61 arrested in White House demonstration against war and torture

posted by Mike on October 5th, 2009

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This afternoon, an estimated 82 61 people Americans were arrested outside the White House while protesting the Obama administration’s continuation of Bush-era policies of war and indefinite detention.

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Video of the demonstrations, including incorrect arrest estimate:

McClatchy video

More video

CNN blog:

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that neither he nor the president were aware of the protest until it was mentioned in the daily briefing to the press, adding: “I think the president has long believed that whether your opinion is on one side of this issue or the other, that this is the greatness of our country, is that you get to amplify that opinion.”

More coverage:

Update: Why the inaccurate early arrest estimate? It seems that 20-odd people, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance affinity group, approached one of the White House gates, seeking to meet with someone and discuss a letter they’d sent Obama. Nobody came out to meet them, so they had a die-in. After many minutes, it seemed they would finally be arrested, so some of them stood and sang. Members of law enforcement then shoved the group out of the area; none was arrested, though some of the organizers had assumed they would be.

Press release:

HUNDREDS DEMAND OBAMA END AFGHAN AND IRAQ WARS, CLOSE GUANTANAMO AND BAGRAM, SURGE SPEANDING ON HOUSING AND JOBS, 61 ARRESTED AT THE WHITE HOUSE

For Immediate Release: October 5, 2009

Contact: Frida Berrigan, 347-683-4928, frida.berrigan@gmail.com

Jeremy Varon, 732-979-3119, Jvaron@aol.com

Washington – As the U.S. led war in Afghanistan begins its ninth year this week, 61 were arrested bringing a strong message to the White House that war, torture and drone bombing are outrageous, unacceptable and must end immediately. National anti-war groups and people from around the country joined together to say “No to War in Afghanistan. No to Torture and Vengeance.”

The day opened with a “Guantanamo prisoner” presence at the U.S. Supreme Court as Justice Sonia Sotomayor begins her tenure on the country’s highest court. The group distributed the Center for Constitutional Rights’ “Torture Team” baseball cards and had four large puppet heads of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice—all dressed in prison stripes as they called for accountability for the architects of the Bush administration’s torture policies.

Then, hundreds of people gathered this morning in McPherson Square for song, poetry and rousing speeches to kick off a day of action. Led by the “Mourn the dead, heal the wounded, end the wars” banner, those gathered then marched to the White House in a solemn procession, carrying large photographs of war victims, signs and banners.

The group assembled on the sidewalk in front of the White House and Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey Sheehan was killed in Iraq in 2004 while serving in the U.S. Army, read a statement and welcome the group, which by this time had grown to more than 500 people.

As the “March of the Dead” wound through the crowd wearing white masks and carrying the names of dead U.S. service people and Iraqi and Afghan war victims, more than 20 people dressed at Guantanamo prisoners assembled near the White House fence. Members of “Witness Against Torture,” a group committed to the shuttering of Guantanamo and the quickly enlarging Bagram air base in Afghanistan, many chained themselves to the fence. On their backs, they wore the names of Guantanamo detainees cleared for release who remain detained under the Obama administration despite the White House’s heralded decision to shutter the prison.

The group read the names of those killed in war and newspaper accounts of U.S. bombings and their devastating consequences in Afghanistan and Iraq. Code Pink, World Can’t Wait and many others also participated in the day of action. Veterans for Peace carried large American and peace flags and processed with three coffins representing those killed in war. Each coffin was draped with a flag—America, Iraq and Afghanistan all represented. Members of the War Resisters League held a large banner than said “End the War in Afghanistan” and wore white shrouds emblazoned with the pictures of Afghan civilians.

All those who remained on the White House sidewalk were eventually arrested. In total, 61 people were taken into police custody as the readings of the names of the dead—a tragic litany of war—continued.

Meanwhile, the National Call for Nonviolent Resistance, the group that convened the day of action, and members of PeaceAction left the area to deliver a letter to the Obama Administration. Rebuffed at the press gate, the group held a die-in, read statements and were eventually arrested.

The protests today send a strong message that Americans are sick of war, gravely concerned that the Afghan conflict is spinning out of control and hopeful that the President will listen to the American public and end the occupation. Continuing—and surging—Bush era policies means more American deaths, more civilian casualties, an intensified insurgency and the further waste of precious resources that are so badly needed at home.

The October 5 Anti-War Coalition includes National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, the War Resisters League, Witness Against Torture, Code Pink, Peace Action, World Can’t Wait, Veterans for Peace and Voices for Creative Nonviolence

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