Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, on Monday, calling on President Barack Obama to release detainees who have been held for years at Guantanamo Bay prison without charge or trial, Russia Today reports.
Of the 166 people still detained at Guantanamo, 84 are from Yemen. Fifty-six of the Yemeni detainees have been cleared for release but have yet to be sent home.
Protesters carrying pictures of family and friends at Guantanamo were joined by a small American delegation from Code Pink, a women-led grassroots peace movement that has been in Yemen for a week to bolster demands to close Gitmo and repatriate detainees.
Arriving June 12, the delegation of seven has been meeting with Yemeni and American officials, urging them to close Guantanamo, repatriate detainees, and end drone strikes in Yemen. The U.S. has used unmanned aircraft to eliminate high-level terrorists, but human rights organizations are concerned that drone strikes have also killed innocent civilians.
The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that up to 186 civilians have been killed since drone operations began in Yemen in 2002.
Delegates began their trip last week by meeting with Abdul Rahman Barman, a lawyer for Hood, a human rights organization that represents Abdulelah Haider Shaye and many of the Guantanamo prisoners, as well as survivors of U.S. drone strikes. They were joined by Baraa Shiban, the project coordinator from Reprieve, a human rights group based in London.
Code Pink hopes to build public support for a change in foreign policy.
“I spoke out during President Obama’s May 23 speech, asking him why he refuses to release the 86 cleared prisoners,” said Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin in a press release. “Weeks later, the prisoners’ health continues to deteriorate but we still have no action from President Obama. That’s just unacceptable.”
The long-delayed process of closing Guantanamo Bay, first promised by President Obama in 2008, hit a snag Tuesday after a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that military authorities have deemed 44 Guantanamo detainees “too dangerous to release” despite not having enough evidence to charge the suspected terrorists with crimes.
The Independent reported Tuesday that 104 detainees were on hunger strike, with 44 being force-fed through nose tubes in order to prevent starvation. The forced feedings have been described as a form of torture by the United Nations and the World Medical Association, which has called them “unethical, and never justified.”
Connecting with victims has become a cornerstone of Code Pink’s work, meeting with Yemenis who have family members at Guantanamo.
“This past week, the US delegates heard heart-breaking stories from the Yemeni families,” Code Pink writes. “Working with the Yemeni NGO Hood, they decided to organize the first ever Yemeni-American vigil in Sanaa.”
This is not the first time Code Pink members have traveled abroad to work with groups peacefully challenging U.S. foreign policy. Several activists went to Pakistan last year to meet with victims of U.S. drone strikes and individuals who have lost family members.
“We absolutely need to close Guantanamo Bay Prison,” said Colonel Ann Wright of Code Pink and Veterans for Peace in a press release. “President Obama can take action by immediately releasing the 86 prisoners who have been cleared for release, then formally charge and try the remaining prisoners in fair and open proceedings.”
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