Feb. 9, 2006 – The Treasury Department is seeking to punish a religious group that marched outside the secretive GuantÃ¡namo Bay prison complex in protest of the conditions endured there by prisoners in the "war on terror." Members of the Christian anit-war group Witness to Torture could face up to ten years in prison and $250,000 in fines for breaking the United Statesâ€™ long-standing ban on travel to Cuba.
In a statement yesterday, Witness to Torture said that it would not cooperate with the Treasury Departmentâ€™s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) request for information related to the December demonstration. The organization sent its reply through the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal group. Seven of the 24 protesters have received OFAC notices so far.
According to members of the group who participated in the protest, on December 11, they arrived at the US-run GuantÃ¡namo Bay detention complex with plans to observe the prisonersâ€™ confinement conditions first hand. After being turned away, as expected, they set up camp a few miles from the border between Cuba and the US military base, where the group fasted for four days and continued attempts to access the camp.
The US government admits to holding around 500 men plucked from around the world at the base. The military has held the captives without trial and nearly incommunicado with severely restricted access even to legal counsel. Human rights organizations and the military have reported suicide attempts and hunger strikes among the prisoners.
Due to the more than 40-year-old trade embargo with Cuba, US citizens are barred from traveling freely to the nation. The OFAC monitors violations of the ban and has broad authority to issue fines and other penalties.
Like most government agencies involved in legal enforcement, OFAC does not discuss open cases and it has not released any document related to the GuantÃ¡namo protest.
Neither has it responded to Witness for Tortureâ€™s letter, though the group said it is not waiting idly.
"While we await notice from the Treasury Departmentâ€™s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the agency responsible for violations of the ban on travel to Cuba, we will not be idle," participant Frida Berrigan wrote recently in In These Times. "On March 1, those of us who marched to GuantÃ¡namo are organizing an action in Washington, DC, to make the prison and its victims visible to those who are responsible for the torture and abuse."