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March to Guantanamo Report

Mark Colville's report the March to Guantanamo, 12/9
Friday, 7pm - After camping out last night, today the marchers
their trek through the Santiago de Cuba Province -- the second most
populated province in the island of Cuba. Tonight they are staying in a
hotel in Niceto Pérez. Tomorrow, International Human Rights Day, the
marchers plan to arrive in the city of Guantánamo, about 12 miles from
detention centers.

Pilgrimage to Guantánamo
The Nation

On December 7 twenty-five Christians set out from Santiago de Cuba on a
seventy-mile pilgrimage to Guantánamo Bay. Their mission is simple: to
meet with more than 500 men who have been held without trial, virtually
incommunicado, for nearly four years. If they are turned away, they
fast in support of Guantánamo's hunger strikers and hold a three-day
at the prison gates.

The march, which coincides with International Human Rights Day on
10, is the first time private citizens have attempted to take a protest
Guantánamo's doorstep.

The idea was born in a Baltimore Catholic Worker community this spring
quickly spread to other communities across the United States. If
Guantánamo were on American soil, they asked themselves, would we be
there? Straight away they knew the answer.

"If this were happening in the United States, there would be a constant
presence outside the base," said Mike McGuire, a Catholic Worker
spokesman. "Once we passed that mental threshold, the question was, Why
aren't we there?"

In response to international criticism of Guantánamo this June,
Bush declared, "You're welcome to go down yourself...and see how
treated." But there is no reason to believe that the marchers will be
allowed in. The Catholic Workers are now calling the President's bluff.

It is only in the past year that prisoners at Guantánamo have had any
access to lawyers, and most prisoners remain without legal
The International Committee of the Red Cross is the sole organization
have been given full access to the prison, and then only in return for
keeping their findings secret. Most recently, the United Nations turned
down an offer to inspect Guantánamo after it was told that areas of the
prison complex would remain off limits.

The shell game is indicative of the Bush Administration's overall
strategy. It has swept the detainees into a legal black hole. Only nine
have had formal accusations placed against them. The rest, left in
Kafkaesque limbo, are unable to take steps to prove their innocence
because they haven't been charged with anything. The Supreme Court
this strategy out in June 2004, but the Administration continues to
Guantánamo's prisoners their day in court.

And now the Administration's default position is threatening to become
law. Congress is considering an amendment introduced by Senator Lindsey
Graham that would strip the prisoners of their right to habeas
very provision that demands detainees must have the charges against
presented in a fair hearing.

By the end of the first day of their journey, the marchers were
miles along the busy tarmac thoroughfare that leads from Santiago de
to Guantánamo. "We are closer than many family members of those people
have ever been. It's an absolute bittersweet walk to go visit the scene
the crime," said New York Catholic Worker Matt Daloisio by cell phone
he set up camp at the side of the road.

They carry a letter, written by torture survivors, asking that the
marchers be allowed in to talk with the prisoners. "We...seek to
a credible, objective and fair assessment of the situation of the
detainees at the detention facility," the letter states. Should they be
allowed in, doctors and lawyers are poised to join them.

Demonstrations of support are taking place across the country, and a
website posts regular updates on their progress, along with locations
protest vigils.

As lead attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, Gitanjali
Gutierrez has already heard the stories of those held at Guantánamo's
tropical gulag. "We have revealed not only that the vast majority of
men are innocent but that they have been tortured and subjected to
inhumane and degrading treatment," she says.

Saifullah Paracha is one of them. In July 2003, Paracha was en route to
Bangkok from his native Pakistan to meet a buyer for his clothing
business. According to his attorney, Gaillard Hunt, when Paracha
off the plane, he was set upon by masked men. They pulled a hood over
head, shackled him and drove him to an unknown destination, where they
stripped off his clothes and hung him from a hook in the ceiling.
was then moved to Bagram in Afghanistan, and in September 2004 to

Hunt does not know which agency was responsible for Paracha's arrest,
he has not been charged with any crime. Paracha has been held in
confinement at Guantánamo ever since his transfer last year.

Paracha's nephew, who spoke at recent a press conference in New York,
did not want to be identified, has known his uncle all his life. "He is
one of the nicest, most generous people I know.... He wrote in his
that it could have been fatal the way they treated him."

After Paracha's disappearance in Thailand, his family searched
for a month before they finally heard of his arrest in a news bulletin.
was two months after his transfer to Guantánamo that they received a
letter from the International Red Cross informing them of Paracha's

It is situations like Paracha's that have motivated the Catholic Worker
group to walk to Guantánamo. As the night drew in after the first leg
their journey, Daloisio explained what fuels their determination:
reached a point in our country where we don't simply condemn torture
debate its usefulness. We need--myself included, the American people,
Administration--to regain our humanity."

If Daloisio is allowed in to meet with the prisoners, he knows what he
will say: "The first word, and most appropriate, would be, I'm sorry."

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