Saturday marked 12 years since the first prisoner arrived at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, and about two dozen human rights activists in Medford protested in support of immediately closing the prison, which, they say, has become notorious for torturing inmates and violating human rights.
"We believe that America should live up to its ideals as a beacon for liberty and freedom for all. ... The prisoners down there are being held without any due process. We need to wash our hands of the whole lousy deal and close it now," said Allen Hallmark, a founding member of Rogue Valley Veterans for Peace, which organized the protest.
"It (Guantanamo) creates more terrorists. It creates people who see the United States as a draconian force in the world ... they see us as the bad guys," said Hallmark, 71, who served in the Vietnam War during 1967 and 1968.
The protest held at Vogel Plaza in downtown Medford, which produced honks from several passing motorists, was held in conjunction with similar protests across the nation.
In the demonstration, eight men in prisoner-style jumpsuits with bags over their heads stood with signs representing inmates who have lost their lives at the U.S. military-run detention camp.
Rogue Valley Veterans for Peace member Robert Doell, of Medford, clad in a tan jumpsuit, read accounts of each prisoner's death at Guantanamo before pulling the bag off each person's head.
The prisoners represented were: Yasser Talal Al Zahrani, who reportedly died on June 10, 2006, Ali Abdullah Ahmed, who also reportedly died on June 10, 2006, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, who reportedly died on May 30, 2007, Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, who reportedly died on June 1, 2009, Awal Gul, who reportedly died on Feb. 2, 2011, Hajji (Inayatullah) Nasim, who reportedly died on May 18, 2011, and Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who reportedly died on Sept. 10, 2012.
Some of those prisoners were charged as enemy combatants against armed forces of the U.S., others were never charged with any crime. Many of them were also reportedly force fed after committing to hunger strikes within the prison and tortured.
Most of their deaths were reported as "apparent suicides" by the United States Department of Justice, but journalists who have been leaked classified documents pertaining to treatment of the prisoners inside Guantanamo, along with lawyers representing them, have cast doubt on those reports.
According to an ongoing analysis by The New York Times and National Public Radio, 779 people have been detained at Guantanamo since it opened, 615 have been transferred and 155 remain incarcerated. Results of the analysis can be found at http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees.
The Guantanamo Periodic Review Board, a panel of senior defense and intelligence officials established in 2011 by an executive order of President Barack Obama, is ordered to review the cases of each of the remaining inmates and decide whether they are to be transferred or tried, but Hallmark said Obama isn't acting fast enough.
During his election campaigning in 2008, Obama promised that he would immediately close Guantanamo if elected.
"We don't totally blame Obama, but he deserves a big share of the blame," Hallmark said. "Closing it would cost him a lot of political capital, I assume."
One demonstrator, Rev. Kurt Katzmar of the Medford Congregational Church of Christ, said what is happening at Guantanamo is "unconscionable."
"Where there is torture, there needs to be relief, where there is false imprisonment, there needs to be justice," said Katzmar, 68. "Part of what the Christian faith is about is poking at the soft spots of society. ... What is happening in Guantanamo is unconscionable."
Before beginning to disperse, protesters chanted "Close Guantanamo now!" and waved signs stamped with similar messages.
"Just close it," said demonstrator Caren Caldwell, 62, of Ashland. "It's not doing anybody any good. It's not keeping our country safer. ... It's incredibly disturbing that our country is the author of this abuse."
Doell, who served with the Ninth Infantry Division of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, said he is tired of Congress and the Obama administration playing "football" over the issue of closing Guantanamo.
"This place is an offense to our civic values — that you can hold a person indefinitely without trial," said Doell, 68. "We're just trying to push the gas pedal and get this place closed before anyone else dies."