Come to DC for WAT’s Fast for Justice: Jan. 7-13, 2020

Campaigns // Film

A week of witness against Guantanamo and all it represents

Witness Against Torture will begin to gather on Tuesday evening, January 7th, to embrace the 40 Muslim men still locked up in Guantanamo and the hundreds of others forever scarred and haunted by the trauma of having been there.  We will remember, we will witness and we will move forward in community with each other.

The highlight will be Saturday, January 11th, with a rally and action marking 18 years since the U.S. landed the first plane full of Muslim men bound for that house of horrors.  We’re also planning an evening concert, a panel addressing mass incarceration, and a showing of Justice for Muslims Collective’s poster display Shattering Justice & Re-Making the Muslim Threat.  We invite you to join us to sing, create, plan, witness, act, fast if you wish, and celebrate our community.  RSVP by emailing witnesstorture@gmail.com:  include your name, phone number and the dates you plan to be there.  We will get back to you with housing and other information.  

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Manijeh Saba Acquitted in Jan 9, 2019 Supreme Court Protest Case

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

March 29, 2019

On March 27, U.S. District Court Judge Deborah A Robinson granted Manijeh Saba’s Motion for Judgment of Acquittal of the charge of illegally protesting on the steps of the Supreme Court on January 9, 2019. She agreed that the government failed to show that Manijeh had violated the statute by bringing into public notice a party, organization or movement.  Judge Robinson went on to explain that although she appeared as one of five holding a sign, the sign did not refer to a party, organization or movement.  The sign read, “We Target, We Torture, We Terrify: Who Are We?”  There was no mention of Guantanamo Bay on her clothing or on the sign or in the words to the song they were singing: “Know where you stand — No More War; Know where you stand and stand there!”

Manijeh’s trial began on March 6.  On March 27, she continued her cross-examination of Supreme Court Chief of Police, Jeffery Smith.  Acting as her own attorney (pro se), she asked carefully constructed questions making the point that the charged offenses, and subsequent treatment during over 24 hours in police custody, were far harsher than the defendant’s nonviolent conduct warranted.

Here is an excerpt from her cross examination of the Supreme Court Chief Of Police:

Saba: Were we orderly and peaceful? Smith: Yes

Saba: Is it true that we did not interfere with ingress or egress to the Supreme Court? Smith: Yes

Saba: Was it standard procedure to arrest me?  Smith: Yes.

Saba: Did you know they would hold me overnight? Smith: Yes.

Saba: Was it standard procedure not to have a phone call?  Smith: I can’t answer that.

Saba: Was it standard procedure not to have enough clothing? ….. My outer garments were removed and held, and when I was released from jail without any ID or money I had to find my way back to the Supreme Court without winter garments. Smith: That was transport.  I cannot speak for what happened.

When all the testimony had been presented, Manijeh delivered her Motion for Judgment of Acquittal (MJOA), a motion asking that the charges be dropped. Her statement began:

Firstly, the law is too broad, as Chief Judge Howell articulated [in Hodge v. Tarsi].  The law is intended to ensure decorum and prevent disruptive demonstrations that would prevent ingress or egress to the Court, which did not occur in this case.  Therefore, a conviction for being behind a banner on the lower steps is not in keeping with the intention of the legislature and is an improper application of this law.

Secondly, the charge is for a de minimus violation which should not result in a conviction. There is no signage to indicate that you lose your first amendment rights at the temple of justice, the very place where such rights should be protected. There was no proper warning, since the police could have easily told us that we could lawfully demonstrate just a few feet away on the sidewalk. It is not proper for the police to say that the warning is meaningful, since they say “You are in violation of Title 40″ – am I really in violation of all several hundred pages of that title of the US code?

Judge Robinson obviously understood the reasonableness of Manijeh’s MJOA and the importance of the First Amendment.  After hearing the government’s and defendant’s testimony and reviewing the videotape of the arrests and arrest photos she concluded that the government failed to offer evidence that their purpose was for assemblage or display to bring into public notice a movement.  Moreover, she stated that there was no proof that Manijeh was in a nexus with the people on the sidewalk who were protesting Guantanamo.

Afterwards Mark Goldstone, her Attorney Advisor, said, “Manijeh Saba has tirelessly advocated for First Amendment freedom of speech rights since becoming a citizen many years ago.  She spoke out non-violently on the steps of the Supreme Court.  She defended herself in Court and her voice was heard as she won an acquittal using her voice to speak truth to power.”

Manijeh’s persistence should give us hope, even in the times when we do not prevail in court. She had no idea she would be acquitted when she said in her opening statement on March 6:

I engaged in a peaceful, inspiring demonstration against unending bombing and killing of Yemenis that our government supports.  With respect to Guantanamo, I was protesting the unlawful detentions and demanding the release of five Muslim men who have been approved for release, and 32 Muslim men who shouldn’t have been detained in the first place, as determined by the courts.  I was standing on the safe public grand plaza of the Supreme Court.  I crossed no barrier or barricade.  My conduct was heartfelt and peaceful in defense of my inalienable right to speak for peace and Justice.  Therefore, it did not seem reasonable to me for the officer to stop us from speaking out peacefully by arresting us.  

Manijeh’s legal defense was expensive and although WAT has been able to contribute some from general funds, she’s still got a long way to go.  To help her, write checks out to Witness Against Torture, with “Manijeh legal defense” in the subject line and mail to:

New York Catholic Worker
Attn: Witness Against Torture
55 East Third St.
New York, NY 10003

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Manijeh Saba fell ill during court proceeding: Her trial continues on March 27

In Focus - Front Page // Film

Manijeh Saba’s trial in U.S. District Court for the charge of protesting on the steps of the Supreme Court began on Wednesday March 6th.  On January 9, she and four others were calling out the U.S. government’s complicity in war atrocities against the people of Yemen as well as its ongoing torture of Muslim men at Guantanamo Prison.  They were arrested on January 9, but charges were dropped against three others and Joanne Lingle pleaded guilty.

Early in Wednesday’s proceedings Manijeh fainted, and Judge Deborah A. Robinson scheduled a continuation of the trial on March 27 at 10:30 in Courtroom 4 of the Prettyman U.S. District Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue NW, 2nd floor.  Please come for support, if you can!

After trial preliminaries Manijeh presented her opening statement.  As she spoke, she needed to pause as she became overcome with emotion and also began to feel faint.  Judge Robinson asked if she would like to sit down, but she insisted on completing her statement:    

Good Morning your Honor, I’m Manijeh Saba. 
 
Today, you will hear that I allegedly violated a law by protesting.  I intend to show you that my actions were not illegal, that they were an exercise of my First Amendment Rights.  I will ask you, at the end of this trial, to find me not guilty, because my conduct is protected by the First Amendment of our Constitution.
 
I am a 72 years old Iranian-American mother, grandmother of three, and married to Majid Maleki for 46 years.  I came to the United States in 1977 for graduate studies.  I am a political sociologist with focus on women and development.
 
I was born in Iran, in a military household during a short-lived, decade of burgeoning democracy whose life was cut short, thanks to the US-British coup d’état of 1953.  Hence, I have experienced two authoritarian regimes in Iran, one that of the Shah, and the other the continuing brutal theocracy of the Islamic Republic.  As a result, I know what it means to live under a dictatorial regime.  
 
As I remember, I have always been curious, asked questions, and pushed against unreasonable boundaries. Therefore, resistance against totalitarianism, regardless of where it exists, and however it rears its vicious head, is a fundamental part of who I am.  
 
I became a US citizen in 1996 and have voted in every election since then.  As part of the citizenship process, I took the oath to “support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic”.  I have great respect for our constitution and carry a copy with me at all times.  I took the pledge of nonviolent resistance and have tried to follow the path of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King who, in the face of violence, gave their lives in promotion of peace and justice. 
 
It is this background that has brought me before you today. 
 
On January 6th of this year, the 17th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo prison, I joined Witness Against Torture for a week in Washington DC to fast, remember, and raise awareness about the 9 Muslim men who died in Guantanamo, and the condition of the 40 remaining in the extrajudicial trap of indefinite detention each for at least 10 years.  Of the 40 Muslim men still detained there, 5 have been cleared for release, as not a threat to security.  The US Federal courts have determined that 32 others are detained unlawfully.  How could this happen in the United States?  I could neither forget nor stand by, when innocent people including the hundreds who have already been released without charge from Guantanamo are targeted and tortured with no end in sight.
 
Also, we spent the week remembering the horrific condition of the people of Yemen due to the US backed Saudi led coalition war since March 2015.  This war is being fought with the support of United States Intelligence as well sale of bombs made in the United States.  This forgotten war on Yemen has so far killed 146, 000 people, at least 70,000 of them children, and has displaced millions of people, causing a humanitarian catastrophe.  On August 9th 2018 a Saudi warplane dropped a US made 500 pounds laser-guided bomb killing 40 school boys and 11 adults.  And of the 79 civilians wounded by this bomb, 56 were children.  
 
On January 9, we marched to the United States Supreme Court protesting all forms of torture and the on-going Guantanamo detentions, as well as the unending wars and mass destruction that our government is concurrently involved in globally, particularly in Yemen since 2015.   
 
Dozens of us, members of Witness Against Torture, most in orange jump suits and black hoods, representing the Guantanamo detainees, arrived on the sidewalk before the steps of the Supreme Court in the early afternoon.  We were singing and chanting, we carried signs and banners denouncing the United States-backed Saudi bombing of Yemen and called for the closure of Guantanamo.  
 
Several people in orange jumpsuits and black hoods laid down on bloodied shrouds on the sidewalk.  We also placed 36 blue children’s book bags on a bloodied shroud, bearing names of the children killed in Yemen on a school trip.
 
At first, I stood without a sign at the foot of the steps.  Later, I was given a sign bringing attention to the boys Killed in Yemen.  I held it up high.  Several minutes later, someone else took the sign and I joined four others who were holding a banner that read:  
We Target, We Torture, We Terrify!   Who Are We? 
 
As we stood there we repeatedly all sang:   “Know where you stand. No more war. Know where you stand, and stand there.” 
 
A short while later, we who held the banner walked up the first few steps of the Supreme Court and stood on the grand front plaza.  It was a place that was safe, open for us, and we posed no threat and or obstruction to anyone who would enter or leave the building.  It was a very cold (about 35 degrees), quiet day with very little public activity on the front plaza of the court.  We repeatedly sang the song, along with our group standing on the sidewalk at foot of the steps.  
 
After a while standing there, a Supreme Court security officer gave us three warnings to disperse or get arrested.  I continued holding the banner and singing “Know where you stand, no more war.  Know where you stand and stand there.”  I risked arrest and did not leave.  Why didn’t I leave?  Because I believed then, as I do now, that the First Amendment of the United States constitution that states:  
 
“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, …or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”   
 
protects my action.  
 
