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Our Lives Begin To End The Day We Become Silent About Things That Matter

WAT 2012 – “HUNGERING FOR JUSTICE”

DAY 10 – JANUARY 12, 2012

Dear Friends,

Being together in community allows us to support one another, challenge one another, and collectively push limits. So on our final day of fasting, on the heels of a beautiful gathering of hundreds for January 11th we decided that rather than relax and reflect, we would continue to push forward.

I begin this letter with a full stomach, having recently returned from a delicious and abundant fast-breaking meal hosted by friends at America University’s Washington College of Law. Breaking the fast was a strange time of intermingled celebration and mourning. Along with dinner there was a panel discussion led by Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on torture for the UN, Frida, and Matt. While commending our actions, and those of others advocating for closure of Guantanamo and an end to torture, he shared the dismal news that not only have things not gotten better since he spoke with us last year, but they have gotten worse. And yet, he persists in his efforts to uncover and confront illegal and inhuman acts of torture perpetrated by government’s around the world, including our own. Frida offered a simple and elegant summary of our time here together in D.C. It was a time focused on four things – the trial for the June 23rd action, the 92-hour cage vigil, the January 11 rally, and today’s action. In the coming days we will try to compile some reflections and analysis of our time together in DC, but for now, we share a final daily run-down.

Following our final morning reflection, led beautifully by Chrissy, we rolled out of the church and over to the Superior Court. There we heard sentencing statements (all included below) from Judith, Brian and Carmen, finally able to speak openly about what it is that brought them to trial with an eloquence and sincerity that brought many in the court room to tears. The defendants were given the sentence of 5 days jail time, suspended; 6 months unsupervised probation; 30 hours of community service or $300 to a charity of their choice; a stay away order from Capitol grounds, and $50 to the victims of violent crimes compensation fund. Following the sentencing statements, the standing room only courtroom broke into gentle song… “Courage, Muslim brothers, you do not walk alone. We will, walk with you. And sing, your spirit home,” as we slowly processed out and onto our final action of our time together.

We moved from the court house to the White House with a brief stop at Freedom Plaza to pick up the cage we’d deposited there after the January 11th rally. A procession of roughly 40 people in jumpsuits, accompanied by guides and supporters, marched two by two to the White House one more time. The men and women in jumpsuits were arranged along the fence encircling the White House, in the “picture postcard” zone, creating what Paki called an “orange out,” obscuring the iconic view of the president’s mansion. While those not willing to risk arrest slowly drifted from this zone (where it is forbidden for more than 25 people to stand) 36 remained and after roughly three hours were arrested. Those standing aside in support shared their presence and also words announcing our reasons for taking this stand, namely, the men who remain at Guantanamo. We alternately read the name of each detainee from a list followed by the chant, “we remember you,” read stories from the few we’ve been able to collect backgrounds on and sang, “Courage, Muslim brothers, you do not walk alone. We will, walk with you. And sing, your spirit home.” There was some concern that the long delay between assembling for action and arrest was a strain on those standing in formation. There was concern too that this might prohibit us from breaking this fast as a full community if friend we processed late into the night.

In the end, we all were able to gather tonight and share our first meal together. The event was a closure to this trip, but not to this movement. As Frida said during the panel, “We go home knowing there is a lot of work to be done.” Not much has changed, she conceded, “from a policy perspective,” but our presence and actions here these last ten days, have been both faithful and effective. Many people have been touched, people in the court room and the court house, on the streets, at institutions of power, in this church, amongst our community here and those we remain connected to back home, and perhaps most importantly, in the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Giving thanks for the food, Frida concluded, “this food will nourish us so we can go home and continue the work.” And so we shall.

In Peace, Witness Against Torture

Link to Witness Against Torture’s Website

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Brian Hynes’ Sentencing Statement
January 12, 2012

Judge Fisher: I am Shaker Aamer, aka Brian Hynes. In the interest of justice I request a sentence of time served. I acted on June 23rd in the tradition of civil resistance to injustice. This tradition is to be cherished in a free republic and any fines imposed on me amount to a poll tax for following in that tradition. I would urge you not to impose them.

