Fast for Justice 2012: Day 6
Day 6 of the fast is drawing to a close and many are feeling a natural exhaustion, but we continue to be animated by the number of projects that keep us moving, thinking, and interacting with each other and those around us.
We had a full day with a conference call to the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a report about Afghanistan, the continuation of the 92-hour cell vigil, a White House vigil, a fasters circle, and a viewing of Taxi to the Dark Side with Occupy D.C. folks from McPherson Square.
As we continue in this work we are grateful for the involvement of friends near and far. Below are a few suggestions of how you can engage with the fast and actions either here in D.C. or from your home community.
Join us on January 11th!
- Fasters Phone Call! Fasters from around the country are encouraged to join in a call-in reflection
8pm Washington, DC time
- Call in: 1-940-287-4000 code (116563)
- Change your facebook profile pic!
- Consider making a contribution to Witness Against Torture. We have many expenses – juice and tea, materials for banners and signs, jumpsuits and hoods, hand-warmers and extra hats – and still need to make a contribution to Trinity and St Stephens which are offering us hospitality.
Visit our donate page to see the variety of ways you can make a contribution.
Another way to support Witness Against Torture is to buy a fashionable and provocative Shepherd Fairey tee-shirt.
Witness Against Torture
1) January 11th in Washington, DC
2) Update and Reflections (Compiled by Amy Nee)
3) Connecting with the Afghan Peace Volunteers (by Molly Kafka)
4) Not Forgetting Bagram(by Brian Terrell)
5) Solidarity E-mail From Bud
Guantánamo – Ten Years Too Many! Say no to the NDAA and indefinite detention!
Come to a demonstration in DC on Wed., January 11– the 10th year anniversary of the prison at Guantánamo. The protest will call for the closure of Guantánamo, accountability for the torturers, justice for the victims, and the repeal of the recent Defense Authorization Act (DAA), which allows the indefinite detention, even of US citizens, without charge or trial. A rally will be followed by a “human chain” of demonstrators from the White House to the Supreme Court.
The event is organized by Witness Against Torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and more than 60 other organizations.
We must raise our voices to demand true justice for men detained by the US. Some have been at Guantánamo for nearly ten years without charge or trial, despite being “cleared for release” of by our own government. They cannot be the forgotten victims of the “war on terror.”
Come yourself AND PLEASE BRING FRIENDS to deliver a message to the President, Congress, and the world: No Guantánamo, No Torture, No Excuses!
Washington DC – January 11 Guantánamo Protest
When: Noon, January 11, 2012 – the 10th anniversary of the Guantánamo detention facility
Where: Meet at Lafayette Square (across from the White House)
Sign Up: Point your mice here
Transportation to DC:
• A limited number of buses are being chartered through Witness Against Torture from cities across the US. For the most up-to-date info please email email@example.com.
Accommodations: Witness Against Torture has floor sleeping space reserved at St Stephens and the Incarnation (1525 Newton Street (at 16th street), NW) January 10-12. Email firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line: ST STEVE) to let us know you are coming. Bring a sleeping bag! We will be collecting donations to make a contribution to St Stephens.
Note: Please wear orange or black and bring signs, if you wish, that say “No Guantánamo. No Torture. No Excuses!” Remember, it will probably be very cold in DC on January 11, so bundle up! We will have orange jumpsuits and black hoods that folks can wear for our “detainee procession” and human chain.
Help spread the word! Please share this event on facebook and twitter!
Update and Reflections
Compiled by Amy Nee
Despite a few interruptions from local authorities, “the cage” remains parked before the White House. It has been moved from Lafayette Park and now sits prominently in the street. A fair amount of attention has been garnered through it’s constant presence; approbation, curiosity, criticism. During my shift as detainee, I had a veiled view beneath a hood and behind bars, of a mother and her son, around six years old, who were biking past. They stopped directly in front and I heard an explanation the boy’s mother had begun when they were out of earshot –
“In U.S. prisons you are supposed to be told what you are accused of and how long you have to stay. In the place these people are talking about, that isn’t happening, and that’s not fair. These people believe that is wrong so they are here to speak out about it, and that is their right because of the First Amendment which gives us the right to free speech.”
I was amazed at her concise, simple, respectful manner of communicating; listening and responding to the questions of this child. It put me in mind again of that idea of not preaching or making speeches but creating a space. The information shared was not proffered by anyone with WAT, it was shared between these two. Yet the impetus for it was our presence that offered a silent interruption to their afternoon ride.
While I was away, those remaining at the church had the opportunity to participate in a conference call with the Afghan Youth for Peace Volunteers. An incredible group of young men we have been connecting with for the past few years. Below you will find Molly’s account of this exchange, as well as the teach-in about the state of Afghanistan offered by Brian, Mary and Jake, that followed the call.
