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The long road ahead: members of Witness Against Torture at the start of their journey.

At the Gates

Christian peace activists travel to Guantanamo Bay and fast to demand access

Last Sunday, a group of 25 American Christian peace activists reached the gates of the United States naval base in Guantanamo Bay. For five days, the group, ranging from young adults to the elderly, had hiked about 50 miles across Cuba. Upon reaching the Cuban checkpoint to the no-man’s land between Cuban territory and the U.S. base, they didn’t refresh themselves with food, water, a shower or a proper place to sleep. They began fasting.

The group, which calls itself Witness Against Torture, is made up of Catholic Workers from around the Northeast, and includes activists from Ithaca and Amherst, Mass. Danny Burns and Clare and Teresa Grady of the St. Patrick’s Day Four [“Blood for Blood,” Sept. 29] are also participating.

What spurred these people to take it upon themselves to visit the prison and risk the $7,500 fines levied against American citizens who visit Cuba? Mike McGuire, a group member, said human-rights violations at the base drove them. “We said, ‘You know, if this base was in America we would have a presence outside every day. We wouldn’t let it go. But as it is now, it is constantly being hidden.’ ” However, McGuire adds, an invitation from President Bush had a lot to do with the trip.

“You’re welcome to go down yourself—maybe you have—and take a look at the conditions. I urge members of our press corps to go down to Guantanamo and see how they’re treated,” said Bush at a June 20 press conference with European Union leaders. While a number of reporters took Bush up on his offer, none was allowed to show detainees on camera or even speak to them. WAT wants to do what no outsiders except for Red Cross members sworn to secrecy have yet been able to: to see and speak to the prisoners.

“It is something no one from the European Union [was granted], something the U.N. Commission on Detention, Disappearance and Torture was not granted, so we are not optimistic . . . but we are optimistic that our presence is going to be felt on the base,” said McGuire.

McGuire noted that he has attempted to contact the Defense Department and the White House but has received no response. “I don’t know how they go about responding to things like this, or if they do,” he remarked.

However, the State Department issued this statement last week: “These protesters, as they march through Cuba, are ignoring one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, and its systematic and institutionalized violations of human rights.” The marchers counter that they are there to deal with “an American problem,” something they feel they are responsible for as citizens of the United States.

Though the group has had no direct contact with the U.S. government, the Cuban government is a different story. “At first it was a little bit tense,” said McGuire. “They were initially very suspicious, but after a few days . . . they came to accept our action.” McGuire also noted that Cuban authorities have allowed them to protest directly in front of the checkpoint, and have explicitly guaranteed that if the U.S. government allows them access they will be allowed to cross over to the no-man’s land.

McGuire said he is surprised by the amount of support WAT has received through its Web site, www.witness torture.org. The group has put up a petition and contact information for Bush and Cheney so that supporters can demand the group be let into the base. Members of the team have kept blogs with accounts of their journey. Danny Burns wrote on his blog on Sunday upon reaching the gates: “So many barricades that were put in front of us have fallen to the wayside/And we just kept on walking/we were told we could not walk anywhere/we marched/no banners/we hung banners . . . no marching through the city of Guantaanmo/we marched why? the world agrees/No More Torture/Not in Guantanomo/Not in Iraq/Not in our name!”

At the same time WAT is showing support for the Guantanamo detainees, it is also praying for the Christian peacemaking team that has been held hostage in Iraq for weeks now. Two of the marchers have been members of similar teams. “There is a 79-year-old nun with us,” said McGuire. She “has been serving full time with the peace-making teams in Iraq for the past several years. There is a real connection there.”

He says the Guantanamo mission has a dual purpose. “We are trying to use this march to make an appeal to the captors in Iraq for mercy on the peacemakers, just as we are appealing to our own government to be allowed to practice the works of mercy on the detainees in Guantanamo.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

This Is Getting to Be a Trend

Evo Morales, a popular Bolivian presidential candidate, has sworn that he will be a “nightmare” for the United States and its “imperialist” policies if he is elected. Morales has been an avid supporter of the Bolivian “cocaleros,” or coca farmers, for more than 15 years, and has opposed the United States’ anti-coca policies. The leftist candidate has gained broad support due to his anti-free-trade and socialist philosophies. Morales claims that Bolivia’s free-market relationship with the United States is responsible for the nation’s debilitating poverty.

Lost His Balls?

When he was on the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004, Carlos Delgado had no problem with openly criticizing the Bush administration’s actions in Iraq. “I don’t support what they do,” he told the Toronto Star. “I think it’s just stupid.” Now he’s on the New York Mets, and team management is trying to shut him up. Jeff Wilpon, son of the Mets’ CEO and owner, said in a press conference, “He’s going to have his personal views, which he’s going to keep to himself.” Delgado sheepishly responded, “I will not cause any distractions. . . . Just call me Employee Number 21.”

Welcome Home, Soldier

The remains of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq are usually shipped to Dover (Md.) Air Force Base in flag-drapped coffins. So members of a San Diego family were distressed to find that their late son, medic Matthew Holley of the Marines’ 101st Airborne unit, would not arrive home from Dover in a flag-drapped coffin, or be met by a color guard. He was going to be shipped as freight on a commercial airliner. The arrangements were reversed when his parents, both Army veterans, protested. The Army has given no reason for this practice.

