Mindful that the Pentagon is the center of warmaking on our planet, and outraged over the recent National Defense Authorization Act which allocates $662 billion for the Pentagon and codified into law indefinite detention for suspected terrorists and their supporters, both foreign and domestic, members of Witness Against Torture joined the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker weekly Pentagon vigil this morning to call for the closing of Guantanamo, Bagram and all secret detention and torture sites, to demand and end to the sinful practices of torture and indefinite detention, and to call for the abolition of war and all weapons. As soon as we arrived in the designated “protest zone,” which is located outside the Pentagon metro station, those who were wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods were ordered by Pentagon police to remove their hoods in compliance with a law which prohibits protesters from covering their face. People complied by partially removing that part of the hood covering their face. As we held the huge “Close Down Guantanamo” banner and other signs, we read from the scripture and called the prisoners into our presence by offering poems they have written and accounts of their torture and brutal confinement. We concluded our vigil by reading a “Prayer To End Torture” by Sr. Dianna Ortiz, founder of TASSC, and having a closing circle.
The scripture reading I offered was from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth at the onset of his public ministry. As I have reflected on this passage, it has occurred to me that this mandate was not only meant for Jesus but for all believers. Thus at our witness this morning, I adapted the original text and substituted “us” for “me.”
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me [us]
because God has anointed me [us]
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
God has sent me [us] to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Lk. 41: 8-19)
As we begin this New Year, the best way I know to proclaim an acceptable year to the Lord is by acting with others to resist violence and injustice in all its guises, and to help create the “Beloved Community.” In the case of Guantanamo and Bagram, our mandate is clear: “proclaim liberty to captives and to let the oppressed go free.”
As we vigiled and shared the stories and poems of the prisoners, over a dozen Pentagon police kept watch over us as hundreds of workers passed by. The more I read and hear the stories of Shaker Aamer and other prisoners, the more I become aware that these men are my brothers, and that it is my responsibility to do for them what I would want them to do for me if I was in their situation. As we read the account of Shaker Aamer, 45, a British resident and father of four who has never been charged with any crime and who has been brutally tortured and held mostly in solitary confinement for almost ten years, I wonder how I or anyone could ever endure such suffering. Moreover, Shaker has never seen his youngest child Faris, who was born after his imprisonment. Renowned human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who visited Shaker this past November, related that Shaker’s physical ailments include, serious asthma, acute prostate, kidney and rectal pain, problems with his ears and loss of balance and dizziness.
Although Shaker was cleared to be released in 2007, it is believed by those close to his case that he is still being held so he won’t be able to expose the cover-up around the death of three men who allegedly committed suicide at Guantanamo on June 10, 2006. On January 18, 2010, attorney and journalist published an article in Harper’s magazine asserting that these three men did not hang themselves in their cells, but rather died during their interrogations at “Camp No.” He wrote that Shaker had also been brought to a secret interrogation site, about near Camp Delta, with the other three men, and subjected to interrogation methods that included asphyxiation. Horton wrote that Aamer’s repatriation was being delayed so he could not testify about the use of this technique upon his return to the United Kingdom.
And so Shaker waits and waits in an isolated cell, in failing health, not knowing his fate, not knowing if he will ever see his family again.
And so we pray, vigil, and engage in acts of solidarity and nonviolent resistance. We build and create community. We Fast for Justice. We Witness Against Torture. We proclaim liberty for all those held captive and demand that the oppressed go free!