Posts Tagged hunger strike

A Note of Hope v. the Torture Regime

My friend Stephen Phelps, Senior Minister at The Riverside Church, signed The New York Times ad on closing Guantanamo we plan to publish next week, and sent a note saying he would “begin to send the hope around to some others.”  This hit me strongly.  For the last four+ years, since Obama promised to close it, nothing hopeful has come out of Guantanamo.

It’s only the courageous, and desperate, actions of the prisoners which provide hope now, and which are enlivening the rest of the world with the idea that now Obama must, as Lynn Feinerman put it in Tikkun Daily, “Close Guantánamo. Repatriate and rehabilitate those destroyed by it.”

25 former Guantanamo prisoners just wrote Obama demanding he close the prison. They  say that force-feeding (for which even more “medical” personnel have been brought in recently) “demonstrates the absence of any morals and principles the US administration may claim to have regarding these men,” and cite:

  • The abuse of the prisoners’ religious rights, such as the desecration of the Qur’an
  • The use of chemical sprays and rubber bullets to “quell unrest”
  • Regular and humiliating strip searches
  • Extremely long periods in total isolation
  • Interference in privileged client/attorney relationships
  • Lack of meaningful communication with relatives
  • Arbitrary imprisonment without charge or trial

Ahmed Rachidi, a former prisoner released to Morocco, said recently:

The Obama Administration claims they are on a hunger strike because they want better treatment or better food. But that is not true. They are on a hunger strike because they want justice. They want freedom. They want to go home to their families. And this time they will not quit.

I hope we don’t fail to see how horrific a hunger strike is.  Rachidi goes on:

This will be the last hunger strike. To stop eating is the only way prisoners can exert any control when they are powerless. But this time Shaker and the other prisoners don’t have the same strength, the same energy they used to have. Mentally and physically they are very weak. I am worried that something can go wrong, that someone will lose his life… Guantanamo is a concern to every human being who believes in democracy, who believes in human rights, who believes in the rule of law. We don’t have a lot of time. We need to come together to force President Obama to restore the rule of law and put an end to this disgrace.

In the thirty-six hours since we debuted the ad text, and began asking people to sign on, circulate it, and donate for its publication, I’ve been very heartened by the comments and donations, from $5 to $1,000. The lawyers who represent prisoners are a group with every reason to have given up in defeat, since they are barely allowed to get to Guantanamo, and now their clients are visibly weakened, some unable to converse.  They are signing on, and helping raise funds.

Activists, artists, academics, lawyers, elected officials: this is an urgent call to you.  Unite your voices together to support justice for the prisoners in the “newspaper of record” on the 100th day of the hunger strike. 

Publishing this ad will resonate in a way other actions don’t, and could help create a situation where the Obama administration is forced to respond.  Let’s get into the streets around the world on May 17-19 as part of taking hold of the moment where how a society is measured comes down to closing Guantanamo, and gives hope that the war crimes this country has perpetrated can be addressed.

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Being GTMO Prisoners for a Moment

Saturday was the first time it felt like spring in NYC, and crowds of people filled Union Square Park watching jugglers and musicians, and just hanging out.  It was so heartbreakingly pleasant, one felt bad bearing the news to tourists that out of many things wrong in this class-divided world, we were about to challenge them to take notice of one very important thing.

Union Square Park, New York City March 30, 2013, marking 51 days of hunger strike by Guantanamo prisoners.

Union Square Park, New York City March 30, 2013, marking 51 days of hunger strike by Guantanamo prisoners.  Photo: Witness Against Torture

Ten of us put on orange jumpsuits to mark the 51st day of the potentially deadly hunger strike by men imprisoned by the U.S. at Guantanamo.  Witness Against Torture activists have been fasting for a week in solidarity; this was a public way and place to end the fast, and have visual impact.  Often I am doing public relations at events like this.  Today I wanted to experience the time under the hood, and be able to listen for peoples’ comments.

90% of those seeing us walked on by.  Hundreds took flyers.  Many took photos, though oddly, most didn’t really stop to find out much.  Several said “thank you” to those of us in jumpsuits.  Comments ran from “they should burn that place down with everyone in it,” to “they should free all those guys, and then burn it down!”  A few people ranted that “they” were all terrorists.  One said, “the prisoners are lucky; they could of all just been shot.”  Some people were just confused, saying Obama had closed down the prison.  Memorably, one hipster told another, “I think they’re monks, protesting Easter.”

One of the people flyering commented that all the Black people who stopped for a flyer “got it,” recognized what the problem is, and expressed compassion.  A people who has suffered oppression is maybe most able to empathize, notwithstanding that the current President and Attorney General are responsible for no prisoners leaving Guantanamo in the last 18 months alive.

At this point, so far into the fast, we hear men are suffering terribly, possibly being deprived of water they see as safe to drink, some force-fed and some hospitalized.  Clive Stafford-Smith, attorney for Shaker Amer, tweeted “90mins on phone with Shaker Aamer today; 130 detainees on hunger strike; situation in #Gitmo as dire as General ‘Miller Time’” referencing Geoffrey Miller, who ran Guantanamo in 2004, and then went to Abu Ghraib, running torture at both.

How do we close Guantanamo and save the lives of the prisoners?  Without the men taking this action, the White House would not have been finally forced to acknowledge the hunger strike, and major media would not be now covering Guantanamo.  Their action is decisive, and desperate, as their attorneys report.  There is no way out of Guantanamo now, absent a mass demand that it be finally closed and the prisoners charged and tried, or released, as most of them have been already cleared for.

But our action is decisive also.  Find out what you can do where you are.

Connect with others through Facebook.

Support World Can’t Wait’s work to make Guantanamo visible in the U.S.  Materials (flyers, signs); websites, travel cost $$.  Our work is 100% supported by direct donations from individuals.  Donate now.

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