Politics as Usual in Afghanistan

Upon returning home to Afghanistan last year, journalist Ali Mohaqeq Nasab found that the political climate had not changed since he was exiled many years earlier. After he published pro-women’s-rights articles in his magazine, the government locked him up on charges of blasphemy. Now he is awaiting a potential execution, unless he “repents.” As quoted in the Washington Post, Nasab said, “I came back because I’m an educated person and I wanted to help. I didn’t know there was still no democracy.”




In need of sanctuary: the Church of the Holy Innocents.

photo:Joe Putrock

Save These Landmarks

Historic Albany Foundation releases first list of endangered buildings since 2000

Against a backdrop of boarded-up windows and an ivy-covered brick façade, the Historic Albany Foundation released a list of the city’s most endangered historic resources Monday afternoon on the steps of one such resource: the Trinity Episcopal Church in Albany’s Mansion Neighborhood.

“This is something we hope not to have to do annually,” said Erin Tobin Bearden, director of preservation resources for HAF.

With stained glass peeking out from behind a missing section of board and sturdy walls of dark brick, the simple church is a prime example of the sort of building the group hopes to preserve, explained various HAF members. A small permit posted on one of the boarded-up entrances reveals the year work was last done on the building: some roof repairs in 1990.

Five years ago, HAF released a similar list of 12 sites the foundation considered to be threatened by neglect or nearby development. Of those sites, five have been restored, two are in the final stages of rehabilitation and one, St. Joseph’s Church on Ten Broeck Street, was removed from the list after the city seized it from its previous owner and gave it to HAF. The four remaining sites on the 2000 list—Trinity Church, a Queen Anne mansion on Madison Avenue, the

Wellington Hotel and its neighboring properties on State Street, and the Third Precinct Police Station on North Pearl Street—carried over onto this year’s list.

According to Bearden, the organization hopes the list will drum up support once again for the four buildings that remain from the 2000 list, as well as introduce local residents and lawmakers to a few more endangered elements of the city’s history. Among the new additions on this year’s list are the Church of the Holy Innocents, located on North Pearl Street and built in 1850, and the city’s School 17, located on Second Avenue and built in 1878. Also included on this year’s list is the 119-year-old Albany Knitting Company building at 373 S. Pearl St. The building once housed the Leiderkranz Singing Society and the Hinckel Brewing Company before the Knitting Com pany sign ad orned its façade. All three of these buildings, as well as the four from last year’s list, are currently vacant.

An entire development district is also included on this year’s list. Adopted by the Common Council in 1993, the Traditional Neighborhood Overlay District located around midtown Albany was created in order to prevent renovation that would harm the 19th- and early 20th-century architecture of the area. Now threatened with the rapid expansion of student rental property, traditional-style buildings are either disappearing or withering away, according to HAF.

“It’s not about what color you’re going to paint your house,” explained Bearden. “It’s about whether you’re going to tear it down, neglect it or build that 300-square-foot addition.”

Bearden said the group plans to hold a symposium this spring to discuss plans for endangered sites, and will continue to provide technical assistance, advice and various other forms of support for any groups or communities interested in preserving the buildings.

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


Overheard

Overheard:

“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.

 

Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.



Loose Ends
At the Dec. 1 Albany Common Council General Services Committee session, Dominick Calsolaro’s resolution to donate land in the Pine Bush to the Pine Bush preserve was sent to the law committee [“Land Trust,” Newsfront, Nov. 24, 2005]. The Jennings administration refused the request of the committee to have General Services Commissioner Bill Bruce and a city lawyer answer questions about the city’s commitment to donate land to the Pine Bush Preserve. Council members Michael Brown, Glen Casey and Sandra Fox voted to close the meeting to the public, thereby preventing 40 people gathered from speaking during a planned public-comment period. Brown then stormed out and was harangued by the crowd as he went. Calsolaro insisted the committee was violating the state’s open-meetings law by closing the meeting. After Brown left, the remaining committee members changed their minds, reopened the meeting, and allowed the comment period. . . . The proposal to reorganize the Albany County Crime Victims and Sexual Violence Center by moving its therapists to the Mental Health Department and its caseworkers to the district attorney’s office [“Crisis Center Shuffle,” Newsfront, Sept. 29] was voted down and removed from the county budget by the county legislature at its Dec. 5 meeting. . . . We spoke too soon when we reported [“Loose Ends,” Dec. 1] that Roumen Dimitrov [“Go Unpublished or Perish,” Nov. 13, 2003] had left his troubles with academia behind him. In a follow-up e-mail message, his wife reported that he may soon lose his job at the University of Sofia for failure to publish a sufficient number of papers. . . . William Bonanni, one of the two Albany police officers involved in the shooting that resulted in the death of bystander David Scaringe on New Year’s Eve 2003 [“Death and Disbelief,” Newsfront, Jan. 8, 2004], has returned to work with the Albany Police Department and will soon return to active patrol duty, reports the Times Union. He will be assigned to North Station. Officer Joseph Gerace, who has not pushed for a reinstatement as Bonanni did, remains on leave.


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