I’m not sure how to report on the first day of the hearing. I started the day with the same gleam of optimism I had at the outset of the Uyghur hearing in the same District Court a few years ago. Once again it was Matt’s matter-of-fact, deadpan prediction that nothing significant would come of it that brought me back down to earth. But I’m outraged when I’m faced with how slowly the courts work and horrified that the our penal system has such unchecked power over the human beings in its custody. I want to howl.
Instead, since you are my fellow howlers, who feel the same way I do, I’ll simply report two episodes I got to witness thanks to Judge Kessler’s decision not to hold a completely secret court as requested by the (Obama) government.
Point in plaintiff’s favor: Mr. Dhiab’s legal team was questioning a physician with expertise in forced-feeding of hunger strikers. The government tried to challenge her credibility by bringing up the fact that she had once obtained a court order to force-feed an anorexic patient. Fortunately, the judge seemed to understand her distinction between an anorexic patient, deemed incompetent to make a rational decision regarding food, and a mentally competent hunger striker who is exercising the only form of protest at his disposal.
Point in government’s favor: We got to see and hear discussed parts of Mr. Dhiab’s medical record! At issue at one point was the fact that he had medical permission to use a wheelchair or crutches to and from appointments, but that the guards still insisted on using the FCE (Forcible Cell Extraction) procedure to and from being force-fed. The record indicated “[redacted words] FCE” each time the term was used, and I was wondering what those words could possibly be that were supposedly dangerous to national security. But before the expert could describe this special kind of FCEing, the government objected to discussion of FCEing at all in open court — Judge Kessler sustained the objection, saying they would discuss it in closed court. That doesn’t bode well for institutionalized documentation of abuse during this hearing.
So those are two highlights. The government is definitely playing hardball. They tried to discredit both experts, but in particular Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist who has consistently challenged the abuse of the prisoners at Guantanamo. The initial indication of their strategy was that the plaintiffs referred to him as general and the defense called him doctor. When first on the stand, we heard about his long and impressive military service participating in and commanding military medical institutions. Then on cross-examination the defense worked hard to discredit him, questioning the long list of articles he has written in peer-reviewed journals on medical ethics regarding care and treatment of prisoners in the military. They then brought out the fact at some point in the past he had been charged with wrong-doing and removed from his high-level post. He countered that he had resigned from the post voluntarily, sued the government, won his suit, and retired from military service with his full rank and status. I don’t know what the issue was, but I have appreciated Gen Xenakis’ courage in speaking out against government abuse, now and in the past. I hope Judge Kessler too came away with respect for his integrity. With that I’ll close.
I’m going to try to sit through today’s hearing. It’s hard. The Federal courts are our last best hope, unlike the kangaroo proceedings of the military commissions at Guantanamo, It’s the place where the government’s unchecked power can be challenged. The social and political context is so much a part of the court’s fabric though. The outlaw of slavery, universal suffrage, civil rights — they all were considered in the courts long before enlightened decisions were handed down. But this era’s trend seems to be in the opposite direction, with the call for “national security of the homeland” justifying more and more government secrecy and limitations on human and civil rights.
In peace and solidarity,
A half-dozen soldiers in body armor, carrying shields and batons, had forcibly extracted him from his cell. His offense: stepping over a line, painted on the floor of his cell, while his lunch was being passed through the food slot of his door.Latif became a frequent hunger striker, and described being force fed as “like having a dagger shoved down your throat.” The Miami Herald writes that at times Latif “would smear his excrement on himself, throw blood at his lawyers, and on at least one occasion was brought to meet his lawyer clad only in a padded green garment called a ‘suicide smock’ held together by Velcro.”
"Suddenly the riot police came," he recounted. "No one in the cellblock knew who for. They closed all the windows except mine. A female soldier came in with a big can of pepper spray. Eventually I figured out they were coming for me. She sprayed me. I couldn’t breathe. I fell down. I put a mattress over my head. I thought I was dying. They opened the door. I was lying on the bed but they were kicking and hitting me with the shields. They put my head in the toilet. They put me on a stretcher and carried me away."
Report Back from Torture Survivors Week: June 26 Photos, Video and Update
Last week, members of Witness Against Torture gathered in Washington, D.C. for the International Day in Support of Survivors of Torture. Our group of about fifteen attended a panel organized by National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) on U.S. sanctioned torture, engaged in nonviolent direct action at Senator Ayotte and McCain’s offices, and participated in an all-day vigil with Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC). On Sunday, we retreated to the Peace Oasis to put in motion a framework for January 11, 2015.
