Fast for Justice 2012: Day 7
Photo: Cage vigil at the White House, hour 66
We have spent this cold, slushy day in D.C. fragmented into a number of small groups scattered in different directions. The projects, actions, and meetings included a vigil at the Pentagon (guided by Art Laffin, see his reflection below), a teach-in with Chris Hedges and another about torture at Freedom Plaza, an evening reflection encompassing action planning and personal sharing, a phone call with fasters in other parts of the country, and of course the continuation of the 92-hour cage vigil that is now more than halfway through. Because of that vigil, the lights, which are normally switched on around 7 a.m., stayed out until the afternoon, leaving a semi-dark space for those who’d been out overnight or quite early to rest and re-gather their strength.
Fragmented activity has led some in the community to feeling a sense of disconnect from one another, and to exacerbate the disconnect we can’t seem to get a continuous wifi connection either! Tonight’s circle, an unusual 3-hours long, was in part an effort to ameliorate that. Matt opened the circle with the heartening information that there are more than 350 groups around the world participating in actions this January advocating for the closure of Guantánamo and just treatment of those detained.
Another point of connection, happening simultaneous to the go-arounds in the church, was a phone call with fasters outside of D.C. Luke (who called in from Pine Ridge, South Dakota) shared that the way he resists the temptation of obsessing about his own discomfort during the fast is to direct his attention to individual detainees. We try to do the same through reading their poetry and their stories (a few of which you will find below) and finding in them grief, inspiration, beauty, and purpose. Along with sharing e-mails from folks in other places, Matt brought into the circle news that our work has been shared with some detainees and has been a source of hope and uplift. And so we share that too with you, hoping that it brings sustenance during this time of hunger not only for a meal but also for justice and for hope.
Witness Against Torture
1) Quotes from today’s reflections (Compiled by Amy Nee)
2) SOAW Meeting Recap (by Molly Kafka)
3) Pentagon Witness Reflection (by Art Laffin)
4) Update from WAT Chicago (Compiled by Marie Shebeck)
5) “Are These Men Your Enemies? Two Stories of Detention” (Detainee profiles compiled by Frida Berrigan)
1) Guantánamo: 10 Years and Counting (Miami Herald)
2) NY Lawsuit: Public release of Guantánamo detainee video could alter anti-terrorism debate (Washington Post)
Quotes From Today’s Reflections
Bill: “The root of war is fear. The root of torture is fear…what does love require?”
Pat: “You don’t know when what you say or what you do is going to tip the balance (quoting Chris Hedges).”
Erica: “WAT is a community, not an organizations. I feel no pressure to be here by an organization, but I feel pulled to be here because I love these people…if I wasn’t part of WAT I would know of and be against Guantánamo, but because of WAT I know the names and stories of these men. WAT has an ability to humanize the people.”
Martha: “I’m learning a lot of ways to love. And that gives me hope. I have no illusions about what we are up against. I know there is hardship ahead.”
Jake: “I am tired of coming to D.C…[but] for whatever reason, I have hope things are getting better. Even when I think it doesn’t make sense to have that hope. I am reminded of the Wendell Berry quote, ‘be joyful though you’ve considered all the facts.’”
Mike: “A lot of people came here feeling like they were starting something [this fast, these actions], I feel like I am at the end of something, completing an action that started way back in June…” (and following this, sharing his favorite poem which he reads as directed not toward an individual, but toward community)
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
- Sonnet 29, William Shakespeare
by Molly Kafka
Today, Witness Against Torture fasters invited the School of Americas Watch into the space to hear about each other’s movements and to share ideas about collaborating and supporting each other. Hendrik Voss, Becca, Nico, and Allison Glass generously took the time to explain their different approaches in working towards the closing of the School of Americas located at Fort Benning in Georgia. Hendrik gave a brief summary of SOA Watch’s efforts in the past few years since a significant percentage of attending WAT members actively participate in SOA Watch and the majority, if not all, of the WAT members know the general history of SOA Watch. Overall, the SOA Watch activists clearly conveyed to us that we must change the culture of this country—the mindset must change. Guantánamo and School of Americas are good examples of US foreign relations because they display the relationships we have with the rest of the world. Efforts in shutting down Guantánamo and School of Americas are not mutually exclusive, but two movements trying to uplift the same root of evil maintaining the US empire felt around the world.
