January 27, 2011, New York – Marking the ninth anniversary of the U.S. military prison camp’s opening, most of the remaining prisoners in Camps 5 and 6 at Guantánamo have joined together to peacefully protest their indefinite imprisonment with a sit-in and signs. This action also comes as the Arab world is witnessing a string of popular uprisings demanding greater freedom, which the men at the base say they have been following. Among the prisoners are men whose detention has been ruled unlawful by U.S. federal judges as well as men deemed eligible for release by the previous and current U.S. administrations.
This week, Ramzi Kassem, professor of law at the City University of New York and counsel to a number of Guantánamo prisoners, spoke to a client there by phone and learned more about the ongoing peaceful protest, which began thirteen days ago. Abdulhadi, a young man imprisoned at Guantánamo for nearly nine years who spoke with Professor Kassem, explained that he and his fellow prisoners in Camps 5 and 6 were holding a prison-wide peaceful sit-in. Specifically, the prisoners at Guantánamo are refusing to return to their cells for the mandatory nightly lockdown and are sleeping in the recreation yard and in common areas.
Said Abdulhadi, “We hope that guards, military officials and visiting delegations of Red Cross representatives, Congressional members and journalists hear our cry for freedom.” He added that the prisoners have made signs and posters in English and have plastered these across the cellblocks, asking “Where are the Courts?”, “What About our Rights?”, and “Where is Democracy?” Abdulhadi further explained that the prisoners have been at Guantánamo so long that some of them have learned to read and write in English.
In a separate call with an attorney last week reported by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), another man imprisoned at Guantánamo, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “The construction work going on here is giving us the impression that we are going to be here forever.” He went on to speak of events in Tunisia: “After 23 years of injustice, finally people decided to liberate themselves and seek freedom. Now we need to struggle for ourselves.”
He described the English protest signs, which include the pleas; “You cannot detain us because of what other people are doing outside. Release us,” “Give us our rights inside the camp. If you don’t want to give us our rights, get us out of here,” “Close this camp of discrimination and racism,” and “Until when are we going to stay here?”
On January 21, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) first reported the protests, inspired in part by the popular movements in Tunisia and other parts of the Arab world.
Said Shayana Kadidal, Managing Attorney of CCR’s Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative, “Inspired by events in Tunisia, these men have turned to the best traditions of direct democracy now that they realize that Congress, the courts, and President Obama have abandoned them.”
“As the prison at Guantánamo approaches a decade in age, it is imperative to remind the world that the men held there away from their homes and families have not received fair process,” said Suha Dabbouseh, a law student at CUNY School of Law who is a member of Abdulhadi’s legal team. “These unlawfully imprisoned men, many of whom were tortured and imprisoned without justification, are understandably in anguish and have decided to make their voices heard by engaging in peaceful protest,” added Ms. Dabbouseh. “It is time for the Obama administration to deliver on its promise to release those men it does not wish to try and to shut down the prison.”
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for the last nine years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with an individual transferred from CIA “ghost detention” to Guantánamo. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country to represent the men at Guantánamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 30 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture