WWhile most Muslims in the area were home warm and toasty, safe from the winter rains, people of other faiths advocated for human rights, gathering on Saturday January 11, 2014 in a powerful protest in front of the National Museum of American History, vowing to “Make Guantanamo History.”
Guantanamo is the prison on Cuban soil where 155 Muslim prisoners are kept and tortured, including Shaker Aamer. His voice was heard in a CBS documentary, aired in September, 2013. Aamer shouted out, “Tell the world the truth. Please, we are tired. Either you leave us to die in peace — or either tell the world the truth. Open up the place. Let the world come and visit. Let the world hear what’s happening. Please colonel, act with us like a human being, not like slaves.”
He added, “You cannot walk even half a meter without being chained. Is that a human being? That’s the treatment of an animal. It is very sad what is happening in this place.”
84 of the remaining 155 prisoners have been cleared for release by the President Obama’s own task force. More than half of the men are Yemeni, and despite the fact that the President lifted his self-imposed ban on transfers to Yemen last spring, not one has been sent home since 2010. In his recent State of the Union Address President Obama spoke once again about closing Guantanamo, but did not take action.
Protesters in orange jumpsuits walked blocks, in the pouring rain, from the White House to the museum. Poems were read. They all hoped that this will be the last year that they are here. Then something extraordinary happened, the activists from Witness Against Torture held a living exhibition inside the museum.
One of the most passionate activists and founder of the Close Guantanamo Campaign, Andy Worthington said that the “living tableaux of hooded protesters to contrast with fixed exhibits designed to illuminate other, more generally accepted aspects of American history.” He thought it was a very powerful event, and thanked the Witness Against Torture activists “for undertaking it, and the museum authorities for not reacting in a heavy-handed manner, and allowing the educational intervention to last for several hours.”
A coalition of groups involved in campaigns calling for the closure of Guantánamo — including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait, and “Close Guantánamo,” attended. Shahid Buttar of Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and Council of American-Islamic Relations staff Zainab Chaudry, Nihad Awad and Robert McCaw were the only recognizable faces from Muslim leadership that were seen.
Nihad Awad, National Executive Director, CAIR stated that twelve years is too long for the U.S. to imprison men at Guantánamo without charge or trial. He called prison a blemish. “We are responsible for safeguarding the constitutional values that are meant to protect all Americans, persons who reside in the U.S., and those in our custody from the abuses of indefinite detention and lack of due process. We must shut down the prison at Guantánamo.”
David Barrows, a retired office manager, poet and artist has been protesting “for years.” “Consistency is part of the secret, you have to be consistent. You have be consistent,” he emphasized.
Barrows was wearing a big sign with the words of the American Medical Association: Force Feeding is Torture. “We aren’t in the most vibrant democracy, I say it’s a dying democracy. I would like to see doctors out here protesting here,” he said.
“As people of faith, we believe that torture is a moral abomination that runs contrary to the teachings of all religions. Not only is torture illegal, it affects all involved—the victims, perpetrators, and policy-makers—and dishonors God and the traditions of all our faiths. Congress has recently given President Obama new tools that will allow him to follow through on his past promises by dramatically reducing the prisoner population in Guantánamo, a symbol of U.S. torture,” stated Rev. Ron Stief, Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture. 325 religious organizations that belong to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture demand the need to close Guantánamo and put an end to this sad and immoral chapter of U.S. history.
Aquib Yacoob, a student activist from Amnesty, is trying to get youth involved in the movement. Amnesty held the first Guantanamo demonstration 12 years ago, called “Shut it Down.” “We want Guantanamo to be history and we can't forget the injustices that have occurred,” he said as he packed boxes of signs after the protest. Amnesty is lobbying inside Washington D.C. and Yacoob noted progress with the latest National Defence Authorization Act, which makes it easier to transfer detainees fromGuantanamo to other countries.
There were protestors from different states in attendance. The World Can’t Wait protester, Lorna had come from New Jersey for the protest. She is a Quaker, who works with detainees and asylum seekers. Sarah Al Marvi is interning with CodePink and a student with American University. She said,”we want Guantanamo [to] never to be forgotten.”
Anwar Omeish, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, heard through the activist loop that there was a protest. She has been to several protests this year from Syria to Egypt. “It’s very compelling that we are here in front of [this] museum,” she said. “They are our Muslim brothers; they are innocent.” She wondered why she doesn’t see more Muslim organizations, such as ISNA or MAS here.
“I think they are scared,” said Omeish, who was at the protest with her friend Reem.
To get involved please visit the aforementioned organizations’ websites and keep abreast of developments. The brothers still in prison can not be forgotten.