To let suffering speak: Our final update from our week in DC
To let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. –Theodor Adorno
|January 12, 2019
After a full day in DC yesterday marking the day 17 years ago that the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo, we took today to debrief our week-long Fast for Justice and look toward the future. We opened with a circle of over 40 people, each person speaking to the question, what was the highlight of your experience. One member of the circle quoted Theodor Adorno to make his point: “To let suffering speak is a condition of all truth.”
“To let suffering speak” captures the essence of the events that marked the January 11th anniversary of Guantanamo. Stories of the detainees’ suffering were lifted up again and again during the day, during panels, a rally, and a post-rally procession through the streets of DC.
See our photos below and then scroll down for more about all these events plus news of solidarity vigils in other cities.
|Congressional Briefing on January 11
Mohamedou Slahi, former Guantanamo detainee and author of the Guantanamo Diary. addressed a Friday morning congressional briefing by Skype from Mauritania. Mohamedou told us that “Guantanamo is a concept not a place,” because detainees lives cannot return to normal after their release. Mohamedou knows he risks a great deal by speaking out, but he continues because he wants to have the same freedom that Americans have. Members of our community were uplifted by Mohamedou’s smile as he observed the packed meeting room and answered questions.
CCR Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei spoke about her client Sharqawi Al Hajj. While we see only his military mug shot taken 17 years ago, Pardiss reported that his face now shows decay. He weighs only 108 pounds and is in chronic pain. She told us that the long years of imprisonment are causing accelerated physical decline in the men, adding 15 years to those in their 40’s and 50’s. One detainee shows up to his proceedings in a hospital bed. She asserts that two major issues for the detainees is access to good medical care and to family contact.
What can Congress do? Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International, laid out three actions: Hold a congressional hearing about releasing those prisoners who have been cleared.
Lift restrictions on transfer to the US for trial and for medical care.
Do not fund transfers of any new prisoners to Guantanamo.
Panel at New America
Andy Worthington, who spoke on a later panel at New America, reports: Check out the video of the powerful panel discussion, ’17 Years of #Guantanamo‘, at the New America think-tank yesterday, the 17th anniversary of the prison’s opening. I was part of a panel discussion with the attorney Tom Wilner, my colleague in the Close Guantanamo campaign, and Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, moderated by David Sterman.
The event – which, I’m glad to note, was also broadcast live by C-SPAN – was extremely well-attended, and in complete contrast to last year, when everyone seemed crushed by Trump’s first year in office. This year there was a real spirit of resistance, in part because of people’s realization that there is no option but to resist, and partly because of the slim glimmer of hope offered by the Democrats taking the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.
J11 Rally to Close Guantanamo – Rule of Law, Not Rule of Trump
Stop Cruelty, Fear, Racism, Islamophobia, and Lies
We came together to demand the closure of Guantanamo and its legacy of institutionalizing Islamophobia, and to invite our government and fellow citizens to choose love, mercy and justice. A dozen organizations including WAT cosponsored the rally. In addition to the prison at Guantanamo, speakers also addressed connected issues such as the war in Yemen, Latin American solidarity, Cuban sovereignty, and more. WAT speakers included Luke Nephew, Kathy Kelly, Maria Luisa Rosal, and Maha Hilal. Jessica and Leila Murphy, who lost their father at the World Trade Center on 9/11, spoke out against vengeance. They believe the men imprisoned at Guantanamo must be dealt with justly and the prison closed before they can feel closure about their father’s death. They joined September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows in order to work toward this end.
After the rally, WAT members dressed in jumpsuits formed a circle in front of the White House, while members of the larger community presented them with candles of solidarity. Then they processed singing —
“Courage Muslim brothers
You do not walk alone
We will walk with you and
Sing your spirit home. “
We processed down Pennsylvania Avenue to Trump Hotel where we vigiled in solidarity with indigenous peoples. We ended at a plaza above DC Central Cell Block where we stood in a circle and held a candlelight vigil in solidarity with the prisoners housed below ground, disappeared from public eyes. Afterwards we headed back to the church to break our fast with a marvelous feast of Middle Eastern and Salvadoran food.
Over fifty of us circled up at the church Friday morning and many more allies joined us along the way. More than forty stayed on for Saturday’s retreat. A snowstorm greeted us as we emerged from the church and returned home!
We were pleased to receive word from a couple of groups who vigiled in solidarity on the J11 anniversary.
From Peace and Justice Works in Portland, Oregon
Last night at the “Close Guantanamo– Still America’s Shame” action, the 12-foot-tall Tower of Peace was visible to thousands of Portlanders driving past Pioneer Square for 90+ minutes during rush hour.* Over 15 people participated in the rally/march and handed out roughly 150 fact sheets. About half the crowd wore orange jumpsuits to remind people of the dehumanization imposed on the inmates by the United States. Many passers-by in cars honked their horns and gave thumbs up, and pedestrians thanked us for being there. Several grassroots media folks including PSU students and the famous Joe Anybody came by to document the event.
New York City
Twenty-five people vigiled in New York City’s Union Square for an hour on Jan. 11 to mark the anniversary. Four students from Xavier University in Cincinnati, who were visiting the Catholic Worker, wore the orange jumpsuits.
We’ll be happy to receive news from other groups doing work in solidarity with us. Email your news to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more photos and news of our work, please visit our website www.witnessagainsttorture.com.
We’re deeply grateful for your solidarity. Let’s challenge one another to continue to “let suffering speak” and to carry that truth to the American people.
Witness Against Torture