Cindy Sheehan and other peace activists marched to the Cuban military zone wrapping around the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Thursday, demanding the United States close its prison for terror suspects five years after the first detainees arrived.
A dozen protesters walked along a lonely highway connecting the Cuban city of Guantanamo to the military zone. The women in the group tied pink and yellow flowers to the barbed-wire fence marking the start of the zone, a Cuban minefield with 4½-mile road leading to the entrance of the U.S. base. The protesters were not allowed past the fence.
“What I’ve read happens in this prison makes me sick to my stomach,” said Sheehan, who became an anti-war activist after her 24-year-old son Casey died in Iraq. “I’m calling for the cycle of violence to stop now, to close this prison.”
Also among the marchers was Asif Iqbal, a British Muslim who spent 2½ years at the prison. He expressed support for those still inside.
“Every day, every minute, they are in our thoughts,” the 25-year-old said. “These are human beings, they have some right to justice, too.”
Abuse allegations fuel outrage
The U.S. military is holding about 395 men on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban, including about 85 who have been cleared to be released or transferred to other countries. The military says it wants to charge 60 to 80 detainees and bring them to trial.
Critics say the camp, where most of the prisoners face indefinite incarceration, is an affront to democratic values. Allegations of abuse have fueled worldwide outrage.
The military says the detention center is vital to the fight against terrorism and that instances of abuse have been investigated and the perpetrators disciplined. The detention camp commander, Adm. Harry B. Harris, says aggressive interrogation tactics are no longer used.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the United States to close the prison, echoing an appeal made last year by his predecessor, Kofi Annan.
“I understand that today is the fifth anniversary of Guantanamo’s prison,” Ban said a news conference. “Like my predecessor, I believe that prison at Guantanamo should be closed.”
Demonstrations in several cities around the world marked the fifth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at Guantanamo.
In Washington, about 100 protesters were arrested inside a federal courthouse. The group — which had a permit for a demonstration outside the courthouse — sang and chanted as they were led away.
About 100 people protested outside the U.S. Embassy in London, wearing orange inmate outfits. Three “guards” wearing green camouflage shouted orders for them to stand up or kneel down. Similar demonstrations took place in Greece, Hungary and Italy.
Woman travels from Mideast for protest
U.S. Army Col. Lora Tucker, a spokeswoman for the detention center, said the military had no plans to acknowledge the Cuban protest Thursday or increase security at the gate, which is located at a distance from the prison camp on the other side of a hill.
“Nothing changes for us based on a demonstration being held somewhere in Cuba,” she said, adding that Thursday was “a normal work day” at the naval base.
Zohra Zewawi, the mother of British detainee Omar Deghayes, traveled from the United Arab Emirates with another son, Taher Deghayes, to join the protest. She says her son had been tortured and blinded in one eye since he was imprisoned in September 2002 and still has not been charged.
Taher Deghayes carried a large color photograph of Omar that said “justice for my brother.” One American protester wore an orange jumpsuit and a black hood.
Adele Welty, whose firefighter son, Timothy, was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said she empathized with the prisoners’ mothers. She called on Americans to urge Congress to demand “an end to the unjust incarceration of your fellow human beings.”