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General News    H2'ed 5/31/14

May 23, 2014 Global call to close Guantanamo Review

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.

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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.
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.

Amherst, Massachusetts


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Ann Arbor, Michigan


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Five people stood in front of the Federal Courthouse at noon


Albany, New York


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About 20 people held a silent vigil and march from uptown to the federal courthouse.

Photos from Ellen Davidson

Press coverage:

Times Union / Mickie Lynn / "Make Guantanamo History! The Albany demonstration on Friday, May 23, 2014"

Baltimore


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Press coverage:

Baltimore Examiner / Bill Hughes / "President Obama keep your word: Close Guantanamo Bay prison"

Video from Bill Hughes:


Boston


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Press coverage:

Open Media Boston / Jonathan Adams / "Activists call on Pres. Obama close Guantanamo, end torture"

The A-Infos Radio Project / "Shut Down Guantanamo, Boston"

Bozeman, Montana

In front of the courthouse.

Buffalo, New York


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"After the press circus in court hearing in which a Buffalo police officer was accused of covering up the evidence of a violent attack Campaign to Free Innocent Man Terrell D. Hales joins others who are advocating for reform of criminality in the courts and the prisons." - MaryAnne Coyle

"We had 13 silent vigilers in front of the Buffalo City Hall and Federal Court Building from Noon to 1. This included 4 vigilers from a local Free Terrell D. Hales movement, a man who has been unjustly incarcerated many years, we stood in solidarity with. It was a cold chilly wind off Lake Erie." - Tom Casey

Chicago, Illinois


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About 50 people in Chicago marched down Michigan Avenue with allied groups. They prepared a mic check, leafleted and read poems. They also dropped a banner over the Chicago River.

More photos and coverage of the day at:

Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo

Cleveland, Ohio


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The Catholic Workers Cleveland in front of the Federal Courthouse. Later that evening they screened a film.

Erie, Pennsylvania


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Pre-dawn banner drop and p.m. vigil

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Hartford, Connecticut


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Honolulu, Hawaii


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Lansing, Michigan


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Minneapolis

"About 20 of us, including this famous young man, helped get the message out to close Guantanamo. Since our main newspaper, the Star Tribune, never responded regarding an earlier op-ed submission, we also took the message right to their office." - Tackling Torture at the Top!

Photos from Tackling Torture at the Top!

Montclair, New Jersey


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New York City, New York


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Video by Palina Prasasouk

About 100 activists from Witness Against Torture, The Center for Constitutional Rights, World Can't Wait, The Blue Lantern Project, Amnesty International, The War Resisters League, 9/11 Families of Peaceful Tomorrows and students stood outside the Navy Recruitment Center in Times Square chanting a mic check prepared by the Blue Lantern Project's, Luke Nephew and Witness Against Torture's Jeremy Varon. A transcript of the mic check is included in the video above.

World Can't Wait Director, Deb Sweet spoke, as did Carmen Trotta of the New City Catholic Worker, followed by a reading of a letter from Moath al-Alwi:

When I choose to remain in my cell in an act of peaceful protest against the force-feeding, the prison authorities send in a Forced Cell Extraction team: six guards in full riot gear. Those guards are deliberately brutal to punish me for my protest. They pile up on top of me to the point that I feel like my back is about to break. They then carry me out and strap me into the restraint chair, which we hunger strikers call the torture chair.

The group then marched to the TKTS steps, a famous tourist attraction where we would ask the same question as President Obama did one year ago, "Is this who we are?"

Indefinite detention, mass incarceration, force-feeding, forever prisoner, torture, solitary confinement, Guantanamo

Pardiss Kebriaei, a Senior Attorney at the Center of Constitutional Rights was present to answer questions from Al-Jazeera. Ramzi Kassem, a Professor of Law and representative of Shaker Aamer was also present and will be reporting news about the Global Call to Action to detainees inside Guantanamo Bay Prison.

