At a rally on the morning of January 11, 2008, Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox spoke to a protest rally on the sixth anniversary of the opening of the American indefinite detention center at Guantanamo Bay. You can listen to Cox’s remarks yourself, or read the transcript below:
I want to begin by asking you to take a hard look at the people assembled here in front, because what you will see is the Bush administration’s vision of human rights. This is what our government today calls justice, and this is what we are going to end.
Six years ago today, the United States began one of the most shameful practices in our nation’s history. At a moment when the American people were rightly demanding protective steps to prevent acts of terror, we were given instead something very different: the spectacle of prolonged suffering, deliberately inflicted upon hundreds and hundreds of men never charged with crimes, never convicted of crimes, but nonetheless year after year shackled and put in cells, denied contact with their loved ones, denied access to a court, denied protection again torture and ill treatment, denied human rights and human dignity. We wanted an end to terror, and instead we got the U.S. version of terror in an expansion of executive power.
We asked for justice for specific crimes, and we got instead arbitrary human sacrifice, and this has got to stop. As you can see illustrated here, the U.S. government has often put these human beings in what it calls “stress positions” that cause increased pain over time. But it’s done even more: it has put the idea of human rights in a stress position. It has put our constitution in a stress position. It has put our deepest values and our highest ideals in a stress position.
And you today are joining millions around the world in sending one message: the time to end this torture is now. Today, there are rallies and there are actions like this one taking place in countries around the world, from Korea to Paraguay. In Jordan and in Israel. In Spain and the Philippines. In U.S. cities from Boston to St. Louis to Waikiki. These boxes here in front of me represent some 10% of more than 100,000 signatures from across the country demanding President Bush shut down Guantanamo. And in addition, I have in my hand here a petition signed by more than 1200 parliamentarians from around the world urging the same, endorsing a plan to end the scandal that is Guantanamo. There was a day when the United States with some moral authority could urge other nations to stop violating human rights. Today we are grateful that people of conscience from other countries are urging us, the U.S. government, to regain our sanity and our moral compass.
Today, Guantanamo Bay continues to be the shameful icon of President Bush’s disregard for basic human dignity and the rule of law in the name of the war on terror. By assaulting core values that this country has long held so dear including the ages-old right to challenge one’s detention in court, by using techniques associated with dictators and despots, the president demans and undermines one of his major objectives: democracy.
But Guantanamo is more than a symbol and it is more than just an icon. It is a key part of an ugly reality that the U.S. is spreading around the globe. That ugly reality is a system of other detention centers like the one in Bagram in Afghanistan, where hundreds and hundreds are held in even worse conditions than Guantanamo. It’s the sending of people to other countries to be held in little more than holes in the ground where they are tortured on our behalf. It is disappearing people, sending them to our secret prisons. And it is having the Attorney General of the United States proclaim that we have so lost our moral standards that we no longer know, we just can’t be sure if deliberately causing a human being to nearly drown over and over again is a form of torture. And then, where there is video evidence that we are using this torture whose name we dare not speak, we act. Not to end torture, but to destroy the tapes.
This is the larger ugly reality that Guantanamo is a part of. This is the ugly blot on the America we believe in that we are going to finally remove. Because today’s protests and vigils are one more indication that the public outrage at the Bush administration’s continued harmful approach to national security is escalating. Mr. President, the demands for respect for human rights are only going to get louder and more widespread. And there’s only one way to reduce our chants: Shut down Guantanamo. Counter terror with justice.
Say it with me: Shut down Guantanamo! Counter terror with justice!