WASHINGTON – Scores of protesters, many dressed in orange prisoner jumpsuits, stood in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp as it entered its 15th year of existence.
About 60 to 70 protesters, representing the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve, Veterans for Peace, Witness against Torture, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Amnesty International, Council on American-Islamic Relations and Peace Poets, among others, ended their rally by marching to the Capitol to deliver a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and vocal proponent of closing the prison, urging Congress to shut down the controversial facility.
“We are here once again, as a people who believe in justice and goodness on the shameful 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (detention camp),” said the Rev. Ron Steif, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, comprising over 300 religious organizations. “Today, we stand with those who are held unjustly in Guantanamo… who were sold for bounty. We stand with those in Guantanamo who were tortured, we stand with those held in Guantanamo who are imprisoned without chance of trial.” The protesters snapped their fingers in approval.
The detention camp was set up in 2002 by the Bush administration, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to house terrorism suspects, many of whom were never officially charged with crimes. It has housed nearly 800 suspects from 17 countries, with Afghanistan as the leader.
The Supreme Court ruled that the military commissions created to try the suspects were unconstitutional; the facility also was attacked after revelations that waterboarding and other forms of torture were being used.
It now holds 55 inmates, 19 of whom have been approved for release by the Obama administration. President Barack Obama has promised that 13 to 15 of them will be released before the Jan. 20 inauguration. The protesters fear that the release of more inmates will stop once the new administration takes over.
“This, behind me,” Steif said, waving toward the protesters in orange jumpsuits, “is not fake news, Mr. Trump. It’s happening. Torture is real.”
Nihad Awad, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the U.S. is hypocritical for preaching democracy around the world while violating basic democratic values.
Maha Hilal, executive director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, has been campaigning against the detention facility and the use of torture for at least a decade and expects that her crusade is far from over.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see it. Not just because of the new administration but because most of the prisoners that remain are high-value detainees and the trials in their cases are extremely slow processes,” she said. “So I don’t think it’ll close soon.”
Not everyone wants the facility closed. A poll conducted by CNN and market-research firm ORC International in March 2016, found that as many as 56 percent of Americans oppose shutting down the facility.