More than a hundred people gathered in front of the White House on Friday for a demonstration marking the 17 years since Guantanamo Bay prison opened.
Men and women wearing orange jumpsuits with their heads covered by black hoods stood silent to represent the detainees currently being held at the notorious facility in Cuba.
“This isn’t a war prison where people are taken off the battlefield and held protected by the Geneva Conventions until the end of hostilities,” Andy Worthington, co-founder of the group Close Guantanamo, said at the rally. “This is a prison where people were taken to in the first place so they could be held absolutely without any rights whatsoever.”
The demonstration was held by a coalition of organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International and the Justice for Muslims Collective.
The Guantanamo Bay prison was opened shortly after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The first detainees were transferred to the prison on Jan. 11, 2002 under the order of then-President George W. Bush.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama promised to shut down the controversial prison after taking office in 2009 but was met with stiff opposition in Congress.
To this day, the prison remains open with 40 detainees.
At the rally, Maha Hilal, co-director of the Justice for Muslims Collective, read out a statement from Muna Abougoush, the wife of former Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr.
“Seventeen years ago, the cells of Guantanamo opened, revealing the true ugly face of Islamophobia. As you all know, this is not the first time a minority group was targeted and painted as the enemy. These groups were always viewed and treated as less than human,” the statement said. “Every nation has its history with a minority group.”
Khadr, a Canadian, was sent to the prison at the age of 16 and remained there for 10 years before being released and repatriated to Canada.
“Had he not been Muslim, had he been a child who hadn’t been Muslim who practiced some other faith, he more than likely would have never been in Guantanamo,” Hilal said about Khadr.