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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reflection: Ash Wednesday Action to End Torture

Letter Sent to the Phoenix
by Chris Spicer

(from Wednesday February 25)

As large numbers of students attended Ash Wednesday services, 10 members of the Loyola community expressed their faith in an alternative way- a creative street theater presentation condemning the horrors of Guantánamo Bay force-feeding.

Demonstrators enacted torture outside of CFSU Wednesday, one month after President Obama issued an order to close the Guantánamo detention center. The action highlighted a current hunger strike by Guantánamo detainees that has been interrupted by what the students call inhumane and illegal forced-feeding. They protested the violations of habeas corpus—the right to challenge the legality of detention—and called for resettlement of the prisoners, as refugees.

Wearing orange jump suits, they acted as Guantánamo detainees. The street theater simulated how guards violently insert a tube through a man’s nose into his stomach to pump in protein shakes twice a day. Force-feeding is done without anesthetic and often without sanitation.

Numbers of hunger strikers have grown in the last month. Last month Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said that 25 hunger strikers were being force-fed. According to Navy Cmdr. Pauline Storum, as of Feb. 11, 41 of the 245 prisoners were on strike and 35 were being fed forcibly.

In a report released this week, the Pentagon says that the Guantánamo prison meets the Geneva Conventions for humane treatment. Similarly, On February 11, a federal judge sided with the Pentagon’s argument that their action is humane. “Respondents are acting out of a need to preserve the life of the petitioners rather than letting them die from their hunger strikes,” wrote Judge Gladys Kessler. The student activists, however, argue that force feeding, along with many of the other tactics still being used at Guantánamo, are cruel and coercive and amount to torture. The ACLU Program Director, Jamil Dakwar, wrote President Obama last month saying the force-feeding violates international agreements, including The Convention Against Torture ratified by the United States in 1994.

The new administration has sent mixed signals related to intelligence gathering practices. President Obama has issued an executive order to stop “harsh interrogation techniques.” He elected not to prohibit the use of extraordinary rendition, a practice of transferring captives from one country to another for intelligence purposes.

The student activists contrasted the simulated force-feeding with a communal banquet. They intended a message of universal welcome that was symbolic of a Jewish Seder meal.
“When we gather and build community with each other at the banquet table, we experience a call to find ourselves in others—to realize that we are the detainees and the interrogators,” said Jerica Arents, a graduate student at Loyola University. “We are one humanity, one body. We cannot sit complacently as men continue to be tortured.”

Narrators told the story of Hozaifa Parhat, one of seventeen Chinese Muslims who remains imprisoned. In September 2008, U.S. judge Ricardo Urbina ruled the detention of these Chinese men unconstitutional. He ordered their release into the care of communities in the D.C area and Tallahassee, Florida, which had prepared for their resettlement. Then an appeal of the decision put the kibosh on plans. Because the prisoners belong to a group persecuted in China, the Uighurs (WEE-gurs), the administration reasoned that if the group were returned then they would be killed.

According to U.N. Conventions, the Guantánamo prisoners now meet the definition of refugee status.

Ten of the Loyola students involved in Wednesday’s demonstration traveled to Washington, D.C. February 28 (to March 7) to participate in the 100 Days Campaign to Shut Down Guantánamo and End Torture. [For more information: http://www.100dayscampaign.org/.]

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