Thursday, May 29, 2008

Public Service

People of conscience have, on many fronts, been stepping up the pressure urging an end to the disgrace that is the US's gulag in Guantanamo. Last month Amnesty International launched a nationwide campaign that has been taking an exhibit depicting replica Gaunatanamo cells from city to city across the US. Now Witness Against Torture has entered the courtroom in Washington D.C. taking a bold challenge right into the judicial system.

Thirty-five activists charged with minor crimes following their protest at the US Supreme Court on January 11 have dressed in orange jumpsuits to express solidarity with the Guantanamo prisoners who have no access to a courtroom. They are all pro se defendants [i.e., without legal counsel or representation] who have taken the names of prisoners at Guantanamo and refused to give their own names. Father Bill Pickard, for instance, a 61-year old Catholic priest from Scranton, PA, is being tried as Faruq Ali Ahmed. In "Activists Appear in Court as Guantanamo Prisoners" in One, Haider Rizvi quotes Father Pickard:

“I went to the Supreme Court to make a simple plea that the inhumane treatment and actual torture of inmates at Guantanamo Bay stop,” Pickard said. He said he went to bring the name and the humanity of Ahmed, who claimed that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001 simply to teach the Koran to children and that he had no affiliation with the Taliban or al Qaeda.

“He cannot do it himself,” said Pickard, “so I am called by my faith, my respect for the rule of law, and my conscience to do it for him.”

In his statement, Daloisio told the judge: “As we stand before you today, we are aware that in the five months since our arrest, we have made it further in the criminal justice system than these men have in over six years,” referring to the plight of Guantanamo prisoners.

According to witnesses, the judge began to interrupt Daloisio once, but then let him complete his statement.

“We understand that you, Judge Gardner, are not the reason Guantanamo is still open,” Daloisio said. “It may be beyond your power to summon the men whose names appear on this court’s docket from their Guantanamo cells to face their charges and their accuser…to have their day in court.

“We mean no disrespect in our position towards this trial,” he added. “But we will not participate.”

After reading the statement, Daloisio and 12 other defendants remained silent for the duration of the trial.

Daloisio said he and the others on trial were “pro se defendants,” and thus refused to be represented by an attorney. “We will not exercise our rights when our country continues to deny the rights of others.”

Daloisio and the 34 other activists are facing charges related to “speeches, objectionable language…and assemblages” on Supreme Court grounds. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail, as well as fines and court fees.

The trial is due to continue through the rest of the week.

Witness Against Torture, a group that organized the Jan. 11 protests, said its campaign has drawn substantial support from a number of faith groups and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.

This is my idea of public service. I am more grateful than I can say that many, many people are doing this work.

Read Rizvi's article here. And read "Reflection on Sami al- Haz" by Susan Crane, another activist in Witness Against Torture, here.

No comments: