Part 2--ANOTHER ATTEMPT [Jan. 11 & 12, 2008] AT BREAKING THE MOVEMENT
"To bereave a man [sic] of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom. But confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to goal, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government."
William Blackstone [1723-1780] Book I, RIGHTS OF PERSONS
Witness Against Torture organized a presence at the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11, 2008, the sixth anniversary of the opening of the gulag at Guantanamo Bay . I was motivated to be there by the Bush administration’s absolute disregard of the rule of law and habeas corpus.
That day, at about 10:30 AM, three of us approached the metal detector just inside the main entrance to the Supreme Court. A support person managed to get through security, but I drew the curiosity of a Supreme Court Police officer. I anticipated being in a jail cell without heat on a frosty January night, so I was wearing several layers of clothing, He eventually saw my orange Witness Against Torture tee shirt and asked if there were any words on the shirt. I told the truth, and soon found out the shirt was banned from the building. Maria Allwine and I headed for the nearby Methodist Building where we removed our orange tee shirts. Two other resisters who saw my interrogation went to another entrance.
Back at the metal detector I encountered another officer. He informed me I cannot come in with that shirt on. What shirt? Again I began to pull off my garments until I got to a Peace Frogs shirt. It was all right. Peace Frogs, yes; Shut Down Guantanamo , no.
In a letter mailed to the nine justices, a group of us wrote: “On Wednesday, December 5th, the Supreme Court heard arguments asserting the legal rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees. In Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195) and Al Odah v. United States (06-1196) lawyers for the detainees argued their clients have a Constitutional right and a Common Law right to challenge their detention through habeas corpus claims in U.S. federal courts. We urge you to rule in favor of arguments asserting the legal rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees.” We received no response, so the next step was to hand-deliver the letters.
In the cafeteria, we joined others to prepare to deliver the letters. But we discovered that a police officer must take our correspondence to each justice. So a supporter took the letters to an area outside the Supreme Court where an officer indicated they would be delivered. Months later, we have never received any response.
Once the procession of the orange jumpsuits arrived at the Supreme Court from the rally on the Mall, an activist inside the exhibit hall began to sing. A few people began to unfurl a 30 foot
banner saying “SHUT DOWN GUANTANAMO ,” but officers grabbed it and bullied those attempting to hold it. The scene resembled a rugby scrum. The police, seemingly untrained in handling a mass action, began to scurry about the area.
Many activists were now wearing the banned tee shirts, and some began to speak. But the police quickly set them on the floor. I was holding a copy of the letter sent to the justices, and three different officers tried to rip it from my hands. Soon thereafter an officer took me over to an area where others were in custody. No warning was ever given, and pity the tourist who might have been there.
By 1:30 PM, an officer cuffed my hands behind my back. When I informed him one cuff was extremely tight, I was told there was no cutter. Fortunately, once I and the other arrestees were
taken downstairs to an office area by the garage, my cuffs were replaced.
Throughout our incarceration, a number of prisoners had to deal with extremely tight cuffs. Were individual officers being sadistic because we disturbed the sanctity of the U.S. Supreme Court? Or were they untrained?
Forty five of us were arrested inside the building and taken downstairs. Some were placed inside a meeting room, able to sit down. I was with those who had to stand up against a wall in a corridor.
The police were anticipating an action, as there were at least 20 officers involved in processing us. Each arrestee explained s/he represented a prisoner being held in Guantanamo . Since I wrote down my prisoner’s name on my left hand which was tied behind my back, I became John Doee.
After a few hours, I was taken to the restroom where I had the cuffs removed. Returning to the wall, I requested that I be cuffed upfront. It was done, and that was an immense relief.
Our belongings were taken and placed in plastic bags, but there was no name attached. Later we were photographed, and that would be the way to identify one’s belongings.
The women were brought together to be transported around 5:30 PM. All the men were now gathered in the meeting room. An officer read us the charge which we were facing. He explained that we would be released on citation, as long as we provided our names and addresses. I suggested that we could be released as Jane and John Does, as happened last year in the Witness Against Torture action inside U.S. District Court in Washington , D.C. He said that was not possible. Another officer said we would be held until Jan. 14, the following Monday.
During our time in the meeting room, we were given a cup of water. Those of us who were handcuffed in the front had to hold the cup for those whose hands were tied in the back. We would learn later that the women stood for at least an hour waiting to be transported.
Around 7 PM, the men were taken to the garage. We now saw those who were arrested on the steps of the Supreme Court. They were kept outside for hours.
The Supreme Court Police did not have finger-print equipment, so the plan was to transport more than eighty prisoners to different precincts around the city. Seven of us were selected to go to the Second District.
Prisoners being transported must have their cuffs behind their backs. Once this was done, three of us were stuffed in the back seat of a minivan and then strapped in. It was as uncomfortable as I have ever been in a police transport situation. Two other prisoners sat in the seat in front of us. Jerimarie Leisgang would ride in a police car.
John Downing had to be placed in another van with his motorized wheel chair. So while we were crushed together in our van, the police took 30 minutes to get his van prepared. Finally, our three-vehicle transport was on the way to the precinct near Washington ’s National Cathedral. The three of us in the back of the minivan were in severe distress.
I tried to ignore the discomfort by noting all of the landmarks we passed on the way. Traveling down Constitution Ave. , for example, we passed U.S. District Court, the scene of the Jan. 11, 2007 crime. In front of the courthouse stood the esteemed jurist Blackstone standing sentry in his British wig.
