Fast for Justice 2013: Day 2

Dear Friends,

Today is the second day of our fast, our first full day without food. We began the day early, rising to be at the Pentagon when the morning shift came in to work. The Pentagon was the first of three vigils today. After coming back for some rest and some reflection on our time together, we went out for a second time — this time to the White House. We processed as far as we could around the perimeter of the White House grounds, weaving in between recently erected fences that surround the grandstands, bleachers, and viewing stands that are being set up for the inauguration.

Seeing these preparations underway, many of us thought back to the last inauguration, all the talk of change and hope, and President Obama’s promise early in his first term that Guantanamo would be closed within a year. As we finished the walking portion of our vigil, we joined Code Pink in front of the White House to protest the nomination of John Brennan as the director of the CIA. We have heard so much from this administration about hope and change, Matt said as he took the microphone. We still believe in hope, but we have seen so little change. And indeed, where is the change? While we stood in yet another annual vigil, while construction crews all over the White House prepared for a new inauguration, at the very same time Obama was affirming the worst practices of our past, nominating as CIA director a man who has publicly defended enhanced interrogation and drone strikes. Here is an AP photo from our presence (http://bigstory.ap.org/photo/cia-protest).

In our third vigil of the day, we didn’t wear our jumpsuits. Instead, we stood as fellow citizens with those vigiling in solidarity with Samer Issawi, the Palestinian political prisoner on his 164th day of hunger strike. These men and women cry out against the same excesses of empire, the same absence of due process, the same violations of human rights as we do. As we stepped out of our circle today and into the streets, our circle grew. This circle, which includes all of you friends, all those at Guantanamo, and all those who have died there in chains, grew to include passers-by, Pentagon employees, and White House construction crews. It grew by joining with other groups struggling for the preservation of human rights.

May it continue to grow.

In Peace,
Witness Against Torture

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In This Update

1) Pentagon Reflection, by Amy Nee Walker
2) Day 2 Reflection, by Dan Wilson
3) “There is a Man Under That Hood” by Luke Nephew
4) “Set the Captives Free” by Art Laffin
5) Letters of Support (Sulaimani, Iraq; Bud Courtney)
6) Who is Samer Issawi? by Johnny Barber

Links

“Obama to Tap John Brennan to Head CIA” ABC News
“Indefinite Detention Can Rise to Level of Torture” Video of Detainee Attorney Kristine Huskey

Pentagon Reflection: Black Hoods, White Faces, and the Enemy Within

by Amy Nee Walker

We entered singing at seven a.m. onto the designated protest grounds of the Pentagon Building. Early in the hour-long vigil I began to notice things. I noticed I was tired from waking at 5:30 a.m. I noticed my throat was irritated, but less so than yesterday. I noticed my wrists were feeling cramped from helping hold a large black canvas banner with white lettering, “Close Guantanamo.”

Behind me the names of detainees were being read with steady reverence, interspersed with a chorus of “Courage, Muslim Brother,” and poems composed by the detained men. I tried to focus on the names, on the distant, aching lives for which those names are a small symbol that we grasp. But I could not feel their presence this morning. Before me was a steady stream of men and women, so many, so varied, and I noticed that I had not been attending to their presence either, more absorbed in the looming building, our agenda, myself.

As a young child, I would avert my eyes from people’s faces. I suppose it stemmed from an anxiety of being seen, not looking was hiding. But instead of providing me a safe view, my hiding eyes hid others from me, and my world was very small. Gently, firmly, patiently, my parents taught me to expand that world. Taking my face in their hands, they taught me to make eye contact with them, then, gradually, to look to others who were speaking. I began to practice, to become attentive, to take people in and to give myself with a gaze.

High in the wide windows of the Pentagon, breaking dawn was being revealed. The sun began to shine behind us, police officers facing us donned sunglasses to shade their eyes, and I opened mine. Faces of every shade and shape passed by, old and young, in formal and casual and military attire. I was surprised at the diversity. Some looked toward us, seeming to read the signs, though their face offered no acknowledgement of our presence. Others turned their heads. Those who swerved to the far side of the walkway to avoid nearness put me in mind of passersby on a New York City sidewalk, afraid of the man on the corner who might laden them with unwanted coupons, the woman in the doorway asking for money. A few—pale, sharp-faced men with clipped gaits and military garb—looked toward us (though not at anyone in particular) with large, leering grins, sardonic and spiteful. I felt reflexively sick and chilled at the sight of these men. I saw them as disturbing, even disgusting, and I wanted them to be disgusted at themselves. And then I realized what I was doing. I was not looking at these people to see who they were, recognizing their humanity and wholeness. I was seeing them as I felt, worse than looking away, judging them from my small world.

