Thursday, May 22, 2008

 

GUANTÁNAMO DETAINEES TO GET THEIR DAY IN COURT

Witness Against Torture Activists to "Represent" Detainees in Trial, May 27

WASHINGTON, DC – Detainees at the U.S. Military Prison in Guantánamo will finally get their day in court on May 27 – Superior Court, in Washington DC.

That is when 35 Americans from cities and towns across the country will go on trial for a protest at the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11, 2008. They face charges of either "unlawful free speech" or "causing a harangue" or both. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail, as well as fines and court fees.

In a new twist on traditional protest, the 35 activists will enter their names as those of actual Guantánamo inmates. On January 11th, they were arrested without their own identification and were taken into custody under the name of a Guantánamo prisoner. This act symbolically grants the Guantánamo prisoners their day in court-- which the Pentagon has denied them for years.

Father Bill Pickard, a Catholic priest from Scranton, PA, is one of the defendants. But he will be tried "as" Faruq Ali Ahmed, a Guantánamo detainee. "I went to the Supreme Court to make a simple plea that the inhumane treatment and actual torture of inmates at Guantánamo Bay stop," says Fr. Pickard. "I went to bring the name and the humanity of Faruq Ali Ahmed — who claims he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001 simply to teach the Koran to children and that he has no affiliation with the Taliban or Al Qaeda — before the law. He cannot do it himself, so I am called by my faith, my respect for the rule of law and my conscience to do it for him." Among the defendants is a hog farmer from Grinnell, Iowa, a social worker from Saratoga Springs, New York, and a legal secretary from Baltimore.

Representing themselves, the defendants plan on justifying their acts as upholding U.S. law and international human rights and will call witnesses to document the abuses at Guantánamo.

Witness Against Torture will hold two events related to the trial on May 27:

At 7:45 am, dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, those facing trial will carry their Guantánamo inmates' names from the U.S. Supreme Court (Maryland Avenue and First Street) to the D.C. Superior Court (Carl Moultrie Court House, 500 Indiana, Ave NW), where their cases will be heard.

At 8:30 am, Witness Against Torture will hold a press conference outside the Superior Court. Defendants and witnesses will address the media. They will also hold a ceremony of justice, expressing their demand that the rights and humanity of the detainees be respected by placing placards bearing the detainees' names alongside copies of the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and the sacred texts of various religious traditions.

The trial will begin at 9:30 am. Press is invited to attend all the proceedings.

The January 11 protest was organized by Witness Against Torture (http://www.witnesstorture.org/), which was formed in 2005 when 25 Americans walked from Cuba to the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo. Please visit the website for more information, media contacts and to make a contribution to support our work. ###

This is the statement read inside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2008-- the date that marked six years of torture and abuse at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay.

Why are we here today at the Supreme Court? January 11, 2008

We come to the Supreme Court today because it is the sixth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo prison as a place where men, given the devious label "enemy combatant" have been held in indefinite detention, inhuman conditions, isolation and torture. We are here to bring their plight and the plight of all prisoners from this current war, to the "highest court in the land." We are here to make their suffering visible, to make their voices heard, to make their humanity felt.

Lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights and other organizations are working hard to bring the cases of the prisoners into the courts. But the lawyers can only do so much, because these prisoners--who have been illegally detained, and tortured, abused and kept from their families for years--are not even able to communicate openly with their lawyers. And so, after years of despair, many prisoners have lost what confidence they might have had in the legal process. More, highly competent lawyers who have patiently devoted their time and skills at great personal cost, are understandably frustrated because they are unable to conduct what a reasonable person would consider a reasonable defense.

The men at Guantánamo may seem very far from us; they not only have different names and cultures, but they have been relentlessly demonized and dehumanized by government officials who knew all along that almost all of them are innocent of any crime. We come here to bring their stories and assert their humanity, because for six years, men such as Sami al Haji from Sudan and Sabir Lahmar from Algeria have been denied the basic right to come here to present their own defense. We are here to tell these stories.

So we come to the Supreme Court on this January 11th to let the nine justices--who hold so much power over these men-- know that we care about the prisoners, that we are watching, that we expect and demand justice. Some of the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Guantánamo prisoners appear to be reasonable, but so far they have proven ineffective in securing even the most basic rights which accused persons should have--rights guaranteed by the fundamental laws and practices of U.S. society and by civilized nations all over the world. Again and again, an intimidated Congress--even the Democratic Congress elected with a mandate to reverse the Administration's abuses--has lacked the will to restore basic rights which everyone deserves.

We are here today to appeal to the Supreme Court Justices to stand up now to assert decisively an end to torture; to assert decisively the abolition of secret prisons supposedly outside the realm of law; and above all, to assert decisively the right of habeas corpus, the most crucial protection of any democratic society. Although the justices don't always have the empire's poor and marginalized as their first concern, we appeal to them as people of conscience and humanity to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.

To learn more about the trial, the defendants and the movement to shut down Guantánamo, visit http://www.witnesstorture.org/

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