Day 7–Witness Against Torture “Fast For Justice” Pentagon Witness Reflection
by Art Laffin
Mindful that the Pentagon is the center of warmaking on our planet, and outraged over the recent National Defense Authorization Act which allocates $662 billion for the Pentagon and codified into law indefinite detention for suspected terrorists and their supporters, both foreign and domestic, members of Witness Against Torture joined the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker weekly Pentagon vigil this morning to call for the closing of Guantánamo, Bagram and all secret detention and torture sites, to demand and end to the sinful practices of torture and indefinite detention, and to call for the abolition of war and all weapons. As soon as we arrived in the designated “protest zone,” which is located outside the Pentagon metro station, those who were wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods were ordered by Pentagon police to remove their hoods in compliance with a law which prohibits protesters from covering their face. People complied by partially removing that part of the hood covering their face. As we held the huge “Close Down Guantánamo” banner and other signs, we read from the scripture and called the prisoners into our presence by offering poems they have written and accounts of their torture and brutal confinement. We concluded our vigil by reading a “Prayer To End Torture” by Sr. Dianna Ortiz, founder of TASSC, and having a closing circle.
The scripture reading I offered was from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth at the onset of his public ministry. As I have reflected on this passage, it has occurred to me that this mandate was not only meant for Jesus but for all believers. Thus at our witness this morning, I adapted the original text and substituted “us” for “me.”
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me [us] because God has anointed me [us] to bring glad tidings to the poor. God has sent me [us] to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Lk. 41: 8-19)
As we begin this New Year, the best way I know to proclaim an acceptable year to the Lord is by acting with others to resist violence and injustice in all its guises, and to help create the “Beloved Community.” In the case of Guantánamo and Bagram, our mandate is clear: “proclaim liberty to captives and to let the oppressed go free.”
As we vigiled and shared the stories and poems of the prisoners, over a dozen Pentagon police kept watch over us as hundreds of workers passed by. The more I read and hear the stories of Shaker Aamer and other prisoners, the more I become aware that these men are my brothers, and that it is my responsibility to do for them what I would want them to do for me if I was in their situation. As we read the account of Shaker Aamer, 45, a British resident and father of four who has never been charged with any crime and who has been brutally tortured and held mostly in solitary confinement for almost ten years, I wonder how I or anyone could ever endure such suffering. Moreover, Shaker has never seen his youngest child Faris, who was born after his imprisonment. Renowned human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who visited Shaker this past November, related that Shaker’s physical ailments include, serious asthma, acute prostate, kidney and rectal pain, problems with his ears and loss of balance and dizziness.
Although Shaker was cleared to be released in 2007, it is believed by those close to his case that he is still being held so he won’t be able to expose the cover-up around the death of three men who allegedly committed suicide at Guantánamo on June 10, 2006. On January 18, 2010, attorney and journalist published an article in Harper’s magazine asserting that these three men did not hang themselves in their cells, but rather died during their interrogations at “Camp No.” He wrote that Shaker had also been brought to a secret interrogation site, about near Camp Delta, with the other three men, and subjected to interrogation methods that included asphyxiation. Horton wrote that Aamer’s repatriation was being delayed so he could not testify about the use of this technique upon his return to the United Kingdom.
And so Shaker waits and waits in an isolated cell, in failing health, not knowing his fate, not knowing if he will ever see his family again.
And so we pray, vigil, and engage in acts of solidarity and nonviolent resistance. We build and create community. We Fast for Justice. We Witness Against Torture. We proclaim liberty for all those held captive and demand that the oppressed go free!
Update from WAT Chicago
Compiled by Marie Shebeck
Dear Friends, Just a brief update on what we have been up to … On Thursday, we held a vigil in front of the Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown at noon. Several people joined us in handing out leaflets and holding signs calling for an end to torture, Islamaphobia and the closing of Guantánamo. In the evening, a dozen of us gathered with John Neafsey and Meg Marshall who are therapists at Kovler Center (for victims of torture), for some time to reflect on the crucified Christ and our 10 days of fasting and vigiling. “Why is this issue so important to us as citizens, as human beings, and also as Christians?” and “How does it move us to witness?” were some of the questions we sat with during our time.
On Friday, we participated in the weekly vigil at the Broadview Immigrant Detention Center. We then joined UCC Wellington for a conversation about the history of this vigil and the work they have done to create laws that provide for some sort of human dignity and push for their implementation in Chicago. In the evening, eight of us participated in a dramatization relaying the stories of three men in Guantánamo, their family members, lawyers, and policy makers. It was followed by a powerful discussion on the existence of Guantánamo Bay and the NDAA.
