When John Yoo was to speak on the George Washington University campus in a debate hosted by the student chapter of the Federalist Society, Anagha Bharadwaj, a GWU law student who joined WAT at the inauguration, needed support from WAT to protest his presence. We immediately put out the call and two days later a trusty band of local activists showed up for the noon debate at the law school, including folks from Code Pink, TASSC, Vets for Peace and the South Korean peace movement. Campus police arrived to inform us that we weren’t allowed to protest on campus: no signs, no picketing, no chanting on their hallowed grounds. But our showing on the public sidewalk in front of the building was articulate.
I am finding it difficult to write this brief reflection from my J11 experience at the Fast for Justice in DC. Not because I have nothing to say, I usually have too many thoughts to keep up with. I struggle with the idea of sharing my perspective. This information isn’t new or special especially to a community who has been witnessing for years. I don’t know nearly enough and am aware that I never will but I am grateful for the chance to continue learning and growing with you all. I want to say my ability to be arrested was a privilege and isn’t deserving of praise. I knew my body would be safe and I would make it out of January 11 alive and essentially unscathed. Emotionally different but nonetheless safe. I am not comfortable with the idea of praise for these actions mainly because our resistance is necessary and urgent. I am grateful to honor what we are doing and our intentions but we must remember there is always much more to be done.
“Freedom should be much more precious for the human being than all the desires on earth and we should never give it up regardless of how expensive the price must be.” -Tariq Ba Odah
I won’t go into detail of why the confirmation of Jeff Sessions’ for the position of essentially the “people’s lawyer” was greatly contested. I am grateful our community at Witness Against Torture was part of that resistance. At that time we knew Sessions was an exemplary “Tough on Crime” candidate with a reprehensible record, including his support of the use of torture. His two day hearing was interrupted by many activists protesting and bringing to light his trail of racist, sexist, and xenophobic sentiments. WAT headed to the hearings on January 11 with a clear message; NO TORTURE SESSIONS.
I woke up on January 11 heavy. I felt grateful to wake up surrounded by community and ready to act but still vigilant in the need to slow down and reflect on what this day meant. 15 years of destruction of human dignity.
I drank my tea from the porcelain cup belonging to Musab Omar Ali. A Yemeni man, captured on September 11, 2002, held without charge for 14 years. (I now know he was transferred to Oman on January 16.) I felt heavy for many reasons but mostly because I knew our fast was an act of solidarity with hunger strikers, but when we are free to eat again they continue to languish and wait in uncertainty.
After breaking our fast and spending time reflecting together the handful of us planning to interrupt congressional hearings headed out. I was given strength knowing there were other actions my WAT family would participate in, simultaneous to our own. They would be taking over the streets and eventually the Hart Senate Building to publicly mourn the 9 men who died while imprisoned at Guantánamo and continue to demand its closure.
We made our way to the building and stand in the rotunda area waiting in line until a group of police lead us up the marble staircase to the hearing room. One police officer almost amusingly asks “you’re not gonna make any trouble are you?” to which our small group gently chuckles and brushes the comment off, and I simply shake my head. Similarly to what people must feel when they see a dozen orange jumpsuits in the streets of DC, my thoughts are jarred by the mundane “business as usual” approach of those who traverse these halls of congress. Their complete disconnect to the consequences their actions have on real live people.
We are led into the hearing room through a pair of massive wooden doors and I immediately hear the voice of Civil Rights Champion John Lewis. I quietly find one of the few open seats scattered throughout the room keeping my eyes on where my friends are able to find seats.
I am nervous and trying to remember my words, the words of the men, and why I am here. I am brought back to the where I am by Lewis, and his words as they ring throughout the room “But we need someone who is gonna stand up, speak up and speak out for the people…” Although this felt like as good of time as any to stand up, I looked around at my fellow WAT members and their eyes didn’t meet mine. I sat patiently.