I engaged in a peaceful, inspiring demonstration against unending bombing and killing of Yemenis that our government supports.  With respect to Guantanamo, I was protesting the unlawful detentions and demanding the release of 5 Muslim men who have been approved for release, and 32 Muslim men who shouldn’t have been detained in the first place, as determined by the courts.  I was standing on the safe public grand plaza of the Supreme Court.  I crossed no barrier or barricade.  My conduct was heartfelt and peaceful in defense of my inalienable right to speak for peace and Justice.   Therefore, it did not seem reasonable to me for the officer to stop us from speaking out peacefully by arresting us.  Nor does it seem reasonable that they did not offer us the alternative to speak out with others a few feet away on the sidewalk.  There is nothing that distinguishes the sidewalk from the step.  
 
Around 1:00 PM I was arrested along with 4 other fellow protesters, and was taken to the basement of the Supreme Court for processing.  I was not given a phone call.  I was questioned after I said I did not want to speak without an attorney being present. And then, I was sent to jail overnight in terrible conditions before conviction.  My experience in custody of the Supreme Court police of the United State was most unusual and shocking. 
 
Who are We?
 
I appear before Your Honor today, asking if the Constitution condones the arrest and jailing of five peaceably assembled protesters.  It is my belief that it does not.  That is why I was there that day and why I continued to protest.  I will show the court throughout this trial that the law under which I am charged criminalizes peaceful demonstration of dissent, and therefore, it is a thoughtless affront to our Constitution and our values as Americans.  I hope you will find that peaceful political protest is fundamental to our democracy and not a crime in our society.  This is, who we are.

Read to the court on March 6, 2019.

The government then began its case by putting the Supreme Court Chief of Police, Jeffery Smith, on the stand.  Manijeh was sitting down while cross examining him, as she wasn’t feeling well.  Judge Robinson called a ten minute recess for her, but during that time Manijeh fainted.  She quickly revived, nurses and paramedics arrived, examined her and asked if she wished to go hospital but she declined. After the recess Judge Robinson decided to schedule a continuation at 10:30 am on Wednesday March 27 in Courtroom 4 of the Prettyman U.S. District Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue NW, 2nd floor.  

Many local peacemakers were unable to attend on March 6 because of other events, including the annual Ash Wednesday service in front of the White House.  Now everyone is encouraged to come to support on March 27th!

To help Manijeh with her legal defense, write checks to Witness Against Torture with “Manijeh legal defense” in the subject line and mail to:
New York Catholic Worker 
Attn: Witness Against Torture
55 East Third St.
New York, NY 10003    

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WAT Podcast Series “Is This Who We Are?” with Bar Crawl Radio

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

We were delighted to host Alan Winson, a podcaster with Bar Crawl Radio, as he embedded himself with us for our 2019 Fast For Justice, interviewing our activists throughout the week. On our last evening in DC, he and his partner Rebecca McKean interviewed eight of us at the Iron Horse Tap Room, just blocks from our church hostel. You can listen to that program here.

Alan then took home to Manhattan the many hours of interviews he conducted throughout his week with us and produced four additional podcasts in a series he entitles “Is This Who We Are?” The podcasts are posted on iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher.

The podcasts are also available on the Podcast Archives page at the Bar Crawl Radio website, listed as BCR #29 (the Iron Horse Tap Room broadcast) and BCR #29 Extra (the series “Is this who we are?” released in four parts Feb. 12 – 15).

Alan introduces the series in this message to his subscribers:

“Is this who we are?”  is an up-close, 4-part podcast series covering four days of protest by Witness Against Torture in Washington, D.C. to close the Guantanamo Prison.  Each episode presents the sounds and actions of one of the days of a week long action in early January, 2019. The schedule for posting each of the episodes follows.

I lived with WAT members in the First Lutheran Trinity Church Hostel – and followed their actions and talked with them about their experiences of fasting and being arrested. 

For me – it was a formative experience.
You can find the “Is this who we are?” podcast series at Bar Crawl Radio on iTunes / Stitcher / Spotify – or at barcrawlradio.com


Posting on –
Feb. 12 — Tuesday’s actions — Singing at Code Pink / Yelling at the White House.
Feb. 13 — Wednesday’s actions — Arrests at the Supreme Court.

Feb. 14 — Thursday’s actions — Arrests at McConnell’s office.

Feb. 15 — Friday’s actions — A long march to the White House.  An anti-WAT protestor. And the fast ends.
BCR#29 now posted — Conversation with WAT members at the Iron Horse Tap Room in Washington. D.C.

Alan used his interviews to hold up a mirror to ourselves. His questions challenged each of us to articulate what brings us to our work and how we sustain ourselves. Listening to the podcasts, we’re surprised and delighted to learn so much more about each other and to appreciate again how central community is to our work. Thanks, Alan and Rebecca, for your creative and strengthening work, lifting up our cause to close Guantanamo, end torture, and surely deepen compassion.

Learn more about BCR and subscribe to its podcasts at barcrawlradio.com. BCR is broadcast on Upper West Side Radio at upperwestsideradio.com.

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To let suffering speak: Our final update from our week in DC

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

To let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. –Theodor Adorno

January 12, 2019

Dear friends,
After a full day in DC yesterday marking the day 17 years ago that the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo, we took today to debrief our week-long Fast for Justice and look toward the future.  We opened with a circle of over 40 people, each person speaking to the question, what was the highlight of your experience.  One member of the circle quoted Theodor Adorno to make his point: “To let suffering speak is a condition of all truth.”

