Every time our court proceedings reconvene (and this happens several times a day because of the various breaks), these words are announced: “Now hearing the United States VS. Shakir Ami….” This statement never fails to surprise us. Mr. Aamer (as his name is correctly spelled) has been detained at Guantánamo since Febuary of 2002 and has spent much of his time there in solitary confinement.
But Shaker Aamer’s name is spoken in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia today because two years ago on January 11th, Brian Hynes was arrested on the steps of the Capital Building and gave Mr. Aamer’s name as his own. Since then, within the District of Columbia, this name is legally (and bureaucratically) tied to Brian’s fingerprints. And beginning with an “A”, it has become the official title of our court case.
As you will find, much of today’s events took place in the courtroom. While the testimony about Guantánamo has been limited by the Government and the Judge, we filled the court gallery seats proudly wearing our orange SHUT DOWN GUANTANAMO tee-shirts. And although we are beginning to show the exhaustion of the second day of fasting, we certainly created a dignified spirit in that room. We hope this update finds you all well and strong, and we witness with you in solidarity.
Witness Against Torture
P.S. Even though we are not eating, we have many other expenses to cover: this beautiful space of First Trinity Lutheran, juices for over fifty people, many many leaflets and flyers, etc. If you are able, please consider donating to our work here in Washington D.C. We also welcome messages of support & solidarity and news of events happening in your own town. Thank you!
***In this e-mail you will find:
1) DAY 2 – Update and Reflections (Compiled by Amy Nee)
2) DAY 2 – Courtroom Analysis (By Molly Kafka)
3) “A Pre-emptive Fast for Peace Continues” – a letter of solidarity
from Jack Mchale
1) Mike Benedetti’s link to WAT 2012 photo gallery:
2) Interview with Josie Setzler:
3) Interview with Carmen Trotta:
4) Jake Olzen, “Speak Out: the Rising Threat of Indefinite Detention”
DAY 2 – Update and Reflections (compiled by Amy Nee)
The morning started with people feeling “tired,” “sick,” “hopeful,” “content,” “rockin’!” Tom Casey led an opening reflection with the poem, “Is It True?” written by former Guantanamo detainee, Osama Abu Kabir. Our first outing involved suiting up in the orange jumpsuits and black hoods and processing to a park across from the court house where a press conference was being held. Frida Berrigan addressed the press and introduced the defendants who would be on trial later in the morning. Josie Setzler shared about her motivations for participating in the action that led to arrest in June as did Tom Casey who had been acquitted earlier in the week and Jeremy Varon, history professor at New School, presented the historical implications of Guantánamo. From there we processed to a brief vigil in front of the courthouse. Two officers passed by our single file line and quietly, quickly spoke, “We appreciate what you’re doing.” “Thank you for your work.”
During today’s trial, the government meandered through their case, resting by the noon recess. When court reconvened, the defense introduced their first and final witness, Brian Hynes. Please see Molly’s write-up below for a detailed court update. Afterward, fasters and defendants gathered back at the church to debrief the trial, creating a space for questions and comments. Chris Spicer commented on Brian H’s efforts at creating space in the midst of his testimony. While the prosecuting attorney heatedly rattled off questions, Brian paused, considered and responded in measured tones in a way that Chris called, “magical.” This ability to create space in your answers, he added, is “emblematic of the way of nonviolence.”
While many admired Brian’s entertaining and informative volleying with the prosecution, Bill Frankl-Streit introduced a word of caution that we be mindful, those of us who dabble in the court system, to not lose track of what we’re there for. It is so easy to fall into playing the game of technicalities and jargon and outwitting one another. The temptation to try to win, rather than simply speak the truth, can be a trap that risks betraying what you are there for. Bill’s admonition brought to mind a question Carmen had posed the night before, “What does it mean for January 11, for the detainees and the Guantánamo narrative if this trial wins?” What does “winning” gain? What are we here for? These are important questions that can lead to some sense of desolation during times when a creative response eludes us. “There is no question,” Carmen added tonight, “that we need each other;” as reminders, as support, as motivation, as challenge, as the beloved community. A community working together, sharing insights that, like those of Dan Berrigan who was read in the circle tonight, “are meant to propel us forward, not to bring us to despair.”
DAY 2 – Courtroom Analysis (by Molly Kafka)
Day two of the “WAT Five” trial proved to be an extremely eventful day: full of Capitol Police testimony, the defense’s witness testimony, a defendant’s acquittal, and debates. The first half of the day consisted of relatively vague and conflicting testimony given by five Capitol Police. Three out of the five officers testified to observing Carmen Trotta standing and “shouting.” Only one officer testified to seeing Mike standing and shouting, while others simply saw him being led out of the gallery. Half of the officers noticed some type of warning issued to the activists and others did not. Overall, the government’s witnesses could only identify Carmen Trotta, Shakir Ami (Brian Hynes), Mike Levinson, and Judith Kelly as standing up and speaking in the House Gallery. Because the officers did not identify Josie Setzler, the defense made a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal. Upon returning from a recess, Judge Fisher formally dismissed Josie’s charges and she joined the WAT supporters in the audience.
