January 7, 2007
GUANTANAMO, Cuba: Cindy Sheehan, whose soldier son was killed in
Iraq, marched with other mothers and peace activists Thursday to the
Cuban military zone around the U.S. naval camp at Guantanamo Bay to
demand the closure of the U.S. military prison for terror suspects.
The protest in Cuba came as demonstrators in Washington, D.C. and
London, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, called for the
prison’s closure on the fifth anniversary of the arrival of the first
detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
“What I’ve read happens in this prison makes me sick to my stomach,”
said the 49-year-old from Vacaville, California, standing outside the
post where Cuban officials stopped the dozen protesters from crossing
the 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) through military territory to the U.S.
base’s main gate.
“I’m calling for the cycle of violence to stop now, to close this
prison,” she said, wearing a peace sign medallion around her neck.
Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son Casey died in April 2004 and who
staged a campsite protest outside U.S. President George W. Bush’s Texas
ranch, was joined by the mothers of a Guantanamo prisoner and a New
York firefighter who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The protesters had hoped to march down the lonely asphalt road past
the Cuban mine fields dotted with scrub brush and cactus, but Cuban Lt.
Col. Edilberto Rivera said all civilians are prohibited in the zone.
Zohra Zewawi, the mother of British detainee Omar Deghayes, traveled
from the United Arab Emirates with another son, Taher Deghayes, to join
the protest. She said her son had been tortured and blinded in one eye
after he was imprisoned in September 2002 and still has not been
charged or tried.
American Adele Welty, whose firefighter son Timothy was killed in
the World Trade Center five years ago, called on Americans to contact
Congress to demand the closure of the prison and fair trials for the
The protesters also included Asif Iqbal, a British Muslim who spent
2 1/2 years imprisoned at the base and who expressed solidarity with
those still inside.
“Every day, every minute, they are in our thoughts,” the 25-year-old said.
Rick Mines, a 63-year-old agriculture economist from Rail Road Flat,
California, made his own dramatic statement, dressing in orange
jumpsuit, black hood, goggles and headphones like the terror suspects.
Cuba’s government considers the U.S. base, product of a treaty
following the 19th century Spanish-American war, a violation of the
communist-run nation’s sovereignty.
The U.S. military is holding about 395 men on suspicion of links to
al-Qaida or the Taliban, including about 85 who have been cleared to be
released or transferred to other countries. The military says it wants
to charge 60 to 80 detainees and bring them to trial.
The military says the detention center is vital to the fight against
terrorism and that instances of abuse have been investigated and the
perpetrators disciplined. The detention camp commander, Adm. Harry B.
Harris, says aggressive interrogation tactics are no longer used.
U.S. Army Col. Lora Tucker, a spokeswoman for the detention center,
said the military had no plans to acknowledge the protest Thursday or
increase security at the gate, which is located at a distance from the
prison camp on the other side of a hill.
“Nothing changes for us based on a demonstration being held
somewhere in Cuba,” she said, adding that Thursday was “a normal work
day” at the naval base.
At the United Nations, new Secretary-General Ban on Thursday echoed
an appeal by his predecessor, Kofi Annan, who urged the Bush
administration to shut down the prison.
“Like my predecessor, I believe that prison at Guantanamo should be
closed,” Ban told his first news conference since taking the reins of
the U.N. on Jan 1.
In Washington, D.C. 100 protesters were arrested inside a federal
courthouse after a brief demonstration calling for the prison’s
Earlier, outside the Supreme Court building, several hundred
demonstrators and dozens of rights activists wearing orange prison jump
suits and black hoods called for the shutdown of Guantanamo.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights,
told the crowd the Bush administration has engaged in an “unprecedented
overreaching of executive authority.”
In London, about 100 people protested outside the U.S. Embassy.
Wearing orange inmate outfits and surgical masks, they formed eight
long rows on a nearby street. Three “guards” wearing green camouflage
outfits walked among them, shouting orders for them to stand up or
Associated Press writers Michael Melia in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thomas
Wagner in London and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed
to this report.