“To let suffering speak” captures the essence of the events that marked the January 11th anniversary of Guantanamo.  Stories of the detainees’ suffering were lifted up again and again during the day, during panels, a rally, and a post-rally procession through the streets of DC. 

See our photos below and then scroll down for more about all these events plus news of solidarity vigils in other cities.
Former Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Slahi addressed a Congressional Briefing from Mauritania  by Skype.
 
Congressional Briefing on January 11

Mohamedou Slahi, former Guantanamo detainee and author of the Guantanamo Diary. addressed a Friday morning congressional briefing by Skype from Mauritania.  Mohamedou told us that “Guantanamo is a concept not a place,”  because detainees lives cannot return to normal after their release.  Mohamedou knows he risks a great deal by speaking out, but he continues because he wants to have the same freedom that Americans have. Members of our community were uplifted by Mohamedou’s smile as he observed the packed meeting room and answered questions. 

CCR Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei spoke about her client Sharqawi Al Hajj.  While we see only his military mug shot taken 17 years ago, Pardiss reported that his face now shows decay. He weighs only 108 pounds and is in chronic pain.  She told us that the long years of imprisonment are causing accelerated physical decline in the men, adding 15 years to those in their 40’s and 50’s. One detainee shows up to his proceedings in a hospital bed.  She asserts that two major issues for the detainees is access to good medical care and to family contact.

What can Congress do?  Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International, laid out three actions: Hold a congressional hearing about releasing those prisoners who have been cleared.
Lift restrictions on transfer to the US for trial and for medical care.
Do not fund transfers of any new prisoners to Guantanamo.
Panel at New America

Andy Worthington, who spoke on a later panel at New America, reports: Check out the video of the powerful panel discussion, ’17 Years of #Guantanamo‘, at the New America think-tank yesterday, the 17th anniversary of the prison’s opening. I was part of a panel discussion with the attorney Tom Wilner, my colleague in the Close Guantanamo campaign, and Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, moderated by David Sterman.
The event – which, I’m glad to note, was also broadcast live by C-SPAN – was extremely well-attended, and in complete contrast to last year, when everyone seemed crushed by Trump’s first year in office. This year there was a real spirit of resistance, in part because of people’s realization that there is no option but to resist, and partly because of the slim glimmer of hope offered by the Democrats taking the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.
 
J11 Rally to Close Guantanamo – Rule of Law, Not Rule of Trump
Stop Cruelty, Fear, Racism, Islamophobia, and Lies



We came together to demand the closure of Guantanamo and its legacy of institutionalizing Islamophobia, and to invite our government and fellow citizens to choose love, mercy and justice. A dozen organizations including WAT cosponsored the rally. In addition to the prison at Guantanamo, speakers also addressed connected issues such as the war in Yemen, Latin American solidarity, Cuban sovereignty, and more.  WAT speakers included Luke Nephew, Kathy Kelly, Maria Luisa Rosal, and Maha Hilal.  Jessica and Leila Murphy, who lost their father at the World Trade Center on 9/11, spoke out against vengeance.  They believe the men imprisoned at Guantanamo must be dealt with justly and the prison closed before they can feel closure about their father’s death. They joined  September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows in order to work toward this end.

After the rally, WAT members dressed in jumpsuits formed a circle in front of the White House, while members of the larger community presented them with candles of solidarity.  Then they processed singing —

“Courage Muslim brothers
You do not walk alone
We will walk with you and 
Sing your spirit home. “
 
We processed down Pennsylvania Avenue to Trump Hotel where we vigiled in solidarity with indigenous peoples.  We ended at a plaza above DC Central Cell Block where we stood in a circle and held a candlelight vigil in solidarity with the prisoners housed below ground, disappeared from public eyes.  Afterwards we headed back to the church to break our fast with a marvelous feast of Middle Eastern and Salvadoran food.

Over fifty of us circled up at the church Friday morning and many more allies joined us along the way.  More than forty stayed on for Saturday’s retreat.  A snowstorm greeted us as we emerged from the church and returned home!


Solidarity Vigils
 
We were pleased to receive word from a couple of groups who vigiled in solidarity on the J11 anniversary. 

From Peace and Justice Works in Portland, Oregon
Last night at the “Close Guantanamo– Still America’s Shame” action, the 12-foot-tall Tower of Peace was visible to thousands of Portlanders driving past Pioneer Square for 90+ minutes during rush hour.* Over 15 people participated in the rally/march and handed out roughly 150 fact sheets. About half the crowd wore orange jumpsuits to remind people of the dehumanization imposed on the inmates by the United States. Many passers-by in cars honked their horns and gave thumbs up, and pedestrians thanked us for being there. Several grassroots media folks including PSU students and the famous Joe Anybody came by to document the event.

New York City
Twenty-five people vigiled in New York City’s Union Square for an hour on Jan. 11 to mark the anniversary. Four students from Xavier University in Cincinnati, who were visiting the Catholic Worker, wore the orange jumpsuits.

We’ll be happy to receive news from other groups doing work in solidarity with us.  Email your news to  witnesstorture@gmail.com. 

For more photos and news of our work, please visit our website www.witnessagainsttorture.com. 

We’re deeply grateful for your solidarity.  Let’s challenge one another to continue to “let suffering speak” and to carry that truth to the American people.

