Who are we?

by Valerie Lucznikowska
January 11th, 2011

The following speech was delivered in front of the White House in Washington, DC, on the 9th anniversary of the first prisoners’ arrival in Guantanamo:

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows is a membership organization of those who lost loved ones in the attacks of 9/11. Our name is taken from a Martin Luther King quote, “ Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”

We believe in and promote the rule of law, America’s highest principles and fairness and justice – this to honor our lost loved ones, ourselves and our country.

Now, who am I? An American, born of Polish immigrant parents on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in NYC. My government provided me with a free education through high school, including 6 years at Hunter College High, one of the highest academically rated high schools in the country. My government provided many things for me and for so many others who came from around the world; opportunity, personal freedom, and a chance to be treated fairly and justly.

I learned to love my country and the high principles it stood for, as did my nephew, Adam Arias, who was brutally wrenched from life at the age of 37, on September 11, 2001, just as he was starting to succeed.

That event and that loss catapulted me into a higher awareness of what I had. In the name of security, Guantanamo was opened, civil liberties were abridged, Iraq invaded and a “War on Terror” announced.

We were all changed. I was. But something was very wrong with that picture. And it’s still wrong.

We are not safer for our loss of liberties, and we certainly are not safer for the existence of Guantanamo, now the most effective recruiting agent for Al Qaeda. A politician recently said that that wasn’t true because a parsing of Al Qaeda messages in recent years shows the name of Guatanamo mentioned very little. He doesn’t get it, does he? Everyone knows what Guantanamo is. Without mentioning the name, it has a life of it’s own in minds across the world as a festering abcess on the face of America.

And now, who is in Guantanamo? “The worst of the worst” I hear politicians say. But since its opening, of the almost 800 who have been caged and tortured there, only 173 remain. All the rest but a handfull have been released. A Seton Hall study shows that only 8% there in 2006 had any connection to Al Qaeda – that’s 40 out of 500. 55% of them never committed a hostile act.

How did most of these prisoners get there? Captured on the battlefield by US military forces we are led to believe. Not so. Bounties were offered by the US military and paid to the Afghan Northern Alliance warlords and to Pakistan for their capture. This farce allowed them to settle personal grudges. Some captives just happened to be there – far from a battlefield – but worth a tidy profit to their captors.

Even now, only 33 of the current 173 prisoners have been recommended for trial by President Obama’s Guantanamo Task Force, who reviewed all prisoners in 2009. Many of the inmates are Yemenis, who are not being released because of their nationality. And de facto indefinite detention continues for innocent and guilty alike, a condition intimately related to dictatorship, not the democracy I was raised to believe in.

Political posturing and wrangling continues over how and where to try those who can be tried and the rest languish in a situation that I had always thought impossible in America.

I told you who I am, I told you about those in my organization, and who is in Guantanamo. Now the most important question:

Who are we? As loyal Americans who are we?
Are we a people who can tolerate this injustice?

I am here because I want you to join me in protesting this living stain on America, this injustice to fellow human beings, this travesty of American principles.

President Obama, either charge and try the prisoners in a just court of American law under the Constitution or release them now.”

Filed in: Voices of Peaceful Tomorrows

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