Not a single U.S. government official has been called to account in a federal court for the sadistic crimes described in the CIA Torture Report. Waterboarding, rape, sleep deprivation, the list goes on; all done with complete impunity, approved at the highest levels of our government and then covered up with lie after lie to Congress and the American public. Even President Obama publicly admitted this was torture, plain and simple. Yet, earlier this week the Justice Department publicly announced that it stood by its previous decision not to initiate criminal charges.
But here’s the kicker: there is one group being prosecuted in relation to the CIA Torture Report –Witness Against Torture (WAT), an activist collective that for years has been one of the most uncompromising voices speaking out against U.S. torture. Founded in 2005 after 25 activists travelled to the city of Guantánamo, Cuba, and attempted to visit the U.S. naval base nearby, WAT has played a key role in keeping the spotlight on the cruelty and injustice at Guantánamo for the last decade. Their membership has since grown to the thousands, and their tenacity and creativity has brought their Close Guantánamo campaign to all corners of the United States and directly to the White House, Supreme Court and Congress.
Shortly after the release of the CIA Torture report last year, like so many of us who were appalled by the damning evidence of CIA torture and lack of accountability, WAT sprung to action, doing what they do best. They went straight to the source. On January 12, 2015, dozens of activists demonstrated in the U.S. Senate Gallery. They brought with them a simple but powerful message: “U.S. Torture: It’s official! Prosecute now!” Eleven of those activists were arrested, including Josie Setzler who said the following:
“The Senate needed to hear from us. We are ordinary citizens who have for years pursued countless avenues in an attempt to get the proper authorities to prosecute those individuals who committed torture in our name.”
That same day, WAT members took over the lobby of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Their orange jumpsuits stood in stark contrast to the crisp white marble of the Visitor Center, and their signs drew connections between the abuse of detainees abroad and state violence against people of color here in the U.S. Ten more WAT members were arrested during this action. Beth Brockman, who was among them, explained:
“The CIA, U.S. military, and political leaders get away with the torture of Muslim men, just like police get away with the killing of African American men. Both reflect the racism of our system and must stop.”
This week, Beth, Josie, and other WAT members were summoned before the D.C. Superior Court for protesting state-sponsored torture and violence. Something is chillingly wrong with this picture.
We salute these WAT activists for speaking truth to power, and we are eternally grateful for their tireless efforts to highlight the stories of our clients at Guantánamo. Tomorrow, we will join them and other anti-torture activists in DC for International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. If you’re in the area, please join us as we demand justice and accountability for the CIA’s torture crimes.