Protest marks 20th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay prison: ‘The shame of it continues’

  • A group of protesters convene on the Greenfield Common Saturday morning to protest the 20-year anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. detention camp in Cuba. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Protesters convene on the Greenfield Common, Saturday morning, to protest the 20-year anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. detention camp in Cuba. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • A group of protesters convene on the Greenfield Common Saturday morning to protest the 20-year anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. detention camp in Cuba. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • A group of protesters convene on the Greenfield Common Saturday morning to protest the 20-year anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. detention camp in Cuba. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Demonstrators convene on the Greenfield Common, Saturday morning, to protest the 20-year anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. detention camp in Cuba. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 1/9/2022 8:02:04 PM
Modified: 1/9/2022 8:01:11 PM

GREENFIELD — With some donning orange jumpsuits and black masks and others carrying signs, a group came together on the Greenfield Common Saturday morning to protest the 20-year anniversary of the first detainees arriving at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. detention camp located in Cuba.

Organized as part of a nationwide wave of protests by Witness Against Torture, an activist group dedicated to shutting down the prison, groups around the U.S. are demanding the closure of Guantanamo Bay and the release or subjection to a fair trial for the remaining 39 prisoners left in the facility.

“It’s been 20 years,” said Charlemont resident and event organizer Sherrill Hogen. “The shame of it continues.”

Guantanamo Bay, which is not located in U.S. territory, opened Jan. 11, 2002 as a prison to house suspected terrorists captured by American forces during the War on Terror. Nearly 800 men have passed through the facility at some point over the past 20 years. Many of the 39 remaining prisoners are held on indefinite detention — often without being charged with a crime — and another 12 have been cleared for release, which means they are free to go if the U.S. can negotiate with another country to receive the men and impose security restrictions such as limiting their ability to travel, according to an Oct. 13 report from the New York Times.

Protesters on the Greenfield Common decried the facility as an “abomination” due to the living conditions and decades of reports alleging torture methods such as waterboarding, and physical and sexual abuse, among others.

“It’s been an abomination since day one,” said Northampton resident Tom Weiner. “These people are in prison with no justice, no trial.”

Greenfield resident Steve Fernandez said the reports of alleged torture are a stain on the country and the men being detained there need a fair trial.

“If their lives don’t matter, then your life doesn’t matter,” Fernandez said. “Enough is enough.”

Hogen noted the financial burden of the prison, which costs approximately $13 million per prisoner per year, according to a 2019 New York Times study.

“The dollar amount we’re willing to spend to keep these people there,” Hogen said, “it’s just outrageous.”

Buckland resident Ellen Kaufmann said many of the prisoners at the facility are aging and are no longer a threat to the United States.

“The place is turning into a nursing home,” Kaufmann said. “Are they dangerous? You tell me.”

Greenfield resident Liz Kelner said the U.S. often accuses other countries of human rights violations, but Guantanamo Bay is one of the worst offenders.

“The irony of it,” Kelner said, “is the worst trespasses of human rights on that island happen at Guantanamo Bay.”

The prison has seen the command of four U.S. presidents, and despite promises from several of them, the prison remains open. Most recently, President Joe Biden stated Feb. 11, 2021 that he intends to close the facility by the end of his term.

“Biden said he’s going to close it,” Kaufmann said. “He needs to hear from U.S. citizens.”

If the facility is closed and prisoners are released, those present at the common Saturday morning said they would like to see the U.S. give some sort of compensation to those held.

“They have never received an apology,” said Whately resident Nancy Talanian. “They need support, especially health care and mental health care. … We need to do more.”

As the official 20th anniversary approaches on Jan. 11, the group on the common will be joining others around the country to protest once again. The demonstration Tuesday will begin at noon and run until 1 p.m.

“We’ll be back out here on Tuesday,” Hogen said.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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