Shut Down The Guantanamo Penal Colony, Now!

“A stain on the character of the United States.”

— Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in speaking of the U.S. gulag at Guantanamo, Cuba

Washington, D.C. – If there is any one thing that reflects the utter evil that is the collective psyche of the Bush-Cheney Gang, it’s the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Gitmo). Torture and humiliation of detainees has been the norm there, as well as holding prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial. The U.S. Constitution is regularly shredded there and the Geneva Convention is treated as just another piece of paper. Prisoners are branded at Gitmo as “enemy combatants” and stripped of every vestige of their humanity.

On Thursday, January 11, 2007, a protest action was held in this city, and around the world, too, demanding a shut down of the notorious torture hell hole. The date of the rally was the 5th anniversary of the first POWs being brought to Gitmo. The lead sponsor for the rally was the “Witness Against Torture” organization. [1] Many other activist groups were onboard as co-endorsers of the laudable effort.

Despite the temperature hovering around the freezing mark, over 200 activists, dressed in orange jumps suits, the uniform of a Gitmo detainee, proceeded along Constitution Ave., to the U.S. Supreme Court, located only a few blocks away. The demonstrators wore black hoods and some had duct tape put around their hands which were then tied behind their backs. Most uniforms bore the names of a Gitmo detainee. They marched, in silence, from their starting point of Upper Senate Park, at Delaware & Constitution Ave, NW, in rows of two, along the sidewalks, to the site of the nation’s highest judicial tribunal. It was appropriate that the U.S. Capitol was always in sight of the protesters. Since that edifice houses many members of the Congress, who are complicit in the serial wrongdoings of the Bush-Cheney Gang. [2]

At a 10:30 AM press conference in front of the Supreme Court, cosponsored by Amnesty International (AI) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CRC), the crowd of about 500 heard from six speakers. Michael Ratner of the CRC labeled Guantanamo “an embarrassment to this country”; a law free zone”; and “an offshore penal colony.” Larry Cox of Amnesty International called it a “betrayal” of our democratic values. The CRC’s Ms. Gitanjali Gutierrez said the prison was a “place of hopelessness.” She was the first American lawyer to visit an inmate at the facility. Gutierrez pointed out that, according to recent study [by Mark Denbeaux and Joshua Denbeaux] of the inmate population at Gitmo, only about eight percent of the entire jail population have any ties to Al Qaeda. [3] Tom Wilner, Esq., of Shearman & Sterling LLP, blasted Gitmo as “a moral failure,” which “shames our nation” and that “it should be shut down.” Mary Harding is with TASSC International, a group that fights torture. She said that Gitmo is the “most conspicuous emblem today of how U.S. policy has gone off the rails.” Ms. Jumana Musa of AI said: “As the years go by, more and more people are recognizing the lawlessness that is Guantanamo.”

One of the sharpest critics of the deplorable situation at Gitmo has been retired U.S. Army Colonel and ex-U.S. Diplomat, Ann Wright. [4] In an article, dated, Dec. 23, 2006, she recounted the sorry history of Gitmo and focused her remarks, partly, on the complicity of the U.S. Congress in this scandal. She wrote: “Incredibly, at the end of five years of being in the world’s human-rights doghouse, the U.S. Congress in October, 2006, again trusted and complied with President [George W.] Bush’s wishes and passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA).” The MCA, she underscored, beside denying an array of legal protections to a detainee, also allows the “admission of evidence coerced by cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Wright also hammered away at the U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for his role in making it “harder to prosecute U.S. personnel for prisoner abuse under the War Crimes Act,” and by providing “a free pass” for crimes committed against detainees “before Dec. 31, 2005.” She made this demand: “I firmly believe that to regain some respect in the international community, for the sake of our national spirit and soul, and for the integrity of the U.S. military, the prison in Guantanamo must be closed.” [5]

As the result of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, the FBI was forced to recently release documents which indicate about two dozen incidents of possible abuse of detainees at Gitmo. In one case, a prisoner’s head was “wrapped in duct tape” for chanting the Holy Qur’an. Another inmate was locked in a sweltering room for hours, where he “pulled his hair out.” Some of the detainees were “chained hand and foot in a fetal position,” which forced them to release their own waste matter on themselves. As of Nov., 2006, out of the 775 detainees who had originally been brought to Gitmo, “approximately 340 have been released, leaving 435.” Of that number, “about 250” may be held indefinitely, and “about 70 will face trial by the military Commissions.” [6] One detainee, Bisher al-Rawi, who holds British citizenship, is reported to be losing “his sanity,” as a result of his near four years of cruel captivity at Gitmo. Doctors say he is suffering from a “housing unit psychosis” that tends to afflict high-security prisoners, according to David Rose, “The Observer,” on Jan. 7, 2007.

Today, conditions of confinement are still so horrific at Gitmo, that reportedly 11 detainees are on a hunger strike and five of them are being “forced-fed by the military,” according to Michael Melia of the AP, on 01/09/07. The deep despair of the POWs is also reflected in the fact that from time to time, over 100 of them have refused food over extended periods of time. The last time I heard of prisoners being forced-fed was when Irish Republicans were filling up the jails in the British Occupied North of Ireland. In the spring of 1981, ten of them died on hunger strikes over moral and legal issues dealing with their imprisonment. [7] Some of the detainees at Gitmo, in desperation, have committed suicide. According to attorney Ratner, there are presently 395 detainees at Gitmo, and not the 435, as reported in the print media.

After the speeches in front of the Supreme Court, the 200 or so orange-clad POWs made their way back to Constitution Ave., then walked four blocks west to the U.S. District Court House for the District of Columbia, located at 333 Constitution Ave. This also happens to be the site of the ongoing trial of V.P. Dick Cheney’s crony, Irvin “Scooter” Libby, on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Some of the prisoners attempted to walk into the court house itself, but they were rebuffed by the guards. The POWs demanded their “day in court after five years.” Their supporters shouted, “Let them in!” About 30 prisoners, did “a sit-in” at the front door of the huge judicial facility, while holding a “Habeas Corpus Petition” in their hands. A demonstration of the notorious water boarding torture technique was also reenacted on the steps of the court house.

Earlier in the day, some other activists had made their way into this same courthouse, which is named after E. Barrett Prettyman. As the rally was proceeding outside, these individuals were seen holding up banners at the windows, which were visible to passersbys on the sidewalk. Later, about 100 of them were arrested by Federal Marshalls for supposedly displaying their signs and orange T-shirts inside a federal court house. The names of the 395 detainees still being held at the Gitmo Gulag were read out in front of the court house. The response, in unison, from the crowd after each name was announced was: “We remember you!”

In a relevant article in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), (2006), entitled, “Who Are the Prisoners at Gitmo?,” author Eric Umansky made the following statement: “The data is now really clear. It showed that most of the detainees [mostly all Arabs] haven’t been ‘caught on the battlefield,’ but rather mostly in Pakistan; fewer than half were accused of fighting the U.S., and there was scant evidence to confirm that they were even combatants. In other words, most of the detainees probably were entirely innocent.” Umansky was using as a source reference a detailed study on the inmates at Gitmo compiled by Ms. Corine Hegland of the National Journal. [8]

Finally, if the U.S. Congress has any integrity, and guts left, it would immediately pass a veto-proof law closing the national disgrace that is the Guantanamo penal colony.


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