Protesters Demand Closure of Gitmo Base
Thursday, January 11, 2007
(01-11) 14:08 PST GUANTANAMO, Cuba (AP) —
Cindy Sheehan marched with the
mothers of a Guantanamo prisoner, a New York firefighter killed on 9/11
and other peace activists Thursday to demand the U.S. detention camp at
Guantanamo Bay be closed five years after the first terror suspects
The protest in Cuba came as demonstrators in
Washington and London, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
called for the prison’s closure.
“What I’ve read happens in this prison makes
me sick to my stomach,” the 49-year-old Sheehan said outside the post
where Cuban officials stopped the dozen protesters from entering the
Cuban military territory to reach 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, who became a war protester after her
24-year-old son Casey died in Iraq in April 2004, joined the other
women in fastening bouquets of yellow and pink wildflowers to the
barbed-wire fence, as well as a bright pink cloth reading, “Women say
NO to torture.”
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 were
prohibited from 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.
Adele Welty, whose firefighter son Timothy was
killed in the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack, called on Americans
to contact Congress to demand the closure of the prison and fair trials
for the detainees.
The protesters also included Asif Iqbal, a
British Muslim who spent 2 1/2 years at the prison. He expressed
support for 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, Calif., made his own dramatic statement,
appearing in an orange jumpsuit, black hood, goggles and headphones
similar to what the terror suspects wore when they first arrived five
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
Critics say the camp, where most of the
prisoners face indefinite incarceration, is an affront to democratic
values. Allegations of abuse have fueled worldwide outrage.
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.
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 outside gates.
“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 base.
At the United Nations, the new
secretary-general 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, about 100 protesters were
arrested inside a federal courthouse after a brief demonstration
demanding the prison’s shutdown. Earlier, outside the Supreme Court
building, several hundred demonstrators and dozens of rights activists
wearing orange prison jump suits and black hoods also called for the
closure 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.”
About 100 people protested outside the U.S.
Embassy in London, wearing orange inmate outfits. Three “guards”
wearing green camouflage shouted orders for them to stand up or kneel
down. Similar demonstrations took place in Greece, Hungary and Italy.
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.