Fast for Justice 2012: Day 9
When Joanne in New York heard that the ten-day forecast for Washington DC during our fast would be rather beautiful and warm except for Wednesday, January 11th, which was predicted to be cold and rainy, she remarked, “You see, even the earth will be weeping that day.” And it was. But as you will read below in the various reflections on today’s rally and events afterwards, we could not have had a more solemn and powerful marking of the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo as a detention center for the US “War on Terror.”
In tonight’s reflection circle, Kevin from the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker shared that “hearing the reflections, names and stories of the men at Guantánamo” this past week, then seeing everything today come together, seeing all of the different groups and people form this demonstration and march in solidarity with the detainees—all of this together created “the most powerful experience.” What was so powerful was that this was for him evidence of the “connection of the human race…we don’t even know them [the men at Guantánamo]” and we didn’t even all know each other here today. But today we rallied, marched, and bore witness that we do not want to live in a world where indefinite detention and torture are justified.
And our work continues tomorrow…sentencing for Carmen, Brian & Judith in Superior Court, and then back to the White House before breaking our fast in the evening.
Witness Against Torture
1) Rally and March to the Supreme Court (Reflection by Mike Foley)
2) Frida Berrigan’s Opening Remarks for the Rally
3) Post-event Interfaith Prayer Service (Reflection by Martha Hennessy)
4) Fragments from this Evening’s Circle (Compiled by Amy Nee)
4) Letters of Support (Northern Iraq; Madison, Wisconsin)
1) “Protesters Mark Guantánamo Prison’s 10th Anniversary” (Reuters)
2) “Protesters Condemn Guantánamo Bay on 10th Anniversary with March from White House” (Washington Post)
3) “Guantánamo’s 10th Anniversary Marked by Protests” (video & article from VOA)
4) “Gitmo 10 Years On: So Much for Closure” (video from Russia Today)
5) “Opponents Start Guantánamo’s Second Decade with Jumpsuit Protest” (Miami Herald)
6) “Hundreds Protest on 10th Anniversary of Guantánamo Prison” (LA Times)
7) “Activists at Rally Call on Obama to Keep Promise, Shutter Guantánamo Bay” (CNN)
8) “Guantánamo 10th Anniversary Protests: Demonstrators March from White House to Supreme Court” (photos from the Huffington Post)
9) “Rights groups protest to mark Gitmo decade” (Peter Finn)
Rally and March to the Supreme Court
(Reflection by Michael S. Foley)
Today, January 11, 2012, marked ten years to the day since the first prisoners arrived at Guantánamo. You’ve seen the photos of that first day – of the men shackled, masked, kneeling before their shouting captors. Ten years later, and three years into the Obama administration, 171 men remain in Guantánamo with no end in sight. They can expect no release, no day in court, no end at all. All three branches of the United States government are responsible for this atrocity – and the hidden unending detention of more than 2,000 prisoners in Bagram – and today each branch was visited by more than 1,000 Americans who have had enough of the government’s moral failings. It was the biggest demonstration against detention policies since the “War on Terror” began, organized by an historic coalition of human rights, religious, and activist organizations, including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Religious Campaign Against Torture, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. World Can’t Wait and Occupy DC also joined in, as did Code Pink.
The forecasters predicted rain, but the morning began brighter. When we first arrived in Lafayette Park across from the White House, the sun kept trying to warm us. The Park Ranger in her Smokey-the-Bandit hat did her best to rain on us, telling us that we had no permit to carry juice – juice! – in the park. And maybe she summoned the actual rain, too, but nothing got in the way of an historic assembly and moving program of speakers. As buses came in from distant cities, the coalition partners gathered their people, handing out jump suits, t-shirts, stickers, signs. The mood was alternately somber, effusive, and angry. To begin the program, habeas attorneys occupied the stage with the names of their clients, some of whom had won their habeas cases before federal judges but whose clients remain in prison. As the rain came, speakers huddled under umbrellas to move and inspired us with their words of anger and hope, criticism and conviction.
At the end of the program, more than 171 jump-suited “detainees” – one for every man still held at Guantánamo – led a spectacular human chain of citizens from the White House to the Justice Department to the Capitol and, finally, to the Supreme Court. The rain continued as we walked past the White House in a line that seemed unending. At the front, the detainees moved silently, as police on motorcycles blocked traffic. Police cruisers buzzed by, sirens chirping and lights swirling; as Bill Frankel-Streit said afterward, it seemed as though they were shining a light on our procession.
It is humbling, as ever, to march in a jump suit and hood – to think about the men in Guantánamo who have no such freedom of movement, many of whom have languished there for most of a decade, and more than half of whom have been cleared for release…
As the march proceeded up Capitol Hill, the usual array of tourists, curious onlookers, and apparently annoyed pedestrians looked on, but one group appeared as we reached the top of Capitol Hill whom we had never before encountered. Turning the corner from Constitution Avenue on to 1st Street, we could hear a small smattering of applause, most of it coming from the left hand side of the street, outside the Hart Senate Office Building. Senate staffers had come out of their offices to stand with us, signaling their own disapproval for policies that their bosses seem unable or unwilling to end.
