WASHINGTON — Ten years after the first “war on terror” inmates arrived at the US-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, hundreds of protesters rallied in Washington on Wednesday, demanding the facility be closed for good.
“Ten years too long, ten years too late,” chanted the activists, some in orange prison jumpsuits, who at one point formed a human chain in the nation’s capital stretching from the White House to the Supreme Court.
Among the hundreds of people who braved the icy rain to protest were members of the group “Witness Against Torture,” who launched a White House vigil on Sunday and said they planned to keep it going around the clock until Wednesday.
“This is a day of great shame,” said Frida Berrigan, a leader of the group and one of the organizers of the Washington demonstration. Other events were staged in Europe and Canada.
The US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba accepted its first prisoners from the newly drawn battlefields of the global war on terror on January 11, 2002.
President Barack Obama declared within a few hours of taking office in January 2009 that he would shutter the camp within a year, saying it was used as a recruiting tool for terrorists, and detrimental to US national security.
Outside the White House, demonstrators in military fatigues re-enacted the alleged poor treatment suffered by some Guantanamo inmates. Others wore on their backs photographs of detainees who died at the facility.
“We are here with our rage and energy, even with our hope, to ask Obama and the Supreme Court to close Guantanamo,” Berrigan said.
Demonstrators decried what they said was a lack of due process at Guantanamo, while others expressed outrage at what they said was the lack of humane treatment of inmates there.
“More people died in Guantanamo than those who have been tried,” said Vincent Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, noting that while eight prisoners were killed, just six have been given their day in court.
Among the demonstrators was former military judge John Hutson, who said he had stood proudly behind Obama in 2009 when he signed a directive ordering that Guantanamo be shuttered. Three years later, Huston expressed disappointment.
“Today is a sad day,” the retired US Navy rear admiral told a press conference. “On the tenth anniversary of its opening, Guantanamo remains a stain on our effort to end terrorism and to promote the rule of law.”
About 20 inmates arrived at Guantanamo from Afghanistan on January 11, 2002. Today, 171 people are still languishing in limbo in its cells.
Over the years, 779 inmates have been detained there, most without charge or trial. Eighty-nine of the current detainees have been cleared for release but are still in custody, thanks to a law passed by the US Congress.
The White House said Monday that it still aims to close the military prison at Guantanamo, despite the “obstacles.”
Amnesty International released a report calling Guantanamo a symbol of a decade of human rights violations.
“In its early years Guantanamo stood as an anomaly,” said Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who defended a former Guantanamo detainee.
But in the decade since it was first established, “what was an exception has become normalized,” he said.
US Navy Rear Admiral David Woods, commander of the Guantanamo Bay prison, defended the “very significant progress” seen over the years.
“The conditions at Guantanamo have improved significantly over time as the population has shrunk,” Woods told AFP.
“It is still detention, but the conditions are humane and very safe.”
The European Union’s home affairs commissioner urged Obama on Wednesday to fulfill his promise to close Guantanamo, calling the continued detention of prisoners “a disgrace”.
In Madrid, a dozen activists from Amnesty International demonstrated outside the US embassy, brandishing placards reading “Guantanamo: 10 years of shame.” A similar number of people protested outside the US embassy in Ottawa.