I have a three part statement to make:

1) I must acknowledge the respect your court shows to all of the defendants brought here. I also acknowledge the respect and fair hearing I personally have received in my bumbling pro se defense. Thank you. The urgent need for, and far reaching social utility of judicial due process are lietmotifs of this trial. You and your clerks and staff clearly promote these goods and I thank all of you.

2) I was willing to accept some sanction for appealing to the House of Representatives on June 23rd and while our removal is understandable, our arrest and charge under this statute was not. The court gave the minimum sanction to sober, informed, cooperative, earnest actions in a campaign of resistance to an ongoing illegal detention regime. We spoke in the people’s house that laws were being broken and were about to be broken by that body. This is a democratic act—it is a democratic process and our charges are grossly out of line with these facts. Like the practice of lynching in the 20th century, Guantanamo is illegal and ongoing. The continued attempts of concerned citizens to redress Guantanamo is not criminal behavior. It places the government and judiciary in crisis, but we did not cause this—we reveal it.

3) I return to an early argument made in this court and deepen its focus and consequences. From the standpoint of the First Amendment and petitioning of our government; while reasonable limits on this right are settled law, the limits are not absolute. To judge our behavior on a standard of tourists in the people’s house reduces the public gallery to an item on a visitors map. The House is indeed the center of power that maintains an illegal regime of military detention, Guantanamo and the undeclared drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen- the extrajudicial execution of U.S. citizens as an aspect of these undeclared wars are a contradiction of the rights of the sovereign people of the United States. I have the unenumerated right to live in a country that abides by its own laws. Article 6—the supremacy clause of our Constitution—underscores that each of us, including you Judge Fisher, are bound by our international obligations against violating national sovereignty with torture and indefinite detention, These contradictions to our own laws and international obligations are the crisis that makes our behavior legitimate—indeed commendable.

The fact that Shaker Aamer, after ten years, has not had his day in court, made our action necessary.

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Sentencing Statement by Judith Kelly
January 12, 2012

“OUR LIVES BEGIN TO END THE DAY WE BECOME SILENT ABOUT THINGS THAT MATTER. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Judge Fisher, thank you very much for conducting a fair and orderly trial. I personally feel honored to be here, despite family circumstances that prevented me from participating fully. Between the June 23 nonviolent direct action in the House Gallery and this trial, my mother passed, quite suddenly, on Oct. 20. I did not have the necessary energy for trial preparation, but I agreed to stay on as a silent co-defendant. I thank the original co-defendants and our attorney advisors for their patience and understanding. I believe any of the co-defendants could be standing here and would do justice to this important opportunity. [Co-defendants, please stand]

My solidarity with the Guantanamo prisoners dates from August of 2005 when I signed a petition developed by Fr. Joseph Mulligan, a Jesuit priest in Managua, Nicaragua, that called for international religious leaders and people of faith to fast in support of the Guantanamo prisoners on hunger strike. The prisoners were using their own bodies as their sole means of resistance. I did a liquids-only fast from August 10-20. Since then I have tried to maintain a Friday fast. There are many in the room fasting in solidarity with the Guantanamo prisoners who are on hunger strike right now. [Fasters, please stand]

When the core group of 25 Catholic activists went to Cuba in December 2005, I followed their activities carefully and joined Witness Against Torture in 2006, participating in actions every year since. Despite all my best efforts –with arrests at the Supreme Court, the White House and the Capitol steps –this is the first time I have been before a court and found guilty. That I am in court at the tenth year since the creation of the Guantanamo concentration camp is important to me as I am now officially on the record for resisting this shameful stain on our country.

On June 23, 2011, I felt a real sense of urgency to participate, given the disturbing language on Guantanamo in the Defense Appropriations Bill. I felt our action would be timely, relevant and, in a sense, necessary to prevent a greater crime. I believed our statement had to be read to Congress and those with strong voices tried to do so. I chose to say something else, just once: “We walk in shame and grief and anger.” I did speak out to the many representatives, staffers and visitors on the House floor, but with all the noise in that cavernous hall, I don’t believe my voice carried very far. The jeers and boos I heard coming from the House floor drowned out the message I tried to deliver. Before being escorted out of the gallery, I also called out: Please, close Guantanamo!

