21 Guantánamo Protesters Arrested in the Capitol (Updated) (Video)
Updated 6:31 p.m. | Nearly two dozen protesters from “Witness Against Torture,” a group dedicated to closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were arrested in the Capitol Building Monday afternoon, after demonstrating in the Senate gallery and the Capitol Visitor Center.
According to the U.S. Capitol Police, 21 protesters were arrested: 11 in the Senate and 10 in the CVC. The gallery protesters were charged with disorderly conduct, while the CVC demonstrators were charged with “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding.” The protesters in the Senate gallery were arrested after causing a disturbance as Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., was speaking on the floor. The protesters began yelling, “U.S. torture, it’s official! Prosecute now!” during his speech, halting action on the floor for about a minute and a half. Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was presiding at the time.
“We felt strongly the Capitol was the best place to do that, to take that message to the Senate that more needs to be done,” said Paula Miller, a Witness Against Torture volunteer from Columbus, Ohio, who was in the Capitol Monday.
Miller explained in a phone interview that not all of the people who came to demonstrate could go to the gallery, so they set up a second demonstration in the CVC.
As the protesters were shouting in the gallery, 20 other demonstrators gathered in the lower level of the CVC, standing in a semicircle with a couple of demonstrators donning orange jumpsuits and black hoods. They rolled out two banners, one with the slogan, “From Ferguson to Guantánamo, White Silence = State Violence.”
The protest sought to draw a connection between recent unrest over policy brutality to what they say are unlawful detentions at Guantánamo. For the group, institutionalized racism is the link between the two movements and permeates domestic and foreign prisons.
“For us it really is about how our system of enforcement of security targets people of color, people that are black and brown,” Miller said. “And so we felt strongly that the men that are — what they’re experiencing in Guantánamo, our brothers and sisters of color are also experiencing that in the U.S.”
Miller said the Capitol Police allowed the demonstration in the CVC to take place for about 10 minutes, warning them that they would be arrested if the demonstration continued, which culminated in the arrest of 10 protesters.
Witness Against Torture organizer Matt Daloisio said in a phone interview that the protests wrapped up a week of fasting, which marked the 13th anniversary of the opening of the detention facility.
“We’re entering the 14th year of the operation of the prison in Guantánamo,” Daloisio said. “We’re also inspired by and learning from the emerging black lives movement.” Daloisio said they hoped to highlight the connection between “lack of accountability for torture and lack of accountability for police murder.”
The Capitol protest was part of a series of demonstrations over the weekend. On Sunday, protesters gathered outside of the White House. Two protesters were reportedly arrested Saturday, after 20 demonstrators, also wearing orange jumpsuits, gathered outside of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s home in McLean, Va. The group is also planning a demonstration at the Department of Justice Monday evening.
This is also not the first time Guantánamo protesters were arrested at the Capitol. In 2010, 28 protesters calling for the detention facility to close were arrested on the Capitol steps for an unlawful demonstration.
Hannah Hess and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.
This post was updated to reflect new information about the charges for the arrested protesters.
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