A Plea of Innocence and a Plea for Humanity
On Wednesday, May 28th, the trial for thirty-five people arrested at the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11, 2008 -- the date that marked six years of torture and abuse at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay -- continued. The government rested their case and the defendants -- who are representing themselves -- began to mount their case, citing international law, the U.S. Constitution and outrage at the degradation of human rights as motivations for their witness.
The 35 were part of a group of more than 80 people arrested in an appeal to the highest court on behalf of those at Guantánamo. Most of those arrested were taken into custody without their own identification and announced that they were acting on behalf of a Guantánamo prisoner.
As these activists go to trial, their act of taking a "Guantánamo name" symbolically grants the Guantánamo prisoner their day in court -- a day that the Pentagon has denied them for years.
Sherrill Hogen, a 69-year-old retired social worker from Western Massachusetts, gave one of the opening statements in the trial. Sherrill carried the name Ahmed Mohammed on January 11th and into the court room. Sherrill felt compelled to participate in the protest at the Supreme Court because detainees are being tortured at Guantánamo: "Torture is a product of a sick society, of leaders bloated by power and fear, and is the antithesis of human goodness, compassion and love. I don't think I have a choice about where to put my energies."
Your Honor, Having only you to appeal to, and holding therefore that you represent the best judgment of the American people, based on our Constitution, which has shaped our democracy and protected the rights of the individual, we bring to you our plea of innocence.
We are charged with Disorderly Conduct and Unlawful Assembly. But these were neither our purpose nor our intent. Rather, we came to the Supreme Court in our Capitol, because it has jurisdiction over the two issues about which we knew there were violations of justice: The denial of habeus corpus to the prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the use and acceptance of torture as a legitimate practice by representatives of the U.S. government.
We came deliberately and peacefully to the branch of the government that has the authority to protect prisoners' right to be heard in their own defense and to be treated humanely. We respect the Constitution too much, not too little, and we believed that the Supreme Court is the very place that would listen, even as today we believe that you, Judge Gardner, will listen.
Because we believe that you will uphold the supreme law of the land and the absolute imperative of citizens to protest when that law is violated by our government.
As you will hear from our witnesses, we came to shed light on a crime being committed in our names, so that justice might be rendered to people in the custody of the United States of America.
To learn more about the trial, the defendants and the movement to shut down Guantánamo, visit www.witnesstorture.org