WAT responds to Trump’s executive order on Guantanamo

In Focus - Front Page // Film

It was with heavy hearts that we, as members of Witness Against Torture, listened to Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening. We heard him attempt to stoke fear in his listeners with wave after wave of references to terrorists and criminals. He began by linking terror to “illegal immigrants,” border walls, “chain migration,” and visa lotteries, before moving on to ISIS, Al Qaida, rogue regimes, unlawful enemy combatants and more.

By the time he mentioned the prison at Guantanamo, he had already clearly connected the foreigner and the immigrant with the idea of danger in his listeners’ minds. He had already skillfully set the stage when he announced his executive order to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay. In Guantanamo, he reassured his listeners, we would “have all necessary power to detain terrorists — wherever we chase them down.”

The prison at Guantanamo has always depended for its existence on xenophobic fear, fueled by racism and Islamophobia. Stoking this fear helps leaders aggrandize their power, as the history of authoritarian regimes has amply demonstrated.

Witness Against Torture from its founding has sought to counter this hatred by recognizing the human dignity of each prisoner, beginning with our attempt to visit the prisoners in 2005, to fast in solidarity with their hunger strikes, and to lift their names, faces, and stories in the public eye and before the seats of power in Washington year after year. We have spoken up relentlessly for the right of every detainee to trial or release.

We continue to stand against the horror of the torture these men have suffered. We regard as an ominous warning Trump’s stated resolve to bring more “unlawful enemy combatants” to Guantanamo where “they should be treated like the terrorists they are.”

And so we resolutely continue. We turn our eyes with hope to the major legal challenge to Donald Trump’s continued detention of the men at Guantanamo, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve, and co-counsel on the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison. We are deeply grateful to our friends and allies who continue to plan rallies and actions in support of closing the prison.


New Yorkers gather to protest Trump’s Guantanamo policy

On Thursday, Feb. 1, human rights activists from Witness Against Torture, the Justice for Muslims Collective, World Can’t Wait, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups gathered at Grand Central Station to protest Trump’s recent Executive Order on Guantanamo. Announced in the State of the Union address, the Order directs that the detention camp remain open, reversing the policy of President Obama to try to close the prison.

The camp at Guantanamo has been a place of torture and other gross human rights abuses. It continues to imprison 41 men — including 26 held without charge or trial and 5 whom the US government had already cleared for release. Trump’s policy also freezes any releases from the prison and orders that new captives can be brought there.

Guantanamo remains a blight on the US Constitution, the rule of law and basic democratic values. Trump’s policy, as challenged in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, is based in his well-documented racism and Islamophobia.

“Trump’s Executive Order brings us back to the darkest days of the Bush administration, when lawlessness and cruelty ruled,” says Jeremy Varon, an organizer with Witness Against Torture from Brooklyn. “President Trump is an anti-Muslim bigot, pro-torture, and favors keeping a torture prison open forever,” says Maha Hilal of the Justice for Muslims Collective. “With the Guantanamo policy, New Yorkers and the peoples of the world now have another reason to loathe this terrible leader.”

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Human Rights Activists to Protest Trump’s Order to Keep Guantanamo Open

In Focus - Front Page // Film

For immediate release

Contacts:
Jeremy Varon 732-979-3119 jvaron@aol.com
Elizabeth Ramos 347-581-2677 nyc@worldcantwait.net

Human Rights Activists to Protest Trump’s Order to Keep Guantanamo Open in Grand Central Station, Thursday 2/1 @ Noon

What: Demonstration/vigil to Protest Trump’s Guantanamo Policy
Where: Main Terminal, Grand Central Terminal
When: Noon, Thursday, February 1

Human rights activists from Witness Against Torture, the Justice for Muslims Collective, World Can’t Wait, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups will gather at noon on Thursday, February 1 at the Main Terminal in Grand Central Station to protest Trump’s recent Executive Order on Guantanamo. Announced in the State of the Union address, the Order directs that the detention camp remain open, reversing the policy of President Obama to try to close the prison.

Demonstrators will hold a solemn vigil, with some people in orange jumpsuits and black hoods and others holding signs condemning Trump’s policy.

The camp at Guantanamo has been a place of torture and other gross human rights abuses. It continues to imprison 41 men — including 26 held without charge or trial and 5 whom the US government had already cleared for release. Trump’s policy also freezes any releases from the prison and orders that new captives can be brought there.

Guantanamo remains a blight on the US Constitution, the rule of law and basic democratic values. Trump’s policy, as challenged in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, is based in his well-documented racism and Islamophobia.

“Trump’s Executive Order brings us back to the darkest days of the Bush administration, when lawlessness and cruelty ruled,” says Jeremy Varon, an organizer with Witness Against Torture from Brooklyn. “President Trump is an anti-Muslim bigot, pro-torture, and favors keeping a torture prison open forever,” says Maha Hilal of the Justice for Muslims Collective. “With the Guantanamo policy, New Yorkers and the peoples of the world now have another reason to loathe this terrible leader.”

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Day 4,5 Update – 16 years of Guantanamo

Fast for Justice 2018 // Film

January 11-12, 2018

Rally and Action marking 16 years of Guantanamo
“Forty-one hearts still beat in Guantanamo prison cells. That’s forty-one too many,” writes Kathy Kelly in The Progressive on January 11th, the 16th anniversary of the prison.

Marking that sad anniversary, we gathered once again along with 15 coalition organizations for a rally at the White House to call for the closure of Guantanamo and an end to torture and Islamophobia.  Read Witness Against Torture’s press release about the rally and arrests that followed.  For photos from the rally and WAT action, please see our Flickr page.  AJ+ did an excellent, short video about the event.

