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Tuesday, January 11, marked the twentieth anniversary of the first detainee brought to the United States torture prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Today, the U.S. government holds 39 men there. Human Rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations Human Rights Council, just to name a few, have routinely condemned the mistreatment of people detained at Guantánamo prison. The UN has called it a torture center. Yet, despite international pressure, the U.S. continues to fund and operate the center and plans to expand it under the Biden Administration.

Activists dressed in the notorious orange jumpsuit and their heads covered in black bags kneeled in front of the building.

The rally started at noon in front of the Federal Building on a sunny afternoon in downtown Los Angeles. Activists dressed in the notorious orange jumpsuit and their heads covered in black bags kneeled in front of the building. Each was holding a sign that calls for attention to the inhumane treatment. For example, one sign read “No Geneva Conventions.” Referencing article 3 of the agreements amongst nations that no “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture,” that the U.S. violates. 

“Does this make us safer, does this make us a better society, does it bring us food, shelter?” said Mohammad Tajsar from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “If the answer is no, then I think it behooves you to speak up against it.” The prison was first set up during the George W. Bush administration to detain anyone with alleged ties to the September 11 attacks or connected to al-Qaeda, a feature of the “war on terror.”

Twenty years after 9/11, it has cost taxpayers $8,000,000,000,000 and killed 900,000 people, according to a Brown University report. “There is an immense expense on maintaining the “war on terror” that can be used for the good of society,” said Mohammad. The average cost to keep someone in Federal Prison is $31,977.65, and the average price to keep someone in Guantánamo Bay prison is $13,000,000. The amount spent to run the military commissions per year at GITMO is $91,000,000 of taxpayers’ money. 

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Twenty Years of Resistance

At its peak in 2003, 660 men were forcibly detained. The youngest detainee was 13 years old, and the oldest was 89 years old. “The success of getting people out was not by accident,” said Estee Chandler of Jewish Voice for Peace. “It has taken hundreds of courageous lawyers twenty years of fighting the system to release people.” More than two hundred Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have reported abusive treatment of Guantánamo prisoners. In addition, the US government tortured twenty-six prisoners in CIA secret prisons overseas before being transferred to Guantánamo. In 2010, a United Nations Investigation exposed more than 100 secret prisons worldwide, with more than 27,000 people detained and 17 ships as floating prisons. According to the United States’ record, 92 percent of the prisoners held are not al-Qaeda fighters.

“Julian Assange and WikiLeaks told the world a story that contradicts what the western powers and their allies have been telling,” said Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild. Lawyers and journalists have continued to expose the crimes against humanity practiced at GITMO. “If it had not been for Julian Assange, the light shown on Guantánamo would have gone far less noticed,” said Jim. Each speaker gave Julian Assange and WikiLeaks credit and praise for their courageous work, exposing documents that tell a different story from what you hear in the corporate-owned media. 

The Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) was the key organizer of the rally. In addition, in their eleventh ‘ Close Guantanamo Now’ rally, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Out Against War helped co-sponsor the rally. 

Cuba’s Struggle For Independence

In 1898, during a U.S. invasion of Cuba in the Spanish-American War, the U.S. established its naval station in Guantánamo Bay. That same year, on December 10, Spain relinquished the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Guam to the U.S., completely excluding Cubans in the Treaty of Paris. For the last 118 years, since 1903, the U.S. has occupied that part of Cuba in a one-sided agreement between Cuba’s first president, a U.S. citizen, Tomás Estrada, who favored the seizure of Cuba to the U.S signed the contract.

According to MOVPAZ (the Cuban Movement for Peace and Sovereignty of Peoples), the deal requires both governments to agree on ending the occupation. The U.S. pays the revolutionary Cuban government $4,085 per year, but these payments piled up, uncashed by Cuba, except for the first one before the new revolutionary government consolidated. The Cuban people and the international community want the U.S. out of Guantánamo and release all detainees to their families.

Abraham Marquez