Fliers were also distributed with information on what we can do to help close Guantanamo Bay Prison. On the backs of the fliers was the word, "NO". The audience participated by holding up their fliers. The rest of the Memorial Day weekend in New York City was spent gathering photos for the #GitmoProblems Photo Campaign.


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Photos from Witness Against Torture, M. Stan Reaves, Matthew Daloisio, and Kenny Vena

Press coverage:

RT News "'Not another broken promise!' Activists across globe demand Guantanamo closure"

New York Times (blog) "A Trick Play to Close Guantanamo Bay"

The Village Voice "Protestors Reignited Their Call to Close Gitmo Friday in Front of Times Square Tourists"

War Is a Crime "Global Protests Say Shut Down Guantanamo -- End Indefinite Detention"

Northampton, Massachusetts


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Rush hour on the Coolidge Bridge over the Connecticut River.

Hufffington Post / Nancy Talanian "Not Another Broken Promise on Guanta'namo

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


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Orange County, California


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"In ultra conservative Orange County CA we had at least 20 people which was amazing on a weekday at noo. Mostly positive honks. One former State Senator came by and took some photos. I did not know who he was." -- Dorrine Marshall

Raleigh, North Carolina


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About 25 folks gathered outside the federal building where they received coverage from the local news and the AP.

Press coverage: ABC 11 "PROTESTERS RENEW CALL TO SHUT GUANTANAMO CENTER"

Rochester, New York


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A dozen people protesting including a family of 6.

San Francisco, California


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"Led by CloseGitmo.net and World Can't Wait, activists from throughout the Bay Area joined together in San Francisco for the Global Day of Action to Close Guantanamo! A large coalition from Witness Against Torture, Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, Amnesty International, SOA Watch, American Legion Post 315, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, local Friends Meetings, and many others, donned orange jump suits and T-shirts, created a mock jail filled with black hooded prisoners, sang songs, read poems and writings from Gitmo detainees, and engaged several hundred in a powerful witness. The rush hour rally, at San Francisco's highly visible cable car turnaround, moved many visitors to the City who accepted orange ribbons and postcards detailing the torturous practices of prolonged solitary confinement and forced feedings endured on a daily basis by prisoners in Guantanamo. Many learned for the first time that the majority of the detainees have never been charged, and have been classified as ready for release".and still they remain in GITMO subjected to regular human rights abuses." -- Sherri Maurin (CloseGitmo.net)

Photos from Judith Sandoval (Associate Member, Veterans for Peace, Chapter 69) and Victor Polyakov (Livejournal)

Springfield, Massachusetts


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At noon, members of Pioneer Valley No More Guantanamos, Witness Against Torture, Code Pink, Arise for Social Justice, American Friends Service Committee of Western Mass., and Grace Episcopal Peace Fellowship from western Mass. processed from the old Federal Building in Springfield to the Federal Courthouse, handing out leaflets and speaking to media. That evening, other local activists held a vigil on the Coolidge Bridge in Northampton. On Saturday, May 24, with Amnesty International of Amherst, they held signs and handed out literature at the Amherst Town Common, while other activists held a vigil in front of the Federal Courthouse in Northampton.

Photos from Jeff Napolitano (AFSC)

Press coverage:

Anders Keitz / WWLP / Protesters in Springfield, Mass., call to close Guantanamo facility

Paul Tuthill / WAMC (New York) / Activists in Springfield, Mass., Rally To Close Guantanamo

Sunnyvale, California


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"The monthly witness at Lockheed in Sunnyvale, CA dedicated the May 23rd vigil to making the links between Lockheed's involvement in training for torture, and the "detainees" at Guantanamo. Catholic Workers and the Pacific Life community were joined by the Raging Grannies and the Vets for Peace "We read poems written by the men being held in Guantanamo and handed out leaflets. The Raging Grannies also led us in a few songs, which were quite meaningful. We welcome you to join us each month in the Lockheed vigil."