On Saturday, we gathered at Grace Place for a Teach-in. Gregory and Mario shared some of their reflections and experiences as survivors of torture. Melinda and Eldon gave us a history, update and opportunity to sign the petition for a Torture Free Chicago Resolution. We had a viewing of the Reponse with a discussion led by Joe and two Guantánamo detainee lawyers: Len and Candace. We got to hear in detail how the Habeus Corpus hearings work and what conditions are like for prisoners interacting with their lawyers. After a vigil on Michigan Ave and meal of soup, we reconvened through songs, led by Chris Inserra and Jim Manzardo. Matilde, a survivor of torture, then shared her heartbreaking/hopegiving journey of healing and activism. To end our day, Jay, Gregory and Bill engaged us in a conversation about the prosecution of war criminals and it’s historical precedents, an update on the grand jury subpenoas and raids that happened last year in Chicago and Minnesota, and the NDAA. It was an amazing day of learning and sharing information and confirming our urgency to gather on Jan 11.
On Sunday, we gathered for a moving worship service at UCC Wellington. We sang “Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Justice,” to start off. Susan and Dan took it from there, incorporating poems from the men in Guantánamo, a reading from Matthew about the massacre Herod ordered, and a history of Wellington’s activism around ending torture. After a great meal, prepared by Gerald, Ken and John led us in a nonviolence training, asking us to explore our motivations, fears and hopes in direct action, but also teaching us about the stages of a social movement and the different roles we must play in our movements. After dinner, we got down to planning our action on Wednesday with our Christian Peacemaker Team friends. We came up with some creative and awesome ideas so please join us on Wednesday for the rally to witness them!
Are These Men Your Enemies? Three Stories of Detention
Ravil Mingazov, Russian Ballet Dancer, Held Without Charge at Guantánamo Since 2002
Ravil Mingazov has been held at Guantánamo Bay without charge since 2002. He was born in Russia in 1967, became a ballet dancer with several dance troupes, was conscripted into the Russian army at 19 and first served in the Army ballet troupe. After his conscription ended in 1988, he served voluntarily until 1996 and later returned to the military in the food supply section, where he took over a program which was in “bad shape” and transformed it into a model program, the “best in all the Army’s.” He was rewarded with a watch.
Apparently his troubles began when he converted to Islam in the army, amidst general intolerance towards Muslim soldiers. When Ravil asked for fair treatment, such as halal food and time for worship, it was denied. When he sought assistance outside the military, his commanders retaliated, the KGB stepped up surveillance and his house was ransacked.
Now married to a Muslim woman and with a young son, Ravil sought a country where they could practice their religion in peace. He traveled alone first to Tajikistan, then to Afghanistan, then fled that country after the U.S. invaded, arriving in Pakistan. He was living in a house for Muslim refugees when the Pakistani police arrived and arrested everyone, apparently because someone in the house supposedly knew Abu Zubaydah. Ravil had no connection with him.
The police turned him over to the Americans who sent him to Bagram prison, where he was badly treated. After a Red Cross officer told him that prisoners were treated humanely at Guantánamo, Ravil made up some stories so that the Americans would think he was someone important and send him to GTMO; what he feared most was to be sent back to Russia, as he knew he’d be badly treated there. Later in 2006 in Guantánamo he tried to correct those stories.
Since 2002 he has been held at Guantánamo; he has never been charged with anything. In April 2010 Judge Henry Kennedy of the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued a comprehensive 42-page opinion “methodically analyzing each piece of evidence presented by the government, and concluding that, after eight years of detention, the government failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Mingazov was “a part of or substantially supported” al-Qaeda or the Taliban.” (Quoted from The National Law Journal.) The judge ordered him released on May 13, 2010, under the writ of habeas corpus. The government appealed. Allison Lefrak, the litigation officer at Human Rights USA, who visits Ravil every three months, says “The U.S. Court of Appeals has not affirmed a single decision ordering the release of a detainee.”
In the meantime, Ravil is still at Guantánamo. He has not been able to see his wife or son, who have found another place to live. After hearing about the earthquake in Haiti, Ravil organized a food drive of unopened containers of food to be sent to the Haitian people. He told his lawyer, Gary Thompson, that he wanted to be the last person to leave Gitmo, after everyone else had had a chance to leave. He practicing his Muslim faith ardently. He says, “These walls cannot contain me because the only true garden is the one you grow in your heart.”
