We have been fasting in solidarity with the Guantanamo detainees for over 36 hours now.
Most of today was spent on the streets – from the morning at the White House to the afternoon at the British Embassy and Vatican Apostolic Nunciature. You can find images from today on Facebook and Flickr.
This evening we watched a powerful film on Fahd Ghazy – Waiting for Fahd. We encourage you all to take 11 minutes to watch it, and then read Fahd’s personal appeal.
The community gathered here in DC continues to grow. We are about 30 folks staying at the church, and our numbers will continue to grow as we start to settle in to a certain rhythm.
There is much work still to do, and it is good to be gathered in community – here in DC and around the country – as we struggle together, to learn…and act…and reflect. And learn…and act…and reflect.
Witness Against Torture
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In this e-mail you will find:
1) DAY 2 – Tuesday, January 6
2) The Path to Closing Guantánamo by Cliff Sloan
WITNESS AGAINST TORTURE SOCIAL MEDIA
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DAY 2 – Tuesday, January 6
During our morning reflection, we recalled Beth Brockman’s invitation, yesterday evening, to introduce ourselves and then mention someone or something we left behind upon arriving in D.C., and yet still carry with us. Many people in our circle spoke of leaving behind beloved community and family members. Beth then noted that prisoners in Guantanamo likewise have left behind loved ones, and that some have been separated from their families and communities for 13 years.
Before the reflection circle (and before the sun was fully risen), ten of us joined Kathy Kelly in an hour-long Skype call with about 15 young people in Afghanistan known as the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Several members of their group were fasting from food for a 24 hour period. Despite intermittent breakdowns in the internet connection and the weighty, troubling issues raised, we genuinely shared warmth and hopes, along with information. One of our Afghan friends asked if there was any evidence that a detainee who was tortured gave information which eventually protected people from harm. Brian Terrell shared that false information, gained through torture, was used to justify the U.S. “Shock and Awe” bombing and invasion of Iraq.
We look forward to ongoing exchanges. One way to continue the discussion is through joining the Global Days of Listening Skype conversation which happens on the 21st of every month. You can learn more about the APVs at their website, Our Journey To Smile.
Later in the morning we joined an action at the White House, along with School of the Americas Watch, to confront Mexican President Peña Nieto about the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa. There were over 200 people there, some carrying Mexican flags, others blowing trumpets and horns, and all decrying state violence.
When our group moved just down the street to the Mexican embassy, the secret service began to push at us slowly with whistles and cars, ordering us to move away from the embassy and White House to the end of the block. As people resisted, eight of us from Witness Against Torture dropped to our knees in front of a police car and refused to move. After some peaceful confrontation, the police decided not to arrest us, but instead formed a new line of police, cars, and barricades in front of us to separate us from the embassy and hide us from view. Once Peña Nieto’s car entered the White House gates, we joined the rest of the group to walk around the block to Lafayette Park to continue the demonstration. We stood strong in the cold for another hour, in solidarity with the Ya me cansé movement.
In the afternoon, we suited up in our orange prisoner jumpsuits and hoods and visited the British Embassy as well as the Vatican Papal Nuncio. At the British Embassy, we walked single file and held signs and portraits in support of the release of Shaker Aamer. As we stood in front of the embassy, we broke our silence to sing a mantra/song created by our fellow WAT fasters, Luke Nephew and Frank Lopez of the Peace Poets:
Today is the day
Give Shaker your full embrace
Today is the day
Overcome your past disgrace
Today is the day
Lift the hood and show his face
Today is the day
Justice for the human race
At the Nuncio, we delivered a letter asking the Pope to offer to accept the prisoners from Guantanamo in Vatican City, a nation-state of its own. While we stood in front of that building, we sang another of Luke and Frank’s mantra/songs:
Today is the day
You can use those papal keys
Today is the day
Bring in all the refugees
Today is the day
Help us to create the peace
Today is the day
Liberation and release
In the evening, we watched Waiting for Fahd. This film tells the story of Fahd Ghazy, a Yemeni national unlawfully detained at Guantánamo since he was 17 and who is now 30. It paints a vivid portrait of the life that awaits a man who, despite being twice cleared for release, continues to languish at Guantanamo, denied his home, his livelihood, and his loved ones because of his nationality. Seeing the grief on the faces of Fahd’s family members, his mother, brothers, daughter has touched us deeply. We are galvanized to act, to tell his story, to share with the public, to tear down the veil of indifference and ignorance. If for one moment we can place ourselves in Fahd’s family, view his daughter and brothers as our own, we would understand how connected we all are to each other.