WAT member Mike Fiala writes about the action and arrests and reflects on the ritual we incorporated.  Following his reflection is another written by Lu Aya Nephew.


 

J11 Action Reflection:  A cup of tea
by Mike Fiala

It moves fast here with Witness against Torture, though not our fast from food – that languishes like waves lapping on Lake Erie.

We continue fasting though most of our actions are completed for the week. Continuing the fast is a way to keep remembering the men in Guantanamo. Just because we have accomplished something this week with our witness, they are still there, another day, and another day.

SO, the news here:
5 people from WAT were arrested at the Jan 11th action in front of the White House.
5 Muslim men have been cleared for release and remain in Guantanamo.

Solidarity. FIVE.
Of 41.

Ridah Bin Saleh Al-Yazidi (Tunisia) – Detained for 15 years; Cleared for 10 years
Muieen Adeen Al-Sattar (United Arab Emirates) – Detained for 15 years; cleared for 7 years
Tawfiq Nasir Awad Al-Bihani (Saudi Arabia) – Detained for 14 Years;  Cleared for 7 years
Abdul Latif Nasir (Morocco) –  Detained for 15 Years; Cleared for 1 year
Sufyian Barhoumi (Algeria) – Detained for 15 Years;  Cleared for 1 year

The five from WAT,  Ken Jones, Manijeh Saba, Helen Schietinger, Beth Adams,  and Brian Terrell, were arrested by the Secret Service after they crossed a police line, and were then handed over to the DC police.  It now appears that even walking on to Pennsylvania Avenue which runs in front of the White House and across from Lafayette Park, can get you arrested.  Yellow police tape is ready to be rolled out frequently around Pennsylvania Avenue.

At the rally at the White House Jan 11th for the men in Guantanamo, one lawyer shared a letter, message, from her client in Guantanamo. He appreciated our work and effort at support and solidarity. He indicated the importance of it to him, and others there.

The strength of WAT’s nonviolent actions is to use our bodies as the way to connect with the men in Guantanamo. If they are fasting, we must be. If they are imprisoned, we must be too.

And so, when you imagine the beauty of them being released, you imagine what it would be for them to come home to their families.

It is among the ordinary things that families do: to serve tea. It’s the essence of refreshment of friendship. warmth and commensality.

So, after the rally, with speakers addressing the awful injustice done to these men with their continued imprisonment, we had a tea ceremony as though they were returning home.

Each of us from WAT in our orange jumpsuits with black hoods received tea in a cup. We pushed up our black hood at the offer of tea to reveal a person under the hood, and we were served tea, with each man’s name still in Guantanamo called out.

Then we placed our cup, with the man’s name penned on it, on the sidewalk at Lafayette Park, in a row. 41 for the 41 men.

Simple acts, simple hospitality. It is the core of being human.

The men in Guanatanamo, their simple humanity, remembered and called out that they may be released to return to their families, to provide for them, to love them, to eat and drink with them.  We sang with passion:

We hear a beautiful sound
It is the breaking of chains.
We see a path full of hope
We have found the way
Let them go home!
Let them go home!
Let them go home!
Let them go today.

And we could see/believe it happening if only for a moment, in hope. It will happen. It’s hard to trust. To trust that the arc of the universe bends towards justice.

So we do something with our bodies to give it a push, to em-body it before it happens. It will be. It will.

So, what kind of tea would you serve the men in Guantanamo when they come home?  If/when they come to your home?
And would you fear it, its fierce reality?
What kind of tea did we serve in preparation for their homecoming?


WHOSE AIR?
Reflection by Lu Aya, fka Luke Nephew
January 11 th, 2018

Martin wants to know who owns Pennsylvania Avenue. Fair question. Because
after a procession flowed into a speak out that sang into a ritual of remembrance,
something happened. Five friends slowly turned around and stepped off the
sidewalk and peacefully and strongly walked under the police tape and out into that
very avenue. And then…
Well, let’s go back to the mourning in the morning.
The church basement. The imperfect circle. The solemn song.
Actually, let’s go back to the slaughter of human rights that is occurring during each
second of the day a few miles away in DC Jail and a few hundred miles away in
Guantanamo and in so many more prisons. Let’s return to the breath of the tortured.
The unheard words upon their tongues. The forty-one beating hearts in their chest.
Yes. Let’s return to them.
Wait.
Let’s stay here for a moment.
Right here. Heart. Beat beat. Heart. Breath. Breath. Breath.
Breathe.
Yes.
Let’s stay there.
Even as we go on.
Knowing that the air there is the same air as we breathed here. In and out. Slowly as
we stare across the circle in the church basement. Slowly as we step by step by step
sweeping through the streets of DC with our long line of loved ones. Single file. In
orange jumpsuits and black hoods. Detainees forward. Into a city of fear. Through
the capitol of crushing callous capitalist brick and stone and cold. Let us return to
where we hold a sign saying, “It Would Take A Genius To Close Guantanamo”. Let us
break the park department rules and fill the sidewalk while the park police freak out
over nothing. Lets remain calm. Let’s begin the rally with song. Lets go back to the
faith leaders praying, that comfort may never seduce us away from the struggle for
liberation. And let’s back to the booming voices of comrades catapulting beautiful
cries for justice and freedom in the sky of all those listening. Lets go to the tea
poured
Cup,
By cup
By cup
By 41 cups
That rose up higher and realer and wider than the white house.
And let’s go now
To our family
Who were arrested
For walking
Onto Pennsylvania Ave
And realizing that maybe the streets are actually theirs…

But the air.
The air, my beloved friends,
The air
Is definitely
Ours.


