On the weekend of March 21, 2014 members of Witness Against Torture
(WAT) gathered in Baltimore, Maryland for a strategic planning meeting. One of the ideas that came from the meeting was the upcoming one year anniversary of President Obama's National Defense Speech where he was pressured to address the hunger strike inside Guantanamo Bay. He said:
"Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo...But once we commit to a process of closing Gitmo, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law...Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are -- being held on a hunger strike...Is that who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that."
In the 365 days since President Obama's second promise to close Guantanamo he appointed two envoys to deal with the closure of Guantanamo and has lifted the ban against sending detainees back to Yemen, yet no Yemeni have been transferred. 154 men still remain inside GTMO. The longest running hunger strike inside the prison continues at nearly 500 days, up to 40 are still on hunger strike, 19 are being force-fed. 12 men have been released in the past year. This follows a two and a year halt in which only 5 men were released. Although Congress has set up obstacles in order to stop the President from keeping to his promise, the President has failed to use his political capital.
An organizing team of less than 10 people from Witness Against Torture started collaborating with several human rights groups and local communities to mobilize a global call to close Guantanamo Bay on May 23, 2014, the anniversary of Obama's renewed promise to close the prison. The focus of May 23 was to get Guantanamo back into conversation and to gain attention from the missing American mainstream media.
From there, human rights groups such as the Center For Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, 9/11 Families of Peaceful Tomorrows, and The World Can't Wait endorsed the Call to Action and communities began meeting together weekly to plan demonstrations. A virtual toolkit including a press template, poems and letters from detainees, and a social media strategy was made available. Supplies were also mailed from WAT's NYC location. A total of 34 human rights groups, 50 cities spanning over 8 countries on 6 continents held vigils, marches, banner drops and programs with groups of as little as 5 people up to 100 people.
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Following the protest on May 31, 2014, 5 Afghans were released from the prison. According to US government officials, Congress were notified as the releases were happening. They were not given 30-day notice as per regular protocol. 149 prisoners remain, 38 of whom are "forever prisoners".
Human rights groups will be meeting again on June 26, 2014, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in DC to plan more actions.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Five people stood in front of the Federal Courthouse at noon
Albany, New York
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Palina Prasasouk is a New York City based Fellow at Witness Against Torture and independent filmmaker and writer on issues of civil liberties, national security and Guantanamo. You can follow her on Twitter at visiitor
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