Group in Cuba to protest detentions

Activists keep vigil at Guantanamo base

December 12, 2005|By MATTHEW HAY BROWN | MATTHEW HAY BROWN,SUN REPORTER

Two dozen Christian activists, including several with ties to Baltimore, set up camp outside the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, yesterday to begin protesting the detention there of foreign terror suspects.

The activists, who have traveled to the communist nation in violation of U.S. law, were planning to fast, pray and read accounts of mistreatment of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Cuban officials, themselves critical of the detentions, were allowing protesters to hang banners near a Cuban army checkpoint outside the base.

"It's just so wrong what our government's doing there," Susan Crane, a resident of Jonah House in West Baltimore, said by telephone from the camp. "It's not going to give us security. We are just creating more terrorists."

The activists, who were planning to stay for several days, hoped to be allowed to visit the prisoners, which they have characterized as an act of Christian mercy. If they aren't allowed in, they hoped to call attention to allegations of torture at the detention-and-interrogation operation, where the United States is holding about 500 foreigners without prisoner-of-war status or criminal charges.

"If we have to torture people to win a war on terror, then we've already lost," said Jacqueline Allen-Doucot, a poverty worker and peace activist from the St. Martin de Porres Catholic Worker House in Hartford, Conn. "Terrorists torture. That means terrorist philosophy has penetrated our hearts."

White House and Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that the United States does not condone the abuse of its prisoners. "We do not torture," President Bush said last month.

A military investigation this year into reports of abuse at Joint Task Force Guantanamo found that interrogators had used cold, heat, loud music and sleep deprivation on detainees - all of which had been approved at various times during the operation that began in early 2002. Detainees who have been released from Guantanamo Bay have alleged that they were forced to look at pornographic images, menaced with dogs and beaten while in U.S. custody.

A spokesman from Joint Task Force Guantanamo could not be reached for comment yesterday.

At their camp, the activists read yesterday's reading from the Catholic Mass, including a passage from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners."

They said they were praying also for the release of four Christian Peacemaker Team members held in Iraq. A group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade had threatened to kill the four - an American, two Canadians and a Briton - yesterday unless thousands of prisoners were released from Iraqi jails.

"They've been very much in my mind and prayers," Sister Anne Montgomery, a Christian Peacemaker Team member who has traveled to Iraq several times since the United States invaded in 2003, said yesterday from Cuba. "The connections are so obvious, because if we treat prisoners as we have in Iraq and in Guantanamo Bay, it only causes a reaction of more violence."

The activists sent pictures of their 50-mile march last week from the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba to Guantanamo to the Al-Jazeera television network in the hope that the images would dissuade the militants from killing the hostages.

The activists, many of whom have been imprisoned for protesting at U.S. military and defense contractor sites, planned the trip during meetings at Jonah House, the Catholic Worker community co-founded in 1973 by war resisters Philip F. Berrigan and Liz McAlister. Their daughter Frida Berrigan was one of the trip organizers.

"So much of this journey has been miraculous," Berrigan said from Cuba. "Everybody told us it couldn't be done. ... But every step of the way, doors have opened."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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