THE WHITE HOUSE (FinalCall.com) – Nine people were arrested outside the White House June 26 during a planned civil disobedience, part of nationwide protests against the use of torture by the United States and other nations. The protest came on the 8th Annual United Nations Day in Support of Victims of Torture, during a 24-hour vigil in Lafayette Park.
“If you give me a million dollars to sit in a house and be eating, laying on a good bed, riding in a luxurious car, with others suffering outside, being detained day and night, you have not solved my problem,” said a torture survivor, identified only as “Jonas from Cameroon.”
“My problem is, I want everybody to have the freedom of speech, to move freely, abiding to the rules, the laws of the country, not being hated,” the woman’s testimony continued.
Dozens of other survivors, victims’ family members and supporters spent the day conducting a 24-hour fast, while offering music, drama and dance beside a mock prison cell, where volunteers wearing mock-prison jumpsuits took turns sitting blindfolded in orange, on behalf of individuals who are still being tortured today.
Survivors from Argentina, Cameroon, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Iraq, Mexico, Nigeria, Palestine, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Pakistan, Rwanda, the United States and Zimbabwe took part in the protest, asking the rhetorical question: “Torture: Where is the Outrage?” The event was organized by the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC).
President George Bush did not meet with representatives from the group. His only scheduled activity was hosting the 4th Annual White House “Tee-Ball” baseball game for four- to eight-year-old children between the Jackie Robinson South Ward Little League Black Yankees from Newark vs. the South Side Little League Memphis Red Sox from Chicago. Pres. Bush, however, issued a statement calling for the end of torture across the globe.
“Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right, and we are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law,” he said. His comments came just days after human rights investigators from the United Nations announced they had received credible reports that the United States was torturing detainees at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
TASSC reiterated its urgent call for an independent inquiry into prisoner abuse, decrying the in-house investigations conducted by the Defense Department. Protestors also rehearsed a mock-trial of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for violating U.S. laws and international laws against torture. A full-scale mock-tribunal is scheduled to try Secy. Rumsfeld in absentia, in September.
Sister Diana Ortiz is a nun who lived and worked in Guatemala, where she was doing missionary work. After a coup d’etat there, she began to receive death threats from the government, according to her niece, identified only as “Ambrosia.”
“Upon receiving these death threats, she contemplated going back. But it was where her heart was. It was with her, her soul. She fell in love with the Guatemalan people and it was her calling, and she did not leave,” Ambrosia told The Final Call in an interview.
One day in 1989, while working in her garden, she was abducted, Ambrosia said. Sister Diana was blindfolded, detained for 24 hours and tortured. U.S. soldiers or CIA agents, who spoke Spanish with an American accent, were in the room, giving orders to the torturers Ambrosia said. “Upon her coming home she forgot who she was from the time she was tortured. She never remembered her childhood, her past.
“She is such a wonderful woman, to say the least. She may have been stripped of her humanity, in the sense that it was taken from her by her torturers. They tried to break her spirit, but yet she lived so that she could tell her story,” said Ambrosia.
But, Sister Diana’s life is an example, added her niece. “I believe that she showed us that life is livable, even though trials and tribulations do seem heavy. Rather than running away and letting fear envelope you, you have to withhold that and stand up and speak out, because your voice is what’s going to make the difference.”
In addition to its call for an independent inquiry into U.S. torture, TASSC urges a criminal investigation and, where warranted, prosecution of any official who allowed or enabled the widespread torture of detainees, “not simply more prosecutions of low-level soldiers and contractors,” the group said in a statement.
“TASSC demands U.S. compliance with its responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and U.S. laws. TASSC calls for an end to the practice of ‘rendition’ of captives to countries practicing torture,” the statement concluded.
About half-a-dozen military personnel have been convicted or have entered guilty pleas in the widely-publicized abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but no high ranking officials have been charged.
Another group that helps international victims of torture also echoed the call issued May 25 by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, for an independent investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Minneapolis-based Center for Victims of Torture said it is sending letters to Pres. Bush and the Minnesota congressional delegation, asking for an independent commission. The group also said that the U.S. must provide torture victims with legal help and medical and psychological rehabilitation, according to AP writer Emily Johns.
While White House and Pentagon officials have been defending the conditions and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay almost daily, Republican and Democratic members of Congress recently visited Guantanamo Bay to view the conditions for themselves. Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), in a telephone interview from Cuba June 26, said that the Guantanamo prison was being run well and did not match allegations the detainees were being abused and tortured, according to published reports.
An estimated 540 detainees are in Cuba. Some have been held for three years without being charged with any crimes.