Behind me, the program of readings continued and I heard the words of Luke Nephew’s poem, “There is a man under that hood…” (see Luke’s poem in full below, #3.). His poem beautifully and concisely encapsulates the spirit of love, active-compassion, and respect for life that draws me to Witness Against Torture, and to the Catholic Worker; a spirit that I hope to embody. It is love, active-compassion, and respect for all lives –

Mr. President, I want you to know, that if it were you hooded and chained
We would be standing right here, demanding the same- basic human rights for you…
If it were you facing indefinite detention Mr. Senator,
We would march in these streets with your name on our backs
We would fast
In solidarity with your hunger strike, Mrs. Congresswoman
Even while months of breathing through black cloth made you cough
We would speak for you
Mr. Newsman, Mrs. Citizen, we would be here for you…

–knowing that individuals are more than the images we see, whether that image be a black hood, a white face, or our own face in the mirror.

During the Fasters Meeting after the vigil, Jules commented, “hearts and minds were hard to change there.” Each year that I come to D.C. with WAT, each day that I put on the hood, I am challenged with the recognition that I am still hiding, guarding myself with quick judgments of another that makes less of us both. I find that the one heart and mind I can know is my own, and it too needs changing, stretching; gently, firmly, patiently stretching and seeing that we are all far more expansive and complex than eyes can perceive. In this, community is both a comfort and a constant chastening. Ever revealing and reminding us of one another’s beautiful, bewildering, cruel and kind, fragile and sturdy, contradictory, mysterious being; and giving us the chance to practice again and again how to respond in love and truth.

Day 2 Reflection by Dan Wilson

Early on Monday morning twenty five jumpsuits got onto the Red line during rush hour in Washington D.C. Many people looked, a few stared, but mostly it seemed that those living in Washington had become accustomed to this yearly spectacle. Witness Against Torture joined the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker at their weekly vigil in front of the “center for war-making in the world”, the Pentagon. Fasters held large banners and sang songs as pentagon employees walked by into work while the names of the one hundred and sixty six men still at Guantanamo were read over a loud speaker. For an hour we stood and watched the faces of those that walked by. Their reactions varied from one person telling Beth, in Arabic, “Asalaam Alaikum – Peace be upon you.” A traditional greeting. While another man yelled at us saying we were “the only crazies that cared about it.” If this is true then this is precisely why we are still coming back to D.C. and fasting in solidarity. During the vigil the names of the nine men that have died at Guantanamo were also read over the loudspeaker. Following was a poem written by Adnan Latif which can be found in yesterday’s update, along with information about this man who recently died while detained at Guantanamo.

As the sun began to rise more police officers carrying rifles and handguns surrounded the vigil and watched us as Art Lafflin ended with a reading from Luke’s gospel and added: “the Spirit has sent us to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recover sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free.”

There is a Man Under That Hood

by Peace Poet Luke Nephew, January 2011

We are not here to make angels out of prisoners.
We don’t know them. But we know that they are men…
And so we defend those who disappear under hoods and into jumpsuits,
Bringing back into the light every CIA black cite, because right now…
There is a man under that hood
There is a brother breathing prayers of desperation,
Striking hunger so hard that his ribs are about to crack,
There is a man under that hood in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Iraq
That is being treated as less than human…
His rights have been dismissed with the label terrorist
And just for saying this, they’ll probably put my name on a list
But this is too dangerous for us to not resist…
Mr. President, I want you to know, that if it were you hooded and chained
We would be standing right here, demanding the same- basic human rights for you…
If it were you facing indefinite detention Mr. Senator,
We would march in these streets with your name on our backs
We would fast
In solidarity with your hunger strike, Mrs. Congresswoman
Even while months of breathing through black cloth made you cough
We would speak for you
Mr. Newsman, Mrs. Citizen, we would be here for you
Because no matter how hollowed out the night
We remember that human rights are universal,
This is life, not a rehearsal!
You cannot steal years of men’s lives based on lies extracted from torture and bribes,
We cannot decide who is human and who is not
Without becoming the greatest threat to ourselves
I have sat inside a cell, and it taught me how wrong it is to cage men
And then say it’s all right to keep them…
Because they fell like corpses into the category of ‘enemy combatants’
I will not act like nothing happened when it’s happening now
I will not bow to this injustice.
I will speak for the change that was promised,
I’m not ashamed to be honest: And tell you:
We have all cried, Mr. President,
Clouds of consciousness overflowing out our eyes, Mr. President…
For those brief seconds when we’ve had the courage to realize
That there is a man under that hood,
No matter how beaten and bruised
There is a man under that hood
That is exactly as human as you
There is a man under that hood
Regardless of his religion, There is a man
Who doesn’t understand, why we don’t see him…
Why it’s so hard for us to imagine what it would be like to be him…
There where they sit in our prisons, hidden from our justice system, locked away,
Are we going to pretend that they are less than men and just walk away?
Or will we raise our eyes above the walls,
Raise our voices up to call out our government,
To say we see you, we are watching what you’re doin’,
No matter how many times you call them terrorists,
We’ll still recognize them as human
And to the detainees,
No matter how tortured or shattered or forgotten you feel
Please know that there are people in these United States,
Who see you and hear you and know that you are real
And to the people of my country,
Do not pretend we are seeking freedom,
Or justice, or any common good,
Until we are ready
To respect the human rights
Of every
Single
Man…
under that hood.

