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Jailed for Protesting Gitmo: 34 Convicted for Demonstrations Outside Supreme Court

Protesters were convicted of "unlawful free speech" for peaceful demonstrations on behalf of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
 
 
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Thirty-four Americans arrested at the Supreme Court on January 11, 2008 were found guilty after a three-day trial which began on Tuesday, May 27th in D.C. Superior Court. The defendants represented themselves, mounting a spirited defense of their First Amendment rights to protest the gross injustice of abuse and indefinite detention of men at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.

Charged with "unlawful free speech," the defendants were part of a larger group that appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11 -- the day marking six years of indefinite detention and torture at Guantanamo. "I knelt and prayed on the steps of the Supreme Court wearing an orange jumpsuit and black hood to be present for Fnu
Fazaldad," said Tim Nolan, a nurse practitioner from Asheville, NC who provides health care for people with HIV.

Defendants and witnesses argued that they did not expect to be arrested at the Supreme Court, "an internationally known temple to free speech." Ashley Casale, a student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, told the court, "I am 19 -- the youngest person in this courtroom--and I come on behalf of all the prisoners at Guantanamo who were younger than I am now when they were detained. According to the U.S. Constitution we have a right to petition the government for a redress of grievances and Guantanamo Bay prison is beyond grievous."

Historian Michael S. Foley, a professor at the City University of New York, teaches the U.S. Constitution to undergraduates. He testified that if "you told me that the defendants would be arrested for 'unlawful free speech' just twenty feet from where the Justices decide First Amendment cases, I'd say you were 'crazy.'"

Arthur Laffin gave the following closing statement at the January Guantanamo Trial:

"My name is Arthur Laffin and I am representing Mane'I al Otaybi, a Saudi national who was 25 years old when he was taken into U.S. custody in Afghanistan. He died at the Guantanamo military prison on June 10, 2006 of a reported suicide. To date, there has been no independent investigation of his death or the others who have died at
Guantanamo. We remember these dead prisoners in a special way here in this court today.

"The government has asserted that this case is not about Guantanamo. We respectfully and vehemently disagree. In our defense, we have to put forth to this court overwhelming evidence that the U.S. government has engaged in criminal conduct. What is at issue here is: what do citizens do when all three branches of government are in violation of divine law, international law, and its own Constitution? When habeas corpus rights are denied to persons, when persons are held indefinitely without being charged, when persons are tortured by U.S. personnel in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Eighth Amendment to the Bill of Rights, we citizens have a right and a duty to petition the government and to seek redress. This is what we defendants did on January 11.

"You have heard evidence that we wrote a letter to the Supreme Court Justices well in advance of January 11, appealing to them to grant due process for the Guantanamo prisoners -- to restore habeas corpus rights, to outlaw the crime and sin of torture, and to order the closing of Guantanamo. To date we have received no response. We went
to the Supreme Court on January 11 to appeal in person to the justices, imploring them to do their job to uphold the law and administer justice.

"As government and defense witnesses have testified, our actions were nonviolent and prayerful. We did not go there to call attention to ourselves, an organization or movement. We carried the names of the Guantanamo prisoners in our hearts, and once arrested, gave the names of the prisoners instead of our own names. Throughout our 30 hours of incarceration, and throughout this entire court case, we have continued to state that we are here on behalf of these prisoners.
…

"Judge Gardner, we contend our actions were morally and legally justified and that we had no other recourse than to take the action we did. We should never have been arrested in the first place. Our intention on January 11 was not to commit a crime. Our action was clearly in accordance with God's law which calls us to uphold the sacredness of all life, and International law and the U.S. Constitution. On January 11, as now, we sought to bring public notice to prisoners whose lives are endangered at the Guantanamo U.S. Military Prison. There is an imminent harm here, an emergency. The
Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, lawyers for the prisoners, and released prisoners have all documented the torture they have experienced. To protest their brutal treatment and the desecration of the Quran, many Guantanamo prisoners have gone on hunger-strikes. As documented by the New York Times and other media, prisoners who went on hunger-strikes were place in special restraint chairs, bound, had feeding tubes forced down their nose and throat, and left in these restraint chairs for up to 24 hours -- in an attempt by authorities, including medical personnel that defense witness Tim Nolan spoke of, to get prisoners to end their hunger-strikes. In effect, these prisoners have been tortured for simply trying as an act of last resort to seek justice. Judge Gardner, we acted on January 11 to protect the lives of these prisoners and to prevent an imminent harm from occurring.

"Article 6, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states that any law or treaty that the US is party to is the supreme law of the land and binding on all U.S. courts (including this one). As has been stated in our opening statement and by defense witnesses, including Father Pickard, the Geneva Conventions, which the U.S. signed, has been, and continues to be blatantly violated. The Nuremberg Principles, which the United States helped write, state that individuals have a duty to prevent crimes against humanity from occurring and that if people don't act to prevent such crimes, they are actually complicit in them. We, who are on trial today, along with many friends, refuse to
be complicit in these crimes.

"We ask: Where are the judges and the legal professionals when it comes to confronting the criminal acts of our government? Will we be here five years from now? How many more people have to suffer before we end this horror?

"This is an historic moment. If justice is to come for the prisoners and Guantanamo, and all secret US torture centers are to be closed, it will happen because judges like you spoke out and people from across the political spectrum took nonviolent action to petition our government to make this a reality.

…

"I would like to conclude by offering a poem from Usama Abu Kabir, a
Guantanamo prisoner:

IS IT TRUE
By Usama Abu Kabir (Guantanamo Prisoner)

Is it true that the Grass grows again after the rain?
Is it true that the Flowers will rise up in the Spring?
Is it true that the Birds will migrate home again?
Is it true that the Salmon swim back up the stream?

It is true. This is true. These are all miracles.
But is it true that one day we'll leave Guantanamo Bay?
Is it true that one day we'll go back to our homes?
I sail in my dreams, I'm dreaming of home.

To be with my children, each one part of me;
To be with my wife, and the ones that I love;
To be with my parents, my world's tenderest hearts.
I dream to be home, to be free from this cage.

But do you hear me, O Judge, do you hear me at all?
We are innocent, here, we've committed no crime.

Set me free, set us free, if anywhere still--
May justice, compassion remain in this world!

(From BookForum - Summer 2006)."

The action on January 11 was organized by Witness Against Torture, a group that formed in 2005 when 25 people walked from Cuba to the U.S. detention facilities to protest conditions there. January 11, 2008 marked six years since the opening of U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. The Supreme Court demonstrators were joined by protestors in London, Sydney, Edinburgh, Istanbul, Barcelona and throughout the world.

Retired Admiral John D. Hutson, the former judge advocate general of the Navy, said of the Supreme Court demonstrators, "In the military, there is the concept of 'calling in artillery onto your own position.' It refers to heroic action taken in desperate situations for a greater good. That's essentially what these courageous Americans are doing… They accept that there may be an adverse consequence to them personally but they believe drawing attention to the issue is worth the sacrifice."

Witness Against Torture will continue its efforts to have the detention facilities at Guantanamo shut down and torture by United States ended.

Visit www.witnesstorture.org for more information.

Frida Berrigan serves on the National Committee of the War Resisters League .