The Path to Closing Guantánamo
By CLIFF SLOAN
JAN. 5, 2015
WASHINGTON — WHEN I began as the State Department’s envoy for closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, many people advised me that progress was impossible. They were wrong.
In the two years before I started, on July 1, 2013, only four people were transferred from Guantánamo. Over the past 18 months, we moved 39 people out of there, and more transfers are coming. The population at Guantánamo — 127 — is at its lowest level since the facility opened in January 2002. We also worked with Congress to remove unnecessary obstacles to foreign transfers. We began an administrative process to review the status of detainees not yet approved for transfer or formally charged with crimes.
While there have been zigs and zags, we have made great progress. The path to closing Guantánamo during the Obama administration is clear, but it will take intense and sustained action to finish the job. The government must continue and accelerate the transfers of those approved for release. Administrative review of those not approved for transfer must be expedited. The absolute and irrational ban on transfers to the United States for any purpose, including detention and prosecution, must be changed as the population is reduced to a small core of detainees who cannot safely be transferred overseas. (Ten detainees, for example, face criminal charges before the military commissions that Congress set up in lieu of regular courts.)
The reasons for closing Guantánamo are more compelling than ever. As a high-ranking security official from one of our staunchest allies on counterterrorism (not from Europe) once told me, “The greatest single action the United States can take to fight terrorism is to close Guantánamo.” I have seen firsthand the way in which Guantánamo frays and damages vitally important security relationships with countries around the world. The eye-popping cost — around $3 million per detainee last year, compared with roughly $75,000 at a “supermax” prison in the United States — drains vital resources.
Americans from across the spectrum agree on closing Guantánamo. President George W. Bush called it “a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies.” Kenneth L. Wainstein, who advised Mr. Bush on homeland security, said keeping the facility open was not “sustainable.”
In 18 months at the State Department, I was sometimes frustrated by opposition to closing the facility in Congress and some corners of Washington. It reflects three fundamental misconceptions that have impeded the process.
First, not every person at Guantánamo is a continuing danger. Of the 127 individuals there (from a peak of close to 800), 59 have been “approved for transfer.” This means that six agencies — the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence — have unanimously approved the person for release based on everything known about the individual and the risk he presents. For most of those approved, this rigorous decision was made half a decade ago. Almost 90 percent of those approved are from Yemen, where the security situation is perilous. They are not “the worst of the worst,” but rather people with the worst luck. (We recently resettled several Yemenis in other countries, the first time any Yemeni had been transferred from Guantánamo in more than four years.)
Second, opponents of closing Guantánamo — including former Vice President Dick Cheney — cite a 30 percent recidivism rate among former detainees. This assertion is deeply flawed. It combines those “confirmed” of having engaged in hostile activities with those “suspected.” Focusing on the “confirmed” slashes the percentage nearly in half. Moreover, many of the “confirmed” have been killed or recaptured.
Most important, there is a vast difference between those transferred before 2009, when President Obama ordered the intensive review process by the six agencies, and those transferred after that review. Of the detainees transferred during this administration, more than 90 percent have not been suspected, much less confirmed, of committing any hostile activities after their release. The percentage of detainees who were transferred after the Obama-era review and then found to have engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities is 6.8 percent. While we want that number to be zero, that small percentage does not justify holding in perpetuity the overwhelming majority of detainees, who do not subsequently engage in wrongdoing.
Third, a common impression is that we cannot find countries that will accept detainees from Guantánamo. One of the happiest surprises of my tenure was that this is not the case. Many countries, from Slovakia and Georgia to Uruguay, have been willing to provide homes for individuals who cannot return to their own countries. Support from the Organization of American States, the Vatican and other religious and human rights organizations has also been helpful.
I don’t question the motives of those who oppose the efforts to close Guantánamo. Some are constrained by an overabundance of caution, refusing to trust the extensive security reviews that are in place. Others are hampered by an outdated view of the risk posed by many of the remaining detainees. A third group fails to recognize that the deep stain on our standing in the world is more dangerous than any individual approved for transfer. These concerns, however well-intentioned, collapse in the glare of a careful examination of the facts.
The road to closing Guantánamo is clear and well lit. We are now approaching the 13th anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo detention facility. Imprisoning men without charges for this long — many of whom have been approved for transfer for almost half the period of their incarceration — is not in line with the country we aspire to be.
Cliff Sloan, a lawyer, was the State Department’s special envoy for closing Guantánamo until Dec. 31.