Guest blogger: Luke Hansen, SJ
For many years, the international community identified a basic truth about the Guantánamo prison that the American people have been slow to recognize, or have missed completely: the prison’s continued existence constitutes a flagrant violation of basic human rights and international law, and thus, it must be closed “without further delay” (U.N. Report, February 2006).
In the 2008 Presidential election, both candidates jumped on board in supporting the closure of the prison, and at that time, most Americans agreed with them. Despite this momentum to close Guantánamo and rectify its wrongs, today (January 11) marks a somber anniversary: the beginning of Guantánamo’s tenth year. One hundred and seventy three men remain detained there. None of the men have received adequate due process in a court of law – a fundamental right guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions. Most of the remaining detainees have been imprisoned for nearly a decade, separated from their homeland and families, without any sense for when their detention might conclude. Some of the men have even been ordered released by U.S. federal courts, yet remain indefinitely detained.
The “issue” of Guantánamo may have lost popularity and fallen off the narrow radar of the American people, but the continued suffering of its detainees remains very real. This is why the Witness Against Torture (WAT) community continues its advocacy – against all odds – to defend the dignity and rights of the detainees, and to ultimately close the prison. For the next twelve days, more than 150 members and friends of the WAT community will engage in a juice-only Fast for Justice. Fasting is an act of spiritual purification, yet also much more. It has to be, according to the prophet Isaiah: “This is the fasting that the Lord desires: releasing those bound unjustly and setting free the oppressed” (Is 58:6). In our prayer and fasting, we cannot neglect the poor, the hungry, and the imprisoned. In fact, the works of mercy are a non-negotiable part of our fasting.
The WAT community, founded by Catholic Workers and friends in December 2005, is an attempt to incarnate Gospel values and Catholic social teaching as it relates to the treatment of detainees in the “war on terror.” The Gospel challenges us to love all people, especially our so-called “enemies.” The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches that “the struggle against terrorists must be carried out with respect for human rights and for the principles of a State ruled by law” (No. 514). Catholic moral teaching condemns torture as an “intrinsic evil.” And Cardinal Renato Martino, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said this of the Guantánamo prison: “Is not the trampling of man’s dignity a violation of human rights? Everyone has a right to a fair trial. Wherever in the world inmates are being held in such conditions, without even knowing the charges they face, we will not fail to defend them.”
In a multitude of ways, the WAT community has responded to this urgent call. The WAT movement began with a work of mercy: visiting the imprisoned. After months of prayer and discernment, 25 members of WAT decided to make a pilgrimage to Cuba in an attempt to visit the Guantánamo detainees. When the pilgrims were stopped outside the U.S. Naval Base and prohibited from walking any further, the WAT activists held a 24-hour vigil and fast outside the barbed-wire fence.
This past summer, three of us traveled to Bermuda to meet with four Uyghur men who had been unjustly imprisoned in Guantánamo for seven years. In visiting with the men, we encountered the human face of the imprisoned, received encouragement to engage in further advocacy on behalf of detainees, and experienced reconciliation.
As Guantánamo enters its tenth year, this witness must continue. We must continue to reveal the injustice of indefinite detention without charges or trials. We must continue to reveal the humanity of the detainees through telling their stories. This is why more than 150 women and men are beginning this Fast for Justice. It is a plea to our God to restore justice in the land, and to deepen our love (agape) for all people.