Local peace activists organize small public protest against American detention center

Thursday, August 8, 2013 | 4:24 p.m. CDT; updated 4:53 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 8, 2013

COLUMBIA — Summers in Columbia feature higher temperatures, fewer students and occasionally small protests on Walnut.

A group of five men and women stood with homemade signs in front of the Columbia Post Office on Thursday afternoon in protest of the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

The protest was sponsored by the Columbia chapter of Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, which is a national organization that, according to its website, uses nonviolent methods to protest injustice.

"We weren't expecting hundreds," said Jeff Stack, who organized the gathering. "We just want to see what we can do locally to join the chorus internationally."

The location in front of the post office was chosen because it is a highly visible and busy location, Stack said. The group held signs and handed out fliers to passerby, and some stopped to talk and sign up to be on an e-mail list.

Stack said the goal was to raise public awareness in Columbia about the issues at Guantanamo Bay, the American detention center in Cuba that holds suspected terrorists.

"The correct force of action is to close the prison," Stack said.

Steve Jacobs said he was protesting the prison because of physical abuse of prisoners, including force-feeding in response to a hunger strike that over more than 100 prisoners are participating in. He added that 166 of the men who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for more than 11 years have not been formally charged.

Jacobs said that many prisoners have been cleared for release and that the reason they haven't been returned to their homes is that politicians are unwilling to look reasonably at foreign policy.

"It's so unjust,"Jean Blackwood, another protester, said. "It's so un-American."

Blackwood is retired and said she likes to donate her time to peace and justice issues.

Some members of the group spend one day a week fasting in solidarity with the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. This is part of an international effort by a group called Witness Against Torture, based in Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama promised during his first campaign that he would close the prison, but the politics surrounding the controversial prison holding suspected terrorists has proven to be a tough nut to crack.

The group asked the people who spoke to them to contact their local representatives and call the White House comment line and explain that they were in favor of closing Guantanamo Bay.

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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