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Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 06:57 pm

Fasting for Obama’s broken promise

Last week, 150 people from across the country completed an 11-day fast to bring attention to the Obama Administration’s broken promise to shut down Guantanamo within one year. The promise was made on the first day of his presidency, Jan. 22, 2009. I’m afraid it will stand historically as a sad symbol of hopeful intentions cast aside in exchange for political expediency and hopeless appeasement.

On Jan. 22, 2010, Peter Finn of the Washington Post reported that a task force, comprising representatives from the FBI, CIA, Justice Department and others, recommended that about 50 Guantanamo detainees should be held indefinitely without any hearings. This marked the first time that the administration contended that there are detainees considered too dangerous to release but “unprosecutable because officials fear trials could compromise intelligence-gathering and because detainees could challenge evidence obtained through coercion.”

On Jan. 22, 2009, President Obama stood on high moral ground, claiming that he “will close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and determine how to deal with those who have been held there.” It is noteworthy that Guantanamo is only one of many U.S.-sponsored installations in the world in which people are held without access to due process or release. If Guantanamo were closed tomorrow, this harmful policy that flies in the face of the Geneva Conventions would still be the law of our democratic land. Furthermore, many of the despised Bush administration policies continue to this date. These include rendition; the proposed use of Bush-style military commissions to try some detainees; the expansion of Bagram prison in Afghanistan and the denial of habeas rights to inmates not captured on the Afghan battlefield; the repeated use of the “state’s secrets” defense to block lawsuits by former detainees seeking redress for mistreatment; and the effective grant of immunity to those who designed, ordered and executed torture policies under the Bush administration. War and occupation continue as well.

It would seem that there was little power in the fast of 150 people.

On Jan. 21 this year, the eve of the anniversary of Obama’s famous statement, 42 were arrested in Washington, D.C., for their communal act of nonviolent civil resistance meant to draw attention to this national disgrace. Imagine their shock when entering the courtroom that following day: not only was Guantanamo still in business, but at least 50 of those detained there were assured of never seeing their families or freedom again.

It would seem that nonviolent resistance isn’t enough of a compelling action to change hearts and minds.

However the gift of fasting, prayer, and nonviolent resistance is that those who experience them become transformed. Their commitment to their cause intensifies because they have lived some part of the cause itself, and they are compelled to create a ripple that can lead to a new direction. On occasion, even decision makers are moved to change.

Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer, a faster from Norwich, Conn., said this: “I’m not doing this to focus on how it feels to not eat. I’m doing this in protest of eight years of unjust imprisonment. Of eight years of no rights, no freedoms, destroyed lives. How much of my life has changed in the last eight years that I take for granted? What would I have missed? To see my daughter every day is the biggest blessing of my life. This imprisonment has not only stopped fathers from seeing their daughters and sons, but it has stopped these men from creating lives, families, children.
“I fast because I can. I have that choice. We can make it worthwhile by being heard. This isn’t for us, it’s for others. ‘No one is free while others are oppressed.’”

There has been no change in the reality of President Obama’s 2009 statement that the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay has weakened national security and served as a rallying call for enemies. These are wise words from a thoughtful man. He would do well to heed them, and we would do well to hold him to his words.

Diane Lopez Hughes is a Springfield peace and justice activist who joined the fast.

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