CCR files first major challenge to Trump’s Guantanamo policies
From the Center for Constitutional Rights:

On January 11, CCR and co-counsel filed the first major challenge to Trump’s Guantánamo policies, in federal court in Washington, DC. This collective filing is on behalf of nearly a dozen prisoners who are detained without charge, all for more than a decade. In this court filing, we argue that the petitioners’ perpetual detentions violate the Constitution and the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), and ask the court to intervene on behalf of the men who have been deemed “forever prisoners.”

Media coverage
The following links give media coverage on the CCR legal challenge and the J11 anniversary:

Statement by Sen. Feinstein
Op-ed by Sharqawi Al Hajjj
Baher Azmy on Slate
Aziz Huq on Guardian
Steve Vladeck on CNN.com
Laura Pitter/HRW on HuffPo
AP
Buzzfeed
The Guardian
Washington Post
McClatchy
AlterNet
HuffPo (news article)


On Friday, WAT members traveled to Baltimore for the opening rally of the Conference on U.S. Foreign Military Bases, organized by the U.S. Coalition Against Foreign Military Bases.  Sr. Paulette Schroeder reports back:

Today A group of us had a real desire to travel from D.C. to Baltimore for a rally against the U.S now having close to 800 military bases around the world. The first people to congregate were three well-dressed men from Nepal who will be speakers in the conference to follow on Saturday and Sunday.  Folks representing Japan were there. Demonstrators from Code Pink and “No War,” Our Buddhist monk friends, NCNR and many more peace organizations were represented. Witness Against Torture also spoke up urging our country to finally close the base we’ve been fasting to close all week long.  A beautiful sense of solidarity pervaded the crowd of about 50 people. Longtime activists in the anti-war movement stood in hope and endurance beside young people entering activism.


This weekend we finish our week-long Fast for Justice with a WAT community retreat ending with a fast-breaking dinner celebration.  We offer our readers deep gratitude for accompanying us on this week’s journey.

We close with a poem by Towfiq Bihani, a Guantanamo detainee represented by Reprieve.

Go everywhere you would like my darling.
Don’t look behind.
Don’t fear the sight.
Live in happiness.
In gladness.
Sing as loud as you can,
Dance as much as you would like.
Enjoy all the fun you can.
My darling, forget your past.
And go ahead to start,
A new way, another way
Don’t look back on yesterday
Don’t feel sorry about me,
Or even worry about me
Don’t think who you left behind
Go everywhere you would like
Don’t look behind

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Press Release: Rally and Arrests at the White House to Close Guantanamo

Fast for Justice 2018 // Film

January 11, 2018
For immediate release

Contact: Jeremy Varon, 732-979-3119; Josie Setzler, 419-559-3759

Rally and Arrests at the White House to Close Guantanamo
Attorneys Files Major New Guantanamo Lawsuits

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Human rights activists, attorneys, ex-military investigators, faith leaders, and torture survivors rallied today at the White House to mark the 16th year of the operation of the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where “war on terror” detainees were first brought in 2002. Five people — Beth Adams, Ken Jones, Manijeh Saba, Helen Schietinger, and Brian Terrell — were arrested at the White House, representing the five men still held at Guantanamo despite being cleared for release by the US government years ago.

Thirty-six other men remain at the island prison, most of whom have never been charged with any crime. Earlier in the day the Center for Constitutional Rights filed in federal court a major new lawsuit — the first under the Trump administration — challenging the legality of arbitrary and indefinite detention at Guantanamo.

The rally speakers blasted the existence of Guantanamo as a terrible experiment in lawlessness and torture, driven by hateful suspicion of Muslims as agents of violence. In tones mournful and angry, they called for the prison to close immediately and for those who designed and executed torture policies to be held to account. Sharp words for reserved for Donald Trump, who has threatened to bring new men to Guantanamo and to bring back torture methods such as waterboarding.

Maha Hilal of Muslims for Justice and Witness Against Torture spoke out against the growing climate of Islamophobia, which has deprived Muslims of basic rights, in Guantanamo and in the United States.  Attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represents men currently held in Guantanamo, read a statement from one of her clients testifying to the importance of rallies like this in showing the world that the men at Guantanamo are not forgotten.

Mark Fallon, the former lead Navy investigator first responsible for building cases against the 9-11 perpetrators, recited at the rally his military oath to uphold the US Constitution.  Author of a new book detailing CIA torture, Fallon said that loyalty to the Constitution requires that he work to expose and end torture and to close Guantanamo. Terry Rockefeller from September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows test inveighed against the Military Commissions as a sham system of justice that has mangled the rule of law in its failed bid to provide closure for the families of 9-11 victims. The five activists were arrested for breaching a police line outside the White House.

At the National Press Club that morning, attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights announced the filing of new litigation on behalf of eleven men held at Guantanamo. The lawsuit seeks relief from the courts, given the stated decision of the Trump administration not to release any men from Guantanamo, no matter the security determinations of the US government and the particulars of their cases. This policy, the lawsuit argues, makes the detentions at Guantanamo wholly arbitrary, based in President Trumps avowed hatred of Muslim and wish to deprive them of rights. The lawsuit also mounts a new challenge to the legality of indefinite wartime detention, arguing that the hostilities following September 11 are now over, removing legal rationale for continued imprisonment at Guantanamo. The filing has already  been reported on in major media, including The Washington Post and CNN.

