On January 11, marking the 12th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, activists from the group Witness Against Torture commandeered the lobby of the National Museum of American History. Five protesters wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods over their faces assumed detention poses near the entrance of the museum. Other activists delivered a speech, OWS mic-check-style, calling on President Obama to release the remaining 155 prisoners at Guantanamo and close the camp. They also led the crowd in chants of “Make Guantanamo history!” The action at the Smithsonian institute followed a rally at the White House.
“We came here today because we want to see Guantanamo relegated to a museum — to be shuttered and condemned, but also understood as an example of where fear, hatred and violence can take us,” activist Chantal deAlcuaz said in a press release.
The action in the lobby lasted two hours, during which time no one was arrested. The protesters then moved up to the third floor of the museum, where they set up what they called a “torture exhibit” in front of the ongoing The Price of Freedom: Americans at War show. Their display consisted of the same jumpsuit-clad protesters in detention poses from downstairs, along with handwritten signs bearing statements like “civil liberty?” and “cleared for release.” At some point, a protester moved into the exhibition proper, standing in orange and black in front of a display wall.
Police officers threatened arrest, but museum security allowed them to remain — provided they weren’t “boisterous and loud,” as a police officer can be heard saying in the video recording below, shot by Witness Against Torture. The activists stayed at the museum for another two hours, until closing time.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.