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Anti-torture activists arrested at White House

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, Ken Crowley stood silently facing the White House.

On Crowley's back, a black sign printed with the name of a Libyan man read, ``Cleared for Release.''

The Washington, D.C., resident, who was among 61 people arrested during an anti-torture demonstration Thursday, said he wanted to bring attention to the plight of detainees held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

'Everywhere I go and I talk about Guantánamo, people say, `Oh, that's closed,' '' said Crowley, who is in his 60s. ``This movement is important because it brings awareness.''

More than 100 protesters solemnly marched from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, with many of them clad in jumpsuits and black hoods. They claimed to represent Guantánamo prisoners who have been cleared for release, but remain in custody, as well as those who have died at the facility.

Demonstrators called for a criminal inquiry into claims of torture against terrorism suspects under the Bush administration, including abuses committed at Guantánamo and other U.S. prisons. President Barack Obama has been reluctant to begin such an investigation, they said.

Tom Parker, policy director for counterterrorism and human rights at Amnesty International, said no steps have been taken to prosecute those responsible for torturing people in U.S. custody. The lack of action, Parker said, helps fuel anti-American sentiment and shows terror recruits that authorities used torture and got away with it.

''It has a corrosive effect on our democracy. It has a corrosive effect on our military,'' Parker said. ``It puts every man, woman and child at a greater threat.''

Throngs of tourists stepped aside as dozens of the protesters walked onto a sidewalk outside the White House.

Sgt. David Schlosser, a U.S. Park Police spokesman, said police arrested the 61 demonstrators because they violated a permit regulation that required them to remain in motion on the center portion of sidewalk.

The protest comes as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spent this week asking European countries to help relocate detainees, of which about 30 have been cleared for release. There are currently 241 prisoners at Guantánamo, and Holder is working to carry out President Obama's order to shut down the site over the next nine months.

On Wednesday, a Spanish magistrate opened an investigation of Bush officials on harsh interrogation methods. Speaking with reporters in Berlin before the investigation was announced, Holder did not rule out cooperating with such an investigation.

In a separate move, human rights lawyers have filed a complaint that seeks charges against six specific Bush administration officials they accuse of creating a legal framework to permit torture of suspects at Guantánamo and other U.S. detention facilities.

Frida Berrigan, a protest organizer with Witness Against Torture who marched with other activists to Guantánamo in 2005, said Obama has made some progress in his first 100 days in office, but more needs to be done within the U.S. to bring the detainees justice.

''Our message today is that the work continues,'' Berrigan said. ``We need to push Congress and push the consciousness of the American people.''