All those at the rally pledged to continue to do their work to close Guantanamo and end US torture.

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Day 3 Fast for Justice: We grieve

Fast for Justice 2018 // Film

 

In the dark times shall there be singing?

Yes.
There will be singing about the dark times.

–Bertolt Brecht

Day 3 Update – January 10, 2011

Friends,

Wednesday afternoon, we began a ceremony of grieving at the Museum of Native American History Museum, with the song:

‘Earth, my body; water, my blood; air, my breath, fire, my spirit.’

We then processed, singing and carrying flowers, to the Senate Park where the largest immigration support rally occurred just a month ago.

We remembered the long history of violence and oppression in the US and our hopes, from ending Islamophobia to ‘justice for the hills and rivers’.

Even this week we hear in the news more stories of violence intensifying: the loss of protective status for Salvadoran refugees and, that very afternoon, immigration raids on dozens of convenience stores.

Wise leaders among us sense that grieving is fundamental to the emotional life of nonviolence, as John Dear tells us in a passage read for our ritual.

We need to make grief a regular part of our daily meditation.  Grief needs to become a way of life for us.  For the millions of impoverished people in the world –from El Salvador to Chile to Malawi to South Africa to India and the Philippines–this is an old lesson.  The indigenous peoples of the world have long practiced grief.  But wealthy first world people, especially North Americans, do not know how to grieve.  We presume this is a morbid practice.  In fact, it is a way toward healing and comfort, as those who care for the human family and the earth show us.

The practice of grief allows the compassion within us to breathe and stretch, and the possibilities of universal love to grow within and among us.  If we learn to grieve regularly, we will awaken to our common humanity, expand our hearts, widen our compassion, and discover new horizons of peace.

For some the grief was personal, raw and recent.  Afterwards, one member remarked that the ritual helped her fold her personal loss into the suffering outside our doors and borders.  Our breaking hearts are strengthened for the work.

We ended with a litany:  We are grieving, we are sorry, let us hope.  You may find the litany at the end of this message.


There Is a Man Under That Hood:  book launch
Wednesday evening, at the Impact Hub down the street we held a book launch event.  WAT’s new book, There is a Man Under That Hood, features Luke Nephew’s poem by the same name, accompanied by photos taken or curated by Justin Norman.  The afterword is written by Omar Farah, staff attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights.

Many of you will remember Luke’s spoken word performance of the title poem in front of the DOJ on a snowy, cold J11 in 2011.  See it again at this link.

The book’s arresting photos provide us with a moving record of our work over the years.  As Omar Farah writes in the books afterword:

WAT has been fearless in giving voice to the prisoners’ lived experiences.  WAT has honored the prisoners’ humanity, even when the government cynically vilified them, and it has unflinchingly stood as witness to their suffering, even when the world’s attention turned away.

Learn more and order a copy at this link.


Yet another J11
It’s early in the morning on January 11th, as we write this message.  Can it be yet another J11 that we must come together?  Today we mark 16 years since the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo.  We join with a coalition of 15 organizations to rally at the White House at 11:30 am.

At 9:30 this morning,  CCR will be livestreaming a morning press conference from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where they will announce a significant new filing challenging Guantánamo under Trump.

At 2:30 this afternoon, a panel entitled Guantanamo Under Trump, moderated by Peter Bergen, will take place at New America, 740 15th St., NW, Suite 900.  Featured speakers will be Andy Worthington, Karen Greenberg, and Thomas Wilner.


In closing, we offer you the litany we used in Wednesday’s grieving ritual.  Together may we find strength for this journey.

A Litany:  We are mourning. We are sorry. Let us hope

Response: We are mourning

From the arrogance of power….
From the tyranny of greed
From the politics of hypocrisy
From the addiction of control
From the idolatry of national security
From the cancer of hatred
From the hysteria of nationalism
From the sin of racism
From the sin of sexism
From the sin of torture
From the sin of war
From the waste and preparation of war

Response:  We are sorry.

For our hardness of the heart….
For wasting our gifts
For wanting too much
For wounding the earth
For ignoring the poor
For trusting in weapons
For refusing to listen
For exporting arms
For desiring dominance
For lacking humility
For failing to risk
For failing to trust
For failing to act
For failing to hope
For failing to love
For failing to negotiate
For our arrogance
For our impatience
For our pride
For our silence

Response: Let us hope

That we learn compassion…
That we embrace nonviolence
That we act in justice
That we live in hope
That we do your will
That we love our enemies
That we strive to be peacemakers
That we live simply
That we practice sharing
That we protect the earth
That we cherish all life

 

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Day 2 Update: Solidarity

Fast for Justice 2018 // Film

Day 2 – Jan. 9, 2018

Greetings to all of you who accompany us during our Fast for Justice this week–

Monday’s work in community led to two actions expressing our solidarity with prisoners beyond the shores of Guantanamo Bay.  Marc introduces us to this vision.  We then share word from both those actions as well as our experience with author Marc Fallon (Unjustifiable Means) in the evening.  Read on, friends…if you’re in DC, please join us for our book launch and performance tonight on the eve of the J11 rally!

Opening reflection by Marc Alvarado
Coming from a position of some privilege, I am able to spend most of my time volunteering at the InterReligious Task Force on Central America, based in Cleveland, Ohio. At IRTF, we often speak of the need to connect our regional focus (human rights violations in Central America and Colombia) to other areas of the world where these same violations take place. As such, we speak out against the atrocity at Standing Rock, while the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras have also been defending (and dying for) their sacred water sources for years. As we condemn the militarized Mexico/U.S. border, we also condemn border walls imposed on the Palestinian people. We denounce the exploitation of labor in Central America, knowing that sweatshops exist in China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam to bring cheap t-shirts and ties (I’m looking at you, Mr. President) to U.S. shores.