Nabil Hadjarab, Algerian Man Sold For Bounty in Afghanistan and Sent to Guantánamo, Wants to Return to France, Where He Was Raised
Nabil Hadjarab, now 31 years old, was “captured” in Afghanistan when he was barely 22. Captured, though, is the wrong word; he was sold to US forces for a bounty of $5,000, a fortune in that country. He had been wounded trying to flee the war; he was taken from his hospital bed in Kandahar to a US military prison. Although he was told – repeatedly – by his interrogators that his was a case of mistaken identity, he was flown to Guantánamo in early 2002. And although he was cleared for release in 2007, he remains there, in some sort of legal limbo, because France refuses to take him back.
He was born in Algeria, though his father had lived in France since 1954, and had served over two years in the French armed forces fighting for France in its brutal war in Algeria. His family brought Nabil to France when he was still a baby, but were unable to care for him, so his childhood was with a foster family in Savigny where he went to primary school and where his father came to visit him on weekends. He recalls this is the happiest time of his life. He has seven half-brothers and sisters from his father’s first marriage; all are French citizens but Nabil never became a citizen. When he was nine, his father took him back with him to Algeria, where he continued his schooling but also returned to France for two months each summer to spend the vacation with his uncle Ahmad’s family. When Nabil was 15, his father died of cancer, and he was taken in by an aunt.
When Nabil turned twenty-one, in 2000, he returned to France to be reunited with his siblings, his uncle and his foster family. Later that year Nabil sought legal advice and attempted to obtain French residency but was told the review of his case could take half a year. Worried about trying to live in France without papers, he went to Britain, where he had heard it was easier. It was not, but there he heard that it was possible to live undocumented in Afghanistan; he decided to go there to pursue religious studies, hoping to find new meaning in his life. He arrived in March 2001; less than eight months later, the US invaded the country. Reports began to circulate that the Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing Arabs. In fear, Nabil and his housemates fled to Jalalabad, then to the mountains outside the city. The US was bombing all the main roads leading toward safety in Pakistan, so Nabil stayed in the mountains for a few weeks, hoping the danger would ease. It didn’t. Feeling he could wait no longer, Nabil attempted to reach the border. However, he was wounded by a bomb and ended up in that hospital in Jalalabad.
Nabil had never attended a training camp and had nothing at all to do with terrorism or the Taliban, but the US high command, in spite of his interrogators’ reports that his incarceration was a mistake, insisted that every Arab who ended up in US custody should be sent to Guantánamo Bay, regardless of the quality of evidence against them. Shackled, bound and hooded, Nabil was flown to Cuba in early 2002, where he has been ever since. There, though he has been described by the very men charged with “guarding” this dangerous man, as a “brilliant artist, keen footballer, sweet kid,” he has been subjected to all kinds of torture and inhuman treatment: sleep and sensory deprivation, temperature extremes and prolonged isolation. He has never been permitted a family visit, and has spoken with them on the phone only three times.
Nabil wishes not to be sent to Algeria, but to return to France, where he has a loving uncle and aunt, so that he can quietly rebuild his life and be reunited with his family. He dreams of finding work as an interpreter or translator, using his excellent linguistic skills; he speaks fluent English, French and Arabic. He has written to French President Nicolas Sarkozy: “I have spent over eight years in this prison without any charges being brought against me. … Having spent so long in such an isolating place, I do not want to find myself alone again, in a position where I must beg for charity. The most important thing to me is dignity. My dignity has been taken away from me during the eight years that I have been imprisoned, suffering so many abuses that I do not even wish to discuss. Today I need your help to get it back.”
Nadir Mohammed Abdullah bin Sa’adoun, Yemeni Taxi Driver, Captured in Afghanistan and Sold to U.S. Forces, Still at Guantánamo.
A Yemeni taxi driver, Nabil was not a devout Muslim, and attended the mosque closest at hand on an irregular basis. He never went on a Hadj pilgrimage. He smoked and chewed qut, a mild stimulant obtained from a plant, and played in a band. He was encouraged by a friend to go abroad to teach children the Quran in Arabic.
In 1999, he traveled to Afghanistan where he remained eight months. He returned to Yemen where he worked as a painter to earn enough money to return to Afghanistan. In February 2001, he returned to resume his teaching. The events of September 11, 2001 took place seven months later, and in early December he fled to Pakistan to escape being rounded up as a terrorist. Pakistan security forces captured him on December 15, 2001.
In spite of his denial of involvement in terrorist activities, sympathy for the Jihadists, or belief in the use of violence, he was detained for eleven days and then transferred to U.S. custody in exchange for cash. He has been at Guantánamo ever since.