Anti-torture activists, some motivated by faith and some wearing orange jumpsuits, returned to the White House this morning to call upon President Barack Obama to close the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Organized by Witness Against Torture, a group established in 2005 with the goal of closing the prison housing suspected terrorists, the gathering at the White House opened 12 days of events that were to include fasting, lobbying and demonstrations.
The prison opened Jan. 11, 2002, when the first men believed to be terrorists were flown to Cuba from Afghanistan.
Speaking with Catholic News Service prior to the demonstration, Matt Daloisio, a member of the New York Catholic Worker and an organizer of the group, said the activists want Obama to adhere to his 2009 pledge to close the prison.
“Our concern is that Guantanamo remains open and the prospect of it closing with each passing day becomes dimmer and dimmer,” Daloisio said. “Not only has the promise to close Guantanamo been broken, we see the president attempting to institutionalize indefinite detention.”
After speeches in front of the White House, the group walked silently to the Department of Justice. Some participants in the demonstration, including representatives of human rights organizations, religious groups and torture survivors, planned nonviolent civil disobedience at the Justice Department, which has delayed prosecuting detainees in U.S. courts.
The procession involved 173 people wearing hoods and dressed in orange jumpsuits, representing the 173 men detained at Guantanamo.
Interviewed prior to the demonstration, Daloisio said the activists also want the president to free all prisoners cleared for release, ensure safe resettlement or provide asylum in the U.S. for those unable to go elsewhere and bring charges against the remaining detainees and prosecute them in U.S. court.
The activists also want American officials to open all detention centers around the world to outside inspection and to have the International Committee of the Red Cross oversee the centers and to have the Justice Department to prosecute all U.S. officials who designed and carried out torture policies during the Bush administration.
Although Obama stepped back from a promise to close the prison within one year of his inauguration, his plan to move all detainees out of Guantanamo was dealt a blow by a lame duck Congress in December when it passed a defense appropriations bill that included restrictions on the relocation of prisoners.
While signing the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 Jan. 7, Obama said he was opposed to specific measures in the bill that prevented funding to transfer detainees to U.S. soil for prosecution and for transferring detainees to the custody of other countries. The president said the restrictions represent undue challenges to executive branch authority.
Obama also said he would work to have the provisions repealed by the new Congress.