US pacifists in Cuba to protest Guantanamo prison

HAVANA, Jan 6 (Reuters) – Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan defied a U.S.
ban on travel to communist Cuba and flew to Havana on Saturday to join
protesters demanding the closure of the Guantanamo prison camp for
terrorism suspects.

Sheehan and four other American peace activists arrived in Havana and
will join 10 others on a march to the U.S. naval base in eastern Cuba
where about 395 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are being held.

The march is part of planned international protests against the prison
camp on Thursday, five years after it opened with the first detainees
flown in from the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan that followed the Sept.
11 attacks.

Washington has faced steady criticism over the
Guantanamo prison from rights groups and foreign governments because
most of the prisoners have not been charged and due to reports of abuse
of prisoners.

Americans who travel to Cuba without special
licenses from the U.S. government can be punished with fines of
thousands of dollars.

"I’m not afraid. What is most important is
the inhumanity that my country is perpetrating in Guantanamo," Sheehan
told reporters on arrival in Cuba.

"If I worried about reprisals
I wouldn’t be doing anything. … I think it is time for people to step
up and try to stop this," she said.

Cuba’s government — which
has long condemned the prison as a concentration camp run by its
political enemy the United States — has allowed the protesters to
march to the Cuban security perimeter surrounding the U.S. enclave.

The United States has said it does not use torture and that the camp
was necessary to deal with the particular circumstances of its war on
terrorism.

The U.S. military has quickened the pace for
releasing captives held at Guantanamo. The Pentagon said in December
the prison’s population was now about 395 inmates, out of more than 770
who have been held there since the camp opened in January 2002.

The group of 12 marchers will include former detainee Asif Iqbal, a
British citizen who was released after two years with no charges, and
the mother of current prisoner Omar Deghayes, a British resident.

Sheehan, whose son was killed in the Iraq war, became a central figure
in the U.S. anti-war movement last year after she camped outside
President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch and has been arrested at least
three times at protests.

"We’re here as American citizens to say
that this prison needs to be shut down," said fellow peace activist Ann
Wright, a retired U.S. colonel and diplomat who resigned over the
invasion of Iraq.

 

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