Next up to speak was former U.S. Marshal Jesse Seroyer, he begins by speaking in support of Sessions and I once again feel the anger boiling. “He’s a good and decent man,” he said, “He believes in law and order for all people.” Again here is this narrative of “good”, the false belief that our country has somehow ever operated under “equal justice for all”. The idea that decency comes from your ability to sign policies of destruction and discrimination, all with a smile on your face. The man finishes speaking and I am at the edge of my seat. I wait for my friend Don to stand up,“Close Gitmo, Stop Torture”, he is calling out as he is removed swiftly from the room. My mind constantly wondering ‘Who are the real troublemakers here?’
As soon as the door closes I stand up shaking, with my anger outweighing my nervousness. Our point is to disrupt as much as possible and not let business continue. I pull out my sign which reads “We The People Must Do More To End War” and start speaking. I am trying to collapse the worlds between people sitting in this room and the human beings I have spent my week focusing on. Human beings sitting in cages. I make sure I am making eye contact with as many people as possible. I couldn’t tell you what I said, the words came out of my mouth and just as soon evaporated from my mind. I know it was about the men and their families, the humanity we refuse to acknowledge.
I am quickly and forcefully pulled through the large wooden doors. My sign is taken from me and the only words my brain catches, as my hands are tightly bound behind my back, are “I thought you told me you weren’t gonna cause any trouble?” My brain is reeling, as it always is when I spend time in places where “Justice” happens.
I am mostly infuriated by the toothless words used to defend evil systems. The banal way people sit behind desks and walls writing policies that will deny dignity and still feel able to claim that they are operating under the values of “liberty and freedom”.
I am taken downstairs where I find Don and we give each other warm glances. I speak freely with my arresting officer, occasionally she responds or nods as she continues to remove all my belongings and pats me down. It is both my first arrest and the first time she has arrested someone. I can tell she is nervous, as she makes comments looking for ways to demonize us and justify her work.
We were put into the back of a van and we waited. My anxiety ebbed and flowed as I am not a fan of tight spaces. I try to collapse the worlds again and refocus on liberation and the men. There is no comparison to my time confined and the suffering these men and so many others have been subjected to. I gently sing some of the songs we have shared throughout the week and they bring me comfort. We sit and wait. Eventually making it to the police station where we are brought inside. I find great comfort in the large group of familiar and loving faces, the festival of resistance. We spend many hours together discussing the actions and passing the time as we are individually processed and booked. Experiences there are ones I hold close and reflect on as I continue to look at the system in both an institutional and interpersonal lens, (there is too much to share on these thoughts for this ‘brief’ reflection.)
I end my day heading back to First Trinity Lutheran Church where I am greeted with love and community. I have similar feelings now to how I began the day: grateful but still vigilant. The real troublemakers continue unscathed while so many under the control of this unmerciful system feel hopeless.
Looking back at Sessions, one of many in the long line of creeps that were confirmed. Our fears about him were sadly, but not surprisingly, true. Most recently, he advised Trump on increasing the population at Guantanamo stating “it’s just a very fine place for holding these kind of dangerous criminals.” The deception and outright lies continue.
The canyons seem to be widening. And the destruction of dignity is raging unabated. It can be hard to get through a day. I am given strength when I think about my time with Witness Against Torture. The necessity of being rooted in the stories, words, and art from the men in Guantanamo are the things which continue to guide me and keep me going. I hold onto the responsibility we each have in creating the world we all deserve. It will take courage to continue but because of all the beautiful resistance I have witnessed I will continue to hope and resist.
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.”
We celebrate the release of ten more men from Guantanamo Bay Prison: Ghaleb Nassar Al Bihani, Mustafa Abd al-Qawi Abd al-Aziz Al-Shamiri, Karim Bostam, Abdul Sahir, Musab Omar Ali Al-Mudwani, Hail Aziz Ahmed Al-Maythali, Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei’i, Mohammed Al-Ansi, Muhammad Ahmad Said Haider, and Walid Said bin Said Zaid. They were released to Oman over the weekend. We were privileged to spend time in D.C. with Ghaleb’s wonderful drawings when we visited the Tea Project’s Exhibit (It is open until Friday at GWU’s Gallery 102).