Got 90 seconds? Please watch & share the video of Witness Against Torture delivering letters to Senator Ayotte and McCain. This is our response to an amendment that could stop all transfers from Guantanamo. The bill has passed the House and is now awaiting the Senate before becoming law.
Every January, the Witness Against Torture community gathers to fast and take action in Washington D.C. to remember the opening of the prison camp in Guantanamo. This year January 11th, 2015 marks 13 years of torture and indefinite detention. We will be gathering from January 5th - 13th, 2015 to fast for justice and a week of actions. Join us as we stand in solidarity with those that remained unjustly detained. Save the date and stay tune for more information.If you have any questions please email WitnessTorture@gmail.com
Join in solidarity with the men on hunger strike in Guantanamo by fasting on Fridays. We invite you to consider joining the Friday Fast for Justice. Go without food in solidarity with the hunger strikers in Guantánamo. If you are already participating in or are interested in participating please sign up here. You can commit to fasting on a specific Friday; weekly for a particular time period; until Guantánamo is closed; or whatever works for you. If you join the fast, we would ask you to:
Reflection by Art Laffin for June 20 White House Vigil
We greet all who have come to the White House in a spirit of peace. We, members of the DDCW and WAT come to the White House today to say YES to love and justice and NO to the lies and death-dealing policies of a national security state and warmaking empire.
The Dorothy Day Catholic Worker began a weekly Friday peace vigil in 1998 here at the White House to call for an end to U.S. criminal warmaking in Iraq and that we embrace God’s command to renounce all war and killing and reverence and protest all of life and creation. Since then our vigil has included calling for an end to all U.S. warmaking and military intervention in our world, for the abolition of all weapons of war—from nuclear weapons to killer drones, for an end to all U.S.-sponsored oppression and torture and justice for the poor and all victims. We remember and pray for all victims of our warmaking empire, including the nine men who have died at Guantanamo over the past seven years.
The U.S. continues to operate with impunity as it has waged lethal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, uses deadly killer drones as part of its kill-list and assassination program in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia, and continues its criminal policy of indefinite detention and torture at Guantanamo.
Regarding the present critical situation in Iraq, it is heartbreaking to see the violence and upheval taking place. This all didn’t happen in a vacuum. Listen to these insightful words by our friend and Iraqi political analyst, RAEDJARRAR, taken from a June 16 interview with Democracy Now:
"Oh, I think (the present crisis) has everything to do with the U.S.-, British-led invasion and occupation. The idea of destroying the strong central government and creating three or more partitions in Iraq was heavily promoted at that time. It was promoted sometimes on the political level, but many times on the demographic level. We saw, during the occupation of Iraq, millions of Iraqis were displaced inside the country. Sunnis were kicked out of what we call now Shiite provinces, and Shiites were kicked out of what we call now Sunni provinces. Same happened with Kurds and Christians. So this ethnic cleansing happened during the occupation, laying grounds for making this partitioning a reality. So, I think, in retrospect, what’s happening in these few weeks of, you know, like an uprising in these Sunni-dominated provinces in Iraq can be directly traced to the divisions that were installed by the U.S.-led occupation in 2003…
The U.S. is still interfering in Iraq. Although the last U.S. soldier left the country at the end of 2011, the U.S. continues to supply the Iraqi central government with weapons, training and other military assistance. This year alone, the U.S. is sending billions of dollars’ worth of jet fighters and other weapons. We just included $150 million in the defense appropriations bill for training Iraqi forces, although many human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have flagged a number of Iraqi security forces and militias as human rights abusers that the U.S. should stop funding. So in addition to the military funding, of course, there is a lot of support that—to legitimize the Iraqi central government. So this week’s narrative from the U.S. side is a good example of how the U.S. has been taking one side in this conflict all along. It has been arming and supporting one side of the conflict, and this side happens to be the Iraqi central government and the militias affiliated with it.”
There has been a lot of focus on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) because it makes a good media story. It’s this crazy group. Everyone is an expert now on ISIS and where it came from. And it tells a compelling story for a U.S. intervention: There is an extremist terrorist group that is threatening a legitimate central government that is our friend. That is the narrative now. I think that is important to unpack and deconstruct, because, on the one hand, ISIS is one of many players in this uprising. It’s really naive to believe that one crazy terrorist group can take 50 percent of Iraq’s territory in a week. There are many other players, including—I think the most important players are tribal leaders in all of these provinces, and their armed militias, and former Iraqi officials from the Saddam Hussein government, led by the former vice president, Izzat al-Douri, who runs a group called al-Naqshbandi, a group. There are other smaller players like the Iraqi Islamic Army, the Mujahideen Army, the 1920 Brigades. There are, I would say, at least 12 other players. So it’s more indigenous. The vast majority, I would say, maybe almost everyone who’s fighting, is an Iraqi, unlike what the image that is being drawn by the Iraqi authorities.”
