For Immediate Release
American Anti-Torture Activists Visit Former Guantánamo Prisoners in Bermuda
NEW YORK - Three Christian activists from Witness Against Torture
traveled to Bermuda on Friday, July 16, 2010 to meet with four Uyghur
men who were detained in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for more than seven years.
(The Uyghur ethnic group primarily resides in western China.) The Bush
administration conceded that the men are not “enemy combatants,” and in
October 2008 a federal judge ordered their release. Eight months later,
four Uyghurs were resettled in Bermuda. Other Uyghur detainees were
resettled elsewhere while five Uyghurs remain in Guantánamo.
The purpose of the delegation to Bermuda is to build relationships with
the Uyghurs, seek their counsel concerning further advocacy for both
current and former Guantánamo prisoners, and to bring a message of
atonement and reconciliation from the American people to the former
prisoners. “In the United States, public discourse on Guantánamo is
mainly informed by various perspectives from the military, politicians
and the U.S. public,” says John Bambrick, a Chicago youth minister. “We
have come to Bermuda to seek the perspectives of men who have
experienced Guantánamo firsthand.”
“The Uyghur men in Bermuda, like us, are people of faith,” says Jeremy
Kirk, a Ph.D. student in social ethics at Union Theological Seminary in
New York City. “We are practicing our Christian faith by seeking
connection with our Muslim brothers, in whose detention and abuse we
have participated as U.S. taxpayers and citizens.”
On Saturday, the three activists visited the Uyghurs’ apartment, shared
a meal and swam in the ocean with the former prisoners, and swapped
stories about family and religious faith. The Uyghur men shared some of
their experiences of being in Guantánamo and discussed their gratitude
for and challenges associated with resettlement. (They are very grateful
to the Bermudan Government’s support and hospitality.) On Sunday, the
activists will speak with the Uyghurs in further detail about their
experiences at Guantánamo and the conditions currently faced by the men
who remain in detention. Luke Hansen, who is studying to become a Jesuit
priest, states, “One of the many things that has impressed me in our
conversations with these men, whom the Bush administration repeatedly
labeled as the ‘worst of the worst,’ is their gentleness and compassion.
While these men fiercely criticize the rationalizations behind their
detention, they have expressed no resentment towards their captors, but
rather have focused solely on the imperative to release the remaining
Uyghur detainees at Guantánamo.”
The delegation to Bermuda included:
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John Bambrick, 31, works as a Catholic youth minister in Chicago and is
a member of the White Rose Catholic Worker. He earned his B.A. at
Marquette University in 2001 and his M.A. in Pastoral Studies from
Loyola University Chicago in 2008.
Luke Hansen, S.J., 28, is part of the Wisconsin Province of the Society
of Jesus (Jesuits). In May, Luke earned an M.A. at Loyola University
Chicago. His thesis is titled, “Countering Terrorism with Justice: A
Catholic Response to Policies of Indefinite Detention in the Fight
Jeremy Kirk, 32, is a Ph.D. student in social ethics at Union
Theological Seminary in New York City, where he studies interfaith
response to crisis and liberation theology. He has worked as an
organizer with various environmental and human rights groups.
All three are members of Witness Against Torture, a grassroots
organization that formed in December 2005 when twenty-five activists
walked to Guantánamo to visit the prisoners and protest torture
policies. Since then, the group has engaged in public education,
lobbying, demonstrations, and nonviolent civil disobedience.
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Witness Against Torture is a grassroots movement that came into being in December 2005 when 24 activists walked to Guantanamo to visit the prisoners and condemn torture policies. Since then, it has engaged in public education, community outreach, and non-violent direct action. For the first 100 days of the Obama administration, the group held a daily vigil at the White House, encouraging the new President to uphold his commitments to shut down Guantanamo.