Thank you for all of your support during Part 1 of our witness in D.C. We had 10 days filled with engaging street theater, liquids only fasting, group discussions and reflections, as well as lots of meetings to shape our daily actions. Please visit our website to see photos and videos of the week, as well as our daily updates and notes from the white supremacy workshop Jerica led. We gathered a few links to articles about our J11 actions here: The Guardian, USNews, UPI, CommonDreams and Fox and Frida wrote a Little Insurrection. Her article really nails our time together during the fast and how we are moving toward Part 2: Inauguration Resistance.
If you are planning on joining WAT for our Inauguration Resistance on January 18-21st, RSVP is required to email@example.com ASAP – we will have limited space so it is specifically reserved for those joining our witness during that time.
Thank you for your continued support. Please keep sharing your local events and news stories with us. We hope to see you in D.C. this weekend!
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Witness Against Torture is completely volunteer driven and run. We have no paid staff, but do have expenses associated with our organizing work. We need your financial support. 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.
Hundreds Demand That Guantánamo Be Shut Down
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
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
No More Guantánamo. No Torture Presidency. No Indefinite Detention
Join Witness Against Torture and our coalition partners on January 11th in Washington DC. for our annual rally to close Guantanamo!
Location: Supreme Court
12:15: March around Senate Buildings.
President Obama has failed in his pledge of eight years ago to close the US detention camp at Guantánamo. Congressional obstacles, misinformation perpetuated in the media, and the president’s own lack of will are all responsible for this policy disaster. Guantánamo remains a living symbol of US torture and other human rights abuses, and a place of misery for the 59 men it still houses. Most of them have never been charged with, let alone tried for, any crime.
In the remaining weeks before he leaves office, President Obama must do what he still can: expedite the release of cleared men and release the full 2014 Senate Torture Report documenting CIA abuses.
Human rights and the United States’ standing in the world face a new danger: the possibility that President-elect Donald Trump will reinstate the use of torture. He has also called for increasing the prison population at Guantánamo.
Statements by Mr. Trump and members of his incoming administration to moderate his past positions offer little assurance that a Trump presidency will reject torture and respect the rule of law. Trump’s blatantly Islamophobic campaign stokes fear of a new era of religious discrimination and other abuses of civil and human rights.
Human rights activists are gathering in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2017 to mark 15 years since the prison at Guantánamo opened. We come to state, in one loud voice, to President-elect Trump:
Torture, discrimination, and indefinite detention are wrong. There are no exceptions. Any attempt to bring back torture or to send new people to Guantánamo will be strongly opposed in the United States and throughout the world. Any effort to persecute Muslims – or any other religious, racial, or ethnic group – through special immigration or surveillance measures is unacceptable.
Mr. Trump must:
- *make clear the absolute rejection of torture, as banned by US and international law
- *continue handling domestic terrorism suspects within the civilian criminal justice system and in accord with the US Constitution
- *continue the policy of transferring men from Guantánamo and work toward the closure of the prison, with its steep moral and financial cost to the United States
We hope Trump will listen to those at all levels of the US government and those around the world who reject torture and want to end the blight of Guantánamo. We also have no illusions about the role that human rights violations and the persecution of Muslims could play in a Trump presidency. More than ever, our vigilance is required.
We also stand together with a plea to the public — to those who have been part of longstanding efforts to oppose torture and close Guantánamo, as well as those new to this cause. We must hold the next administration accountable to the US Constitution, to human rights standards, and to the common-sense decency that guides us.
Please join us for a rally and march to close Guantánamo and end torture and indefinite detention. We will gather at the Supreme Court at 11:30 am on January 11 for a rally and then at 12:15 we will begin a march to the Senate buildings.
Sponsors: Amnesty International USA, The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Constitutional Rights, CloseGuantánamo.org, Code Pink, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Defending Dissent Foundation, Ray McGovern with Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, No More Guantánamos, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, the Torture Abolition and Survivor and Support Coalition, Veterans for Peace, We Stand with Shaker, Witness Against Torture, Women Against Military Madness, World Can’t Wait, and others.
