Closing Guantanamo in 2017

As on many past January 11ths, I’m here in Washington, D.C. fasting and working with Witness Against Torture to end torture and indefinite detention, and to close the prison at Guantanamo.

The connotation of “Close Guantanamo” has changed in recent years. Time was, most of the men detained there were innocent or irrelevant. Now, only 55 detainees remain: 19 approved for release, 3 convicted by military commission, 7 on trial before military commissions, and 26 considered too dangerous to release but can’t be put on trial (because the evidence against them wouldn’t be admissible).

So you might have different motivations to Close Guantanamo in 2017 vs. 2007.

In some ways this is the least important time to be worrying about Gitmo, a little prison with 55 inmates in a world full of so many bigger things to worry about. My own worry is that this will turn out to be the most important time to worry, as Donald Trump will soon become president after a campaign in which he enthusiastically embraced the expansion of Gitmo and torture.

Will my worries turn out to be premature and misplaced? I hope so.

Closing Guantánamo, 2015 edition

“Vatican pushes US secretary of state on closing Guantánamo”:

As the Obama administration continues to look for ways to shut down the controversial Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba, Vatican officials pressed US Secretary of State John Kerry Monday to find “humanitarian solutions” for suspected terrorists.


[Las Cruces Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace] said that an expedited transfer of detainees out of Guantánamo and the eventual closing of the facility would represent a major step in “allowing the United States to regain its moral standing as a defender of human rights.”

(alternately: US asks for Vatican’s support to shut Guantánamo down)

This week I’ve been in Washington, DC with Witness Against Torture, working on the Close Guantánamo campaign. Closing Guantánamo remains a thorny issue. I’m glad to be here. Some of what we do rubs me the wrong way, but most has been inspiring.

Cliff Sloan: The Path to Closing Guantánamo:

While there have been zigs and zags, we have made great progress. The path to closing Guantánamo during the Obama administration is clear, but it will take intense and sustained action to finish the job. The government must continue and accelerate the transfers of those approved for release. Administrative review of those not approved for transfer must be expedited. The absolute and irrational ban on transfers to the United States for any purpose, including detention and prosecution, must be changed as the population is reduced to a small core of detainees who cannot safely be transferred overseas.


Cliff Sloan, a lawyer, was the State Department’s special envoy for closing Guantánamo until Dec. 31.


Today is the thirteenth anniversary of the opening of the opening of the Guantánamo prison. There was a demonstration at the White House, with several dozen people in black hoods and orange jumpsuits representing the 59 men at Guantánamo cleared for release by the Bush and Obama administrations but not yet freed. The demonstrators then marched to the Department of Justice, and on to DC Superior Court, as a sign of opposition to the injustices both at Guantánamo and at our domestic prisons.



McCain prepared to help Obama close Guantanamo:

McCain, himself a former prisoner of war, has long favored closing Guantanamo Bay, which critics say stains the reputation of the United States and is a recruiting tool for terrorists. But key players in Congress, including many senior Republicans, have barred funding for the administration to send remaining inmates elsewhere or to build facilities on the U.S. mainland.

Obama’s motorcade, 2009 and 2014

President Obama is in Worcester this afternoon to give a commencement speech at Worcester Technical High School.

His motorcade zoomed down Pleasant and Highland Streets on its way downtown. Lots of folks were out to watch. It was nice, like a little parade.

I was with some friends, holding a “Close Guantanamo” sign. Funnily enough, I saw this motorcade a few times in 2009 in DC just before Obama’s first inauguration, always while I was with friends holding “Close Guantanamo” signs. Everything changes, some things more slowly than others.



Speaking of holding signs along the route: Glorious Hippies From Amherst Showed Up To Protest Obama For Being An Anti-Weed Fascist At Worcester Tech Graduation

Also: Victor: Thoughts on Being Across the Street While My Colleagues are Covering President Obama

Making Guantanamo History

Justin Norman/Witness Against Torture

Saturday was the twelfth anniversary of the first detainees arriving at Guantanamo.