At the Supreme Court, the detainees filed in four lines before the plaza; Supreme Court police guarded the steps of the plaza as if they expected us to follow past years’ examples, and take our protest to the Justices more directly. Instead, British journalist Andy Worthington spoke to us about the US District Court we had passed at the base of Capitol Hill, and the judges there who had effectively gutted the Boumediene v. Bush decision; Andy called on the Supreme Court to intervene and reinforce that decision. Former Guantánamo guard Daniel Lakemacher spoke of the various methods of dehumanizing detainees at Guantánamo and how this march helped to make visible the humanity of the men held there. Vince Warren, the Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the men at Guantánamo, spoke of the hard and important work the attorneys do, but also of the vital importance of citizen action. And Tom Wilner, one of the first American lawyers to represent Guantánamo detainees, described the ongoing struggle to secure justice for the detained men, while Steven Aleski, Boumediene’s attorney, urged the participants to take the struggle for human rights and the rule of law back to their communities. Leili Kashani of CCR concluded by telling the moving story of CCR client Djamel Ameziane, and reading a poem, Is it true, written by Osama Abu Kabir while in Guantánamo.
Frida Berrigan’s Opening Remarks at the Rally
Welcome. My name is Frida Berrigan and I work with Witness Against
Torture, a proud member of the vast coalition that organized this day
of action. On behalf of the coalition, I say again “welcome.”
Thank you so much for coming, for caring, for insisting—still, again,
after all these years—in justice, in the rule of law, in human rights.
Today, January 11, 2012, is the 10th year since the first “war on
terror” detainees were brought to the US Naval Base at Guantánamo.
This as a day of great shame — ten years of torture, indefinite
detention, violation of the human rights and rule of law. This tragic
and criminal anniversary comes just 10 days after the US Congress and
President acted, through the NDAA, to make GTMO near-permanent, commit
more deeply to reprehensible policies, and expand detention powers at
precisely the time when we should be dismantling this pseudo-legal and
immoral detention apparatus.
So here we again. Grudgingly, unwillingly, but with outrage and energy
and even HOPE. I find a lot of hope in what Witness Against Torture
has been doing for the past nine days– fasting, living in community,
and acting each day to draw attention to the scourge of indefinite
detention at Guantánamo and Bagram.
We are about to finish a 92 hour vigil in front of the White House
which we began on Saturday—with a representation of a Guantánamo cage
and a person inside of it. We have had countless profound and
educational conversations—alerting the tourists who come here from all
over the United States and all over the world that not all Americans
are comfortable with torture, abuse, indefinite detention. Are you
comfortable with that? No.
I also find a lot of hope in this extraordinary coalition. This “Ten
Years Too Many National Day of Action” is the result of months of hard
work by major human rights and civil liberties organizations, legal
collectives, advocates and citizens—like myself and my friends in
Witness Against Torture—who are of no special rank and have no
position other than to see justice done.
You are part of the biggest demonstration against detention policy
since the “War on Terror” began; we are part of a rising tide of
consciousness in this country to say no to torture, indefinite
detention, and the savaging of our rights.
Yes, despite everything (and despite the rain) this is a day of hope
because that so many people are gathered to say that we have neither
forgiven nor forgotten: that Guantánamo and indefinite detention and
torture are as wrong today as they were ten years ago; that there are
innocent men who must be released; that all detainees should be fairly
charged and tried or released; that those abused by US power should be
entitled to confront their captors and receive true justice.
Americans — across the political spectrum — are rising to say that
rights can’t be taken away without us speaking out, that the men at
GTMO and Bagram cannot and will not be the forgotten victims of
And it is a day of action. We are going to hear from a number of
brilliant and powerful speakers—we will learn and feel and connect and
then we will act. We will hear more specifics on this later, but
immediately following the rally we will begin a procession led by 171
“detainees” representing those who are still at GTMO.
The procession will form a “human chain” linking the institutions of
government– Presidency, Department of Justice, Congress and the
Courts– responsible for this shameful situation. At each site we
will hold a brief rally. These four nearly simultaneous events will
all end around 2:30 will the reading of a poem by a detainee
expressing his simple desire: to at last see justice done, to be
freed, to go home.
Post-Event Interfaith Prayer Service
(Reflection by Martha Hennessy)
It is our ninth day of the fast and following a long procession to the Supreme Court we attended an interfaith prayer service for Guantánamo at the New York Avenue Presbyterian church. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture sponsored it with speakers from Presbyterian, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim faiths. Despite my fatigue and late arrival I was able to take in the beauty and simplicity of the service. Sister Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi caught my heart and attention when she said. “When there is brokenness in the world God arrives there first.” After days of hearing stories about the trauma of war and torture I felt a ray of sunshine come through. The exquisite hope of this! She also quoted William T. Cavanaugh, author of “Torture and Eucharist” describing torture as “the sacrament of the liturgy of the state.” After ten years of the “war on terrorism” we have dismembered our own souls and the bodies of countless others.
Dr. Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances also shared reflections of reconciliation. He spoke of whole countries functioning as huge Guantánamos where dictators sacrifice their own peoples while suppressing uprisings against injustice. Several Muslim countries were named but I couldn’t help think about my own country practicing similar brutality here.
