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Demonstrators including members of Witness Against Torture take part in a Guantanamo protest in Washington, DC in 2013.  (Photo: Justin Norman/flickr/cc)

At Gates of Guantanamo, Activists Counter Unjust Detention With 'Powerful Act of Compassion'

'We are here to say: We know you are suffering; we have come to stand with you.'

Andrea Germanos

Hours after President Barack Obama signed into law a defense bill that continues to thwart closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, a group of human rights activists is staging a vigil and fast at its gates to say "the whole prison must shut down."

Under the banner "Forced-Feeding, Not Feasting at Guantanamo," the Thanksgiving Day action outside of the base in Cuba by 14 members of Witness Against Torture aims to put a spotlight on the men who continue to suffer unjust detention and the continued practice of force-feedings of hunger striking prisoners at "the site of one of our country’s greatest shames."

"Our actions are a simple act of solidarity," Chris Knestrick from Cleveland, Ohio said in a media statement. "We are here to say: We know you are suffering; we have come to stand with you."

In addition to closing the prison, the group says the U.S. military needs to shut down entirely its naval base in Cuba.

"The military base itself is an unwelcome symbol of U.S. power, which houses a torture chamber," said New York artist Enmanuel Candelario. "No country should endure this breach of its sovereignty."

The group's current visit to Guantanamo marks their second; their initial trip was a decade ago. "We are impatient," said Frank Lopez, an educator from New York City. "That is the understatement of the century," he said, noting that though a few of the detainees have been freed and despite Obama's pledge in 2008 to close the prison, 47 men who've been cleared for release still languish there. "The whole prison must shut down," he said.

The action was met with praise by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has represented current and former Guantanamo detainees.

Aliya Hana Hussain, Advocacy Program Manager for the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative at CCR, writes Thursday, "In a place designed to dehumanize everyone it touches, this simple act of compassion has real power."

"In the absence of their own homecoming, these activists are bringing humanity to the prisoners," she writes, noting that

The protest comes at a significant moment. The Obama administration is finalizing its plan to close Guantánamo, which will likely involve bringing a number of prisoners to the United States for continued detention without charge. Like us at CCR, the activists with Witness Against Torture know that it is the barbaric practice of indefinite detention, the selective denial of due process for Muslim men, that needs to end. [...]

With the Obama administration entering its last year, we are coming to a critical juncture in the history of the prison. It is not just the President’s legacy that is on the line; the lives of men like our clients Tariq Ba Odah, Fahd Ghazy, Mohammed Al Hamiri and Ghaleb Al-Bihani hang in the balance. Today, as I gather with friends and family, I will give thanks for not being alone in this effort, for having allies like Witness Against Torture who will continue to stand up to the injustice of indefinite detention no matter where it takes place.


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