It was years since I was at the Second District precinct, but little had changed. To our relief, the officers removed our cuffs before placing us in our cells. John, Umar Farooq and Jerimarie were placed in separate cells right across from the large common cell where the four of us were held. It was Friday night, and we were joined by prisoners taken into custody by the Metropolitan Police.
While we received no food or drink, I had a pleasant experience chatting about the action, my distaste of onions and the location of Trader Joe’s in Towson , MD. A Metropolitan Police officer with the Gay and Lesbian Task Force interviewed Jerimarie to be sure s/he was not victimized.
At the precinct, we were fingerprinted and photographed. Some in the group were now identified through a fingerprint check. Not me.
John and Umar cited out, but their belongings were miles away at the Supreme Court. I do not know how they traveled without money. On Jan. 31, their cases were dismissed.
Around 1:45 AM on Jan. 12, five of us were taken to Central Cell Block. The officers transporting us were affable and explained we had the most scenic route of all the prisoners. But they had no cutters, and we had to deal with the pain of tight cuffs. By 2 AM, we were outside CCB’s main door.
After some fifteen minutes, five female Gitmo arrestees were released. What madness. All of their belongings, including money, were at the Supreme Court at least a mile away.
By 2:30 AM we entered CCB and had the cuffs removed. For the third time, an officer read our rights and the charge we were facing. We were welcomed with baloney sandwiches and as much iced “bug” juice as we wanted. I do not eat in jail, but I savored three cups of cold sugar water.
Central Cell Block was still the same. Two of us were placed in a cell, and I jumped up on the top metal slab. Using my sneakers as a pillow, I slept fitfully.
Around 4:30 AM, we were given another baloney sandwich and a cup of jail juice. At 8:30 AM we were lined up outside our cells. Groups of six prisoners each were tied together with plastic cuffs and placed in police vans and transported to the bowels of Superior Court. There the plastic ties were cut off, but each prisoner was now hog-tied with leg irons.
I and all others in our cell declined to take a urine test. We were frisked one more time. After we jumped through a few more hoops, by 9:30 AM all of the anti-torture prisoners were placed in at least six different cells behind the arraignment courtroom. Men and women were separated. Mark Goldstone and Jack Baringer, our lawyers, visited to inform us as to the probable process.
We were elated to hear that the names of the Gitmo prisoners, for the first time, were listed on a court docket. However, after hours of being stuffed in a cell, the prisoners were getting hungry and thirsty. Mark was threatened with arrest after arguing with the marshals that we had to be given some water. Eventually, I did savor a cup of water. Word filtered over to us that three women prisoners were sick and vomiting.
The government offered a stet, which means the case is placed in an inactive file. However, those accepting had to agree to not risk arrest for six months. It was a blatant attempt to derail, for a period of time, the very significant resistance movement that is a monkey wrench in the gears of the Washington war machine. I did not accept the offer, but could understand those activists living a distance from the District of Columbia would take it.
The arraignment process was intentionally beguiling. Court employees would visit the cells looking for a prisoner by yelling out a number. Some times the prisoner was found and taken to the courtroom. Sometimes, though, there was no prisoner with that number. And sometimes prisoners would return to the cells as the paperwork was misplaced.
It would have been much easier to have brought us into court in two groups. One group could have been the women, the other the men. The judge would have then read the charge to all the defendants present and assigned everyone the same status hearing date. Instead, the judge had to read the charge to eighty prisoners and sit on the bench from 11 AM to 8 PM.
I and three other prisoners were the last to be taken to court, around 7:30 PM. Even though I was a recidivist scheduled for trial in Superior Court on Jan. 16 for a die-in at the U.S. Capitol, I was released and scheduled to appear on Feb. 12 for a status hearing.
I asked Judge Robert Richter if any Guantanamo prisoners might have been released since my arrest. He smiled. By 8 PM, I got my ID cards from the support people, but when I arrived back at the Supreme Court on a very cold evening, there were 25 prisoners ahead of me. Again the police were in the make-it-difficult-on-them mode. Instead of letting all of us into the building to retrieve our belongings, only four or five got in at a time. By 9:30 PM I had my property and was walking briskly towards Union Station.
Of course, following the pattern since the arrest, my departure from D.C. would get complicated. Just after I purchased a train ticket, sirens sounded and the lights started blinking. The two railway employees behind the counter fled. There was an announcement to evacuate Union Station. I contemplated where outside I might sleep. However, by 10:20 PM, I was enjoying a very comfortable seat on a train to Baltimore .
About half of the arrestees returned on Feb. 12 for an arraignment before Wendell Gardner, the most deliberative judge I have encountered. Again a thirty-minute legal procedure turned into four hours. It was not good news to hear he has never done a civil resistance trial. Those of us arrested inside were now facing two federal charges—“unlawful free speech” and “causing a harangue.”
On May 7 I was informed that my charges were dismissed. This was fitting as I expected to be found not guilty at trial or on appeal. But I plan to be in Judge Gardner’s courtroom on May 27 in support of the 35 defendants who dared to expose the names of the Gitmo detainees. It will be an event not to be missed.
Since we took on the U.S. justice system on Jan. 11, there have been numerous press reports about the torture going on at Guantanamo Boy. All of it is shocking, but nothing more so than the revelation that U.S. military interrogators appeared to have collaborated with Chinese officials at Guantánamo Bay in the torture of Chinese Muslims. How much of the abuses of the Guantanamo detainees will make it into the trial record? Will the defendants get better treatment from the judge and the prosecutors than from the police during their incarceration? Be in court starting May 27 and answers will become evident.
Max Obuszewski is a member of the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore and the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center , 325 E. 25th St. , Baltimore , MD 21218 . Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs