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Illegal and Inhumane Conditions at Guantánamo

April 17, 2007

Speaking out against the Illegal and Inhumane Conditions at Guantánamo, Citizens Return to Federal Court in Washington, DC

On April 18, 2007, anti-torture activists, including Baltimore's Max Obuszewski and Joy First from Madison, Wisconsin, will gather in Washington, D.C. outside U.S. District Court, 333 Constitution Ave. NW at 8:30 AM before going inside for trial to face a charge of disorderly conduct after being arrested on January 11.

Eighty-nine individuals, wearing anti-torture tee shirts, were arrested in the atrium inside the federal courthouse while reading names and stories of the men being illegally detained at Guantánamo. Each activist in the atrium was representing a particular detainee. Earlier that day, habeas corpus petitions were filed in the clerk's office to request that the court hear the cases of the detainees.

A delegation attempted to meet with Chief Judge Thomas Hogan to discuss the habeas corpus petitions and to urge him to take judicial action against the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. When the anti-torture advocates gathered in the atrium, federal marshals informed them that Judge Hogan said the atrium was a free-speech zone. However, the advocates were asked to remove their tee shirts and signs. This seemed a contradiction from Hogan's perspective, so this order was refused and those remaining in the atrium were taken into custody. It is believed that this was the first mass arrest ever in this federal courthouse.

When arrested, the protesters refused to provide any identification stating they were there on behalf of the detainees. Surprisingly, the arrestees were released with either Jane or John Doe written on their citations, charged with disorderly conduct, and given a court date of April 18. It is unprecedented that the police would release individuals without proper ID or any address.

It is not clear whether the court, on April 18, will listen to the grievances of the protesters regarding the conditions at Guantánamo. If the court refuses to hear the protesters, they will take their message to the streets of Washington, DC, processing to several key locations in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, representing the prisoners at Guantánamo.

The horrors of the government's actions at Guantánamo must never be forgotten. On January 11th 2002, twenty hooded and shackled men shuffled off a plane from Afghanistan arriving at the U.S. prison at Guantánamo. In an attempt to sidestep the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war, the Bush administration created a new category of "enemy combatant" for these men captured in the "war on terror."

Since that time, more than 1000 men and boys have been imprisoned at Guantánamo. Accounts of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment have been condemned by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and other reputable bodies. The prisoners have resorted to hunger strikes as a way of protesting their treatment. Many have attempted suicide; three men killed themselves on June 10, 2006. Desperation, fear and frustration mark their confinement. Five years later, only one prisoner, David Hicks, has been convicted.

However, his hearing failed to meet basic legal norms. Many prisoners have been released because no evidence has been found against them, but close to 400 men remain in indefinite detention without the hope of release. The United States has abandoned law and justice.

The action on January 11 was endorsed by many peace and human rights organizations including Witness Against Torture, Center for Constitutional Rights, Code Pink, Pax Christi USA, United for Peace and Justice, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, School of Americas Watch, Declaration of Peace and War Resisters League. The action followed the principles and guidelines of nonviolent civil resistance from Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.


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