Last Friday I stood in an orange jumpsuit and black hood, carrying a sign with the name of a detainee who had died at Guantanamo. It was only for an hour, but a profound hour to think about the men that are being held in our name.
|Photo by Ted Majdosz|
This Friday I again joined a Close Guantanamo vigil over the lunch hour in Washington, DC. Between the two Fridays, during a press conference on Tuesday, April 30, President Obama restated his belief in the need to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
I appreciate President Obama responding to a question about the hunger strike at Guantanamo that started in February and now reportedly includes 100 of the 166 detainees. It is a hunger strike born of the desperation of men being held in indefinite detention, 86 of whom have been cleared for transfer but Congress has put up roadblocks for the transfers. While I appreciate President Obama’s recommitment, which he had stated during last year’s campaign as well, I am waiting to see words turn into action. The President has blamed Congress for the roadblocks, but he signed the bills into law and has not used the powers the Administration has to certify individuals for transfer.
I have no doubt that a number of the men held at Guantanamo are guilty of war crimes and should be tried, but how long are we going to embarrass ourselves and not transfer men who have been cleared for transfer? Every day that the detention center stays open is another day of reminder of the sins of torture that have taken place there.
So as tourists walked by snapping pictures of the White House, I was present in vigils to let President Obama know that we support his desire to see Guantanamo closed and encourage action to back up his words. I was with fellow colleagues with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), members of Witness Against Torture, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and more. On April 26, we were joined by Col. Morris Davis (ret.), former Chief Prosecutor of the Guantanamo military commissions. Col. Davis launched a Change.org petition this week that now has over 125,000 signatures.
Later on Tuesday after the President’s remarks in the press conference, 38 religious leaders released a public letter sent to the President and all members of Congress, describing the desperate situation at Guantanamo and calling on President Obama and Congress to back the President’s words with action by expeditiously moving to close the Guantanamo detention center. My colleague Laura Markle Downton read the letter, coordinated by NRCAT, at the vigil this Friday. I shared the following prayer. It is not the lament that has been just on the edge of my mind and unable to get into full sentences, but I offer it for your prayer and reflection:
God of the open spaces like this plaza and God of the closed cells like at Guantanamo, we give thanks that you have created each person in your image, each person with dignity and worth.Amen.
We pray that you may help all people remember that each and every person is your beloved child.
When we fall short and do ill to each other, lift us up and let your justice reign.
On this day, here in front of the White House, a symbol of hope and freedom, we gather to call for the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, a symbol of torture and shame.
We gather in solidarity with those desperate enough to go on hunger strike to make their voices heard. May they know that many voices have lifted up for an end to indefinite detention and closure of Guantanmo.
We pray for President Obama, for strength of conviction and action to close Guantanamo. We pray for others in our government to undue this stain on our country. We pray for the guards and medical staff at Guantanamo, we pray for the detainees, especially those who have been cleared for transfer and languish in the unknown. We pray for the American people and we pray for ourselves, that we may not give in to fear – that through your help O God, we can see a closure of the Guantanamo detention facility.
T.C. Morrow is Director of Finance & Operations for the National ReligiousCampaign Against Torture and a member of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC.