U.S. Charges Christians that Marched to Guantánamo
U.S. Initiates Legal Processes Against Christian Group that Marched to Guantánamo
Seven individuals from Witness Against Torture, a group protesting the denial of rights to prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were served papers by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) last week. The group of twenty-four U.S. Christians marched over 60 miles to the Naval Base in an attempt to practice the Christian act of prisoner visitation. The group camped and fasted for four days at the gate of the militarized zone while awaiting access to the base.
Five hundred prisoners are currently detained by the U.S. government in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Human rights organizations and released detainees have documented torture and extreme prisoner abuse at the base, but the Bush administration asserts that Guantánamo is beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. and international courts of law.
In a response sent through the Center for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture refused to answer OFAC's questions, maintaining that the true crime is the torture and abuse of civilian prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Guantánamo, not the violation of the travel ban on Cuba. As the U.S. prohibits travel to Cuba, Witness Against Torture members risk a maxiumum of 10 years in prison or a $250,00 fine for their actions to bring attention to U.S. practices in Guantánamo.
"I find it extremely hypocritical that Washington is investigating this group for the 'crime' of traveling to Cuba. The U.S. government is flagrantly violating even the most basic norms of human rights – such as indefinite detention without charges, denial of fair trials and, most importantly, torture." says Michael Ratner, the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which coordinates legal representation for many of the men held at the U.S. Base. "There are far greater crimes at play here than Witness Against Torture's travel logistics."
Marchers included Fr. Steven Kelly, S.J. and 79-year-old Sister Anne Montgomery. Upon return to the U.S. all members of the group openly shared that they had been to Cuba and gave their names and addresses to Customs officials. Despite this high level of openness, the U.S. Treasury Department sent letters of inquiry to individuals that were not even on the the trip.
Witness Against Torture member Gary Ashbeck, of Baltimore's Jonah House community, reflects, "We gave U.S. customs all the current information on our group and they were still not able to accurately account for who travelled. It seems that despite all their new methods of spying on U.S. citizens, our government has a very flawed intelligence program. It makes us wonder how good the intelligence is on the cases of those who are imprisoned at Guantánamo. Do they even know who is imprisoned there?"