Luke speaking the poem on Jan. 11, 2011

 

Set the Captives Free!
Witness Against Torture Pentagon Vigil
by Art Laffin

Imagine being abducted,
tortured and detained,
held without charge–
condemned to a hell of unimaginable pain.

In the early morning darkness
at this Temple of Death,
we fast for the prisoners
who gasp for each breath.

Hundreds of soldiers and civilian workers
stream by,
as police with assault weapons
keep a watchful eye.

166 prisoners
still unjustly bound,
we pray and we witness
that love will abound.

We call out their names
hold banners and pray,
this colossal evil must end
at Guantanamo Bay.

We invoke the nine prisoners
once beaming with life,
who now are dead
no more hunger or strife.

Courage Muslim brothers
you do not walk alone,
we will walk with you
and sing your spirit home.

Liberty for the captives,
for the man under the hood,
is a child of God
overcome evil with good!

The sun is rising
the darkness is gone,
God’s reign is at hand
carry it on!

Letter of Support

Matt,
much thanks for the first update. i am ahead of you all, halfway through day 2 of the fast here, alone and reading the update brought me into the circle. have been thinking of all the gatherings, the first one on a very cold saturday night in washington sq. park as you all marched across Cuba towards Guantanamo. the long long road we have been walking and continue to walk today. the emotions i feel are so jumbled, deep, profound sadness. shame. but great great gratitude that i am part of an ever widening caring/conscientious community that regards personalism as the only true means of enacting change. and that personalism brings us to build community and truly to attempt to love one another.
there is, of course, the hollow feeling, not of not eating, but from being so far away from all of my dear friends. i sit here in Sulaimani with tears in my eyes as i picture each of you preparing to depart for the pentagon. i am never sure i am where i should be but i give thanks that you are all there, for me. for the men in Guantanamo.
i pray daily for all of you.
in love and deepest gratitude,
i miss you all
bud

Who is Samer Issawi? by Johnny Barber

Several participants with Witness Against Torture joined in a vigil on behalf of Samer Issawi, a Hunger Striker in Israeli custody. Samer Issawi, a Palestinian, was a former prisoner released as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal on October 18, 2011. He was arrested only eight months after his release, accused of violating his release by leaving the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. He was arrested and is accused of being near the village of Hizma, which in fact, is inside the borders of Jerusalem municipality. He faces an additional fifteen years in prison if he is convicted in Israeli military courts (which have a 99.74% conviction rate) of leaving Jerusalem while remaining within its borders.

Approximately 40% of the total male population in Palestine have been detained by the Israeli military at some point in their lives, according to prisoner rights group Addameer. Often they are held without charges.

Samer launched his hunger strike on August 1, 2012. He has now been on hunger strike for 160 days. As Samer’s strike continues and his health deteriorates, the Israeli authorities have targeted his family in the hope of breaking his resolve.

On December 18th Samer was publically beaten in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court after he tried to greet his family. He was dragged from his wheelchair and carried away. As a result Samer’s family was barred from the trial and his sister Shireen Issawi was arrested by the Israeli army. She was held for 24 hours before being released to house arrest for ten days. They also confiscated her license to practice her profession as a lawyer for six months.

Samer’s brother, Ra’fat Issawi, had his house demolished on January 1st. According to his family there was no court decision on this; the Israeli army simply came and destroyed the home of Ra’fat, his wife and their three children. The Israeli authorities have also cut the water to Samer’s parent’s home.

“This is revenge against the family as a whole,” said Shireen.

A doctor concluded his medical report: Samer has recently started suffering from severe pain especially in his muscles, abdomen and kidneys. He has an acute vitamin B-12 deficiency and his body has begun to eat his muscles and nerves. Also, his sight is weak, he is fainting around six times a day and his body is covered with bruises. Moreover, he is vomiting blood, his heart is weakening and he can barely breathe.

Urgent action and international attention are needed to support his struggle!

The day of action includes a global hunger strike and protests in New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, London, and Cairo.

Posted on by Witness Against Torture Staff