WAT Denounces Trump Administration’s Draft Executive Order on Detention

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Witness Against Torture Calls for the Rejection of Executive Order Measures, Warns of Broad Dangers of Trump Agenda

The draft of an Executive Order on US detention and interrogations threatens a nightmarish return to the illegal, immoral, and un-American torture policies of the Bush administration.  Its proposed measures — from the re-establishment of CIA “black sites,” to the review of interrogation practices as detailed in Army Field Manual, to the denial of International Committee of the Red Cross access to US detention centers — point to one thing: the resumption of the cruel, inhuman, degrading, and torturous abuse of Muslims.   

The draft’s proposal to halt all transfers from Guantánamo and bring new captives to the prison is also outrageous.  Guantánamo has never been, as the draft claims, a “critical tool” in the fight against global threats.  It has been a place of rampant torture; a detention center for hundreds of innocent men making up the prison’s great majority; a cause of radicalization worldwide; and a stain on America’s reputation. 

The executive order is based in two fictions: that US torture “worked” in securing critical intelligence, and that nearly one-third of men released from Guantánamo then engaged in anti-American violence.  The US Senate Torture Report refutes the claim of torture’s efficacy.  The figure on post-release violence is grossly inflated and obscures that only a tiny fraction of the men released under President Obama are even suspected of engaging in anti-US hostilities.

“Torture has weakened American security and brought misery to its Muslim victims and their families,” says Jerica Arents, a Witness Against Torture organizer from Chicago. “It is frightening that we are even discussing its return.”  “Tough talk on Guantánamo,” says Maha Hilal, the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, “only reinforces Islamophobic fears that threaten the civil and human rights of Muslims, at home and abroad.  The demonization of Muslims must end.”

“That the Trump administration would consider the executive order,” says history professor and Witness Against Torture member Jeremy Varon, “speaks to our worst fears: that Trump is an authoritarian strongman willing to use lies and criminal violence in service of a dangerous, nationalist agenda.  History warns us where that leads.”


16 Arrested in Actions Against Torture, Trump’s Cabinet Nominees

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Hundreds Demand That Guantánamo Be Shut Down

Witness Against Torture at the Hart Building, 2017

For Immediate Release
January 11, 2017
Contact: Paula Miller, 520-406-4370pmillercleve@yahoo.com
Chris Knestrick, 216-496-2637cknest11@gmail.com

Clad in orange jumpsuits and “Shut Down Guantánamo” t-shirts, activists with Witness Against Torture took over the Hart Senate Building with a message for Senators, staffers, and the general public. They marked the 15th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.  

The message was “Shut Down Guantánamo,” “No Torture Cabinet” and “Hate Doesn’t Make U.S. Great.” These statements were painted on a banner that activists dropped from a balcony as 9 members of the group dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods held a die-in, mourning those Muslim men who died at Guantanamo without ever being charged with a crime. The nine, and four others, were arrested by Capitol Police, as supporters sang “O America, don’t believe their lies. Their politics of hate will destroy our children’s lives.” The balconies were crowded with onlookers as the action unfolded. One of the two who unfurled the “No Torture Cabinet” banner was also taken into custody.

These actions took place as Senators were hearing testimony from President elect Trump’s picks for Attorney General and Secretary of State, which were interrupted repeatedly by WAT activists. Three of those are now in custody.

WAT released a statement reading: “President-Elect Donald J. Trump has nominated militarists for top cabinet positions. He has promised to ‘load up Guantanamo with really bad dudes.’ On the critical human rights and rule of law issues, Trump’s posturing represents backsliding to the worst of the Bush administration’s misdeeds and abrogation of the law. 

Remembering those who have been imprisoned, tortured and, in some cases, lost their lives, at Guantanamo, Witness Against Torture calls on President Obama to use his last days in office to expedite releases from Guantanamo, and make public the full U.S. Senate Torture Report.  We demand that President-elect Trump reject the use of torture, continue transferring men from Guantanamo, end indefinite detention and reject national security or other measures that discriminate against Muslims. 

WAT urges members of the Senate, in whom the public has placed its trust, to use all their power to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. You can choose to reject the Trump administration’s nominees and insist that people at the highest levels of government would never advocate for torture. You have the opportunity to repudiate torture, release the Torture Report and acknowledge responsibility for the ghastly abuses that occurred during both the Bush and Obama administrations. 

The names of those arrested at both locations are:
Chantal de Alcuaz
Jerica Arents
Beth Brockman
Don Cunning
Erica Ewing
Ellen Graves
Martha Hennessey
Sherrill Hogan
Kathy Kelly
Joanne Lingle
Joan Pleune
Manijeh Saba
Helen Schietinger
Eve Tetaz
Carmen Trotta
Silke Tudor 

Images of Witness Against Torture’s action are available here. 

Witness Against Torture will carry on its activities until torture is decisively ended, its victims are fully acknowledged, Guantanamo and similar facilities are closed, and those who ordered and committed torture are held to account


Senator John McCain Speaks Against Torture

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This last week, Senator John McCain spoke out against torture, saying “I don’t give a damn what the President of the United States wants to do, we will not waterboard. We will not torture. We will not torture people, and sometime I hope we can get David Petraeus up to this forum. He’s one of the great military leaders. He’ll tell you it doesn’t work. My friends, it doesn’t work. If you inflict pain on somebody long enough, they’re going to tell you whatever they think you want to hear to have it stopped.”