Witness Against Torture is concerned to learn that Donald Trump is already making cabinet picks who are willing to support his campaign calls for “waterboarding and much worse.” Mike Pompeo, his nominee for CIA director, is an open torture supporter, who responded to the Senate intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report by calling CIA participants in the torture program “heroes.” Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions has opposed past anti-torture legislation. National Security Advisor nominee Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn when questioned about waterboarding during the campaign answered that he believes in leaving as many options as possible “on the table right up until the last minute.”
Senator John McCain, however, spoke out against torture at a Nov. 19 conference, 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.”
WAT is delivering a letter to Sen. McCain on Monday to support his stance on torture, offer WAT’s perspective on torture at Guantanamo, and ask him to continue to speak loudly in favor of a zero-tolerance stance against torture. Click here to read the letter.
WAT is VERY concerned about what the president-elect intends to do. JOIN WAT TODAY in calling and writing Senator McCain and your own senators. Demand that your senators join Sen. McCain to oppose this new administration’s stated intentions to “bring back waterboarding” and other forms of torture. Ask them to question Cabinet nominees about their views on torture and oppose nominees who support torture. Thank Senator McCain for his recent refusal to accept Trump’s plan to return to illegal treatment of U.S. captives and tell him to never back down.
US Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121
To support your advocacy, we offer links to the following WAT statements:
- WAT Torture Abolition and Accountability Platform, July 2016
- Six Critical Demands for Closing Guantanamo, February 2016
In this critical transition to the Trump administration, we repeat the call we made earlier this year:
We remind ourselves that Islamophobia is dangerous. It is at the foundation of Guantanamo Bay Prison’s existence and the fuel that carries the violence we see today. We continue to offer our love and support to our Muslim sisters and brothers who will be targeted by violence fostered by hate speech. The work to dismantle racism and xenophobia should be our call.
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:
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
Please note: RSVP is required – email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
WE FAST BECAUSE YOU HUNGER STRIKE. WE STRUGGLE UNTIL YOU LIVE FREE
We come together not only to call for the closure of Guantanamo and its legacy of institutionalizing Islamophobia, but also to invite our government and fellow citizens to choose the side of love, mercy and justice.
We demand an end to policies that maintain racism, mass incarceration, and fear of our neighbors. We come together to envision the world we want to live in where justice and equality reign.
We hope you will join us for a week of actions and fasting from January 3-12, 2017 in Washington, DC and our presence at the presidential inauguration January 19-21.
We will start fasting from the evening of Jan. 3rd and break our fast on January 11 in the morning. If you cannot make it to DC, but are considering fasting during this time – let us know. We will organize a conference call for everyone fasting across the country and we want to include you.
If you can only come for one day, join us for the rally with our coalition partners on January 11th. Location is TBD. We will also engage in creative actions around DC between Jan. 4-12 – contact us if you are interested in participating.
Jan 10 we will host a cultural event in collaboration with the Tea Project – more details coming soon.
We also invite you to join us from afar, to participate in our solidarity actions and to organize actions in your own communities to raise awareness of torture and indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay.
January 8 – Workshop on tear gas use in prisons with War Resisters League – https://www.facebook.com/
January 9 Action with War Resister League : https://www.facebook.com/
You can join us for our annual rally on January 11 at noon at the Ellipse. More information here : https://www.facebook.com/
Jan 10 we will host a cultural event in collaboration with the Tea Project – Space is limited so please RSVP here : https://ccrjustice.org/
For more info and to RSVP, email us: email@example.com.
The latest updates are on our Facebook event page.
Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab, a Guantanamo detainee released with 5 other men to Uruguay in 2014, is continuing a long-term hunger strike in a desperate demand to be allowed to reunite with his family in Turkey. In a thwarted attempt to travel to Turkey this summer he was detained without counsel in Venezuela. When he was returned to Uruguay, he took to his bed and has refused to eat or drink liquids.
To learn more, go to: