Saturday, January 12, 2008
Dallas activists join international protest against Guantanamo Bay prison
"It's sickening to think that it's still open," said Alex, a junior at the University of North Texas and veteran protester.
Every American knows January 11 marks the anniversary of the opening of the country's first ever disco club (...not so much?), but it also marks the anniversary of the grand opening of the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention camp and military prison.
In downtown Dallas on Friday afternoon—during and after similar protests in Washington, London, Istanbul and all over the world—a group of roughly thirty gathered outside the Earle Cabell Federal Building and Courthouse on the corner of Commerce and Griffin.
Half the protesters held banners with slogans or carried peace signs on sticks, chanting "shut it down!" while fifteen others, most of them college students, dawned orange jumpsuits, handcuffs and hoods and stood or knelt silently on the cool sidewalk. Five policemen surveyed the scene from across the street, arms folded, talking amongst themselves.
"It's sickening to think that [the prison] is still open," said Alex, a junior at the University of North Texas who protested downtown last year, too. "Most people just want to feel safe, and they don't want to know the abuses that are really going on."
While the U.S. has operated the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in southeastern Cuba for more than 50 years, the controversial prison camp itself opened its doors only six years ago, 1-11-2002, to house what was eventually an 800-strong party of "enemy combatants" with suspected ties to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
Photo via UTD
Being imprisoned on technically non-U.S. land, and as non-U.S. citizens, those detained at Guantanamo are denied the right to know why they were in the first place. Throw in reports of prisoner abuses, i.e. Koran-flushing, and much worse, and therein lies the unrest.
Taking time out of his seemingly monstrous schedule to attend the downtown protest was international attorney and Dallas resident Chip Pitts (President of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, an ACLU of Dallas board member, Amnesty International board member, lecturer at Stanford University, and so on) who helped orchestrate the event.
"Well, we're here to support President Bush, believe it or not, in his calls to close Guantanamo prison," Pitts said. "Yes, even he has said now—along with the U.K., France and Germany—that it should be our goal to shut it down."
Photo by Laura Seewoester
"I think this is a strong turnout for a Friday workday afternoon at 3:30," Pitts said. "It's refreshing to see in Dallas."
Pitts said a great percentage of the detainees, originally called the "worst of the worst," have been let go.
"Of the roughly 900 people that have transferred through Guantanamo, and the more than 700 that have been held there for years without charges or lawyers or a right to see their families, only 275 remain," Pitts said. "Why? The military's own studies have shown only roughly 8% of those detained have valid connections to terrorist activity. That's been confirmed by Amnesty International as well as by Seton Hall University's study."
"The American government is allowing people to be detained, some in solitary confinement, without habeas corpus, without due process of law," Pitts said. "This is one of the exact injustices that compelled the Founding Fathers to declare America independent from Britain's King George III. And now, somehow, we have another 'King George' doing the same thing."
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