I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History with my crazy friends from Witness Against Torture.

One small group, dressed as detainees in black hoods and orange jumpsuits, formed a tableau in a second-floor atrium. Then more than 100 people (from WAT and other groups) entered the museum from outside and, mic-check style, explained to hundreds of surprised museum-goers what was going on with this “temporary exhibit” of recent American history. They went on like this for some time, mic-checking and singing about Guantanamo, indefinite detention, and torture. Two banners were briefly hung from the railings on the balcony above.


Shortly before that started, another group in jumpsuits entered an “America at war” exhibit on the floor above and tried to “install a temporary exhibit” there. Guards quickly cleared the area, sending a flood of tourists to the third-floor balcony overlooking the other tableau just as as the action in the atrium began.

Justin Norman/Witness Against Torture

Most of the group planned to be arrested for all this, but nobody was. For reasons none of us understand, after maybe 20 minutes (at which point the atrium group went silent), the war exhibit was reopened, and the upstairs demonstrators were able to establish a “temporary exhibit,” with one member giving a marathon teach-in about freedom and the War On Terror while others stood silently or chatted with tourists.

The downstairs “exhibit” remained for two hours, and the upstairs group for more than three, at which point the museum was about to close, and they left.

Some tourists loved this spectacle. Others hated it. In my role as videographer, I overheard a lot of conversations, not all of them supportive but all of them thoughtful.

It was a grand and weird experience.


Ten Days Against Ten Years of Guantanamo


I observed the tenth anniversary of Guantanamo along with hundreds of others in front of the White House. Our group had placed a wheeled cage, with someone dressed as a detainee (black hood, orange jumpsuit) inside, outside the White House 90 hours before the big demonstration began, and the goal was to keep the cage vigil going until the demonstration, and the following march to the Supreme Court, were over.

Continue reading “Ten Days Against Ten Years of Guantanamo”

Witness Against Torture, 2010 recap

Here’s a video recapping Witness Against Torture‘s January 2010 efforts to close Guantanamo. WAT will be back in DC in 2011, and you’re invited.

It’s tricky to make an issue video that focuses on the activism rather than the issue, doesn’t involve anyone directly affected by the issue, and ends with the problem unsolved. Potentially unsatisfying from every angle.

Anyhow, this video’s for those of you thinking of joining WAT’s work for the first time January 2011. Wish I could be with you next year.

24 torture activists beat unlawful assembly charge

Saying that “In my opinion, the defendants were not properly charged in this case,” D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell Canan today acquitted 24 activists of unlawful assembly in connection with civil disobedience this past January 21 at the U.S. Capitol.

Happy defendants Mark Colville and Paul Thorson
Continue reading “24 torture activists beat unlawful assembly charge”

2 Guantanamo protests at US Capitol; 42 arrested

On the 11th day of our 12-day fast, and the eve of President Obama’s missed deadline to close the Guantanamo prison, Witness Against Torture held 2 coordinated protests at the U.S. Capitol.

On the steps outside, 28 people dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, many wearing the names of current detainees cleared for release on their backs, held signs reading “Broken Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Lives.”

Inside, our Capitol tour group turned into a memorial service as 14 Witness Against Torture members placed the names of three detainees who died at Guantanamo in the spot in the Rotunda where presidents lay in state. (Revelations published by Harpers this week strengthen the suspicion that the detainees were tortured to death.)

We’ll be breaking the fast tomorrow evening, after everyone has been processed and is out of jail.

Guantanamo memorial in US Capitol Rotunda
Beth Brockman photo

Fast day 8: MLK

Today was free from public protest, though there was a “public presence” at one of the museums. The day ended solemnly with stories from torture survivors. It began with surprising joy as we chatted with Afghani youth and sang Civil Rights hymns to them. Pretty weird and pretty great.

Posted today at Harper’s, evidence from a soldier that three Guantanamo detainees said to have committed suicide may actually have been tortured to death:

. . . new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.