WASHINGTON – Activists in black hoods and orange jumpsuits gathered outside the White House Tuesday, protesting the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The demonstration, part of a protest by the group Witness Against Torture, previewed the ten-year anniversary of the prison at Guantanamo which falls on Wednesday.
Since Jan. 2, the group has continuously protested in Washington, demanding an “end to torture and indefinite detention at Guantanamo, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and elsewhere.”
About 30 hooded figures solemnly faced the White House in a single-file line as a spokesman shouted to the small crowd that gathered about what he called the the injustice of the “Gitmo” detention center. Dressed in camouflage, he barked orders at the protesters, who, in their jumpsuits and hoods, took on the iconic image of prisoners at the facility.
“The Obama administration has unfortunately hardened the real crimes of the Bush administration,” said protester Joe Morton. “They’ve become permanent now.”
Throughout the president’s campaign, he pledged to close the detention facility at Guantanamo. This earned him supporters like Frida Berrigan, who was enthusiastic about Obama’s promise. But, she said, it quickly became clear it wasn’t going to be fulfilled.
Though Berrigan, a writer and organizer with Witness Against Torture, wasn’t wearing a jumpsuit, she said she has strong views opposing the continuous use of the Guantanamo prison.
“How the U.S. treats ‘the other’ reflects on me personally as an American,” she said.
That’s part of the reason why she and the other protesters feel so strongly about the prison. Tim Chadwick, who described himself as a social justice activist, passed out bright orange fliers declaring “Broken Promises, Laws, Lies.” Chadwick said he doesn’t want to be represented by politicians who, in his view, commit “criminal” acts by allowing Gitmo to continue.
Meanwhile, a panel at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute, debated what the next ten years may hold for the detention facility. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., author Andy Worthington, retired Col. Morris Davis and lawyer Thomas Wilner discussed the legitimacy of the prison and its political implications in the coming decade.
Moran said that Mitt Romney, the likely frontrunner for the Republican nomination, has said he would double the size of Guantanamo.
“And that’s the position of what I fear is the majority of the American people – at least enough people – that he can get away with saying that.”
Those who support the prison at Guantanamo have raised questions about the security threats of the prisoners held there, and also questioned if not Gitmo, where else they would go.
Though Davis “aggressively campaigned” for Obama in the past, he said he’s been disappointed with the president’s actions toward Guantanamo.
“But,” he said, “there’s no one on the other side…it’s kind of like having to pick between vomiting and diarrhea. I don’t want either choice. But it’s going to be, I’m afraid, picking the lesser of two evils.”
With campaign promises broken on one end, and staunch support of the facility remaining on the other, Berrigan feels disenchanted with her options in this year’s election.
“One might as well not vote,” she said. “All of the candidates are comfortable with torture.”