And as we in Witness Against Torture work to uplift the forty-one men remaining in Guantanamo, so must we call attention to clandestine prisons and torture sites in the United Arab Emirates, while also opening our hearts to victims of mass incarceration in the United States. On this second day of the Fast, we held vigil outside of the DC Jail in the morning, before demonstrating at the UAE Embassy this afternoon.

We do this because it is a beautiful and necessary thing to recognize the humanity of all people, wherever they may be, whether they be caged or free.


A visit to the women prisoners at the Central Detention Facility in DC
by Chris SpicerHankle
The Stadium and Armory Station metro stop leads to the other Washington. In plain clothes fifteen WAT members entered the 10.2 acre compound. As half of us robed in orange, looking up at thin fortress windows we glimpsed waving on the fourth floor, an inmate clad likewise. She waved for a minute before disappearing. “Just wait” said Cleveland-based Freeman “the word will spread.”

We sang: The walls that they build / to tear us apart/ will never be as strong as/ the walls of our heart.  Soon five more appeared waving, and at another window with a quick-made Thank You sign.

The song that made my tears fall:I am not afraid/ I am not afraid/ I will live for liberation/ ‘cause I know why I was made.

The eight-story cement jail was successfully litigated for overpopulation and abuses beginning in 1971 Campbell v. McGruder. The practice of double-celling was halted in 1985 until conditions improved.A March 2016 report decries the conditions faced by women in the facility (The women average age 39 years; 90% black, 5% Hispanic, 3% white). One hour of recreation per day. No email or video visitation is available at CTF. CTF does not offer family days or any related events. D.C. women who give birth during incarceration are separated from the child immediately after birth.  Of the 2723 women incarcerated at CTF 2011-2014, 245 women were pregnant. Eleven of these women gave birth while incarcerated.

As we left the facility grounds we sang.  I have not/ come here alone/ my sister is locked up in a cell/ so how can we not rebel/ As long as these prisons exist/ we’re gonna be here to resist.


WAT’s Presence at the United Arab Emirates Embassy
by Kathy Kelly

“We write with great concern about reports of UAE officials maintaining clandestine prisons in Yemen,” states a letter that Witness Against Torture wrote to Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States. On Day 2 of the Witness Against Torture fast, members of the group attempted to deliver the letter to Ambassador Otaiba. Security Guards declined to accept the letter, but Brian Terrell observed that while addressed to the Ambassador, it was meant for a broader audience.

Witness Against Torture wants to raise widespread public concern over reports of Yemeni prisoners being arbitrarily detained, tortured and sometimes disappeared in a network of 18 secret prisons in southern Yemen.

Already, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have corroborated The Associated Press report published on June 22, 2017 which charges that officials from the United Arab Emirates operate the prisons and subject detainees to gruesome torture.

Many people living in Yemen have already endured unimaginable suffering over the past three years. Saudi-led coalition bombers, supported by the U.S. regularly attack civilians with weapons sold by U.S. military contractors; residents of cities and towns risk being shelled by mortars or killed by snipers from both sides of a civil war; and, UN officials have identified one million people with cholera and warn that 8 million Yemenis face conflict-driven famine in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Adding to the nightmarish conditions afflicting Yemeni people are fears of being imprisoned, tortured and possibly disappeared in a secret prison.  The AP report noted that Amnesty International called for a U.N.-led investigation “into the UAE’s and other parties’ role in setting up this horrific network of torture” and into allegations the U.S. interrogated detainees or received information possibly obtained from torture. “It would be a stretch to believe the US did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” said Amnesty’s director of research in the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf.

“We feel particularly responsible to confront the U.S. government’s involvement in torture,” the WAT letter continues. “It’s alleged that U.S. interrogators have been present in Yemen and, while not inside the chambers where people have been tortured, U.S. officials have possibly interrogated people who have been subjected to torture.”

An estimated 2000 people in Yemen have claimed that their loved ones have disappeared.

Wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods, WAT members formed a line in front of the United Arab Emirates Embassy, bearing placards reflecting questions asked in their letter: “How specifically does the government of the United Arab Emirates respond to each of the allegations made in the June 22nd, 2017 AP report? What information can you offer regarding the presence of U.S. interrogators who acknowledge having been in Yemen to conduct interrogations? How has the UAE government responded to the families and lawyers who claim that an estimated 2000 people in Yemen have disappeared?

WAT encourages its members to help amplify Yemenis voices, as fears and grievances are raised, through education, outreach, publicity and ongoing demonstrations.  Please see the following links for our press release and letter.

Press release:  WAT visits UAE embassy with questions about secret prisons and torture in Yemen

WAT letter to the UAE Ambassador


We visited Kramerbooks in the evening, joining a packed room for a presentation by Mark Fallon, author of Unjustifiable MeansChris writes a review of his experience.

Review by Chris Spicer-Hankle

Unjustifiable Means:  The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture
by Mark Fallon

With aching legs I arrive at Kramerbooks two hours early. Handling the book I see that every page has fragments blacked out, a page front and back, a paragraph, a single word. Multiple direct objects are reduced to just one: the interrogation training was received at Fort Bragg and…. Interrogation training—read torture training. Compared to Mohammadu Ould Slahi’s book–held in CIA archives for ten years, censored pages notwithstanding–the effect is not as sincere. No mention of WAT partners Amnesty or CCR in the acknowledgements. A chapter named ‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom’ makes no mention of the 2004 conscience-searing play by that name. The book closes at “this writing” with 41 detainees and an ongoing price of detention at 11 million per prisoner.

Fallon concludes war crimes were committed at GITMO and practices passed back and forth between Guantanamo and Bagram, each using the other as justification. In 2009, Karen Greenberg documented the instances of procedure copy from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib–here it’s boiled down without citation: “Miller and his team wanted to build a ‘miniature Guantanamo Bay’ at Abu Ghraib prison” (146). Greenberg’s work The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First One Hundred Days gave an account of prisoners organizing non-cooperation which escalated to hunger strikes, depicting General Lehnert sitting face to face on the ground with detainees in resolution. While Fallon had visited the Guantanamo prison as a consultant he offers a thin description. Detainees had grounds to rebel. After compelling accounts by Moazzam Begg and Mohammadu Ould Slahi, Mark Fallon’s lacks dramatic narrative, the feel of language. His “Inside story” is decidedly uninterested in human interest, as far as the detainees are concerned. I look up longingly at a new Don Dellilo book, shake my head at the copacetic How to Survive during Trump, and am almost dizzy at the competition for a book that flies in the face of Trump’s belief “torture works…we should go much stronger than waterboarding.”

Thus, preparing to meet the author with gratitude and a few searching questions, I plunk down the overpriced $27.11. After an hour I am acquainted with the gradient transition of Guantanamo in 2002 under the care of General Lehnert, the control of General Dunlavy and then the honor of General Miller. “By the summer of 2002” said Fallon at Kramerbooks, “the damage had been done.” I’m left with the sad fact Fallon acts much like the retired intelligence agent of the 1970s seeking to turn experience into value.


Today’s work (Wednesday) will include an afternoon grieving procession and ritual as well as our evening book launch at Impact Hub.  Learn more about our book here.

Deep gratitude for your solidarity, friends.
The WAT community

***If you’d like to receive daily updates from this week’s Fast for Justice, please send an e-mail with “fast updates” in the subject to witnesstorture@gmail.com.

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Please consider a donation to help fund our annual Fast for Justice this January.  We are completely volunteer driven and run. We have no paid staff; all of the money you donate goes to funding the work we do together. We are fiscally sponsored by the Washington Peace Center. The Washington Peace Center is a verified US-registered non profit. If you are able, click here to donate.

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Press release: WAT seeks answers from UAE on torture and secret prisons in Yemen

Uncategorized // Film

Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: witnesstorture@gmail.com

January 9, 2017

Witness Against Torture (WAT) Seeks UAE Response to Allegations that the UAE runs a network of secret prisons in southern Yemen where “abuse is routine and torture extreme.”

On January 9, 2018, WAT members demonstrated in front of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. They tried to deliver a letter to UAE Ambassador Yusuf Al Otaiba, raising questions based on a June 22, 2017 AP report which documented 18 secret prisons in Southern Yemen where detainees were subjected to extreme forms of torture, which include being trussed to a grill called “the grill” that rotated over an open fire. “2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons,” the AP report says, “a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.”

Also released on June 22, 2017 was a Human Rights Watch report which accuses the UAE of supporting Yemeni forces that have “arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured and abused dozens of people during security operations.”

One of the main detention complexes is at Riyan Airport in Yemen’s southern city of Mukalla. Former detainees, speaking on condition of anonymity, told of “being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the ‘grill,’ and sexually assaulted.

A member of the Hadramawt Elite a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, said that American forces were at times only yards away.

The AP report notes that Amnesty International has called for a U.N.-led investigation “into the UAE’s and other parties’ role in setting up this horrific network of torture” and into allegations the U.S. interrogated detainees or received information possibly obtained from torture. “It would be a stretch to believe the US did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” said Amnesty’s director of research in the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf.

*  *  *  *

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Letter to the UAE Ambassador protesting secret prisons and torture in Yemen

Uncategorized // Film

Witness Against Torture
Washington, D.C.
www.witnessagainsttorture.com
general information: Matt Daloisio daloisio@riseup.net

Embassy of the United Arab Emirates
Attn: His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador
Washington, D.C.

January 9, 2018

Your Excellency,

We write with great concern about reports of UAE officials maintaining clandestine prisons in Yemen. The June 22nd AP report which so deeply troubles us described gruesome tortures happening inside the secret prisons.

We want to write a word about ourselves. We are a group of people who have campaigned since 2005 to close Guantanamo and end forever any use of torture. Our group is called Witness Against Torture. We feel particularly responsible to confront the U.S. government’s involvement in torture. It’s alleged that U.S. interrogators have been present in Yemen and, while not inside the chambers where people have been
tortured, U.S. officials have possibly interrogated people who have been subjected to torture.

Within Yemen, stories about torture and disappearance of prisoners must have an extremely chilling effect on any individuals or groups who would attempt to demonstrate on behalf of their loved ones who have disappeared and who fear that their loved ones have been tortured.

Recognizing that it would be quite difficult for Yemeni people to reach your Embassy here in the U.S., we are assembling here today to raise questions: How specifically does the government of the United Arab Emirates respond to each of the allegations made in the June 22nd, 2017 AP report? What information can you offer regarding the presence of U.S. interrogators who acknowledge having been in Yemen? How has the government of the United Arab Emirates responded to the estimated 2000 people in Yemen who have claimed that their loved ones have disappeared?