Raed Jarrar goes on to say that dialogue among all conflicted parties, which the al-Maliki government refuses to engage in and not military intervention, is the key to the solution to help resolve this crisis.
It is important to remember that he U.S. has never repented for or made reparations to the Iraqi people for waging war against Iraq for over twenty years. U.S.-led bombings, sanctions and occupation has claimed over 2 million Iraqi lives, displaced over four million Iraqis, destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure and society and created the instability and turmoil that now exists today in Iraq. On Monday, Mr. Obama authorized the deployment of 275 specialized troops to Iraq. And yesterday the president ordered 300 U.S. military advisers to Iraq. There are reports that the U.S. is considering other military options in Iraq, including the use of killer drones. Let’s be clear: the violence currently taking place in Iraq is a consequence of the violence that has been used by the U.S. and which continues to be used by the al-Maliki regime since the US occupation formally ended. More U.S. bombing and military involvement will only perpetuate the cycle of violence now engulfing Iraq. What is needed is for the U.S. to repent for its past war crimes against Iraq, and that reparations be made to the Iraq people. A process of true reconciliation can then begin. This is the most important first step that is needed to begin to break the cycle of violence in Iraq. And then a diplomatic course of action must be pursued which brings together all the conflicted parties in the region to negotiate a peace process. We pray for an end to all violence in Iraq and for the protection of all people there, including those Iraqi Christians who live in fear of persecution.
And so we stand here today to say as clearly as we can: No to all violence and Yes to Life and Justice! Abolish the Crime of War! No to U.S. Military Intervention in Iraq!
During this month of June, which marks Torture Awareness Month, let us also redouble our efforts to End the Crime of Torture and Indefinite Detention—Now! Let us Close Guantanamo Now!
*Witness Against Torture’s Jeremy Varon has an important piece on the state of the movement to close Guantanamo at Wagingnonviolence.org. Please read, tweet, post, circulate, and let us know what you think.
IN THIS UPDATE YOU WILL FIND:
-The Bergdahl-Guantanamo Prisoner Exchange
-Report on May 23rd Global Day of Action to Close Guantanamo
-June 26th – June 30th in Washington, DC
-Witness Against Torture FRIDAY FAST FOR JUSTICE
The Bergdahl-Guantanamo Prisoner Exchange
In the midst of the media frenzy about the Bergdahl-Guantanamo Prisoner exchange, there has been a deeply troubling national discourse that portrays all the men in Guantanamo as security risks and calls for the prison to remain open indefinitely.
Witness Against Torture has engaged in the conversation, and our own Palina Prasasouk has written this piece for Truthout.org. Our friend, Andy Worthington, has also written two important pieces, for PolicyMic & CloseGuantanamo.org that speak to the truth of what is happening, and the ongoing crisis of Guantanamo’s existence.
Please take a minute to read and share these pieces, along with Jeremy Varon’s analysis of where we stand as a movement.
Report on May 23rd Global Day of action to close Guantanamo
The Global Day of Action to Close Guantanamo and End Indefinite Detention garnered national and international participation, with activity in over 50 cities in eight different countries. It’s inspiring to see the photos and read reports from many of those who participated on May 23rd.
June 26th – June 30th in Washington, DC
June 26th is the date that the United Nations has marked as the International Day in Support of Survivors and Victims of Torture. Every year Witness Against Torture travels to Washington D.C. to support events organized by the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) and other human rights organizations for Torture Awareness Week.
This year, we will be gathering in Washington, D.C. from June 26th to June 30th. You are invited to join us.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in participating and/or helping to organize activities while in DC.
Witness Against Torture FRIDAY FAST FOR JUSTICE
Join in solidarity with the men through the Fast for Justice
Please consider joining WAT’s Friday Fast for Justice. If you join the fast, we would ask you to:
-Fast on Friday, in any form you like;
-Make three phone calls (click here to see who we are currently focusing our calls on
-Write to a prisoner at Guantánamo. (click here for instructions on how)
If you are already participating in or are interested in participating in theFriday Fast for Justice, please sign up here.
WITNESS AGAINST TORTURE SOCIAL MEDIA
Witness Against Torture is completely volunteer driven and run. We have no paid staff, but do have expenses associated with our organizing work. If you are able, please donate here.
*to unsubscribe, email email@example.com with ‘remove’ in the subject line