Call continues at White House to close Guantanamo prison

A protester calling for the closing of the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, stands silently outside of the White House in a model of a prison cell Jan. 7. (Courtesy of Witness Against Torture)

Protests outside the White House take all kinds of forms and encompass all kinds of issues. Through Wednesday, there’s a jail cell with orange-jumpsuit-clad protesters inside facing the presidential mansion.

The small cell, with protesters taking three-hour shifts inside, represents the holding pen some accused al-Qaida members were held in for a time at the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The protest, said Witness Against Torture organizer and Catholic Worker Matthew Daloisio of New York, marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo prison and calls for ending the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists in Cuba, Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and at CIA-run sites around the world.

The cell showed up Jan. 7 and will be in place for 92 hours until Jan. 11, the day Guantanamo opened in 2002. Daloisio said about 1,000 people are expected for a rally at the White House to call upon President Barack Obama to uphold his executive order to close the prison and try the men being held there.

Among the rally’s organizers are the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Amnesty International and Center for Constitutional Rights.

Obama subsequently has signed legislation that prevents the prison’s closing, disappointing the anti-torture activists.

“There was hope for some change as Obama took office,” Daloisio told Catholic News Service. “All of that hope is essentially lost when it comes to issues of civil liberties and accountability.

“When we began this work we never imagined that 10 years later we would be continuing in this way,” Daloisio said.

He also expressed concern that American citizens now can be detained indefinitely under a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act signed by the president Dec. 31. Obama issued a signing statement explaining, however, that no American citizen will be held indefinitely without charges while he is in office.

After Wednesday’s noontime rally, some protesters will stay at the White House while others make their way to Capitol Hill, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Justice Department to press their demands.

The protests began Jan. 2 with a daily presence at the White House. About 100 people nationwide, including 50 in Washington, are engaged in a liquids-only fast through Jan. 12.

Fourteen Witness Against Torture members, including some long-time members of the Catholic Worker movement, faced trial last week for their verbal protest June 23 in the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives. Four people — Judith Kelly of Arlington, Va., Brian Hynes and Carmen Trotta, both of New York, and Mike Levinson of New Rochelle, N.Y. — were found guilty of unlawful conduct and disruption of Congress in a jury trial in the District of Columbia Superior Court Jan. 5. One person was acquitted and charges were dropped again nine others.

The group was protesting an appropriations bill being debated in Congress at the time because it included provisions that made it virtually impossible to close the Guantanamo prison.