ON THE MALL

Activists Offer a Taste of Guantanamo Prison

Mubeen Khan, 22, of Washington, D.C., a volunteer with Amnesty International joined a group of protesters on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, June 25, 2008. The group gathered in front of a life-size Guantanamo prison cell replica to protest conditions there.
Mubeen Khan, 22, of Washington, D.C., a volunteer with Amnesty International joined a group of protesters on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, June 25, 2008. The group gathered in front of a life-size Guantanamo prison cell replica to protest conditions there. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

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By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 26, 2008

To the long list of tourist attractions on the Mall -- the museums, monuments and vistas -- human rights advocates added their own Kodak moment yesterday: a replica of a Guantanamo prison cell.

Metal toilet included.

Up stepped Colby Cashion, 14, of Orlando, intent on absorbing the infamous Guantanamo experience, albeit one with the Washington Monument in the background.

The teenager lasted less than a minute in the 10-by-6-foot cell, with its eight-foot-high ceiling, sliver of a window, fluorescent light and thin pad for a mattress.

"It would stink to be in there all day," Colby said, while his grandmother, Faye Cashion, stood at the entrance, ignoring a stranger's chant of "Go in! Go in!"

She said she is not all that opposed to Guantanamo. "I'm kind of hardheaded. I think they ought to be there, some of them," she said before leading her grandson to their next stop, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Amnesty International USA, the human rights group, set up the cell to dramatize its opposition to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where since 2002 the United States has kept hundreds of prisoners, many of them terror suspects. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this month that Guantanamo prisoners have the right to go to federal court to challenge their detention.

Amnesty International has taken the cell on the road, displaying it in Miami, Philadelphia and Portland, Maine, to educate Americans about what it contends are human rights violations that the United States is committing at Guantanamo.

"How do you get through to jaded and cynical journalists and the public?" asked Larry Cox, the organization's executive director. "We can't take them to Guantanamo. So we're bringing Guantanamo to them."

The Mall might not be the ideal place for the cell, which will be on display through Sunday. When Cox convened a noontime rally, the number of Amnesty volunteers, reporters and photographers far outnumbered members of the public.

Not even the bright orange sign -- "Welcome to Guantanamo, your cell is waiting" -- created a buzz.

Dressed in orange prison jumpsuits, Amnesty International staff members such as Jason Disterhoft, 32, posed for photographs inside the cell, apparently not minding the temperature, which approached 90 degrees.


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