Activists continue call to close Guantanamo prison

Members of Witness Against Torture vigil in front of the White House Jan. 7 (Courtesy Witness Against Torture)

Members of Witness Against Torture vigil in front of the White House Jan. 7 (Courtesy Witness Against Torture)

This week activists around Washington are once again raising questions about the morality of using torture to gain intelligence information.

The group Witness Against Torture returned to the nation’s capital Jan. 7 and has continued a daily fast while calling upon the Obama administration to close the Guantanamo prison in Cuba where 166 suspected of having terrorist ties remain held without charge.

Known for dressing in orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by the Guantanamo detainees, about 50 members of Witness Against Torture are in their seventh year of calling attention to the prison through nonviolent witnesses at the White House, U.S. Supreme Court and Department of Justice as well as CIA headquarters in McLean, Va. At times, members process on Washington streets to spread their message.

The prison was opened in 2002 under then President George W. Bush and once held more than 400 detainees. Most have since been released.

Matt Daloisio, a Catholic worker from New York and a leader in the effort to close Guantanamo, had hopes that would change when President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

“Four years ago most of us thought we’d be focusing on other issues by now,” Matt Daloisio told Catholic News Service. “We started a fast in 2008 before President Obama’s first inauguration with a great amount of hope in the change that was coming. Two days later he signed an executive order to close the prison. But now here we are in the days leading up to a second inauguration and Guantanamo is still open and that promise has not been kept.

“It’s been so long at this point that people have started to forget that Guantanamo still exists. We’re still here as a reminder that it does exist and that there are 166 men still there,” he said.

Obama’s order called for closing the detention facilities within a year. That deadline passed without action. In March 2011 Obama signed another order establishing a review process for detainees. That order did not mention Guantanamo.

Subsequently this year, on Jan. 2, Obama signed into law a military spending bill, which allows the indefinite detention of anyone, including U.S. citizens, without charges, and blocks to closing of Guantanamo.

Witness Against Torture will conclude events with a vigil at the CIA Jan. 12. The group is expected to be joined by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and other organizations.

“It’s an unfortunate anniversary to have to mark and we continue to work throughout the year to close Guantanamo, Daloisio said. “We find ourselves back in Washington again, a little bit hungry and a little bit tired.

“We are trying to grasp our humanity and grasp the humanity of the men who are in this prison 11 years later.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has developed a study guide on torture. It can be downloaded here.

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