In peace,
Witness Against Torture

 

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WAT goes to Capitol Hill: Late week update

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

Friday morning, January 11, 2019

Dear friends,

Today 17 long years ago, the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo.  We are preparing this morning for the annual J11 rally at the White House amidst a full day of activity. We’ll send you a report on those events on the weekend.  But now we’ll catch you up on Thursday’s work in DC.

WAT headed to Capitol Hill Thursday for a little advocacy, both traditional and otherwise.  WAT contingents from at least five states visited the offices of their own members of Congress.  Bill Ofenloch reports, “Today we visited Senator Schumer’s office to urge him to support the closure of Guantanamo, cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, stop funding nuclear weapons and support the ICAN Treaty. We also told them about the Kings Bay Plowshares, 3 of whom are from NY, and criticized the BDS legislation Schumer is so supportive of. We only saw aides but gave them an earful.”

Richard Sroczynski and Jeremy Varon for WAT and representatives of Amnesty and CCR met with several House Democratic leaders to assure that closing Guantanamo was on their agenda and to try to provoke specifics in that direction.

Richard reports, “Expectations were low but in fact we found open and favorable attitudes, limited despair, and at least some potential for action in the future. We can certainly hope.”

Pushing the envelope on advocacy a bit, 25 members of our community later converged on Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office for a sit-in, with demands concerning both Yemen and Guantanamo. Four were arrested when they stayed after the office closed.  Read our press release about their action, demands, and arrests below.


WAT PRESS RELEASE

Witness Against Torture Activists Arrested for Sit-In at Senator Mitch McConnell’s office

Activists call on McConnell to schedule a vote on the War Powers Act, allowing discussion in the Senate regarding the war on Yemen, and to fully support closure of Guantanamo prison.
 
Four human rights activists were arrested today and charged with  demonstrating inside the U.S. Capitol after sitting-in at the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They were among a group of about twenty-five Witness Against Torture activists who entered the office at 3:00 p.m. Many were clad in orange jumpsuits resembling those worn by prisoners in Guantanamo. They delivered a letter requesting McConnell’s assistance on two matters concerning human rights violations.

The letter asks him to “schedule a vote on the War Powers Act to end U.S. military involvement with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the terror attacks on the people of Yemen.” The letter also asks that he use his influence to close down the prison facilities at Guantanamo.

Two of McConnell’s aides listened to the activists’ concerns for an hour.
The four who were arrested had remained seated in a conference room inside the Senator’s office. They said they were prepared to wait in McConnell’s office until he is able to meet with them and confirm that he will take action on a vote on the War Powers Act regarding Yemen and initiate a process to close down the prison at Guantanamo.
###

Thursday evening panel: The State of Muslim Rights in the War on Terror

WAT joined Justice for Muslims Collective and several other organizations to sponsor a panel exploring the effects of the War on Terror on Muslims and the role of institutionalized Islamophobia as part and parcel of the post 9/11 national security apparatus. Delivering the keynote address was Dr. Maha Hilal with the Justice for Muslims Collective and WAT.  Maha addressed the domestic/international connection which sets the standard for how Muslims are treated.  She made a connection with “border imperialism” with its four components: 1) mass displacement of colonized people, 2) criminalization of migration, 3) entrenchment of racial hierarchy, and 4) state-mediated exploitation of migrant labor.

In the panel which followed, Darakshan Raja (Justice for Muslims Collective) described how gendered Islamophobia escalates state violence on all levels. Attorney Aliya Hussain spoke about her work representing men at Guantanamo and the suit to release the prisoners that CCR filed last January 11. She reminded us that whatever reasons that have been given for the men’s detention, these reasons are no longer relevant. Aya Saed (CCR) discussed the particular problems experienced by Muslims who are black.  She said that because the War on Terror has no regional or time limitations, children who are Muslim or black Muslim born post-9/11 are experiencing a great deal of psychological terror.

A large crowd attended the panel, viewed reproductions of paintings by two men still detained in Guantanamo, and enjoyed Middle Eastern food and fellowship.  (Fasters kept a respectful distance from the food!)  Kudos to Maha for organizing this successful event.

Morning circle on Friday: We centered ourselves, connecting our spirits to the men in Guantanamo on this sad day 17 years after the first men were imprisoned there.  We reflected on what we hold onto in order to continue the work.  The answers ranged from sorrow, grief, and loss to hope and faith, beauty of the earth, and the manifestation of the divine embodied in community.  And so the day began.  We’ll report back this weekend on how it unfolded. 

In peace,
WAT

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Midweek Update from DC: Yemen action and more

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

WAT action Wednesday at the Supreme Court
“Know where you stand and stand there.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2019
Dear Friends,

This evening we are holding in our hearts our five community members who are spending the night in Central Cell Block awaiting their arraignment tomorrow afternoon.  Read our press release about the action and arrests below.

Then scroll down for news of our Tuesday evening protest at the White House during Trump’s speech and our community dialogue event earlier in the day. We conclude with an uplifting reflection by Ellen Huffman who is fasting in solidarity with us from Colorado. Thanks, Ellen!


WAT Press Release
Five Witness Against Torture Activists Arrested for Bannering on the Supreme Court Steps as Part of “Stop Torture” protest

Activists Participate in week-long fast calling on the U.S. to Stop Support for the Murderous War in Yemen and Close the Prison Camp at Guantanamo

On January 9, 2019, five human rights activists protesting all forms of torture were arrested while bannering on the Supreme Court steps. Their banner stated: “We Target. We Torture. We Terrify,” followed by the question “Who Are We?”  

