80 Arrested Protesting Guantanamo Detentions
Friday, January 12, 2007
More than 80 protesters were arrested inside the federal courthouse in Washington yesterday after a demonstration that called for closing the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The demonstrators were commemorating the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo detention facility. They targeted the courthouse where lawyers have challenged the legality of indefinitely imprisoning hundreds of suspected enemy fighters and terrorists at Guantanamo.
Those arrested were part of a group of nearly 300 demonstrators -- a loose coalition of antiwar, civil liberty and religious organizations. The group had a permit to protest outside the courthouse at Third Street and Constitution Avenue NW.
But dozens of protesters filed through a side entrance and began to gather in the building's central atrium, chanting, "Stop torture" and wearing shirts reading "Shut Down Guantanamo." Others wearing orange jumpsuits -- similar to those worn by detainees at the prison that now houses 400 Muslim men from foreign countries -- were barred from entering the courthouse as a security risk, and marshals locked the court's front doors about noon.
U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan tried to reach an accommodation with the protesters inside, ordering that they be allowed to remain if they removed or covered their shirts and put away their signs so as not to disrupt trials underway. Court security officials said it was the first time in recent history that a protest had been allowed inside the federal court.
But, after a brief discussion with U.S. Marshal George Walsh, the group refused, and a team of deputy marshals arrested the praying, kneeling protesters one by one, putting them in flexible plastic handcuffs and taking them to a booking and holding cell in the court basement.
Many of the people prayed and repeatedly sang, "Peace, Salam, Shalom" as they were waiting to be cuffed and led away. They were charged with disorderly conduct on a federal property, a misdemeanor. All were expected to be released last night.
"If you accuse someone of a crime, you have evidence, you have a trial!" Maria Allwine, of the Baltimore group Iraq Pledge of Resistance, shouted as a marshal led her away. "Where is the evidence?"
Earlier in the day, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and defense attorneys for some detainees held a news conference and rally at the U.S. Supreme Court urging supporters worldwide to pressure the U.S. government to close the detention facility.
It was opened Jan. 11, 2002, to house alleged terrorists and Taliban fighters rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the U.S. war in Afghanistan. The prison has been plagued by allegations of detainee abuse, and the military has been embarrassed by revelations that FBI agents warned their bosses that they considered detainee treatment there cruel and inhumane.
Last week, FBI documents released as part of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union included new allegations of questionable treatment of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. One interrogator allegedly infuriated a prisoner by squatting over a Koran, and two agents reported witnessing military personnel using vicious dogs to intimidate prisoners, the documents show.