“Dr. King would be proud of you,” a DC policeman said to me and some five other women four years ago as we were being escorted into a paddy wagon. We had been arrested in protest of US treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and had spent the night in jail. We were profoundly moved at his kind words; it was a gift never to be forgotten. In gratitude, one woman asked the guard if he’d like us to sing a song for him. Surprised, he said yes, and so we sang “Down by the Riverside.” He joined in the song with us before he closed the door to the van. “Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside . . . I ain’t gonna study war no more.“
Last week, on Jan. 11, I joined with Witness Against Torture, a Catholic Worker group, and others in another protest of the ongoing indefinite detention of prisoners at the center of U.S. shame. Again, we dressed in orange jump suits and black hoods and marched solemnly from the White House, to the halls of Congress, and finally over to the steps of the Supreme Court, in a line stretching several blocks. Each of us represented a prisoner at Guantanamo who is still waiting for his day in court.
It rained that day, and as one person said, even the heavens were weeping.
On the tenth anniversary of the founding of this horrific prison, we called for its end. We also called for accountability for the true criminals, those who have made a mockery of the rule of law by establishing and maintaining this prison, depriving those abducted and taken there of even a crumb of justice. And we called for repeal of the new law (the National Defense Authorization Act) that legalizes indefinite detention of American citizens—the final nail in the coffin of habeus corpus and thus of democracy.
I am frankly tired of doing this every year on this infamous anniversary. I am tired of remembering what we have done. I am tired of knowing about the people who are still dying because of the actions of my country and about others growing old in prison, with little chance for freedom or justice. I am sick and tired of this.
Here’s what Frida Berrigan had to say about it: “This is a day of great shame — ten years of torture, indefinite detention, violation of the human rights and rule of law. This tragic and criminal anniversary comes just 10 days after the US Congress and President acted, through the NDAA, to make GTMO near-permanent, commit more deeply to reprehensible policies, and expand detention powers at precisely the time when we should be dismantling this pseudo-legal and immoral detention apparatus. So here we are again. Grudgingly, unwillingly, . . . to draw attention to what is still going on at Guantánamo and Bagram.”
I wonder what Dr. King would say today about this path our country has taken and what he would recommend we do. What do you think?