Photo from Witness Against Torture
The group expected twenty-two arrests after a ceremony inviting Attorney General Eric Holder to break bread and enter dialogue with the group of fasters. At the Constitution Avenue entrance to the building, anti-torture activists read accounts of torture, sang songs and knelt in front of the entrance, effectively blockading it with orange clad bodies.
After two hours, the group marched around the 9th Street carport entrance, seeking to impede the departure of high level officials within the Department of Justice. "If they cannot act on behalf of men unjustly and indefinitely detained in Guantanamo, who have been cleared for release, then they are not working hard enough," said Jerica Arents, a faster from Chicago. "And so we decided that they should take a little extra time today and devote themselves to the actual practice of justice." The entrance was shut down and any vehicles coming and going must have been turned away or diverted to channels.
Each of the activists blocking the entrance spoke to why they were fasting and risking arrest. "I am here for Abdul Razak," said Christine Gaunt from Des Moines, Iowa. "He has been detained at Guantanamo for more than eight years. Judge Ian Urbina ordered him released into his court room more than two years ago and he is still detained. It makes me sick." Tom Chadwick, a faster from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania remembered the men who are on hunger strike, "and are being force fed in horrible and torturous ways."
By 6pm, despite unrolling crime scene tape and bringing in extra police officers, no arrests were made. The activists marched back to Constitution Avenue and established an all night vigil. "Throughout the night, we will stand in front of the Department of Justice. A few of us will be there all night long, seeking to dramatize the impact of sleep deprivation. Others will vigil in shifts through the night, praying, witnessing until 8 in the morning.
*Previous coverage of Witness Against Torture on OpEdNews.
Original press release appears below.
WASHINGTON. D.C. -- Twenty-two anti-torture activists are blockading the 9th Street entrance to the Department of Justice, preventing vehicles from exiting the DoJ, while police wait to arrest them. The action is a protest of the unwillingness of the DoJ to hold torturers accountable for their crimes and deliver justice for the victims of US abuse. "As long as cleared prisoners remain at Guantanamo and transparencey and accountability remain forgotten promises, those who work at the Department of Justice have more work to do. Interrupting their ability to come and go underlines the urgency of the situation for the innocent men who at Guantanamo," said Carmen Trotta of Witness Against Torture, one of those arrested.
Members of Witness Against Torture will maintain a presence outside the DoJ through the evening and into day ten of their fast, in the hope that the Attorney General will reconsider the invitation to meet with them. "While the people who work in the DoJ enjoy a warm night at home, we will wait, on behalf of those unjustly held, hoping that hearts and minds will be converted and justice will no longer be delayed," said John Bambrick of Chicago.
After a June 2010 meeting with the DoJ, Witness Against Torture has asked through letters, phone calls, and vigils that the DoJ make good on its pledge of further discussion on the issues of Guanta'namo and torture.Those requests have been denied.
While the nation plays politics with Guanta'namo, men "cleared for release" by the U.S. government or who have won their habeas cases remain in a bitter detention. "This is unacceptable," says Jerica Arents, a faster from Chicago. "The Justice Department has a direct hand in this horror. It has appealed successful habeas cases and failed to develop a mechanism by which such rulings secure freedom for innocent men."
The Department of Justice under the Obama administration has also refused to conduct a proper inquiry into alleged torture under the Bush administration and has fought to prevent judges from hearing cases in which formerly detained men seek redress for their abuse. As the rulings immunizing torturers mount, we approach an absurd reality in which officials of the U.S. government can torture people at will, with no recourse for the victims.
Those on the overnight vigil are available for interviews. For more on the fast and daily anti-torture protests, go to: www.witnesstorture.org.