Wednesday January 11th, 2012 marked the 10 years that Guantanamo Detention has been opened. There were actions in D.C., L.A., San Francisco, and here in Chicago demanding that Guantanamo be shut down as well as a call for an end to the U.S. policy of indefinite detention and torture. Here in Chicago many groups came together to protest. A rally was held at 3 p.m. at Federal Plaza in Chicago (Dearborn & Adams) on the National Day of Action to Close Guantanamo
Beginning the rally
Program emcee Jay Becker from Chicago World Can’t Wait kicked off the program by explain that this is a day for protesting indefinite detentions, unfair trials, and torture. Guantanamo Bay Detention Center — which as of January 11, 2012, has been in operation for ten years — is just the clearest sign of how this is carried out by the U.S. today. Today’s protest also addresses detention in Bagram and elsewhere in Afghanistan, as well as countless black sites; ICE detention of the undocumented; mass incarceration and torture via solitary confinement and sensory deprivation; and other illegitimate practices.
The rally continued with two speakers who laid the foundation for understanding how the U.S. has become a country of indefinite detentions, unfair trials, and torture.
Mario Venegas, an activist who works with Amnesty International and is himself a survivor of torture in Pinochet’s Chile, talked about the legacy of U.S. sponsored detention and torture around the world. He stressed the way the U.S. has institutionalized the practice of torture around the world through the training it has provided for decades at the School of the Americas (SOA) in Ft. Benning, Georgia. He said his own torturers were trained at the School of the Americas; the name has changed but the terror it spreads continues.
Len Goodman, Chicago criminal defense attorney who represents Shawali Khan, a Guantanamo detainee, explained how Guantanamo Bay Detention Center is just one place where people are held in detention “outside the law”; other sites include Bagram and the entire Afghanistan prison archipelago. Significantly, on a day when Barack Obama was in Chicago to shore up his re-election campaign and raise campaign money, we heard from a speaker who has written, “Of all the promises made by candidate Barack Obama, it was his promise to end the lawlessness of the Bush years by closing Guantanamo, ending torture and restoring the United States’ reputation for justice that got me out in the streets and knocking on doors. And it is President Obama’s failure to keep these promises that makes it impossible for me to support him again.”
Two additional speakers explained just how pervasive the practices of indefinite detention, unfair trials, and torture have become in the U.S. today.
Crystal Vance, a representative from Occupy El Barrio in Chicago, explained that illegitimate detention practices are not limited to Guantanamo: tens of thousands of undocumented people are terrorized by Immigration and Customs (ICE) enforcement. She stressed that it is the actions of the U.S. — such as NAFTA destroying the livelihood of millions of Mexican farmers — that drive millions to come here. Those people are then despised and abused when they come here. (Jay Becker pointed out that President Obama is on track to deport more people in his first term — upwards of one million — than George Bush deported in two terms!)
Ashley Bohrer, from Occupy Chicago, talked about the latest developments in U.S. detention, including the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law by Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve. The NDAA provides for detention of ANYone, ANYwhere, ANYtime — including any U.S. citizen — on the say-so of the federal government. (As a banner at the protest stated: “NDAA = Guantanamo for EVERYONE!”) This is a clear threat to anyone who expresses political opinions and dissent – including (but certainly not limited to) the Occupy movement!
We then turned to the most important part of the program: explaining what we ALL can (and must!) do to ACT to stop indefinite detention, unfair trials, and torture.
First, Erin Cox from the 8th Day Center for Justice exhorted everyone to support the Illinois Coalition Against Torture (ICAT) campaign to get Chicago City Council to adopt a resolution making Chicago a “torture-free city.” She explained that people should attend hearings, contact alderman, and rally at the January 18 City Council meeting to demand passage of this important resolution!
Next, Amnesty International Midwest Director Debra Erenberg talked about the work needed to end solitary confinement, including at supermax prisons like Tamms in Illinois; abolish the death penalty; and reform other domestic detention practices.
Third, Regina Rust Bambrick of Chicago Witness Against Torture and the White Rose Catholic Worker in Chicago called for the closure of Guantanamo and the release of all who are held there without charge.
Finally, Jill McLaughlin from the World Can’t Wait National Steering Committee gave a resounding call for the PROSECUTION of those who are RESPONSIBLE for indefinite detention, unfair trials, and torture – under war crimes statues and other laws. She stressed the importance of building a mass visible and consistent movement that demands prosecutions for war crimes
The rally was attended by over a hundred people who then marched across the street to the court house to form a human chain in the front of the building. A powerful song was sung which all joined into sing “Courage my brothers, you do not walk alone, we will walk with you, we will sing your spirit home” Names of those still held at Guantanamo were read with the crowd repeating after each name ” I am a human being”
Photos courtesy of FJJ