Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Until when are we going to stay here?"


Witness Against Torture spent the last two weeks in Washington protesting the failure of the Obama administration to act on its promise to close the shameful US gulag in Cuba. The media yawned, but, if we choose to look, at least we can see these protesters.

According to human rights lawyer Andy Worthington, prisoners at Guantanamo were carrying on their own protest at the same time. A prisoner was able to tell pass on to his lawyer the following account:

"We decided to protest … The entire camp made sign boards saying 'it's unacceptable to keep detaining us because of what's going on outside,' [meaning, incidents like the Detroit underwear bomber or unrest in Yemen]. Why are we being punished for the bad acts others are doing outside?"

"The construction work going on here is giving us the impression that we are going to be here forever. People detained here are feeling this."

[In Tunisia,] "After 23 years of injustice, finally people decided to liberate themselves and seek freedom. Now we need to struggle for ourselves."

"We have children, wives, families. It is not only Americans who are human beings. Our families are crying and asking, 'Where are our fathers? Where are our sons? We want to be treated like human beings."

"We can no longer tolerate this situation. It seems to us we are being treated in a very racist way, exactly how black Americans were treated. We're 100 Yemenis, 10 Saudis -- and we don't know why they are keeping us here."

"Honestly we have lost any trust in the American government. But we still have some hope. A mistake was made and maybe it will be corrected. It's not a shame to make a mistake. The shame is to continue [the same way after the mistake]. The American government needs to understand that it made a mistake and correct the mistake. Shame on the American government. They are acting like the Tunisian dictators."...

Of the protesters in front of the White House and Department of Justice on January 11, which marked the beginning of a decade of arbitrary detentions at Guantanamo: "We'd like to thank the protesters from the depths of our hearts. They are asking for justice even though they are not imprisoned."

There's an amazing faith in those words -- a belief that people are good, that if they paid attention to the prisoners (who have not been convicted by any tribunal but some kangaroo military boards) as other human beings they'd object to their treatment, that even the United States government should be able to admit mistakes.

Maybe we should be glad that there has been so little media attention to protests in DC or Guantanamo. If these events were more publicized, the government might simply end phone calls to lawyers.

I'm reminded of an observation by Eleanor Roosevelt:

To undo a mistake is always harder than not to create one originally, but we seldom have the foresight ...

Even if the administration has given up on closing Guantanamo and repudiating indefinite detentions without trial, we can't.

1 comment:

Darlene said...

I just posted on the movie 'Taxi To the Dark Side' about the prisoners who were incarcerated under George Bush's administration. It is a brutal documentary on the cruelty some Americans are capable of.

The impression I got was that most of the prisoners in Guatanemo are innocent men caught up in sweeps or turned in for money. It is a shocking and terrible time in our nation's history when torture was used and the rule of law was ignored.

The longer we keep these men, the greater the damage not only to them and their families, but to our country.

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