It’s been 12 years since the first detainees were imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. That’s been far too long, according to the Rev. Mike Neuroth, UCC policy advocate for international issues, especially after the realization that government-sanctioned torture has taken place there and prisoners have been held without trial.
Neuroth is encouraging people from across the UCC to participate in a "virtual prayer circle" at 12 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, an organization representing thousands of people of faith from diverse religious groups across the country, is organizing the prayer circle as a way to lift up the issue. The hope is people around the country and the globe will join in prayer — whatever their religion — and call for Guantanamo’s closure.
In Washington, D.C., NRCAT will join fellow faith-based organizations and human rights groups at 12 p.m. Saturday for a rally in front of the White House followed by a procession to the Museum of American History. Some participants will wear orange jumpsuits to show solidarity with Guantanamo detainees.
"The United Church of Christ will stand with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and other faith organizations outside the White House to call on President Obama to fulfill his promise to close Guantanamo," Neuroth said. "After 12 years of existence, it is time to close this symbol of U.S.-sponsored torture and respect the full human rights of all God's children."
Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC office in Washington, D.C., believes that "If our nation is to truly offer a beacon of hope and a light of freedom and justice to a broken world, we must begin by looking at this injustice perpetrated in our own backyard," she said. "Allowing Guantanamo prison to remain open contradicts our call for basic human rights and justice around the world, and we must redouble our efforts in 2014 to end this deeply troubling contradiction to our national values."
The UCC is one of the 325 religious organizations that partners with NRCAT in recognizing the need to close Guantanamo and end a dark chapter in U.S. history.
The Rev. Ron Stief, NRCAT’s executive director, will speak at the rally and lead an interfaith invocation that coincides with the "virtual prayer circle."
"Guantanamo has become an internationally recognized symbol of torture and of the nation’s failure to respect the basic dignity inherent in all people," said Stief. "As people of faith, we believe that torture is a moral abomination that runs contrary to the teachings of all religions, and so we join in prayer to break the silence of neglect of the 155 detainees still imprisoned at Guantanamo."
Stief is ordained in the UCC and was a former national staff member, directing the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries policy office in Washington, D.C., from 1999 to 2008. He began as NRCAT’s director on Jan. 1.
Obama has called for the closure of the prison on multiple occasions, as far back as 2008 during his first presidential campaign.
In 2013 the UCC continuously campaigned to close the prison and transfer detainees. In May, the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president, was one of 38 religious leaders who signed a letter to Obama asking that Guantanamo be closed.
Neuroth and Sorensen went so far as to join a 24-hour hunger NRCAT fast in July, along with Gitmo detainees who were fasting to protest their incarceration without trial. As many 106 prisoners there took part in the hunger strike that summer, according to the Miami Herald.
"Earlier this year, I and other faith advocates fasted in solidarity with the more than 150 prisoners at Guantanamo — many of whom were engaged in a hunger strike," Neuroth said. "In 2014, we need to increase such efforts to call on the President to use his Congressionally-approved authority to transfer prisoners and eventually close the facility."