To mark 10 years of military detention at Guantanamo Bay, human rights groups are organizing events worldwide this week, from rallies to flash mobs to concerts. The detainees themselves are marking the anniversary in quieter fashion, with peaceful demonstrations.
Detainees are planning three days of protests, beginning Tuesday, according to an attorney for a handful of the men. Some will refuse to return to their cells for the four-hour nightly lockdown and will attempt to sleep in the recreation areas. Others plan to refuse food for three days.
“These peaceful protests are the most eloquent response to the U.S. government’s refusal to shutter the prison and its claims that Guantanamo is a normal, state-of-the-art facility,” said Ramzi Kassem, a professor of law at City University of New York and counsel to some of the Guantanamo detainees.
Kassem said the detainees’ block representatives planned to alert the military to the protests Monday evening.
The Bush administration flew 20 captives into Cuba on Jan. 11, 2002, the first of nearly 800 men who would be held in a series of camps along the base’s coastline. Ten years later, 171 detainees remain at the facility, nearly all of them held at Camp 6, where they live in communal blocks, and Camp 5, a lockdown facility for detainees judged to be “non-compliant” with the military’s detention regime.
The detainees at Guantanamo have staged numerous protests in the past, including on last year’s anniversary, which occurred without incident. There are always a number of hunger-striking detainees, some of whom have been force-fed by the military.
At one point last year some detainees smeared their cells with feces, a tactic adopted from the Irish Republican Army’s “dirty protest” in the late 1970s at the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland.
A U.S. military spokesman confirmed Tuesday that detainees had informed guards that they would be organizing protests to mark Guantanamo’s 10th anniversary.
“These non-violent forms of protest allow detainees the opportunity to express themselves and allow the guard force to maintain safety and security of the facilities,” said the spokesman, Commander Tamsen Reese.
Amnesty International and other groups are organizing events across Europe to mark the anniversary, including the construction of a Guantanamo-like cell in Berlin and the delivery of a giant replica of a detainee to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid.
“Guantanamo has infected everything it has touched,” said Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA policy director for counterterrorism and human rights. “We mark this dismal anniversary knowing with a heavy heart that despite President Obama’s election promise to close the facility it will begin its tenth year of operation more deeply entrenched in U.S. life than ever.”
There will also be a demonstration outside the White House Wednesday, to be followed by a march to the Supreme Court.
Camp 5 detainee Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen who was formerly a British resident, said that he and other prisoners were “very grateful for this expression of solidarity by Americans with the prisoners at Guantanamo and their families,” according to Kassem, his attorney.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that President Obama remains committed to closing the facility at Guantanamo.
“We all are aware of the obstacles to getting that done as quickly as the president wanted to get it done, what they were, and the fact that they continued to persist,” said Carney. “But the president’s commitment hasn’t changed at all.”
Congress has prevented the administration from transferring any detainees into the United States for trial, and has effectively halted the transfer of detainees to third countries, even those who were cleared for release by a Justice Department-led inter-agency task force. No has been transferred out of Guantanamo in a year, and the Pentagon’s general counsel has described the conditions imposed by Congress as “onerous.”
Of the 171 detainees remaining at Guantanamo, 59 have been cleared for transfer. The administration also determined that another 30 Yemenis could be repatriated if conditions improve in their homeland.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.