Simultaneously, a handful of folks went to stand outside the taping of the CBS Sunday morning talk shows with the hope of an encounter with John McCain. CNN was there as well and while a reporter plied McCain with questions, Johnny had the opportunity to slip in one of his own,
“Being a survivor of torture, how do you justify co-sponsoring the NDAA?”
“I see no connection,” McCain replied, walking away, and then walking back with a thin smile, “I see no connection because there is no connection.” End of story.
Later in the afternoon a majority of the community traveled en mass via metro to the White House, wearing jumpsuits and distributing flyers along the way. Carmen spoke briefly of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), pointing out that the potential for indefinite detention of U.S. citizens that it implies, though shocking, is a predictable outcome of the chain of events set in motion with the sanction of detention sites like Guantánamo and Bagram. This calls to mind a conversation that developed later in the evening which Chris distilled with a statement of two myths:
1) The belief that by inflicting abuse on others I can achieve some gain for myself (“my” being representative of an individual, group, nation, etc.)
2) The belief that we are not connected.
That is to say, with regards to Guantánamo and Bagram, there is this mythical assumption that it is possible to gain personal and national security through the abuse of other persons. And it is acceptable to do so, because they are far away, strange, not connected to us. Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, offers a simple, straightforward response to our seemingly irresistible tendency towards embracing this mythology; “We have to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” We have to remember that the harm we do to others, we do to ourselves.
Connecting with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
by Molly Kafka
A morning listening to our fellow WAT activists share accounts of their experience traveling to Afghanistan and spending time with a group of young Afghan activists, began with a Skype conversation with those young people: the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. Faiz, Abdulai, Ali, and Hakim are currently in India to study the non-violent methods of Gandhi. Their journey began in 2008, addressing the strife of the war-torn, Afghan people in a creative, non-violent way. They call for the complete withdrawal of US and NATO troops so they can begin to repair their country on their own terms. Having studied non-violence in Gaza, India, and the US, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers advocate for themselves and their country overwhelmingly with humility, truth, love, and peace.
The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers were very curious about how the WAT activists’ fast was going and if we were hungry. Mike Levinson, one of the defendants of the trial still on-going, responded quickly, “We hunger for justice!” The many WAT activists in the room offered up sentiments of admiration and support to the Peace Volunteers with such comments as, “We are empowered and inspired to be connected with you” and “It is you who is encouraging us.”
Having visited the site where Gandhi was assassinated, Ali told the WAT activists that hearing their voices made the Peace Volunteers feel as fresh as the flowers surrounding Gandhi’s memorial. Ali went on to share with us that he used to think he had to leave Afghanistan, but now people have enough strength to remain in their country, to continue on. The WAT activists told the youth the WAT folks have a lot to learn from the youth and they thanked them profusely.
After the fulfilling conversation with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, the WAT activists segued into a presentation led by Brian Terrell, Mary Dean, and Jake Olzen. Five North Americans took a three-week trip to Kabul, Afghanistan in December of 2010. The five went to Afghanistan to meet and support the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, as well as to visit hospitals, schools, and independent NGOs.
Brian explained that Kabul’s population in the late 1970s was probably around 130,000, but the past thirty years of war have brought many Afghans from the countryside into the city. Now, Kabul’s population is a booming five million, and growing. Afghans from the country and mountains retreated into the city because their safety is more at risk back home. Brian reflected on the difficulty of finding a person living in Kabul who was actually from the city. When asked where they are from, the Afghans not from Kabul become misty-eyed when they speak of their home, a place more beautiful than any other.
All three WAT activists sorrowfully reported on Kabul’s physical condition. Without plumbing or sanitation infrastructure, garbage covers the ground and sewage runs in the ditches near foot traffic. Brian reported that doctors in Kabul tell of diseases typically water born in the majority of the world, are actually airborne in Kabul. Also, buildings are in such a state that you do not know if they were half built and then abandoned or if they have been half destroyed by bombs. The life expectancy in Afghanistan is 42 because people cannot plant their crops and are suffering from malnourishment. Furthermore, Afghans cannot reach clinics without risking their safety.
Afghans often say they want the US and NATO troops to stay in Afghanistan, not because they believe those forces are creating any good, but because it is a lesser of two evils. The alternative, according to the WAT activists who visited, would be absolute chaos. However, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers take a completely different stance on this issue in that they would embrace chaos if only to have their country returned to them and their fellow Afghans. Even one of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers whose father was killed by the Taliban wants the US and NATO troops to leave, because he would rather die non-violently defending his country from the Taliban than to be forced to live in a state of war brought on by another country. People with the most to lose by a Taliban resurgence are the most supportive of US troops withdrawing from Afghanistan.
The Taliban may be a destructive force, but they are an Afghan force. Jake explained that the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers say that the “Taliban are an Afghan problem. Afghans need to take care of it.” The youth greatly desire to speak with the Taliban, but the Taliban refuses to comply until the US and NATO troops leave the country. When asked if the youth realize how dangerous speaking with the Taliban about peace could potentially be, they simply replied, “War is all we know. How could talking to the Taliban be any different?” There are Afghans who still do not know about the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, which makes sense because they took no part in the attack. Instead of US and NATO presence bringing any good, Brian understands that “In reality, what we’ve been doing in the past 10 years is relentlessly capturing and torturing a country that’s never threatened us. No Afghan or group has attacked the US.”
