By Kathy Kelly/Progressive Media Project
January 11 marked the 16th anniversary of the date that the first prisoners were transferred to the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. To mark the occasion, about 30 protesters, myself included, gathered in Washington, DC, as part of Witness Against Torture, a weeklong fast aimed at closing the prison and abolishing torture forever.
It is long past time.
In 2007, there were 430 prisoners in Guantanamo. Today, 41 men are imprisoned there, including 31 who have endured more than a decade of imprisonment without charge.
None of the 41 prisoners now in Guantanamo was captured by the US military on a battlefield. Afghan militias and the Pakistani military were paid cash bounties for selling most of these prisoners into US custody. Notes Aisha Manar of the London Campaign to Close Guantanamo: “The rights-violating practices surrounding Guantanamo are now a model for the detention and incarceration policies of the US and other states.”
A June 2017 article by the Associated Press revealed that the United Arab Emirates, a member of the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition, operates a network of secret prisons in Southern Yemen, where prisoners are subjected to extreme torture. This has included being trussed to a rotating machine called “the grill” and exposed to a roasting fire.
“Nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons,” the AP reports, “a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.”
One of the main detention complexes is at Riyan Airport in Yemen’s southern city of Mukalla. Former detainees, speaking on condition of anonymity, told of “being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the “grill,” and sexually assaulted.
A member of the Yemeni security force set up by the United Arab Emirates told the AP that American forces were at times only yards away. The Bush-era “black sites” aren’t coming back, and Guantanamo isn’t being refilled. But the US is still able to farm out interrogation to allies like the UAE.
“It would be a stretch to believe the US did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s director of research in the Middle East, said in a statement.
On January 9, I joined with other members of the group Witness Against Torture in attempting to deliver a letter to United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yusuf Al Otaiba, seeking his response to these reports. Security guards took our pictures but said they were unable to accept our letter.
At the Washington, DC, protest, numerous groups rallied in front of the White House, carrying a banner that played off of one of President Trump’s recent pronouncements: “It would take a genius to close Guantanamo,” it said. Another said, “We are still here because you are still there.” Clad in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, protesters carried placards bearing the number “41.”
Forty-one hearts still beat in Guantanamo prison cells. That’s 41 too many. – Tribune News Service
* Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and is a frequent contributor to The Progressive.
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