In Peace-- Susan Crane (Catholic Worker and PLC) Sherri Maurin (CloseGitmo.net, and VFP Associate Member)

Tiffin, Ohio


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"Our own participants learned more about the prisoners at Guantanamo as they listened to readings from detainee poems and letters during our rally in Tiffin, Ohio on the Global Day of Action to Close Guantanamo. Cultivating our own mindfulness of the prisoners' human dignity helps us form a moral basis for our witness. We're grateful to the Sisters of St. Francis (Tiffin Franciscans) for coming out to support our rally.

The meaning of "close Guantanamo" could end up being to bring all the prisoners over here where they will be placed in a super max prison and disappear forever, like so many prisoners here. Our banner of a few years ago captured the more complete message: "Release those unjustly bound." Let's keep thinking of ways to make our full message heard." - Jose Setzler


Tuscon, Arizona


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Washington, DC


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A coalition human rights groups including Amnesty International, Codepink, the National Religious Campaign, Pax Christi USA, Franciscan Action Network and Interfaith Action for Human Rights joined the Dorothy Day Catholic Workers in front of the White House during their regular noon vigil to cal on President Obama to make good on his promise.

Photos from Ted Majdosz

Photos from NRCAT

Press coverage: Huffington Post Op-ed / Rev. Ron Stief "Time to Close Guantanamo -- Not One More Day"

Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla / " Activists Rally At White House To Protest Guantanamo Bay Prison"

The Daily Star / "Protest at White House demands Guantanamo closure"

Worcester, Massachusetts


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International Events:

Australia

A film screening of The Road to Guantanamo followed by a Q&A discussion of former Guantanamo detainee, David Hicks and Rev. Graham Long was hosted by The Justice Campaign.

Kraków, Poland


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Protest outside the US consulate where they focused on the CIA black site in Poland. Pictured here is an undercover police van.

"Eventually two young men joined me and local TV was sent by a journalist friend who specializes in the black site issue. They asked only one question and I'm not sure it will be broadcast, but it has been filmed. The added Polish text says : "We demand the truth about Stare Kiejkuty !"

So was I incidentally, by a 'plain -Tshirt' police man, suspiciously from behind the half-open door of his car, just the lens visible in the slot between car & door" The 24/7 present uniformed police did take down our names (although apparently they are not entitled to do so unless we create a public nuisance, but I believe in friendly cooperation rather than confrontation), but otherwise were friendly." -- Anna

London, England


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About 70 people from the London Guantanamo Campaign including investigative reporter Andy Worthington focused on Shaker Aamer.

Photos from Andy Worthington

Report from the London Guantanamo Campaign

Press coverage:

Press TV / "UK activists in London urge Guantanamo closure"

Al-Jazeera / Andy Worthington " Waiting for progress on Guantanamo"

Mexico City, Mexico


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Munich, Germany


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"Odeonsplatz, the Ministry of Justice, and Sendlinger Tor. We were asking "How many more years?", saying "YES to bring Younous Chekkouri to Germany" and that "Human rights are everyone's matter." This is our message to Obama and the Governments around the world, we want "#"guantanamo" to become history, no more "#"gitmoproblem" because no one is free when others are oppressed!!!!" -- Anja Mayer


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Toronto, Canada


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Members of Free Omar Khadr NOW in Dundas Square. Khadr, a Canadian citizen is known as Guantanamo's child is the youngest captive of Guantanamo Bay Prison. He was captured from Afghanistan, interrogated and detained at Guantanamo at the age of 15. He was accused of killing a U.S. soldier by throwing a hand grenade and planting mines to target U.S. convoys. In October 2010, he pleaded guilty in a plea agreement to the charges of war crimes. He accepted an 8-year sentence, not including ten years time served.

Press coverage:

Rabble / John Bonnar "Human rights activists call for the immediate closure of Guantanamo Bay"

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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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