Greenfield demonstrators bring awareness about Guantanamo Bay detention camp

  • Demonstrators protest the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on the Greenfield Common on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Demonstrators protest the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on the Greenfield Common on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Demonstrators protest the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on the Greenfield Common on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2021 6:11:19 PM
Modified: 1/11/2021 6:10:56 PM

GREENFIELD — Dressed in orange jumpsuits, some with hoods pulled over their heads, local demonstrators walked up and down Main Street on Monday to bring attention to the 19th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Monday’s demonstration was organized by Nancy Talanian and Sherrill Hogen, who said they have been attending demonstrations in Washington D.C. to speak out against the detention camp every Jan. 11 for the past 13 years. Hogen has also held demonstrations in Greenfield, but not on the actual anniversary of Guantanamo Bay’s opening. The group also assembled later that day outside the Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton.

Each year, Hogen participates in demonstrations and protests with the national group Witness Against Torture, but the usual crowd did not gather in Washington D.C. this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She wanted to continue to protest the detention camp on its founding day and stir up some local support for the issue, and was surprised Monday morning by the arrival of Matt Daloisio, one of the founders of Witness Against Torture, who stayed to participate in the demonstration.

“Sherrill has been with us in D.C. every year since 2007. This is the first year we’re not there, so I figured I’d come join her,” Daloisio said.

Witness Against Torture formed in 2005 when Daloisio and 24 other Americans went to Guantanamo Bay and attempted to visit the detention facility. Daloisio and others made a second trip in 2015.

“In 2005, George W. Bush said that if anyone was concerned about Guantanamo, they should go see it for themselves, so myself and a group of 24 others took him up on that offer,” Daloisio said.

They flew to Cuba and traveled to the detention center, but they were not let inside. He said the members of the group stayed in Cuba, fasting as demonstration and praying for those held in the center.

“When we were there, we were closer to the people in prison than their families had been in that time,” he said.

According to Witness Against Torture’s website, it was 2007 when members marked Jan. 11 — the date that the first “war on terror” prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay in 2002 — as a “day of national shame” and began organizing major demonstrations in Washington D.C. and around the country. At the time of the organization’s founding, 400 people were being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Guantanamo Bay was established in January 2002 as a military prison for people considered to be extraordinarily dangerous. Political appointees of President George W. Bush argued that the camp could be considered beyond U.S. law — which was found to be incorrect in multiple cases heard by the Supreme Court.

Yet the camp has still been used to hold prisoners indefinitely without trial, and has been criticized by human rights groups for its treatment of prisoners.

At the start of his presidency, President Barack Obama promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, but Congress opposed his view and passed laws with bipartisan support that effectively kept the camp in operation.

The Obama Administration did still reduce the scale of the operation, freeing most detainees and transferring them to other countries. President Donald Trump, in January 2018, made an executive order to keep the camp open indefinitely. Today, 40 people remain imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

“We’re trying to keep these men in people’s awareness,” Hogen said. “Some people don’t even know that Guantanamo is still open.”

Hogen said she was drawn to Witness Against Torture’s cause from the moment she heard about the group. She met Daloisio on her first trip to the Washington D.C. protests and has been an annual participant ever since. During the demonstrations, which Hogen said can last up to 12 days, participants fast as a means to raise awareness about the hunger strikes of the men detained at Guantanamo Bay.

With Democratic President-elect Joe Biden getting ready to take office on Jan. 20 and Democratic control of the Senate, Daloisio is hopeful that more action could be taken to close the detention center completely under the new administration.

“I think it should close,” Daloisio said, “not in the first 100 days, but in the first 100 hours.”

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579.


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