For Immediate Release
Arrests at Federal Courthouse in NYC as Hunger Strike at Guantanamo Widens
NEW YORK - Responding to reports that 84 men — more than half of those imprisoned at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay — are hunger striking to protest their indefinite detention, 12 concerned citizens with Witness Against Torture were arrested at approximately 3pm in a “die-in” on the steps of the Federal Courthouse at Manhattan’s Foley Square (40 Centre Street).
Those arrested, some in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, held signs with names of the men who have already died under US custody at the prison. Fearing that more prisoners could die soon, the protesters are demanding that immediate measures be taken by the Obama administration to close the prison.
The hunger strike, begun on February 6, has reached dire proportions. Following a raid by guards of one of the prison sections (“Camp 6”) on April 13, inmates were newly thrown into solitary confinement and examined by medical staff. As a result, the number of those acknowledged as hunger striking by the US military has sharply climbed. Sixteen of the men are being force fed — a painful practice condemned by human rights organizations and described in testimony from Samir Mukbei published in the New York Times on April 14. More than half of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo, including some of the hunger strikers, have been “cleared for release” by US authorities.
“The hunger strike,” says Jeremy Varon, an organizer with Witness Against Torture, “is the predictable result of a failed policy of indefinite detention that is morally unacceptable and politically unsustainable. If action is not taken to change that policy, more prisoners will die and our nation’s shame will deepen.”
“I took part in the protest at the Federal Court,” says North Carolina resident Beth Brockman, “because justice is broken when men who our government has no plans to charge or put on trial no harm are held for years.”
“Shaker Aamer, the sole UK citizen still at Guantanamo,” added protestor Brian Hynes, “recently pleaded, ‘I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children.’ These words, from a man cleared for release 6 years ago, haunt me. The United States is slowly killing men in a prison that should never have existed. This nightmare must end.”
Since the hunger strike began, Witness Against Torture has been holding vigils and rallies throughout the country, calling the White House and US military, and sending letters to the detained men. Following a 7 day fast in late March, it has organized a “rolling fast” that will continue as long as the hunger strike does, in which more than 100 people nationwide have participated.
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.