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Guantanamo Bay Campaigners Go On Trial

Jo Siedlecka

Later today, 35 people arrested at a demonstration at the US Supreme Court during the 11 January International Day of Action for Guantanamo will go to trial. They will appear in Superior Court in Washington, DC.

The campaigners, who have the support of many church groups, Pax Christi USA, and other human rights organsations, face charges of either 'unlawful free speech' or 'causing a harangue' or both. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail, as well as fines and court fees.0527 01 1

In a new twist on traditional protest, the 35 activists will enter their names as those of actual Guantánamo inmates. On January 11, they were arrested without their own identification and were taken into custody under the name of a Guantánamo prisoner. This act symbolically grants the Guantánamo prisoners their day in court-- which the Pentagon has denied them for years.

Father Bill Pickard, 61, a Catholic priest from Scranton, PA, is one of the defendants. But he will be tried as Faruq Ali Ahmed, a Guantánamo detainee.

"I went to the Supreme Court to make a simple plea that the inhumane treatment and actual torture of inmates at Guantánamo Bay stop," said Fr Pickard. "I went to bring the name and the humanity of Faruq Ali Ahmed " who claims he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001 simply to teach the Koran to children and that he has no affiliation with the Taliban or Al Qaeda " before the law. He cannot do it himself, so I am called by my faith, my respect for the rule of law and my conscience to do it for him."

Among the defendants is a hog farmer from Grinnell, Iowa, a social worker from Saratoga Springs, New York, and a legal secretary from Baltimore.

Representing themselves, the defendants plan on justifying their acts as upholding US law and international human rights and will call witnesses to document the abuses at Guantánamo.

At 7.45am today, dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, those facing trial will carry their Guantánamo inmates' names from the US Supreme to the D.C. Superior Court, where their cases will be heard.

At 8.30am, Witness Against Torture will hold a press conference outside the Superior Court. Defendants and witnesses will address the media. They will also hold a ceremony of justice, expressing their demand that the rights and humanity of the detainees be respected by placing placards bearing the detainees' names alongside copies of the US Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and the sacred texts of various religious traditions.

The January 11 protest was organized by Witness Against Torture, which was formed in 2005 when 25 Americans walked from Cuba to the US detention facility at Guantánamo.

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© 2008 Independent Catholic News

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