Under the rallying slogan, “13 hours of torture, 13 hours of shame,” 75 activists from over a dozen organizations marched on Sunday, January 11, in Miami to demand the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. The protest fell on the 13th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners to the military base, shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Among those organizations participating were Occupy Miami, the People’s Opposition to War, Imperialism, and Racism (POWIR), and the local chapter of Amnesty International, alongside members of the local community.
The activists congregated on NW 36th street and walked one mile (1.6km) to the US Southern Command building, which officially controls the Guantanamo prison facility.
“The United States government has been committing torture in Guantanamo for 13 years. We’re asking for President Obama to finally honor the promise that he made in 2008 to close the prison,” one of the organizers of the march, Pamela Maldonado, told the PanAm Post.
“We want it to close, because many of the prisoners there haven’t had due judicial process, and this is a human right,” the POWIR member added.
Since 2002, according to the march’s organizers, 779 men have been sent to Guantanamo, without trial and without being officially accused of any crime. The prison currently holds 127 prisoners, of whom 59 have already been authorized to be freed.
Maldonado believes that the US interest in keeping open a prison of Guantanamo’s type is purely economic: “Corporations earn a lot of money through wars,” she claims. However, she argues that this is no excuse for Obama, due to the fact that he made a public promise.
“The Democrat party is now the same as the Republican party. Both want to continue the wars and spend millions on them instead of spending it on the country, in the form of medical health or education, services which benefit people that live in the country,” Maldonado said.
For Maldonado, the demonstration was “very radical but positive for all the local and international people to hear our call.”
— Blacks Rule! (@kim_tastiic) January 11, 2014
For the activist, the reopening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba could catalyze the long-awaited closure of the detention facility.
However, with Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2013 (NDAA), the ease with which prisoners could be transferred from Guantanamo was restricted. As a result, the protestors know that reaching the end of the Guantanamo era won’t a rapid process.
“This was very far removed from the original promise he made when elected,” said Maldonado.
In response to reports concerning human-rights violations in the prison, Amnesty International published a 2005 report in which they claimed that “Guantanamo has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the idea that people can be detained without any recourse to the law.”
For her part, Army Col. Lisa García Domingo, a spokesman for Southern Command, stated on Sunday that the institution respected the right of individuals to express their opinions and beliefs. And with regards to Guantanamo, she said the “US Southern Command remains actively engaged with our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean to enhance security and promote greater cooperation between Western Hemisphere military forces.”
White House Protests
Another demonstration against the military prison took place on Sunday in Washington, DC. Activists dressed in the traditional orange jumpsuits of the prison demanded the immediate closure of the installation.
“We are not here to make angels out of prisoners. We don’t know them. But we know they are men,” said one spokesperson through a megaphone.
“Mr. President, I need you to know, that if it were you, hooded and chained, we’d be right here demanding the same human rights for you,” said another activist during the protest.
No to Closure
The Center for Security Policy, based in Washington, DC, is one of several organizations that strongly defend the continued operation of the Guantanamo detention center.
The neoconservative-leaning policy institute notes the risk to US security that might result with the transfer of certain prisoners to their home countries if closure were to take place. In a post on the CSP website, Vice President for Government Relations Ben Lerner mentioned the case of one prisoner, transferred in 2006 to Saudi Arabia, who has since become the “spiritual leader” of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
“If al-Rubaish was deemed fit for transfer as far back as 2006, and is now a leading al Qaeda figure replenishing the ranks of the Islamic State, what does that say about who remains at Gitmo? What can we look forward to after their transfers?” the post’s author asked.
Translated by Laurie Blair. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.