Trial proceedings began Tuesday at a US local court for 35 people who were arrested in January during a demonstration calling for the closure of the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Protesters had gathered inside and outside the Supreme Court without prior authorization on January 11, the sixth anniversary of the "war on terror" prison, as part of the "Witness Against Torture" movement.
They face charges of either "unlawful free speech" or "causing a harangue," or in some cases, both. The counts each carry a maximum of 60 days in jail.
As part of the protest, they did not carry identification and are representing themselves in court under the names of various real-life Guantanamo detainees.
At the proceedings in DC Superior Court, the defendants, some dressed in orange to show solidarity with the detainees, waived their right to a lawyer. Some announced they would mount no defense at all and would not even speak.
Prosecutors offered to drop the charges but the 35 protesters chose instead an act that "symbolically grants the Guantanamo prisoners their day in court -- which the Pentagon has denied them for years," the group said in a statement.
"We will not exercise our rights when our country continues to deny the rights of others," Matthew Daloisio, who took the name of Saudi prisoner Yasser al-Zahrani, said in a written statement. Zahrani committed suicide in 2006.
At 715am, six of us left the Pink House and walked down to the Supreme Court to participate in the pre-trial demonstration and press conference. We already were wearing our orange jumpsuits, but didn't have our hoods on yet--we also unfurled a wide banner to make even the short 10-block commute a mini-parade.
Three of our troupe are defendants, so when we arrived at the gathering place they got into the prisoner group whilst Ellen, Lorena and I held the banner right in front of the SCOTUS building. Then demonstrators dressed in fatigues ordered prisoner silence and bade the group to move out. We fell in line behind the Guantanmo 35 and marched slowly to the DC Municipal Courthouse.
Once at our destination, the named Gitmo prisonsers were commanded to kneel in a grassy area behind the podium set up for the PC. Lawyers and other spokespeople talked about the protest, the purpose of going to trial, etc. Hopefully with the amount of media that was there we'll get some more coverage that will provide information about some of the folks since there was no A/V and we were a bit too far away to hear with all the construction and other city noise (I also didn't get any photos, staying in character, so I hope there will be more photos and video available later).
Police escorted us along the planned route, and while we mostly followed crossing signals, there were a couple times when lights changed while we were still in the intersection so we blocked traffic, which is a good thing.
Two little slices of the action that stuck with me:
- At one intersection a loud man in a car yelled, "GET A JOB! DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIVES! GET OVER IT! AND WHILE YOU'RE AT IT, TAKE A SHOWER!" Man, that ignorant crap never gets old.
- A bike cop courteously moved his wheel out of Lorena's way on the extreme left of our banner. Really, that's a small thing, but he was paying attention and rather than force her to break banner discipline for even a moment, he turned his handlebars so the tire was parallel to us rather than perpendicular.
It wasn't super hot this morning, but still an uncomfortable temp for me in general (being from Vermont) and made worse with the canvas jumpsuit and mesh hood. Visibility was low with the hoods over our heads, but the organizers had escorts alongside the procession to warn of curbs and obstacles so we successfully navigated the treacherous sidewalks with no injuries.
The reason I bring up the discomfort is that it was only the merest taste of what Gitmo prisoners experience, and I knew there would be an end to it for me by around 915am--I also didn't have to sit in stress positions during the presser since we wanted the banner to be visible. The people be held by our government have no such hope as things stand, so we were there to support the people willing to go to trial as proxies and who might go to jail in solidarity with detainees who have been denied their basic human and civil rights.
PS--If you do see any pics/vid of a CodePink banner being carried by three people, I'm once again the middle person.
PPS--A few links for background:
- Pace e Bene: Guantanamo Trial to Begin May 27 in Washington, DC.
- Boston Globe: Guantanamo's day in court.
- Times Argus: Vermont lawyers anticipate Guantanamo decision.
[Update: WaPo has an article and a short video. Al Jaz provides a report as well. Looking for more coverage...]