Protesters march as Guantánamo camps start 12th year

 

The Jan. 11 protest has become an annual rite at the U.S. Southern Command, the Pentagon’s Doral outpost that has oversight of the U.S. prison camps in Cuba that now house 166 captives.

crosenberg@miamiherald.com

About 20 people marked 11 years since establishment of the prison camps at Guantánamo with a protest outside the U.S. Southern Command in Doral on Friday, some donning symbolic orange jumpsuits and hoods in what has become an annual rite demanding closure of the detention center.

One hooded protester waved a sign with a skull and crossbones, photo of President Barack Obama and the words, “War Criminal.” Most signs said, “Close Gitmo Now,” using the military term for the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba that as of Friday was holding 166 captives, nine of them convicted or facing trials.

The small band of protesters said they were especially energized this year by the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the Oscar-nominated film that portrays the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” as helping the U.S. locate and then kill Osama bin Laden. Captives who were held and interrogated by the CIA, using these techniques, are now at Guantánamo.

“I believe that these actions that are happening at Guantánamo are immoral — illegal really — and this is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave,” said Miramar occupational therapist Barbara Laxon, 60, who wore peace symbol earrings and an orange jumpsuit provided by Amnesty International for the occasion.

Plus, she said, “all the studies show that torture is the worst way to get useful information. Not only is it immoral, but it’s useless, which makes it twice as bad.”

She held a sign declaring “Obama: 11 years is enough. Close Gitmo!!!” near a cow pasture across the street from Southcom. The Pentagon outpost in South Florida supervises the prison camps that opened on Jan. 11, 2002 with 20 war-on-terror captives airlifted to Cuba from Afghanistan.

“We respect the rights of all people to express their opinions and beliefs. Southcom remains actively engaged with our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean to enhance security and promote greater cooperation between Western Hemisphere military forces,” said Southcom’s Army Col. Greg Julian , who noted that the protest passed without problems.

At the protest, members of a self-styled theater group, Autonomous Playhouse, wore costumes of combatants, Capt. America, the Grim Reaper and Bin Laden, some carrying cardboard guns in a theatrical interpretation of the raid that killed the al Qaida founder.

Cape Coral puppeteer Nathan Sim, 27, who wore mismatched U.S. battle dress to portray Bin Laden said the objective of the show was to illustrate that by having Hollywood glorify the Bin Laden killing, “We are taking assassins and murderers and turning them into superheroes as a form of entertainment.”

Activist Medea Benjamin of the Code Pink anti-war group said the film has re-energized the debate about torture, Guantánamo and the White House’s use of drone strikes as a tool in the war on terror. Like Guantánamo, she said, drone strikes serve as a recruiting tool for al Qaida and other anti-U.S. groups because “innocent people are killed.”

“Drones are counterproductive, she said, adding that “Guantánamo and drones are totally connected to each other because Obama didn’t want to get into the murkiness of Guantánamo and said, ‘Aha, let’s kill them.’ ”

Obama has increased the use of drones against U.S. enemies overseas in areas that the U.S. suspects harbor al Qaida leaders, after adopting a policy of no new prisoners at the camps in Cuba. He has failed to make good on his first-term plan to empty the prison camps at Guantánamo.

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