The service ended with a beautiful sounding of the shofar and a moment of silence for the prisoners of Guantánamo and victims of torture. In this brief interlude of the faiths coming together to declare our ultimate purpose of loving one another and seeing the image of God in each other, we were given sustenance and courage to continue with these small efforts against colossal forces in bringing mercy to the prisoners.
Fragments of This Evening’s Circle
(Compiled by Amy Nee)
Chrissy began the circle quoting the mother, Talat Hamdani, of a young man who died in the 9/11 attacks in 2002. “[This campaign against Guantánamo is] giving humanity a chance to redeem itself.”
Mike commented as many would concur, that the rain-soaked hoods were impossible to see through, and in our weariness “we were a ramshackly group, a beautifully ramshackly group.” An enlivening interruption as we trudged toward Capital Hill was “applauding senate staffers” who had emerged on the sidewalk to cheer us on.
Helen: “I was glad that it was grueling. The challenge made it more real.”
Dan shared that he has been carrying with him the theme of faithfulness and effectiveness – two aspects of action that are often presented in opposition, as an either or – and considering how to find the dynamic between the two. Thinking of all of the people involved in today’s demonstration, those symbolizing detainees, speakers, media, viewers there was the feeling that this was “as effective as I could wish it to be while being faithful at the same time.”
Beth had been responsible for coordinating a bus from North Carolina, a biodielsel van with composting toilet and dumpstered food! She spoke of her joy at the arrival of her family and friends and the struggle to separate herself from them by donning the hood. It was so sad, she added, considering her struggle with this “momentary separation when compared to ten years for the men at Guantánamo.”
Brian had started the day with a feeling of fear, having felt so weak yesterday, to the point that he considered eating something in the morning to fortify himself for the arduous day ahead. “But now, I don’t even feel like I am fasting. I feel so nourished by all that has transpired today.”
Mike, quoting the exclamation of a friend overlooking the long line of men and women in orange jumpsuits and black hoods winding through the capital, “looks like Guantánamo’s about to get it’s ass kicked!”
Tim talked about the fear that accompanied the obfuscation of the hood. He was all but blinded but felt guilty at raising it to clarify his vision because as he did so he thought of the men he was representing, and remembered, “they don’t have a choice, to pull off their hood or break a fast. And that is so sad.”
Lauren from N.C., in the circle for the first time was grateful to have come across this community. “I have been desiring a more grounded approach to activism…a group that takes the energy of anger and channels it…I feel like I’ve found that here.”
Erika had the opportunity, while waiting in line for the woman’s bathroom to open up, to share with a dozen Amnesty volunteers the story of Jumah Mohammed Abdul Latif Al Dossari who they knew only to be a Bahraini. “I didn’t know his story ten days ago, but now I was able to share it; now they know it not only because of me, but because of all of you.”
Josie had the opportunity to give an interview with a Turkish t.v. station. As she shared about how we were sending groups to connect these places of power that players in the continuation of indefinite detention her voice broke, “sometimes giving voice to something lets you get in touch with emotion.” She went on to talk about the buildings in the capital themselves, the feelings they build up. The architecture itself can be a source of awe and pride but from the context of our action the feelings associated with them are now sadness and tragedy. Yet, as we move amongst them together, taking action, “we find our voice.”
“What we contributed,” Paki shared, “was the Soulforce that Gandhi writes about.”
Experiencing a persistent irritation from the way his jacket rubbed him under the hood, John reflected on “how a little thing can become torture,” and while he could choose to adjust his position, step out of procession or bear with it, those who are tortured are not given that choice. And in the midst of this, still, his meditation became, “All is grace.”
Letters of Solidarity
From Northern Iraq with the Christian Peacemaker’s Team
Unwinding this afternoon, snapped on Al Jeezera and they did a piece on 10 years of Guantánamo and you folks were shown in front of the White House. I could hear Carmen’s voice. I felt very much at home and grateful for your presence. It made me feel connected.
From Madison, Wisconsin
Dear Fasters in DC,
Just wanted to let you know I’m with you in spirit and hope the Day of Action tomorrow will be a good one. Here in Madison, WI our little committee has worked with local groups on raising the issue of torture and closing Guantánamo.
Yesterday (Jan 9) we joined an ongoing
Monday noon peace vigil (My reflection on that is at the bottom of this e-mail.)
This evening (Jan 10) Joy First and I did the program for the monthly meeting of the Dane County Chapter of the United Nations Association. It was titled “Guantánamo, Military Tribunals and the Rule of Law.” Joy talked about Guantánamo and WAT and I reviewed the provision of the UN Convention Against Torture. We also showed the documentary titled “The Response.”
Tomorrow (Jan 11) we’re having a gathering co-sponsored with the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice at a local coffee shop. We’ll write letters to elected officials and to prisoners still at Guantánamo.
I think I’m the only one here fasting, but I didn’t start until Jan 7th because our family celebrates the full 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany so I wasn’t ready to start the fast on Jan 2nd.
Blessings to you all,