Activists Protest in DC over Guantanamo Prison
WASHINGTON - Dozens of human rights activists marked the eighth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison for detainees by protesting by the White House on Monday.
Members of Witness Against Torture, which is calling on President Barack Obama to follow through with his pledge to close the U.S. prison in Cuba, then marched to downtown Washington. The group also opposes holding prisoners without charge or trial within the United States.
Half of the approximately 40 demonstrators wore orange jumpsuits with black hoods over their heads as they marched with their hands behind their backs from the White House through downtown Washington.
They announced plans for a 12-day fast that will end on Jan. 22 - the original closing date for the prison ordered by Obama. But the government is still working to refurbish a prison in Illinois to hold some prisoners, put others on trial and send some abroad.
Organizers said there are more than 50 people who will fast in Washington, with others also participating across the country.
Art Laffin, 55, who lives in Washington, said he plans to fast the next 12 days, taking only liquids, to highlight how serious the issue is.
"It's a very small act to take," he said. "The situation there is very serious."
He said it's important that detainees in Guantanamo and the U.S. prison in Bagram, Afghanistan "know they are not forgotten and there are people in this country who deeply, deeply care about their plight."
The group says Obama's administration has upheld former President George W. Bush's anti-terrorism policies.
Republicans and some Democrats have strongly opposed moving terror suspects to U.S. soil, citing security fears. A classified Pentagon report said one in five terror suspects released from Guantanamo has returned to the fight.
Under Obama, some detainees have been transferred to other countries, but he has suspended the transfer of detainees to Yemen.
About 200 detainees remain at the prison. Obama last week reiterated his vow to eventually close it.
Pardiss Kebriaei, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many detainees, said at the rally that she has to go to Guantanamo next month to visit a client. She said she doesn't know what to tell him about why he's still in prison.
Kebriaei said there was "a lot of hope" among detainees when Obama was elected, but they remain in custody. She also said the vast majority who are released do not join terror groups, as some claim, and instead are seeking to rebuild their lives.
The center says 130 men held in Guantanamo have been cleared for release but remain illegally detained. At a news conference, Omar Deghayes, a former detainee who was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and now lives in London, appeared via video and said he has started a group to help former detainees adjust to outside life, such as helping them with their education.
Lakhdar Boumediene, who was released in May and now lives in France, said by phone at the event that the United States "made no charge against me" and has not apologized for what he went through. Boumediene's landmark 2008 Supreme Court case gave the Guantanamo detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment.
"Believe me, they tortured me," Boumediene said. "I can't forget ... I try to live my life again."
At the rally, organizer Frida Berrigan said they should have been celebrating the prison's closure.
"We're here in anger and in sadness," Berrigan said. "We're here to hold up a mirror to the Obama administration."
Joshua Brollier, 27, of Chicago, who wore an orange jumpsuit said as he began his fast Monday he put himself "mentally in the condition of people in much harsher conditions." He said he hopes the group's protest pressures the Obama administration to take action.
"I really hope that we can use our bodies here and our presence here to raise awareness about the greater issue and to wake up the American public to what's going on," Brollier said.