Friday, May 3, 2013

You’re right President Obama, it’s time to close Guantanamo

by T.C. Morrow

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 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.

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.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Promised Land: The Mountaintop for Immigration Reform

by Mistead Sai

Guide my feet while I run this race, (yes, my Lord!)
Guide my feet while I run this race, (yes, my Lord!)
Guide my feet while I run this race,
For I don't want to run this race in vain! (race in vain!)
-African-American Spiritual

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by a shot from a sniper’s bullet while he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old. This past April, we commemorated the 45th year since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. who will always be in history books for years to come for the hand he had in the civil rights movement. It’s hard to even think of the civil rights movement without Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK had traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support the striking of African-American sanitation workers. The workers had participated in a walkout earlier in February to protest the unfair wages and working conditions they experienced at their workplace. He had spoken the day prior to his death to a gathering at the Masonic Temple known as the speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

Excerpt: “And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats... or talk about the threats that were out……….. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land.”

Listen to this powerfully captivating speech of “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” here!

Despite receiving bomb threats against his plane before got to Memphis, he understood the work of God in his life and his life’s mission to bring the Promised Land to all people. He understood the need to support workers, the need for righteousness in the face of injustice. He understood the need for economic justice for the plight of African-American workers.

Has things changed in these times? No!

I can draw a lot of parallels between the Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech concerning the Memphis Sanitation Strike and the undocumented immigrant in this highly-political climate with the event that happened a couple weeks ago, and the struggle of the undocumented immigrants.

Today, the undocumented immigrant has experienced abuse from their unscrupulous employer who steals their wages (wage theft), exposes them to hazardous working conditions, and intimidates them with threats of calling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they complain, or try to organize other themselves.

What kind of life is it to work in a low-wage job providing essential labor such as farming and having to live in the shadows in constant fear?

Moreover, similarly as Martin Luther King, Jr. received a bomb threat, we witnessed the tragic Boston bombings and some lawmakers have cited the Boston bombing as example if Congress carries immigration reform too far. They want to use the incident to heighten enforcement and deny citizenship for the estimated eleven million undocumented immigrants in this country. It has revitalized a certain xenophobia and anxiety in America.

MLK did not let the bomb threat affect his vision, but he stood the course, and we should not let the bomb threat prevent us from seeing the vision either.

We should not allow politicians to use the Boston bombing as a ploy to inhibit immigration reform from happening. We are too close now to let immigration reform fall right under us…..I have seen the Promised Land

Let’s stay the course my brothers and sisters and not derail from our work on immigration reform. I mourn for the folks that were injured or killed in the Boston bombing, but I stand with a much heavier heart seeking the Beloved Community that MLK speaks of in light of this travesty.

We must commit ourselves to the Beloved Community of MLK. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood and saw the Promised Land for Civil Rights, and now we see the Promised Land for Immigration Reform where all of our immigrant brothers and sisters are respected and their dignity is acknowledged.

Let’s stay the course……

Today on May Day (International Workers’ Day), I will walk through the city streets where the Haymarket massacre occurred in Chicago with my co-workers at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) to protest for immigration reform for immigrant workers seeking full citizenship and be ensured of their workers’ rights.

I have seen the Promised Land. My eyes have seen the Promised Land and I know that we can get there together!


Mistead Sai is a US-2 missionary for the United Methodist through the General Board of Global ministries. Mistead Said serves at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) as their Worker Center Network Assistant providing support to worker center affiliates nationwide. Mistead received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at the University of Maryland. He enjoys intellectual conservations, likes documentaries, and has taken a liking to investigate issues surrounding environmental racism, biopolitics, and identity politics in the past recent months.