope Francis during his US visit. “Jesus teaches us that what we do to the least of us, we do to him,” says Frida Berrigan of New London, Connecticut. “As Pope Francis’ radical call for compassionate action breathes new life into the Catholic church, we are putting that call into practice by reaching out to the men in Guantánamo.”
US Military Out of Cuba
Witness Against Torture began this trip by participating in the International Seminar for Peace and Abolition of Foreign Military Bases on Nov. 23-25. The conference was held in Guantánamo Province, where the US has controlled a huge swath of territory for more than a century. Witness Against Torture is calling as well for the closure of the entire US Naval base in Cuba. “The military base itself is an unwelcome symbol of US power, which houses a torture chamber,” says Enmanuel Candelario, an artist from the New York. “No country should endure this breach of its sovereignty.”
The delegation in Cuba will make photographs, video, and statements available to the media during its trip, and be available for phone interviews. It is supported by solidarity efforts in the United States and the UK, including a rolling fast, a prayer chain, and a vigil at the White House on November 30th and at the US embassy in London on November 26. For solidarity actions, contact: Beth Brockman, firstname.lastname@example.org
Witness Against Torture formed in 2005 when 25 US citizens went to Guantánamo and attempted to visit the detention facility. Back in the United States, the group began to organize more broadly to shut down Guantánamo, working with interfaith, human rights, and grassroots organizations. The group established an annual gathering—with days of fasting, demonstrations, vigils, and direct action —around January 11, the date when the first men were brought to Guantánamo in 2002. The trip to Guantánamo builds towards the annual fast and vigil in Washington, DC in January 2016.
CONFRONTING RACIST VIOLENCE FROM GUANTANAMO TO FERGUSON
Anti-Torture Activists Stand Trial for Alleged Disruption in US Capitol;
Condemn Lack of Accountability for Torture and Racist Police Violence
Media Contacts: Tom Casey, email@example.com, 716-491-9172; Matt Daloisio, firstname.lastname@example.org, 201-264-4424
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, June 25, members of Witness Against Torture (WAT) will defend themselves in Washington, D.C. Superior Court against charges stemming from their demand of accountability for torture and domestic police violence.
On January 12, 2015, ten people were arrested in the US Capitol Visitor Center after unfurling banners reading, “We Demand Accountability for Torture and Police Murder!” and “From Ferguson to Guantanamo: White Silence = State Violence.”
The trial will take place at DC Superior Court, 500 Indiana Avenue, Washington, D.C., NW at 2:30 pm.
The protests followed the release of the Senate’s report on the CIA’s use of torture, including waterboarding and “rectal feeding.” They also took place against the backdrop of grand juries’ refusal to indict police officers who killed young black men. The defendants will argue that the government itself is guilty of crimes and of failing to enforce its own laws.
In the Capitol, the protestors drew parallels between the abuse of detainees overseas and state violence against people of color here at home. “The CIA, US military, and political leaders get away with the torture of Muslim men, just like police get away with the killing of African American men,” says Beth Brockman, a WAT member from North Carolina arrested in the Visitor Center. “Both reflect the racism of our system and must stop.”
The trial comes in the wake of terrorist violence in South Carolina and the same week that human rights organizations called on Attorney General Lynch to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate CIA conduct in its interrogation program, as detailed in the Senate report.
“The United States has a race problem and a violence problem, and an unwillingness to confront either of them,” says Tom Casey, from Buffalo, New York. “The government itself must stand up for equality under the law, which means defending the rights of all people, no matter who violates them.”
On Monday, June 22, the case of 11 members of Witness Against Torture, who had allegedly disrupted a session of the US Senate in January, was dismissed when the government conceded that it was “not ready” to prosecute the defendants. “It’s sad and pathetic,” says Bob Cooke of Maryland. “The government can’t get its act together to prosecute US citizens, and drops the case. But it holds foreign, Muslim men at Guantanamo for more than a decade with any charge whatsoever. Something is terribly wrong here.”
*you can read more on this blog post by our friend Aliya from CCR — You Will Never Guess Who Is on Trial Due to the CIA Torture Report