We are sending a letter to Senator McCain, regarding his statement:

Senator McCain,

Thank you for stating unequivocally that any agency of the U.S. government that starts waterboarding will be hauled into court.  It was good to hear you say of our country that we will not torture people, now that Congress has passed a law that is consistent with our decades-old treaty obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Your statement at the Halifax International Security Forum was desperately needed as Donald Trump prepares to take control of the administration.  

We at Witness Against Torture have long opposed the abhorrent treatment of the men being held at Guantánamo: both the torture methods used in “enhanced interrogation” and the cruel dehumanizing conditions of their detention.  We have visited your office as well as other Congressional offices asking that you release and provide reparations to the men in Guantánamo who have been tortured.  The closest we got to that goal was for Congress to acknowledge (in a perversely redacted manner) that torture occurred, with no accountability for the atrocities committed in the name of the American public.

We have petitioned the Department of Justice, called and written letters to Attorneys General, and rallied and held vigils outside their doors, demanding that those responsible for justifying and orchestrating the program of torture be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

At this moment, as Trump is working to pervert the constitution, the Republican party, and the American military, it is refreshing and encouraging to hear you speak loudly in favor of a zero-tolerance stance toward torture. We hope that you will continue to make your voice heard. As long as you continue to do so, we will work to amplify your message and stand with you in the fight for a torture-free America.

Yours in peace,

Witness Against Torture


WAT Featured in Oct-Nov Issue of Race & Class

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Witness Against Torture is featured as the cover story for the latest issue of the academic journal, Race & Class. Reprinted here with permission from the author, Chandra Russo, is an excerpt from the beginning of the article.

Abstract: The Guantánamo Bay detention camp is a quintessential structure of the US national security state and contemporary Empire. For such imperial formations to proceed as if they are ‘normal’ requires solidarity from various publics. This paper explores what it means to refuse such solidarity through an ethnographic examination of Witness Against Torture (WAT), a group of US citizens enacting solidarity with the men detained at Guantánamo. WAT’s tactical repertoire intervenes in three ways. The Guantánamo prison is not supposed to be seen, but WAT travels there to expose state secrets and the administration’s myth of transparency. The prisoners are not supposed to be heard, but WAT publicly amplifies their testimonies through affectively potent street performances. Indefinite detention and torture are meant to remain distant, but WAT links the plight of detainees to that of Black communities in the US interior. Through these acts, WAT simultaneously reveals and contests the culture of erasure and radical divisiveness upon which the US national security state depends.

Fahd Ghazy has been held at Guantánamo for 13 years.
He has never been charged with a crime.
Fahd Ghazy in His Own Words, Witness Against Torture film, January 2015

On a January morning in 2015, so cold that it burns their faces despite the bright sun, a group of twenty has gathered in front of the White House. Many wear orange jumpsuits, some with black hoods. They are spectres of the now infamous images of Guantánamo detainees, kneeling in the dirt behind barbed wire fences: the indefinitely imprisoned.

This group, Witness Against Torture (WAT), has been engaging in protest per- formances such as this one in Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago and elsewhere, for a decade. Today, they have convened to tell the story of Fahd Ghazy, a Yemeni national and Guantánamo detainee who was captured at the age of 17, likely for a bounty.1

At the end of November 2014, after twelve years of being held without charge, Ghazy wrote an appeal to the American public and gave it to his attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights to share.2 His is a heart-rending story, if hardly unique. Ghazy is one of eighty-nine men still being held at the Guantánamo Bay mili- tary prison.3 While cleared for release both under the Bush and Obama administra- tions, Ghazy’s detention remains indefinite – in large part because he is from Yemen, a nation with which the US government has a particularly embattled relationship.

With a single microphone, a portrait of Ghazy’s face painted on a queen-size bed sheet, and the orange jumpsuits, WAT calls out Ghazy’s words for all to hear: ‘It hurts me that I do not have the privilege to express myself. I want to have the honor to speak out in my own voice and reach you directly – you who are thinking people.’

One by one, members of WAT take the microphone: young, old, male, female, Latino, Arab, White, Christian and Muslim. They amplify Ghazy’s words; they make his plea known. Ghazy’s testimony speaks of missing half a lifetime of cher- ished experiences, the births, weddings and funerals of his loved ones. He speaks of his parents, robbed of their son, his wife, robbed of her husband and the father of her child. He speaks of his daughter, Hafsa:

I have missed the best moments a father could ever enjoy: Hafsa’s first steps; walking her to school; witnessing her successes; helping her when she stum- bles … I am starving for those moments, when she looks at me and smiles or says a kind word or laughs.

Ghazy’s words choke a bit. There is pain in the voices of those who deliver them. In front of this iconic building that once housed Bush’s administration and now Obama’s, both of which have held the power to close Guantánamo, the witnesses convey Ghazy’s closing words. ‘Now that you have heard my story and seen my dreams, you cannot turn away. You are excused only when you do not know. But now that you know, you cannot turn away.’

To read the full version of this very worthwhile article, please visit the Race & Class web site.