Worldwide protests hit abuses at Guantanamo

By David Hoskins, Washington DC FIST

Human rights activists staged protests in major cities around the world on Jan. 11 calling for the closure of the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay. The horrific treatment of the detainees, some of whom have been held without trial for six years, has outraged the Muslim world and peeled off the veneer of democracy used to cover up imperialism’s crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The protests were spearheaded internationally by Amnesty International and were supported in the U.S. by groups such as the ACLU, Witness Against Torture and World Can’t Wait. They were organized to coincide with the six-year anniversary of the imprisonment of detainees at the naval base, where the U.S. Navy continues to occupy Cuban territory without the permission of that country.

Protests occurred in at least 22 cities in the U.S. and activists in different cities used creative techniques to get the word out. In Seattle they performed a mock interrogation, complete with a full simulation of the waterboarding torture technique implemented by the CIA for interviewing detainees.

Activists in Salt Lake City held a candlelight vigil to protest abuses at the detention facility. Demonstrators were encouraged to wear orange, matching the color of Guantánamo jumpsuits. ACLU of Utah Executive Director Karen McCreary pointed out that “Orange is a symbol, in many countries, of someone who is condemned and going to die. For all intents and purposes [Guantánamo detainees] have died from whatever life they had before.”

Almost a dozen protesters were arrested in the lobby of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Illinois. The Chicago protesters connected the call for closure of Guantánamo Bay with opposition to the U.S. “war on terror” and to brutality by the Chicago Police Department.

In Washington protesters held a rally at the National Mall and marched to the Supreme Court wearing the orange jumpsuits and black hoods worn by Guantánamo prisoners. Eighty-two people were arrested for protesting at the Supreme Court. After being detained for 30 hours, they appeared in court and were asked to identify themselves. About 70 instead gave the name of a detainee held at Guantánamo. That ensured that the detainees’ names, which have been kept away from the public, were on the court’s arraignment schedule.

Mark Goldstone, an attorney for Witness Against Torture, emphasized that “Even if it’s symbolic, it’s incredibly important, because these names are finally being heard in a courtroom.”

Lawmakers in Britain, Japan, Israel, Bahrain and Germany were among 1,200 elected officials who have joined with Amnesty International to call for the end to illegal detentions by either charging the detainees in civilian courts or releasing them.

Court declares detainees not ‘persons’

On the same day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed a suit against former Secretary of Defense Don-

ald Rumsfeld and other senior military officers for ordering torture and other human rights abuses. The suit was filed by four former British detainees—Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith—who had spent more than two years in Guantánamo before they were finally repatriated to Britain in 2004.

Circuit Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson authored the opinion, in which the court declared that the detainees are not considered “persons” under U.S. law. It dismissed the detainees’ claims under the Geneva Convention, saying that “torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants” and therefore Rumsfeld and his military cohorts have immunity.

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel on the case, stated, “We are disappointed that the D.C. Circuit has not held Secretary Rumsfeld and the chain of command accountable for torture at Guantánamo. The entire world recognizes that torture and religious humiliation are never permissible tools for a government. We hope that the Supreme Court will make clear that this country does not tolerate torture or abuse by an unfettered executive.” According to the CCR, plaintiffs have 90 days to file their petition before the Supreme Court.


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