Protests swirl on fifth anniversary of Guantanamo

Protests swirl on fifth anniversary of Guantanamo

 
Detainee’s mother in tears after long trek to Guantanamo gates, 90 protesters arrested in Washington.

 
By Patrick Moser – GUANTANAMO, Cuba

Demonstrators
in mock prison garb rallied here and around the globe Thursday calling
for the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, to be closed, five years after
its first "war on terror" detainee arrived.

Around
395 people are being held at the controversial US naval base in
Guantanamo Bay, most without legal safeguards such as access to courts
or legal counsel.

UN
chief Ban Ki-moon joined in the world refrain, saying "like my
predecessor (Kofi Annan), I believe the prison should be closed."

His
comments came as the London-based human rights group Amnesty
International appealed to world powers to press the United States to
shut down the prison at the US enclave at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"The
US government must end this travesty of justice. Equally, it is not
enough for world leaders to express concern about Guantanamo and carry
on business as usual with the USA," said Amnesty’s secretary general,
Irene Kahn.

Outside
the base, a former inmate, relatives of detainees and other activists
headed to its gates to demand the closure of the facility which
received its first inmates on January 11, 2002.

The group staged a symbolic kilometer-long march to the barrier that separates the camp from the rest of Cuba.


In London, some 200 people demonstrated in front of the US embassy
against the camp where a number of British nationals were held — some
in solitary confinement — only to be released without charge after
months of harsh treatment.

Amnesty
organized a mock-up of life at Guantanamo with demonstrators playing
the roles of guards and detainees wearing orange overalls and white
masks over their mouths. "Scum, face down!" the "guards" shouted before
an audience of protesters and journalists.

Some
300 people dressed in prisoners’ orange jumpsuits held a similar
demonstration in the US capital. A lawyer read a letter from Guantanamo
detainee Jumah al-Dossari summing up his despair: "I would rather die
than stay here forever, and I’ve tried to commit suicide many times.
The purpose of Guantanamo is to destroy people, and I’ve been
destroyed."

Ninety
protesters were arrested in Washington after illegally entering a
federal courthouse where they believe Guantanamo detainess should be
allowed to contest their detention, said a demonstration organizer,
Matthew Daloisio.

Once
inside, the group donned "Shut down Guantanamo" T-shirts, he added.
Police were not immediately available to confirm the arrests.

Outside
the State Supreme Court building in New York City, 100 orange-clad
protesters had the same message. "We are here to tell you this is
wrong," said Vincent Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional
Rights.

The
US government established the Guantanamo facility in the months after
the September 11, 2001, attacks to interrogate the prisoners rounded up
in countries such as Afghanistan as part of the US war on terror.

In
all, nearly 800 prisoners have passed through the camp since it opened.
The US government says about 395 detainees remain at Guantanamo.
Washington hopes to prosecute 60 to 80 in military tribunals, while
another 86 could soon be repatriated. The fate of the rest remains
unclear.

A
10-year-old boy personally delivered a letter to British Prime Minister
Tony Blair asking for help in securing his father’s release from the
camp. "I want to know if Mr Blair cares after four years," Anas
al-Banna wrote.

Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the camp as "a sad situation" in a speech on human rights in Moscow.

Prisoners
"are held without trial or investigation. People who are released from
there and enter national justice systems are found innocent. It’s a sad
situation," Putin said.

In
Madrid, a march organized by Amnesty International delivered 150,000
signatures demanding that Guantanamo be shut down. Activists were also
rallying in Oslo, Copenhagen and other European capitals to press for
its closure.

In
Prague, a handful of Amnesty members released 430 orange balloons in
Wenceslas Square to represent the prisoners still being held.

Although
located on a US base, the camp does not fall under the jurisdiction of
US courts, a fact that has allowed President George W. Bush’s
administration to interrogate and hold suspects there indefinitely.