The now “WAT Four” called its first witness after Josie was dismissed. Carmen Trotta took the position of direct questioning by calling Shakir Ami (Brian Hynes) to the stand. When Carmen asked Brian what happened on June 23rd, he explained that he was seated in Gallery 9 when the ushers (who were actually plain clothes police officers unbeknownst to the defendants) asked those seated to stand and move into the adjacent gallery in an effort to accommodate overflow. It was at this moment when Brian stood and started to begin speaking. An officer cut him off by asking him if he had something to say. He responded yes, he did in fact have something to say. The officer allowed him to finish what he was attempting to say, and in a voluble voice announced, “Indefinite detention is a violation of the Fifth Amendment. Shut down Guantánamo!” Brian consistently testified his intention was not to disrupt Congress, but to petition his government, to bring witness to Congress regarding the injustice of detaining men at Guantánamo Bay Detention Center without charges or trial.
The government cross-examined Brian by trying to lead the defendant into admitting he was yelling in order to disrupt Congress. Brian patiently resisted, and instead elaborated on what he and his fellow WAT activists were trying to do on June 23rd in the House of Representatives: “our intent was to deliver a dignified, audible message as earnest, concerned citizens trying to show the wrongfulness of our government.” The government also attempted to steer Brian into stating he lied about his identity when he was arrested on June 23rd. Although he admitted his name was not actually Shakir Ami, the defense re-directed and Shakir Ami was able to clarify that he did not lie when he stated his name to the Capitol police. When he began to explain the significance of his name, Judge Fisher sustained an objection by the prosecution because the defendant began to speak about Guantánamo. It was then that the defense rested their case.
The jury was asked to go home for the day while the court proceeded to discuss potential jury instruction, which will be read to the jury after both the government and defense give their closing statements tomorrow. During this jury selection, the judge first gives a draft list of jury instructions to both the defense and prosecution that he or she will recite to the jury, explaining to jurors their legal duties and responsibilities in issuing a verdict. Then the defense and prosecution have the opportunity to object to the judge’s list of instructions and suggest additional ones. During this exchange, the defense proposed a few instructions, but the judge resisted. At that moment, defendant Carmen Trotta stood up and appealed to the judge by asking him to “put precedent down and speak to justice” by allowing the truth to be determined only by the jury, and not by the judge’s restrictions through his instructions. After a lively back-and-forth, the judge refused to allow some of the defense’s suggestions, particularly the one concerning the jury’s power to nullify.
Tomorrow both sides will deliver their closing statements and the jury will, hopefully, issue their verdict.
“A Pre-emptive Fast for Peace Continues” – a letter of solidarity
from Jack Mchale
January, 3rd 2012
Greetings of peace,
As you know I have been involved in numerous issues over the years,
most of them around peace and justice issues. In 2003, my dear friend,
Tim McKinney and I fasted for 3 weeks (which we called “A Pre-Emptive
Fast for Peace”) in an attempt to draw attention to the impending war
on Iraq and hopefully stop it. Over 1200 people throughout the US
joined the fast for a day or 2 or more ; many more people sent notes
of support to Tim and me as well as emails to their Congressperson,
‘begging’ them to vote against the war. We know now the toll of the
Iraq War on both the people of Iraq and our own citizens.
I am writing to you to share with you a story embedded deep in my
heart and our nation that has moved me to fast once again (though I
swore I never would do it again). It is the story of Guantanamo. I
invite you to learn a little more about the work I am involved in with
a community called ‘Witness against Torture” and the need to close
Guantanamo. Guantanamo for me summons up memories of the Soviet Gulag
system where political prisoners were treated inhumanly and without
justice. Let’s bring justice to these illegally detained persons. If
found innocent or imprisoned without cause, release them. If found
guilty, jail them. This is our system of law.
As the New Year begins and President Obama celebrates three years in
office, there is another anniversary that weighs heavy on our hearts
and minds. January 11, 2012 marks the ten year anniversary of
Guantanamo; and it still serves as a dark reminder of the “War on
Terror’s” legacy of torture, injustice, and fear. Today, under the
Obama Administration, 171 men remain indefinitely and illegally
detained in that prison, many of whom are cleared for release but
languish because of a lack of political leadership and will. Among
those in prison are men who have petitioned the United States courts
regarding their detention and won their habeas cases. Yet these free
men remain at Guantanamo.
We have been told since Guantanamo opened in 2002 that it held “the
worst of the worst.” But of the 779 men who have been detained at
Guantanamo over the past nine years, less than 5% have or will face
terrorist-related charges. Such fear-mongering is the fuel for the
“war on terror” and the source of hate perpetuated against our Muslim
sisters and brothers. We say no more.
We are reminded of the words of Dr. King: “Only perfect love casts out
fear.” And so it is with that spirit that I will gather in
Washington, D.C. to protest the injustice and inhumanity of
Guantanamo, Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and the war on terror
policies such as indefinite detention. “Witness against Torture” is
planning a fast and vigil from January 2 through January 12, 2012 for
a fourth consecutive year. We continue to demand justice and an end to
torture for the men at Guantanamo, Bagram and other U.S. detention
facilities. I started my fast yesterday afternoon. It is a liquid only
fast, mostly with water and 100% fruit juices.
Please consider joining me, as I, along with the other fasters
throughout the country, fast in solidarity with prisoners whose only
form of protest may be the hunger strike. We fast to witness to the
power of love and community over fear and violence. There are many
ways to join in the work of closing these prisons and ending the
torture. Please consider fasting for a day in solidarity.
Realistically, for most of you, it simply will be a greater awareness
of Guantanamo and it’s immorality and inhumanity and , hence, speaking
out for its closing when the opportunity presents itself (perhaps at a
cocktail party, etc.).. We can do more together than each of us could
With peace and gratitude,