LOCAL News :: Peace & War : Prisons

Guatanamo Bay Protesters Camp Outside Prison

Bill Frankel-Streit is a resident of the Little Flower Catholic Worker farm in Louisa County, Virginia. But recently he and a group of activists from the Christian group Witness Against Torture have been camping outside the gates of the US military's detention center at the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Photo by Scott Langley. Source: www.witnesstorture.org
Photo by Scott Langley. Source: www.witnesstorture.org
He and the other protestors will soon return from Cuba having drawn international attention to the conditions at the prison. But a more direct statement of solidarity with the detainees--in a place where the detainees might here it--was also a purspose of the trip.

"These folks went to Guantanamo because part of the torture process involves isolation," said Sue Frankel-Streit, Bill's partner, in an interview by email from Louisa County. She explained that "Bill and the others wanted the prisoners to know they are not forgotten; we respect their human rights and we're out here for them."

Stacey Byington, a spokesperson for the base, told the Associated Press last week that those inside the facility could not see the protesters. "Day-to-day activities of the base and its residents are not affected," Byington insisted.

But Sue Frankel-Streit explains that informal channels might get word into the prison somehow. "If something happens right outside the jail, the folks on the inside are more likely to hear about it," she said.

And Byington seemed to acknowledge that news of the protest had entered the base, apparently telling the Associated Press that people on the base knew of the protestors' presence through media reports.

The prisoners in US custody have been held without hearings, communication with family, or charges, in many cases for several years now. Last winter US officials seemed to admit that as many as 30 prisoners were mistakenly detained and not material to any terroism investigation, yet only a handful were relaeased. International aid agencies such as the Red Cross and the UN have been denied the unfettered, unconditional access normally expected in inspections of such facilities. And human rights groups and US-allied governments have assailed the legality of the prison under international law.

The US government has admitted that thirty-two prisoners have gone on a hunger strike.

Sue Frankel-Streit says that Bill and the activists "fasted and maintained a 24 hour vigil for three days out there" in solidarity and "knowing that inside inmate hunger strikers were being force fed through tubes in their noses."

Twenty-five inmates are being force-fed through tubes. Twenty-five activists participated in the fast and vigils.

According to Frankel-Streit, the protestors who travelled to Cuba tell her that the reaction from the Cuban people and the Government has been exceedingly welcoming. Cuba has even allowed them into its militarized zone surounding the American base. They are the first Americans ever allowed into the zone.

The U.S. State Department has chided the protestors for not focusing on Cuban political prisoners.

"These protesters... have not acknowledged the nearly 300 peaceful dissidents who today are languishing in Cuban jails under horrific conditions," the statement said in part, quoted by the Associated Press.

Sue Frankel-Streit is not deterred. "We believe all prisoners should have their human rights respected, that dissent should not be a crime. But we are most responsible for the acts committed in our names by our gov't. US tax dollars pay for the maintenance of the Guantanamo torture chambers."

Both Sue Frankel-Streit and Bill Frankel-Streit have served time in prison in the US for peaceful civil disobedience. That experience helps inform this action. Sue Frankel-Streit urges "that we remember the prisoners in the US who are also treated inhumanely, especially the guys at the Virginia supermaxes. Their mothers came out for our rally at the Richmond City Jail and asked for an end to the torture in Guantanamo. We stand in solidarity with them as they fight for the rights of their incarcerated and tortured sons here, too."

The protesters broke camp yesterday at noon with a celebration of liturgy outside of the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Protestor Matt Daloisio is quoted today on the Witness Against Torture website saying "We are only 25 people, but we represent millions of concerned brothers and sisters throughout the world." And the statement continues: "there have already been inquiries from other concerned individuals looking to join the effort and contributions have been generous. After five days of walking and three days of fasting, the group will now head home convinced of the need to continue this witness in the future. Stay posted."

Bill Frankel-Streit is expected back in Virginia on Sunday.

Parts of this story were written using "U.S. Activists Fast Outside Guantanamo" By VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press, Dec. 13, 2005.