Detainee’s mother in tears after long trek to Guantanamo gates

Zohra
Zewawi couldn’t see the US prison itself, or much more than shrub,
fences and Cuban soldiers, but she plunged into tears at the gates of
the Guantanamo Bay base where her son is held without charges.

Being
here made her heart beat faster, she said, after traveling from Dubai
to Cuba five years after the first "war-on-terror" prisoners arrived at
the US enclave’s navy-run prison in southeastern Cuba.

"I
am so glad to be close to my son," said Zewawi, clad in a long black
dress and gray headscarf, and sporting a pin with her son’s inmate
number — 727.

She smiled and broke down in tears at the thought her son Omar was so close, yet unreachable.

Another
of her sons, Taher Deghayes, held up a photo of his brother and a sign
calling for his release, as 19 protestors marched and posted banners
demanding the closure of the controversial base, sometimes referred to
as Gitmo, where the US government holds nearly 400 prisoners.

The
protestors also included former Guantanamo inmate Asif Iqbal and US
peace activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son, a US soldier, was killed and
Iraq.

They bowed their heads as a pastor prayed for peace and justice, and laid wreaths on the fence.

"We’ll
walk miles for fair trials" and "Gitmo is a place of shame," they
chanted during the symbolic march on the Cuban side of the fence,
several kilometers (miles) away from the base.

One
protester wore an orange suit, his head covered by a black hood, with
blacked-out goggles over his eyes — the outfit detainees wore when
they arrived at the maximum security prison set deep inside the
118-square-kilometer (29,160 acre) naval base, away from prying eyes
and the protections of the US justice system.

"When
I read and see what happens in this prison, it makes me sick to my
stomach," said Sheehan, who gained notoriety for taking her campaign
against the Iraq war to the gates of US President George W. Bush’s
Texas ranch.

"If dogs were treated like this in the United States, there’d be a riot," she said.

Iqbal,
25, stared beyond the fence, but said he felt far removed from the
prison where he was held for three years before his release two years
ago.

"I
feel I am so far from being shackled, I feel I am so far from being
tortured, from being held illegally," said Iqbal, a Pakistan-born
Briton who featured in the "Road to Guantanamo" dramatized documentary
film.

Adele
Welty, the mother of a fireman killed in the September 11 attacks in
the United States, urged Americans to write their senators and call the
White House to "demand an end to the unjust incarceration of your
fellow human beings."

Outside
the US enclave, Zewawi said she was grateful for the international
outcry. "To everyone in the world, we say ‘don’t give up’," she said.

Deghayes
pointed out the protesters did not seek to argue the prisoners’
innocence or guilt, but demanded they be charged in a court of law or
released, that they not be tortured, and that the prison be shut down.

"This
is what we expect from a civilized democracy," he told journalists,
standing by a sign that warned in Spanish and English: "Keep out,
military zone."

The restricted zone meant the protesters’ only audience consisted of journalists, officials and a few soldiers.

90 Guantanamo protesters arrested in Washington

Ninety
protesters demonstrating against the US "war on terror" prison in
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were arrested after illegally entering a federal
court building, a demonstration organizer said.

"Most
of those arrested did not bring their own identification, and instead
took the name of people in Guantanamo, in an attempt to actually read
them into a federal court record," Matthew Daloisio, said a member of
the organization Witness Against Torture.

The demonstration began early Thursday with a gathering of some 250 protesters outside the US Supreme Court building.

At
the courthouse, the jumpsuit-clad protesters remained outside, but
others succeeded in entering the building and slipped on T-shirts that
read "Shut down Guantanamo," Daloisio said.

He said 90 people were arrested.

"It’s
likely they’ll be held for at least a day, possibly longer, which is
nothing compared to the five years without ever being brought to a
court" that the Guantanamo prisoners endure, he said.

Police
in Washington responsible for security at the courthouse were not
immediately available late Thursday to confirm the arrests.

Filed in: Media Coverage

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