I especially wanted to be part of this action in June in response to my travel with a peace delegation to Afghanistan in March with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Several of my co-defendants and friends also traveled there and we established strong bonds with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, who seek an end to the war through nonviolence.

My experience in Afghanistan motivated me to attend a series in Maryland on Christian/Muslim matters in June. Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church spoke on June 20, and I raised a difficult question with him about his predecessor, Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki, who had spoken at an interfaith panel I attended in Oct. 2001. I remember that I agreed with his critique of US policies in the Middle East. How had he become so radicalized that the US had him on its “target list?” Imam Johari told us that he truly believed that his friend Al-Awlaki, a US citizen of Yemeni heritage, was a moderate in 2001, but that his arrest and torture in Yemen (that he believed to be at the bidding of the US government) changed him into a radical anti-American. Anwar Al-Awlaki was on my mind when I spoke up in the House Gallery on June 23.

As we now know, Anwar Al-Awlaki was killed, with several others, in a US drone strike in Yemen in late September. The death of this US citizen and the lack of any due process must be condemned. The recent approval by Congress of the National Defense Authorization Act that permits the indefinite detention of US citizens and that keeps the remaining 171 prisoners in Guantanamo indefinitely must also be condemned.

I appreciate very much being able to speak about these, as King would say, “things that matter.” I cannot be silent. My heritage is Polish, and Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, once said, “I just keep doing the same things, and some days they lock me up and some days they give me the Nobel Prize.” I trust that someday our persistent actions with Witness Against Torture will be recognized.

Judge Fisher, I believe that you are very fair, and perhaps even supportive of our efforts. You praised the jury for completing their civic responsibilities, and rightly so. I suggest you consider our efforts as part of our civic duty as concerned and committed US citizens. As to my case, I respectfully ask that you sentence me to time served. If you must impose a fine, I hope that I can support a worthy cause that we can agree on.

I wish you and our prosecutors well in the pursuit of justice. May we each take our piece of the truth and grow it into something we can all be proud of. I’ll close with Corinthians II, verse 6:3-10.

We take pains to avoid giving offense to anyone, for we don’t want our ministry to be blamed. Instead, in all that we do we try to present ourselves as ministers of God, acting with patient endurance amid trials, difficulties, distresses, beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger. We conduct ourselves with innocence, knowledge, patience and kindness in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love, with the message of truth and the power of God, wielding the weapons of justice with both right hand and left –regardless of whether we are honored or dishonored, spoken of favorably or unfavorably. We are called impostors, yet we are truthful; we are called unknowns, yet we are famous; we are said to be dying, yet we are alive; punished, but not put to death; sorrowful, though we are always rejoicing; poor, yet we enrich many. We seem to have nothing yet we possess everything!

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Carmen Trotta’s Sentencing Statement
January 12, 2012

Shaker Aamer is a prisoner at Guantánamo. He has been held there without charge or trial for every one of that peculiar institution’s ten years. A British resident, Aamer has a ten-year-old boy he has never met. He is at death’s door as we speak, if we do not decry his current condition we may be complicit in his murder.

Like the vast majority of the 779 prisoners that have passed through Guantánamo, and (according to the Obama administration itself) the majority of the prisoners presently held, Mr. Aamer is guilty of nothing but being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being Muslim.

Judge Fisher, I assume, you recall the delayed release of the photographs from Abu Ghraib in 2004. The mêlée of a different generation, these images seared our consciences. We do well to remember, Judge Fisher, that a second set of photos has never been released. They are kept from the American people, a national security secret, because they are deemed to dismaying to look upon. Let us remember, because surely we know less that half of what has gone on at Guantánamo.

Subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture, in 2005 Shaker Aamer organized a hunger strike at Guantánamo. A charismatic leader and an English speaker, after weeks of fasting, Mr. Aamer was able to negotiate an end to the fast, having gained certain concessions from the base. Just a few weeks later the concessions were withdrawn and Mr. Aamer went back on strike.

I should mention that it was this first hunger strike, a call for mercy by a beleaguered group of Muslim men to what they consider the Christian world, which offered almost no response – this hunger strike led myself and twenty-four friends to travel to Cuba, to, as Jesus taught, visit the prisoners in December 2005.