Recognizing that the UN regards the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the worst in the world, as people face conflict-driven famine and disease, we feel increasing urgency to alleviate the suffering people face and help abolish any networks of clandestine prisons and any usage of torture by any of the warring parties.

Sincerely,
Members of Witness Against Torture fasting in Washington, D.C.

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Day 1 WAT’s Fast for Justice begins

Fast for Justice 2018 // Film

Day 1 January 7,8 -The witness begins

***Please let us know if you would like to receive daily updates from the fast by sending an e-mail with “fast updates” in the subject to witnesstorture@gmail.com.

Witness Against Torture members began assembling in Washington, D.C. on Sunday evening, January 7. Matt Daloisio and Luke Nephew arrived in a van that Matt had carefully packed with twelve years worth of posters, banners, and other paraphernalia, along with sleeping bags, pillows, cups, winter clothing and other essentials for a week of fasting intended to close Guantanamo and abolish torture forever.

Matt spent close to an hour organizing the equipment and the posters. “He curates it,” said Josie Setzler, recognizing that Matt alone seems to know what is packed in every box and stored at the Maryhouse Catholic Worker.  He organized a wall of past posters and flyers that offers a montage of WAT history.

In an opening circle reflection, Matt noted that many of the prisoners whose visages and names appeared on banners over the years have been released. In 2007, there were 430 prisoners in Guantanamo. Today, 41 men are imprisoned there. Matt mentioned that Shaker Aamer has been reunited with the son whom he had never met while imprisoned in Guantanamo. Mohammed Ould Slahi, author of Guantanamo Diary, has finally been released. These encouraging realities don’t in the slightest diminish the urgency we feel in seeking the release of the 41 men still imprisoned in Guantanamo. Yet our sense of renewed purpose was heightened as Matt “curated” the stage, setting the scene for actions this week.


Early Monday morning, we met members of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker at the Pentagon for their weekly vigil.  Art Laffin led us in the following Call and Response, as we greeted Pentagon workers hurrying into the building.  His words movingly framed our week’s work.

Pentagon DDCW-WAT Vigil Statement/Litany by Art Laffin—January 8, 2018

Good Morning. We greet all Pentagon workers and police in a spirit of peace and nonviolence. We, members of the Dorothy Day CW and Witness Against Torture (WAT), come to the Pentagon, the center of warmaking on our planet, to say YES to life, love and justice, and NO to the death-dealing policies of a warmaking empire. God calls us to love our neighbor and to never mistreat, torture, kill and wage war against them. We witness in the hope that the Pentagon will one day be transformed into a center that serves life, not death!
Response: Torture is a Crime, Close Guantanamo Now!

WAT formed in 2005 when 25 Catholic Workers and other peacemakers from the U.S. went to Guantánamo Bay and attempted to visit the detention facility. For the last 12 years members of WAT have fasted and engaged in numerous nonviolent actions to call for the closing of Guantanamo. Today is the first day of WAT’s week-long “Fast for Justice” to mark the 16th year of the first prisoners being taken to Guantanamo on January 11, 2002. We call for the closing of Guantanamo, and for an end to the crime of torture and indefinite detention.
Response:  Torture is a Crime, Close Guantanamo Now!

We remember and pray for all victims of U.S. torture and warmaking, including the 9 men who have died at Guantanamo since its opening. Adnan Latif was one of these men who have been all but forgotten. Latif, who spent more than ten years in Guantanamo without ever being charged with a crime, would often go on a hunger strike to protest his unjust confinement. A Yemeni citizen, poet, father and husband, Latif was subject to severe beatings, druggings and torture. He had been cleared for release at least four separate times, yet continued to be imprisoned. On September 8, 2012, Latif was found dead in his cell. No independent investigation has been conducted into his death. We call for an independent investigation into the death of Latif and the other eight who died at Guantanamo! Before he died Latif wrote the following words: “Where is the world to save us from torture?” Adnan Latif: we and many others hear your cry and that is why we are here today!
Response:  Torture is a Crime, Close Guantanamo Now!

The U.S. Senate Select Committee Intelligence Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program was released on December 9, 2014. The report details actions by CIA officials, including torturing prisoners, providing misleading or false information about classified CIA programs to the media, impeding government oversight and internal criticism, and mismanaging the program. It also revealed the existence of previously unknown detainees, that more detainees were subjected to harsher treatment than was previously disclosed, and that more forms of torture were used than previously disclosed. We call for accountability for the entire chain of command who are responsible for carrying out torture, including those who, ordered, perpetrated, approved and provided legal cover for the torture of detainees. In the name of the detainees who continue to be unjustly held at Guantanamo, we call on all who work at the Pentagon to implore President Trump to issue an executive order to close Guantanamo immediately!
Response:  Torture is a Crime, Close Guantanamo Now!

Today, 41 men continue to languish at Guantanamo enduring tortuous brutal confinement, most for the last 16 years, never knowing their fate, with no resolution to their cases in sight. We need to see these men as members’ of our own blood family and act on their behalf.
Response:   Torture is a Crime, Close Guantanamo Now!

In today’s scripture in the Catholic lectionary, the prophet Isaiah declares: “I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice…to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” (Is. 42: 6-7) What if we were to live as though this biblical mandate was a Divine summons for us to act on here and now, today? Now is the time to end the sin of torture and to proclaim liberty to the captives!
Response: Torture is a Crime, Close Guantanamo Now!

Please join us as we commit to resisting Islamophobia and all forms of oppression, and eradicating what Dr. King called the “triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism.”  Together, let us strive to create the Beloved Community!


Lu Aya (Luke) Nephew offers the following poetic reflection on our experience.

