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McReynolds: Shut Down Guantanamo protest 1/11/07

Shut Down Guantanamo – by David McReynolds (feel free to use in any way, and send to friends)

This is written early Wednesday morning, before I take Amtrak down to Washington DC to join Thursday’s protest on the International Day to Shut Down Guantanamo. Before going further, let me give the web site so that anyone wanting to join the general campaign can find ways to engage. Go to: www.witnesstorture.org. That site will not only give you information on how you can get involved, it will also provide updates on what happens Thursday, who has been arrested, when we will be released.

There is no doubt that torture has taken place at Guantanamo. The statements by Bush, Rumsfeld, and others that the US doesn’t use torture is, sadly, a lie. Sadly both because torture is, in itself, wrong, and because it is always painful when our own government lies to us. There is also no doubt – this has been documented by a range of sources, including the New York Times – that not only have those being held at Guantanamo not had charges brought, not been allowed a day in court, but in many cases were very young, in some cases very old, were picked up by accident in the chaos after the US invaded Afghanistan. Some have been released, but only after long periods of time in captivity.

There is no doubt terrorism is a serious problem in our world today. We know this from our own 9.11, but from many other attacks which have targeted civilians – in Great Britain, in Spain, and elsewhere. But to pick up men and boys without charging them, to torture them, is not only wrong in itself, but becomes a contributing factor to further terror.

There are statements on Guantanamo which Americans need to heed. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said Guantanamo is “A stain on the character of the United States”.  The United Nations Human Rights Commission said: “Immediately close the detention center at Guantanmo Bay, Cuba, and either release its inmates or bring them before an impartial tribunal”. Kofi Annan urged that “America must close the camp as soon as is possible” and Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, the highest ranking official in the British legal system, said of Guantanamo “A shocking affront to the principles of democracy . . . intolerable and wrong”.

On Thursday the 11th a number of us will march to the Supreme Court and Federal Court and attempt to deliver motions on the prisoners behalf to the Court. It is expected that over two hundred of us will face arrest.

Where does this protest fit into the larger picture? We know, for example, that while Guantanamo is in the headlines, the US maintains other torture centers elsewhere in the world, and that the CIA, working with “friendly” governments, such as that in Poland, has been transporting prisoners to countries where torture can used without as much danger of public notice. Torture has become a fact of America’s present “war on terror”. That war has become a war of terror. A nation which would once have absolutely refused to authorize torture as policy, now uses it with one hand, while denying it with the other.  Guantanamo is not the only target – it is simply the most visible and  immediate one.

Demonstrations have been organized around the world at US Missions, Embassies and Consulates. In the United States the primary legal work on the Guantanamo issue has been understaken by the Center for Constitutional Rights. The organizational work on the Guantanamo project began well over a year ago when a group of Catholic Workers – a group perhaps best known for the work of the late Dorothy Day – met, discussed, and sent a team to Cuba a year ago to vigil at the gates of Guantanamo, and have since worked to organize this January’s protest. Other groups have joined in sponsoring and endorsing the actions – including War Resisters League, Pax Christi USA, the Socialist

Party and a growing range of groups.

Will the arrests on the 11th change anything? The answer is no, not in the short run. But during the Vietnam War, which was vastly bloodier than Iraq, a war which cost the lives of 58,000 Americans and three million Vietnamese, when I was in despair because nothing seemed to work, our mass demonstrations seemed to have no effect on the government, I asked Paul Goodman what we should do. Paul, one of those rare anarchists who thought in pragmatic rather than dogmatic terms, said “David, you are doing all the right things. You just have to do more of them, and keep on doing them”.

So it is for us now, as news reaches us of US air strikes in Somalia, which have killed civilians, of the new “surge” from Bush, as there are rumors of a possible Israeli nuclear strike on Iran – or of a US attack on Syria and Iran. We do what we can. If it helps to cheer us up, Bush, in some ways the most powerful man in the world, has not been able to impose his will either on the American people, or on Iraq. We are like drops of water wearing on stone. Every action helps, whether it is as mundane as sending your friends factual (not hysterical) information about the war,  as safe as a letter to your members of Congress, or by voting, by demonstrations, or, in this immediate case, by courting arrest.

What should be clear to us is that the US military is not the enemy – it is, in fact, sharply divided on this war. The men and women fighting in Iraq are not the enemy – they were drafted by economics, by the recruiters promises of education, not combat. And in a deeper sense, even those who run our government – Bush, Cheney, Rice, etc., – are agents of economic forces which drive US policy. Our struggle is not with “evil men”, but with evil institutions which will take a great deal of time to change. Our situation is not the result of some conspiracy, but an almost inevitable result of a capitalist system in which consumption drives the machinery of our lives, in which we all want an SUV,

in which we do not want to see higher taxes on our gasoline. To look for conspiracies is a fool’s way out. To analyze the system is more important. And to resist, at whatever level we can, is crucial.

Being arrested is a boring thing. It complicates my own life for a day or two, postpones taking care of things that need to be done. But it is nothing compared to the endless days and nights of torture under which these men are held at Guantanamo. We choose to act on Guantanamo because it is one of the few things we can lay our hands on. Let the US close the base, let us leave it for Cuba, to which it belongs, and let us either bring the men held before a fair tribunal or release them.

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(EdgeLeft is an occasional column by David McReynolds, a New York resident, who was Chair of the War Resisters International and twice the Socialist Party’s candidate for President).

Editor’s note: David McReynolds is now registered Green, and was the 2004 Green Party of new York State candidate for US Senate.

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