The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers’ commitment to non-violence, risking their lives, and reaching out to the Taliban and fellow Afghans is more than inspiring—it is breathtaking. As Jake Olzen eloquently stated, “The Peace Volunteers are the beacon pulling Afghanistan into a new future.” Clearly, the world is witnessing an incredible movement unfold. Resonating with non-violent world leaders of the past and present, Ali from the Peace Volunteers, whose two uncles were killed by the Taliban, recognizes that “Our only solution is love.” In a country with 70% of its population under the age of 30, the youth of Afghanistan must be the torch that lights the path to peace and reparations. The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers embody such hope, which will reach the Afghan people and change the fate of their country.
Visit the Blog: Our Journey to Smile
Not Forgetting Bagram
By Brian Terrell
The Witness Against Torture community often reads and reflects on the stories of detainees in Guantánamo as we hold vigil in these days leading to the tenth anniversary of the first prisoners arriving there on January 11. A common refrain in the biographies of these Muslim men captured, or more likely purchased for a ransom, is that so many were imprisoned first in Bagram, Afghanistan, before being sent to Guantánamo.
In October, 2001, the United States occupied the former Soviet base at Bagram and soon established it as a place of internment for prisoners taken not only in Afghanistan but those rendered from other fronts in the “war on terror” as well. While the number of those held at Guantánamo has dwindled to 171, the Parwan Detention Center at Bagram has more than tripled in the three years of the Obama administration. There are more than 3,000 imprisoned there now and new construction will soon double the capacity of Parwan. There is also an unknown number of detainees in other secret “black site” prisons at Bagram.
Over the last days while we have been fasting in Washington, DC, an Afghan government commission has issued a report of torture and abuses of prisoners in U.S. custody at Bagram. On Thursday President Hamid Karzai demanded that the U.S. turn over all detainees to Afghan custody and said anyone held without evidence should be freed.
These facilities and the prisoners in them were scheduled to be turned over to the Afghan government this month but the hand-over has been delayed because U.S. officials fear that the Afghan courts are “too weak” to accommodate them. Many of those held at Bagram have been there since 2001, and some two thirds of prisoners there have not been charged any crime. In order for Afghanistan to take sovereignty over its own judiciary and prison system, the Afghans must first fix the “cracks of an undeveloped legal system” and adopt essential “reforms,” including adoption of the U.S. practice of detaining suspected insurgents indefinitely without trial.
Just as with the detainees held for these past ten years at Guantánamo, few of those held at Bagram would be convicted in a fair trial. Most have been captured on the strength of tips by informers and other hearsay and with no forensic evidence. “Right now,” a senior U.S. official is quoted in a January 30, 2011 article published in the Guardian, “if we turned them over to the Afghans tomorrow, they’d be in a position, under their laws and their constitution, that they may be released.”
After gutting its own constitution in the name of a “war on terror,” the United States is now adding to the injury and insult of a brutal occupation by demanding of the Afghan government that it pledge to be as lawless as the U.S., to continue our oppression of its own people in our absence, before we will give them sovereignty over their own judicial system.
Ten years ago this past October, the United States attacked and occupied Afghanistan and began a system of illegal detention at Bagram that on January 11, 2002, was exported to Guantánamo. Ten years is far too long. Our first concern needs be for those harmed by our nation’s policies, those who suffer torture and deprivation of liberty in places like Bagram and Guantánamo and their families and communities. We need be concerned as well for what happens to us, to our souls, to our schools, churches, to our nation, if we stand silent in the face of such crimes done in our name. It is time to rise up anew to say no to torture and call for the closure of Bagram and Guantánamo, accountability for the torturers, and justice for the victims of U.S. abuse.
Solidarity E-mail from Bud
dear friends, i write this from far away Sulaimani, northern Iraq with deep sadness of the news of the verdict of the WAT 4 but with faith and hope that all that you are doing in DC is touching hearts and minds in small ways but in ways we seldom see though ultimately feel. i am on day 7 of my solidarity fast. the past 5 days we were away from our CPT home, traveling the region to Makhmood Refugee Camp, meeting with the Turkish vice consuls, attempting to meet with the Iranian consul and to a wedding of a friend in the mountain village of Basta. it felt very strange to move from huts to offices to chai drenched celebration in the high mountain area but the grace and hospitality of the villagers is always awe inspiring. i feel disconnected with all of you seemingly so far away but i move forward in the steps so many of you have put down for me to tread. i am so touched by the work you are doing. please be careful, hold one another warmly in the dark night of resistance, as our prophet Daniel so sagely warned us. you are, as always, in my thoughts, prayers and steps…
In peace love and justice,