The Pentagon, Sunrise
It’s the darkest hour as we levitate out of the metro. Then a golden splash licks our eyes as we rise up.  We float across the sidewalk.  We glide into position. Swoosh.  We in formation.  Face to face with the mansion of murder.  Our eyes stare in unison.  Our silence faces theirs. Our presence flourishes up into song.  Their alibis dissolve into uncomfortable coughs.

Orange jumpsuits bellowing melancholy messages in all kinds of languages at the volume of the breeze through the leaves.  Fierce like that.  Recklessly righteous.  Soaring wing to wing with the heart-filled history of the Dorothy Day Community witnessing the wonders of creation.  Right here. On this very land. This very patch of precious earth that cradles us sweetly in defiance of all the empires ever.  What a sight we are to behold.  Our love so radical it is warming up the cold.

And then guess what happened next?

The miracles of human life that are currently confined in the tragedy of working in the pentagon begin to pass by the natural temple of our tableau.

And turns out –  they don’t see the scene I described.

They see a bunch of beating hearts wearing activist uniforms doing activist things.

And you know what?

We couldn’t quite see ourselves in the true light of the sunrise either…

We saw ourselves as tired workers, stumbling out of sleep into the freezing cold and bumbling with a bunch of signs.    Unable to untangle the mic chord or unfold the banner or take the echo out the amplifier. We saw ourselves fumbling into a good try.  A valiant effort. A good intention.  But actually.  Get this… we kinda loved each for it. and we kinda really deeply loved our families and friends and the detainees and their families and their friends and all the other families and friends. We kinda loved. A little bit.

And that little bit of love was a smooth stone deep in the forest that reminds the weary traveler of the path back home.

And without realizing that we had just reminded each other where to walk while alive, we set off. Together.

In the right direction.

And we might never see what really happened.

Until everyone. everyone gets home.

And from there

From home… a golden splash licks our eyes as we rise up.


Khalid Qassim
At the Pentagon Chris Spicer-Hankle lifted up the name of Khalid Qassim, a Yemeni detainee still at Guantanamo.  Later in the morning we received a message from Khalid’s attorney at Reprieve.  She sent us images of  Khalid’s moving artwork from the exhibit Ode to the Sea at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York until January 26, 2018.  See these images on our Facebook page.  Read Khalid’s bio on the Reprieve website.


Monday turned into a rainy day in DC, a perfect day to work hard on our action planning.  Please stay tuned this week as our actions unfold.  We offer you our heartfelt gratitude for sharing this journey in solidarity with the men in Guantanamo and prisoners everywhere.


Witness Against Torture on Social Media:

Please “like” us on Facebook & follow us on Twitter & Instagram.

Post any pictures of your local activities to our Flickr account and we will help spread the word.

Donate to support our work:

Witness Against Torture is completely volunteer driven and run. We have no paid staff, but do have expenses associated with our organizing work. If you are able, click here to donate.

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Week of Actions: Closing Guantanamo, Ending Torture

Fast for Justice 2018 // Film

We invite you to join Witness Against Torture and partner organizations for a series of events in Washington, DC, calling for closing Guantanamo and ending torture.  Highlights include:

Tuesday, January 9th, 6:30 pm
UNJUSTIFIABLE MEANS BY MARK FALLON
Kramer Books, 1517 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036

“President Trump wants to bring back torture. This is why he’s wrong…In Unjustifiable Means, Fallon reveals this dark side of the United States government, which threw our own laws and international covenants aside to become a nation that tortured—sanctioned by the highest-ranking members of the Bush Administration, the Army, and the CIA, many of whom still hold government positions, although none have been held accountable.”  –kramers.com

Wednesday, January 10th, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
THERE IS A MAN UNDER THAT HOOD: CLOSING GUANTANAMO AND ENDING TORTURE
Impact Hub, 419 7th St., NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20004
PEACE POETS – ANDY WORTHINGTON – ALIYA HUSSAIN – BOOK LAUNCH
Sponsored by Witness Against Torture & Center for Constitutional Rights

Please join Witness Against Torture, the Peace Poets and friends for a book launch and performance on the eve of our annual January 11 demonstrations against Guantanamo. The book — “There is a Man Under that Hood” — sets the words of Luke Nephew’s (Peace Poets) remarkable poem of that title to images of anti-torture demonstrations: photographs taken or curated by Justin Norman (WAT). The afterword is written by Omar Farah, Senior Staff Attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Thursday, January 11th, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm
RALLY TO CLOSE GUANTANAMO AND STOP TORTURE
White House, Lafayette Square, Washington, DC 20006
Hosted by a coalition of 15 organizations

Please join human rights activists, torture survivors, Guantánamo attorneys, 9-11 family members, ex-military officials, and members of diverse faith communities in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, as they rally to close the prison, end indefinite detention, dismantle Islamophobia, and call for the immediate transfer of the cleared detainees.

Thursday, January 11th, 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm
GUANTANAMO UNDER TRUMP
New America, 740 15th St., NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005
ANDY WORTHINGTON – KAREN GREENBERG – THOMAS B. WILNER – MODERATED BY PETER BERGEN

“What will happen to the prison and its detainees in the remaining years of the Trump administration? Will Donald Trump reverse course and increase the number of detainees held there? Will the prison ever close?”  –newamerica.org


2018 Fast for Justice
Witness Against Torture will be hosting activists for the entire week, Jan. 7 – 14, for its 2018 Fast for Justice.  Click here for the tentative schedule.  For RSVP or further information:  please email witnesstorture@gmail.com.

 

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