In 2006, we have good reason to believe, Mr. Aamer was subjected to a torture session with three other prisoner: Yasser al Zahrani, Mani al Utaybi and Ali Abdullah Ahmed. Those last three prisoners (all cleared for release at the time) all died during the torture session.

According to the military version of these events, the three prisoners, highly trained al Qaeda operatives, had committed simultaneous suicide, as a “publicity stunt,” an act of “asymmetrical warfare” against the American people. Informed voices – lawyers, ex-Guantánamo prisoners and investigative journalists – believe that Shaker Aamer is being held at Guantánamo to suppress his knowledge of these events.

We call for his immediate release, Judge Fisher, and we ask you to join us.

I lament that a jury of American citizens would not immediately nullify a case against nonviolent protesters, protesting the existence of the interrogation center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. I am not, however, surprised for two reasons. I believe it is still true that the average citizen of the United States still receives their news about the wider world from mainstream media outlets, which is to say Corporate-controlled media. They have very definite, anti-democratic interests. The media coverage of Guantánamo, with rare exception, has been atrocious. For me, with eight years of the Bush administration, the American people were told incessantly that the prisoners at Guantánamo represented the “worst of the worst”! One military commander, when asked why the prisoners were cuffed, shackled, strapped, hooded and put in ear muffs when transported, responded that “these men are so dangerous that they would gnaw through the hydraulic lines of a C137 aircraft to being it down, just to kill Americans.” It is this absurd mentality, or perhaps spurious affectation put on by the hawks in the Pentagon and that wake of vultures that is Congress, that prevails because it is not subject to serious critique, or any critique at all in the media.

And thus the general public is dumbed down and the hysterical politics of the present proceed apace. These are the politics of the very Congress we attempted to petition. It was attempting to pass legislation that would make it nearly impossible to transfer the prisoners presently in Guantánamo anywhere, including to courts in the United States, where they could be tried. Because, ostensibly, these highly-trained al Qaeda operatives are super human in their powers and would be a threat to the American populace. Again, the real threat to be American people is the narcotic, hypnotic power of the Big Lie, and the conformity of so many elements of civil society to that lie.

The antidote to the Big Lie, to Propaganda – the crude politics rightly and eschewed by the courts – is the truth and the search thereof; in our case, by an impartial judge and jury. The judge is trained in the law as an ever-evolving development of human civilization. Our Constitution, of course, chief among these developments, is the revolutionary document of a democratic experiment, generous and optimistic regarding human capacities.

This court could have served as a vital democratic forum, robustly fulfilling its role in the balance of powers, if it had allowed itself to explore the question that the defendants tried to put to it. To wit: is it possible that a variety of circumstances could be such as to allow that speaking out a critique of proposed legislation in the House gallery might be recognized as a valid form of petitioning our government for redress of grievances?

Unfortunately – and this is the second reason that I am not surprised – you seem to have ruled the question out in advance. I can only speculate that you do so in conformity to the strictures of an atrophied professional culture. Decent judges seem to blanche at the term “judicial activism”, and leaving the field of play open to the radical statist reactionaries like those who have gutted habeas corpus of all meaning.

No, Judge Fisher, we were neither a group of tourists, nor mere visitors in the House gallery on June 23rd; we were a group of engaged and responsible citizens, who acted in the extraordinary circumstances of the present. We knew from the beginning that our petition, our witness, would not be limited to the Chamber of the House, but would extend to the court too. We petition you to join us. If the courts were healthy, George Bush’s ploy to create an offshore interrogation center where prisoners could be tortured and experimented on beyond the reach of the constitution would have been laughed away as an adolescent prank. Instead, as it stands, it may be deemed a political masterstroke.

As I mentioned at trial, Guantánamo remains a metastasizing cancer. I beg you to consider in depth the NDAA of 2012. Guantánamo has come home and we hope you’ll fight it.

As far as sentencing, Judge Fisher, you must follow your conscience. I think I deserve a commendation along with my codefendants. Indeed, I lament that an American judge would not, at this point, immediately nullify any sentence against nonviolent protesters, protesting Guantánamo. And while I am not surprised, I remain hopeful.

Link to Witness Against Torture’s Website