On the 21st anniversary of the opening of detention camps at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, activists in Northampton marched down Main Street Wednesday afternoon to call on U.S. President Joe Biden to close down the camp and free the remaining prisoners. The event was organized by No More Guantanamos, a local organization founded in 2009 to protest the existence of the camps, which it claims are sites where the U.S. government can detain prisoners outside the rule of law. The group’s founding came around the time former President Barack Obama pledged to close the facility, but failed to do so during his time in office.
Members of the group that took part in the march included Nancy Talanian, the director of the organization, and Bruce Miller, a retired law professor at Western New England University School of Law.
Biden has also voiced his support for Guantanamo’s closure, but Talanian said she remained skeptical, given that the U.S. military is planning a new $435 million health facility at the base for prison guards scheduled to be completed in 2029, as reported in the New York Times last month.
“It’s inexplicable why they are planning on spending money if they want to close,” said Talanian, who wore a sign calling for the release of Hassan Muhammad Ali bin Attash, a Saudi national who was detained as a teenager at Guantanamo and remains imprisoned there nearly two decades later.
The protest coincided with several others that took place on Wednesday, with demonstrations in cities such as Washington D.C., New York City and Los Angeles by the group Witness Against Torture.
The Rev. Peter Kakos, a retired pastor of Edwards Church, was one of the demonstrators in Northampton, clanging a gong as the group marched, starting from Hampshire County Courthouse down on Main Street.
“How dare we, the United States, condemn Russia, China and Saudi Arabia for human rights crimes, while we as a nation hold prisoners in Guantanamo,” Kakos said. “It’s a tragic vestige of the tragic war on terror, the mindless war on terror, the continuing war on terror.”
There are 35 prisoners who remain at the Guantanamo Bay camp, with 20 not having been officially charged with a crime. Around 780 people have been detained at the camp throughout its existence, according to the New York Times.
Also attending the march were Laura Kaye and Priscilla Lynch, two members of Code Pink, an international women’s organization that supports anti-war causes. Nine people in total braved the below-freezing temperatures to take place in the march and demonstration in front of the courthouse.
“There aren’t that many people here, but I think many Americans are dismayed by Guantanamo,” Kaye said. “It does not represent what our values should be.”