Activists Pose as Guantanamo Prisoners
Sunday, January 13, 2008
More than 24 hours after he was arrested while kneeling on the steps of the Supreme Court in an orange prisoner jumpsuit and a hood, Tim Nolan stood before a judge yesterday in D.C. Superior Court Room 202 and said the word he'd come to Washington to say:
Nolan, of Asheville, N.C., was one of 75 people arrested Friday -- the sixth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison -- for illegally protesting at the Supreme Court. Sixty-seven members of the group were held until late yesterday, most because they wouldn't give their real names and instead identified themselves by the names of Guantanamo detainees.
As the protesters were led, one after the other, before Judge Robert I. Richter to be charged, all stated their real names and added, "I am here on behalf of . . ." -- then named one of the 275 suspected terrorists held at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.
Mixed among more routine cases such as simple assault and prostitution, the detainees' names were on the arraignment schedule tacked up in the court basement near the cafeteria, all charged with "displaying banner on the Supreme Court" and "speech at the Supreme Court" -- essentially illegally protesting on court grounds.
"Even if it's symbolic, it's incredibly important, because these names are finally being heard in a courtroom," said Mark Goldstone, an attorney for Witness Against Torture, the group that organized the protest.
Although most of them only stated the name of a particular detainee, one made a statement, saying the protest was done to make the U.S. court system pay attention, because courts have the ability to make changes in society, said Jack Baringer, another attorney with the group.
"It was very powerful," Baringer said.
About a third of the protesters were from the Washington area; others came from as far as New England, New York and Iowa. Some agreed not to get arrested in the next six months and will have their records wiped clean; others, more regular activists, wouldn't commit to that, and Richter set a trial date for them.
Those arrested outside the Supreme Court face a maximum of 60 days in jail; those arrested inside, where they attempted to unfurl a 4-foot-by-30-foot banner reading "Close Guantanamo," face a second 60 days for disturbing the court.
"Guantanamo is so striking in its immorality and lack of justice," said Nolan, who participated in a similar protest for last year's rally -- representing the same man, 26-year-old Fazaldad, whose first name is listed as "unknown" on Defense Department lists. "If humans were created in God's image, torture is clearly a defilement of that."
The Supreme Court protest was among dozens held around the world Friday.