Say No to torture
15 young men and women standing side by side, each blindfolded and wearing an orange jumpsuit – this was the scene that had thousands turning their heads at Union Square Park yesterday in New York. In recognition of June 26th being Torture Awareness Day, a demonstration was organized by a human rights campaign called Amnesty International. Aquib Yakoob, a senior at Townsend Harris and a student activist for the organization, helped lead and organize the event.
“We are having an anti-torture demonstration. June 26th is an international day in support of victims of torture. June is torture awareness month. We have high-school students from around the New York City and a few from New Jersey coming out today to show their support for the end of torture. We are calling on President Obama and Congress to end US use of torture, setting the precedent for other countries around the world.”
The main topic at the demonstration was an incident of Maher Arar, who was a Canadian citizen returning from vacation when he was taken at JFK Airport and renditioned to Syria under American orders. Arar’s name showed up on a no-fly list and was suspected to have ties to al-Qaeda. After admitting that he was tortured, he was released and returned to Canada, where the Canadian government released an official apology to Arar and his family. The United States government has yet to do so.
“We are calling on the US government – the government responsible – to do the same. The US government has yet to apologize. And it’s within international statutes that if we do rendition someone without a cause, they are due for compensation.”
So far, no compensation has been given to Arar and no legitimate evidence exists that he had any ties to al-Qaeda whatsoever. Zeke Johnson, the director of Amnesty International also made it to the demonstration. He shared his thoughts on what role the US should have when it comes to human rights.
“Any person should be charged with their crime, given a fair trial or released. The whole concept that the US government can hold people without charge or trial for three years - we are completely against it. It’s not just human rights file issue, it’s something that our government shouldn’t be doing. “
Back in 2008, President Obama ran on the campaign of closing Guantanamo Bay. But according to Zeke Johnson, even closing Guantanamo Bay wouldn’t solve the problem of torture.
“His plan for closing Guantanamo really wasn’t good at all. He was only going to move indefinite attention and military commissions to a new facility in the main land US. So, even if he had been able to accomplish his goal as stated, we would still be unhappy, because it’s about the practice. It’s not the location.”
The demonstration went from noon to a little past 1 p.m. right by the 14th Street side of Union Square Park. Here is a reaction from the crowd that walked by.
“This is America. This is a country where opinions are free to be spoken. And I think if they feel that wrongdoings have been done by the American government then they should be able to voice out their opinion.”
So far, there is little progress in resolving the Maher Arar situation here in the States. Amnesty International is still determined to keep on fighting.
“We are just going to keep going nationwide. We are going to have our activists holding events as much as they can, and we are going to be doing this campaign until June 2012. So you will be hearing a lot more from us for the next year on this particular case.”