Joining them were dozens of protesters who formed a tableau to denounce US-backed war on Yemen and call for closure of Guantanamo.

Alongside the banner, 36 children’s bookbags were scattered atop bloodied shrouds. Each backpack bore the name of a Yemeni child killed on August 9, 2019 when a Saudi warplane dropped a Lockheed Martin 500 lb. laser guided bomb on their school bus. Remembering the nine prisoners who died in Guantanamo, activists clad in jumpsuits and hoods laid down on bloodied shrouds, across from the backpacks.

While Supreme Court security guards handcuffed those holding the banner, supporters sang: “Know where you stand. No more war. Know where you stand and stand there.”

Arrested were Sherrill Hogen, Manijeh Saba, Ellen Graves, JoAnne Lingles, and Charley Bowman.

Explaining why she chose to risk arrest, Ellen Graves, a social worker from Western Massachusetts said she is troubled by grotesque practices that have starved, maimed, dismembered and traumatized Yemeni children. Graves and many of the other activists have gathered for a week of fasting and action that marks January 11, the seventeenth year since Muslim men have been imprisoned in Guantanamo. “The misery of Muslim people continues,” said Dr. Maha Hilal after reading the names of the Yemeni children being commemorated along with the names of nine Muslim men who have died in Guantanamo.
####


Tuesday evening at the White House protesting the Trump address

We expected a quiet evening of planning on Tuesday, until Trump decided to make an address stumping for his wall.  So we made haste to join other protesters in front of the White House to give our own counter-message: Is this who we are? We had been reflecting on that question earlier in the day in the context of Guantanamo and Yemen.  We had no problem extending our analysis to “The Wall” and other state violence happening at our border.  Indeed, is this who we are? #NoWall #CloseGitmo #YemenCantWait

Mike Fiala reports reports back on our community dialogue session at Codepink house on Tuesday

Local tenant justice activists Minnie and Yvonne warmly introduced us to their neighborhood where housing justice is one of the fundamental challenges.
We learned that battles they won in the past for holding onto affordable HUD-subsidized housing have returned. As Yvonne described it: first, it was segregation; then it was integration; now it’s gentrification. For her, gentrification is segregation by another name.  Minnie & Yvonne were supremely interested in our work in WAT, easily expanding their hearts and their own concerns to us. In fact, they were struck by our WAT t-shirts and so two men gave them their shirts off their backs. They were also delighted to talk with Xavier University students who joined us for the dialogue. They invited us all back in the summer, talking about the wonderful parties, food, and children there are in their neighborhood!

Reflection from Solidarity Faster Ellen Huffman

40 men detained at the prison at Guantanamo.  Less than ever since its opening in 2002, but still, 40 people.  People. Individuals who have been held for years, some cleared for release for years, some never charged with a single crime.

I couldn’t attend the Witness Against Torture (WAT) convergence in Washington, D.C. this year–an experience that was incredibly meaningful to me the three years before–and so I tried to fast in solidarity with those 40 men from my home in Colorado.  I knew the stats. I knew the reasons why striving to live in solidarity matters. I knew what it was like to hear the words of Guantánamo prisoners read over a handheld sound system while my stomach folded in on itself.

But this time I was alone.  This time I could only be connected to the actions of my colleagues through texts and tweets.  I’m in a new city where I don’t know too many people and certainly don’t know any other WAT/IRTF folks.  I was alone.

And I know through my struggles with fasting on my own, with feeling isolated from my community, with feeling lonely and heartbroken, that I was not even skimming the surface of what it might feel like to be separated from family and neighbors, tortured and held for years on end.  And I know that ultimately, I was not alone. How could I be?

We are made to seek justice in community.  We are made to form connections while working for equality and peace.  We need each other in this work. It is too hard on our own and we get so much more work done together.  I know I treasure my year in Cleveland working with IRTF so much more–and I appreciated it quite a lot while I was there–now that I’m across the country.  

This work of solidarity matters.  You are no less alone than the men I fasted with.  Watch your individual actions multiply by partnering with IRTF and WAT. You will be amazed.

Con paz y luz,

Rev. Ellen Huffman

Former IRTF board member, now residing in Boulder, Colorado, enrolled in a graduate program in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Naropa University


If you are in the DC area, we hope you’ll make plans to attend the following:

  • Thursday evening panel, entitled The State of Muslim Rights in the War on Terror. 
  • Congressional Briefing on Guantanamo, Friday, 10 am, Longworth House Office Building, Room 1539.
  • Rally at the White House, marking 17 years of Guantanamo, 2:30 pm.

Visit our website for our schedule, photos, and more. 

Peace and gratitude,
Witness Against Torture

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Day 1 Fast for Justice in DC

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

A beautiful sunrise back-lit our protest at the Pentagon early Monday morning.

O crisis, intensify!
The morning is about to break forth.
–Abdulaziz

Reflections on the first full day of our 2019 Fast for Justice in DC


O Prison Darkness

O prison darkness, pitch your tent.
We love the darkness.

For after the dark hours of the night, Pride’s dawn will rise.

Let the world, with all its bliss, fade away–
So long as we find favor with God

A boy may diespair in the face of a problem,
But we know God has a disign.

Even though the bands tighten and seem unbreakable,
They will shatter.

Those who persist will attain their goal;
Those who keep knocking shall gain entry.

O crisis, intensify!
The morning is about to break forth.

