Tuesday, April 17, 2007

CODEPINKers escorted out of Rayburn building during "extraordinary renditions" hearing

Today a group of about 12 of us went to a hearing on "extraordinary rendition" held by the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Relations and Human Rights. It was to look at how extraordinary rendition has affected our standing with the European Community. There were members of the European Parliament there from England, France, Belgium, Finland and Italy. They were there to give the findings of their report published in January 2007 that was extremely critical of the United States and some of the European governments for collaborating in the abuse of the basic rights of prisoners.

We were in the hearing in our “torture garb”--orange T-shirts and jumpshirts. Some of us had black hoods on our heads. The orange T-shirts had big letters on the back spelling NO TORTURE. Also, we had on plastic chains and handcuffs on our hands and arms. We placed ourselves strategically around the room—eight people with the NO TORTURE letters were sitting next to each other and others near the aisles behind the witness stand. Before the hearing began, Medea Benjamin and others chatted with the witnesses who confided that they were glad to see us there.

As the members of Congress were coming in, we stood up and spelled out No Torture. When the Chairman Delahunt called the hearing to order, we sat down.
We had small hand-lettered hot pink signs with messages like "Support Geneva Conventions", "No Torture", "Got Habeas Corpus?", "No Renditions", "No CIA Secret Prisons".
Gael Murphy commented, “It looked like a spring garden of resistance with our orange jumpsuits and bright pink signs.”

The testimony was awesome as the EU representatives talked about how the United States' use of "extraordinary rendition". We were backing them up with our pink signs as we held our messages up intermittedly behind them.

We stayed relatively silent most of the time with the occassional clapping or one word comment. The only Republican in the room, Rep. Rohrarbacher from California was very agressive in his questioning to the point that he was practically beating up on the witnesses. He kept offering rationalization for why the US had to break its own laws on rendition and torture were unbelievable. His facial expressions oozed disdain and anger.

Finally, retired Army Colonel Ann Wright stood up, walked behind the witnesses and said to Rohrbacher, "I didn't serve 29 years of my life in the Army to sit and listen to this..." - At that point, the chaiman banged his gavel and the Capitol Police came to take Ann out of the room. So, we all got up and followed after her; some of us were saying other things quite loudly as we left the hearing room. Outside in the hall, we gathered around Ann in solidarity as the police waited to find out from the chairman if she would be arrested or not. Finally, we were told none of us would get arrested if we all left the building, so several police escorted us out.

Eva-Lee, a member of New York CODEPINK said of the day's action, “I’m 66 years old. I’ve never disrupted a congressional hearing in my life. I did two in one today and I’m HOOKED.”

Come join us in DC. The tide is turning.

Written by Medea and Midge with pics from Eva-Lee's camera.

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