Two activists from the United Church of Christ concluded a 24-hour fast on Wednesday, July 24, calling for the closing of the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the inhumane treatment of its prisoners. Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC's office in Washington, D.C., and the Rev. Michael Neuroth, UCC policy advocate for international issues, joined others in the faith community in the protest which began Tuesday afternoon, July 23.
"I think the UCC has been engaged on the issue of torture for some time, and has had concerns about Guantanamo since the beginning," Neuroth said. "The witness of the hunger strikers has focused attention on Guantanamo and it's going on 11 years. There are 86 people stuck there in limbo because of a lack of political will or courage to either send them back to their countries or back here in the U.S. To detain people that long [without trial] is unacceptable."
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture organized the fast as a way for people of faith to express their concern about the prison, where detainees remain held indefinitely in lock-up — many of them without trial. President Barack Obama promised when he took office that the Guantanamo Bay facility would be closed, and restated that position as recently as April 30.
Most detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been on a hunger strike in protest of their incarceration without trial. As many as 106 of the 166 total detainees in the facility have participated in the strike, which began on March 4, and the U.S. government has responded by force-feeding more than 40 of the hunger-strikers.
Of the 166 detainees in Guantanamo Bay, 86 are scheduled for transfer to another facility or have been cleared for release. But still they wait.
Sorensen spoke at a rally Wednesday at the conclusion of the fast, just before the start of Sen. Dick Durbin's (D-Illinois) hearing on the possibility of closing the prison. The hearing will examine national security, implications of continuing to detain prisoners indefinitely, and how Guantanamo undermines the moral authority of the U.S. government.
"The practice of torture — the degredation of the human body, mind and soul — runs counter to our calling to work for a more just, comapssionate and peaceful world that honor's all of God's creation," Sorensen said. "For that reason, we must counter such practices with ever fiber of our bodies, minds and spirits, and point back to what our Creator intends: a world in which all people are treated with dignity and respect."
In May, UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black was among 38 religious leaders to sign a letter calling on the White House to make good on its promise to close the facility. The letter to Obama was organized by the NRCAT.