— Abdulaziz (Poems from Guantanamo: The detainees speak)

January 8, 2019

Dear Friends,
The 2019 Fast for Justice has begun!  The above poem written by Guantanamo detainee Abdulaziz served to frame our first full day in DC on Monday. We read and reflected on the poem during our solidarity fasters conference call in the evening.  The final verse, “O crisis intensify! The  morning is about to break forth” reminded us of our start to the day: our vigil at the Pentagon, where a beautiful sunrise unfolded behind us and eerily lit up the Pentagon facade we faced.  Abdulaziz kept his hope alive in the darkness of his Guantanamo imprisonment, imagining the new light of dawn in the midst of crisis.  We feel the responsibility to foster that hope on the streets of DC and in the communities of our readers who accompany us from home.  Below please read more from Paulette and Art about the Pentagon vigil.

Borrowing from the words of Clare Grady, a Kings Bay Plowshares activist who was on our conference call in the evening:  Let us remember the value of steadfastness and communal work.  May our message be heard and magnified.  In intense crisis, let us long for the dawn!

Peace and gratitude,
Witness Against Torture


At our Witness against Torture Action at the Pentagon
by Sr. Paulette Schroeder

At out Witness against Torture Action Jan. 7 in front of the Pentagon, I felt so humbled and grateful to be standing for the 40 men still detained in Guantanamo. Though many of these men have been cleared for release or for trial the men still languish in conditions that are deplorable. President Trump refuses to even consider releasing anyone during his term of office.

Every Monday a.m. The Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Community in D.C. stands in solidarity with all who suffer from U.S. militarism. Our Witness Against Torture group had the privilege of joining this faith-filled community for this freezing Monday morning.

While singing, praying, and speaking on behalf of the men, I held the sign: “Is this who we are?”  I felt the profound sadness and discouragement of these men who haven’t seen nor heard nor touched their spouse or child through many long years. It is this hope to be rejoined with their family that keeps them going, hoping for good people of conscience to give attention to these men’s unjust confinement. Please God, let it be.

Pentagon DDCW-WAT Vigil Statement/Litany Prepared by Art Laffin—January 7, 2019
(Readers: Art Laffin, Frida Berrigan and Brian Terrell)

Good Morning. We greet all Pentagon workers and police in a spirit of peace and nonviolence. Since 1987 the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker has vigiled here each Monday to uphold God’s command “Thou shalt not kill” in nonviolent resistance to an empire that sanctions global violence and killing as evidenced by its vast war machine worldwide that included over 800 foreign military bases (including Guantanamo Bay), its military intervention in numerous countries, and its policy to prepare for and threaten to wage nuclear war. We, members of the DDCW and Witness Against Torture (WAT), come to the Pentagon, the center of warmaking on our planet, to say YES to love, justice and life and NO to the death-dealing policies of a warmaking empire. God calls us to love and never to torture, kill and wage war.  WAT formed in 2005 when 25 Catholic Workers and other peacemakers from the U.S. went to Guantánamo Bay Detention site and attempted to visit the detainees being held at the facility. For the last 13 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 17th year when the first detainees were taken to Guantanamo on January 11, 2002. We call for the immediate closing  of Guantanamo, and for an end to the crime of torture and indefinite detention.

Refrain: End the Crime of Torture–Close Guantanamo Now!

Today, 40 men continue to languish at Guantanamo, 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. 

Refrain: End the Crime of Torture–Close Guantanamo Now!

We remember and pray for all victims of the U.S. empire, 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, or the deaths of the other eight detainees. In Latif’s own words he asks: “Where is the world to save us from torture? Where is the world to save us from the fire and sadness? Where is the world to save the hunger strikers?” Adnan Latif: we and many others hear your cry and that is why we are here today!  

Refrain: End the Crime of Torture–Close Guantanamo Now!

We call for an independent investigation into the death of Latif and those who died at Guantanamo! 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!

Refrain: End the Crime of Torture–Close Guantanamo Now!

We also remember today all those who have died and continue to suffer from the brutal U.S.-backed Saudi war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The U.S. continues to provide direct military support and weapons to Saudi Arabia for this war, even though a recent Senate resolution called for an end to refueling Saudi warplanes, targeting and sharing intelligence. Thousands have died from the war, starvation is widespread and suspected cholera cases have exceeded one million. Save the Children conservatively estimates that 85,000 Yemeni children under age five have died from starvation and disease during the last three years. 

Refrain: The Children are Dying–End the War in Yemen!

Since 2010, according to The New York Times, the United States has sold the Saudis thirty F-15 multirole jet fighters, eighty-four combat helicopters, 110 air-to-surface cruise missiles, and 20,000 precision guided bombs. Last year, the United States also sold the Saudis ten maritime helicopters in a $1.9 billion deal. A Lockheed Martin made bomb was used in the Saudi bombing of a school bus in Yemen on Aug. 9, 2018 killing 40 children. We demand an immediate end to this war!

Refrain: The Children are Dying–End the War in Yemen!

Please join us as we commit to ending, torture, oppression, racism, Islamophobia and war. Together let us heed the biblical mandate: “to proclaim liberty to the captives…to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon and from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Luke 4:18 and Is 42:7)…to beat swords into plowshares and to train for war no more.” (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3)    Now is the time to Close Guantanamo, end the war in Yemen and ALL wars, transform the Pentagon into a center that serves life instead of death, and to create the Beloved Community! 


