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Raleigh activists protest at Guantánamo

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It's been a busy month for multi-issue activist couple Scott Langley and Sheila Stumph, co-founders of the Raleigh Catholic Worker House.

Both have been arrested recently for acts of civil disobedience; Scott at an anti-torture action at the Johnston County Airport on Nov. 18, and both of them on Dec. 1 outside Central Prison to protest the execution of Kenneth Lee Boyd, who was the 1,000th person executed in the United States since 1977.

Langley and Stumph opened their house on Dorothea Drive, near Central Prison, 14 months ago to offer support, meals and a place to stay for families visiting loved ones on death row. There is no charge to stay at the worker house.

With little time to spare and court dates pending, Stumph and Langley took off for Cuba last week to join 23 other Catholic Workers and Christian activists from around the country for a 70-mile-plus protest march to a point near the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, where, on Tuesday, they were holding a vigil and fast to protest the reported torture of detainees at a prison where the United States had been holding suspected terrorists, some for more than four years without due process.

In June, President George W. Bush said: "You're welcome to go down yourself ... and take a look at the conditions" at Guantánamo. This group of activists "is calling his bluff," said Mike McGuire, a spokesperson for Witness Against Torture, the group sponsoring the march.

Efforts to reach Langley and Stumph by phone were unsuccessful.

Following several meetings with Cuban authorities, the marchers were told they could only enter the U.S. side of Guantánamo if invited to do so by U.S. officials. As of Tuesday, the group was camped out on a roadside near the Cuban checkpoint, about five miles from the Guantánamo base gate and about nine miles from the prison, McGuire said.

"They now await President Bush's word," McGuire said. "They are asking people to call on President Bush to grant permission for them to visit the prisoners."

The trip is in violation of U.S. law because of U.S. restrictions on travel to the communist island. Cuban officials have allowed the group to hang banners at their encampment. Also marching with Langley and Stumph is Frida Berrigan, daughter of the late Philip Berrigan, a renowned peace activist.

The group, which began marching last week from Santiago in eastern Cuba, wanted the action to coincide with the Dec. 10 observance of International Human Rights Day and to be an act of solidarity with four members of the Christian Peacemakers Team who were kidnapped recently in Iraq.

A military investigation this year into reports of abuse of Guantánamo prisoners found that interrogators used cold, heat, loud music and sleep deprivation on prisoners, all approved methods of interrogation since the prison opened in 2002. Some released Guantánamo prisoners said they were forced to look at pornographic images, frightened by dogs and beaten at the prison.

The vigil and fast is scheduled to end Thursday. For more information on the group, go to www.witnesstorture.org.

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