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17 years of Guantanamo: Rally in DC

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

Dear WAT friends,
Our community is gathering this week in DC to mark another tragic year since the opening in 2002 of the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo, where forty prisoners remain. Follow our daily updates this week on Facebook and our websiteWe would like to invite you to join us for Friday’s White House rally, a congressional briefing on Guantanamo, and Thursday’s speaker panel.  Please read on for details. 
In solidarity,
Witness Against Torture

White House Rally on 17th anniversary of Guantanamo

WHAT: Rally to Close Guantánamo

WHEN: Friday, January 11 at 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm EST

WHERE:
Lafayette Square
Pennsylvania Ave NW & 16th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

WASHINGTON, DC – On the 17th anniversary of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, Witness Against Torture will be joining Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Justice for Muslims Collective and others for a rally to demand the closure of the detention camp, end indefinite detention of the detainees, and condemn the fear-mongering, cruelty, racism and xenophobia that has defined Trump’s presidency.

More than a decade after they were detained, 40 people remain at Guantánamo including five who have been approved by the U.S. government for transfer out of the detention camp. Most of the detainees have never been charged with or convicted of a crime.

Media contact: Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture,  732-979-3119,  jvaron@aol.com


Read WAT’s 2019 statement marking 17 years of Guantanamo:

CLOSE GUANTANAMO — Rule of Law, Not Rule of Trump
Stop Cruelty, Fear, Islamophobia, Racism, and Lies

 

Please encourage your members of Congress to attend the Congressional briefing on Guantanamo to be held at 10:00 am, Friday, at Longworth House Office Building, Room 1539.


Thursday evening speaker panel:
The State of Muslim Rights in the US War On Terror

 

Thursday at 6 PM – 8:30 PM
Public Welfare Foundation Inc
1200 U Street Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia 20009
RSVP

Sponsored by Justice for Muslims Collective, Center for Constitutional Rights, Defending Rights and Dissent, Codepink, and Witness Against Torture

From drones, to proxy wars, to CIA Black Sites, to Communication Management Units, Muslims domestically in the US and around the globe have continued to be targeted under the guise of the War on Terror seventeen years after its onset. The panel will be moderated by Kristin Garrity Sekerci and will begin with a keynote from Dr. Maha Hilal (Justice for Muslims Collective), and followed by a panel featuring Darakshan Raja (Justice for Muslims Collective), Aliya Hussain (Center for Constitutional Rights), and Aya Saed (Center for Constitutional Rights) will speak to the impacts of the War on Terror on Muslims, both in it’s current manifestations under the Trump administration and it’s systemic nature, while addressing the role of institutionalized Islamophobia as part and parcel of the post 9/11 national security apparatus.

Artwork painted by Guantanamo prisoners will also be on display.

 

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Call to Fast in Solidarity: From Gitmo to Kings Bay Plowshares

Fast for Justice 2019 // Film

Join us from home or in DC

Dear Friends,

We’ll be gathering tomorrow in DC for Witness Against Torture’s week-long Fast for Justice. If you can’t join us in person, we invite you to join us from home, fasting with us in solidarity with the men in Guantanamo or taking action in other ways. We welcome you to join a conference call with us on Monday evening. 

This year, we will also be fasting in solidarity with the Kings Bay Plowshares 7(KBP7), our friends who are currently awaiting trial for their dramatic anti-nuclear weapon action at the Kings Bay nuclear submarine base in Georgia last April. Many of them have been deeply involved with our WAT community.

In November’s KBP7 evidentiary hearings on their Religious Freedom Restoration Act motion, defendants presented testimony that can provide us with insights for WAT’s resistance to the prison at Guantanamo. 

Martha Hennessy opened the Nov. 19th hearing by recounting that her mother and her grandmother Dorothy Day taught her to pay attention to others’ suffering and to practice loving kindness.  The KBP7’s concern for the death of billions in a large-scale nuclear conflagration is firmly rooted in their concern for the dignity of each person they meet in daily life.  Similarly, we in WAT carry in our hearts and proclaim in the public square the personal stories of men who have been tortured and imprisoned without charge or trial at Guantanamo.  Holding fast to the human dignity of each person unites our two causes to resist violence on every scale.

Carmen Trotta told the court that the possession of nuclear weapons freezes nations in hatred.  We must let go, he said, to become a cohesive community.  Likewise, we in WAT recognize that we can never achieve true security for the family of nations while our own nation clings to torture chambers and offshore prisons.

KBP7 members Mark Colville, Liz McAlister, Patrick O’Neill, Clare Grady, and Steve Kelly addressed the idolatry of nuclear weapons and the false sense of security these idols are meant to provide.  This idolatry of things hugely powerful has a flip side: the dehumanization of the utterly powerless.  The US attempts to make demons out of the 40 men still detained at Guantanamo, stoking citizens’ fear and then satisfying that fear with lawless brutality against these men.

We fast to keep their humanity in front of our own eyes and the eyes of our nation. Let us fast–and act–together this week in the search for a solidarity that transforms.

We invite you to join our fast next week wherever you are and in whatever way you choose.  Let us know of your intentions by writing us at witnesstorture@gmail.com

We will hold a conference call with those who are fasting or taking action in solidarity with us on Monday evening at 8:00 pm.


Conference Call information  
Dial-in Number: 
1-605-475-5950 
Participant Access Code: 1860434
 

We will be sharing advocacy and action information and reflections on our website, our Facebook page, and through daily update emails to this list. We look forward to being in community with you, in person or in spirit, this coming week!

In solidarity,
Witness Against Torture

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