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Des Moines Anti-Torture Collective

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Each person in the group probably has their own version of this group's history. I, Justin Norman, offer this as my personal take on its beginnings. In 2008, after learning about torture in various ways, several concerned Iowans, including myself, formed a group to study William Cavanaugh's book, Torture and Eucharist. Some members had hardly any knowledge of torture coming into the book study, while one member had previously screened the film "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" and participated in Witness Against Torture's national action in Washington, DC.

After several weeks of studying Cavanaugh's book as a group, the participants began performing street actions by dragging a giant wooden cross through West Des Moines and surrounding towns with one member dressed in a hood and orange jumpsuit. In 2009, another study group was formed, this time to read through the book, The Mental Health Consequences of Torture by Ellen Gerrity, Terence M. Keane, and Farris Tuma.

Overlapping with this, Kirk Brown and I wrote a presentation for churches, telling the stories of two detainees: Dilawar of Yakubi, and Ahmed Errachidi. Dilawar was a 22-year-old peanut farmer from Afghanistan, who was captured by local security around Fire Base Salerno, then turned over to the US military who tortured him to death in five days at Bagram Air Base. Ahmed was a gourmet chef in London who was detained for five years and tortured in Guantanamo before being released without charge.

While working on this presentation, we traveled to over 100 churches throughout Des Moines, Johnston, Adel, Van Meter, Waukee, and Indianola to ask them to allow us to give this presentation to interested members of their congregation. Churches were offered a chance to read over the text beforehand, and it was made clear that no fee would be charged. However, all but one church rejected this presentation, and the one who accepted it required the script to be cut in half.

After a brief hiatus, and my participation in Witness Against Torture's national action in January of 2010, Kirk and I began standing on street corners with signs in West Des Moines beginning in mid-February. The jumpsuit, hood, and cross were brought back on several occasions throughout the year, along with an Adbusters flag. Photos were taken nearly every week and uploaded to Flickr and Facebook as a way of documenting the project and broadening its audience. My Flickr page for photos from the vigil can be found here. As the photos show, we were soon met with trouble from police, nearby mall security, and angry drivers. Racist remarks were yelled, and people began exiting their vehicles to come yell at us and threaten us. Police threatened arrest for use of the bullhorn, which was perfectly legal.

Watch videos of some of our weekly vigils.

Due in part to these frequent hostile encounters, we began shooting video from time to time and posting it on YouTube. Often times we were able to capture common misconceptions about Guantanamo ("they all terrorists", etc.) and respond to themo n camera. Many videos can be found on my YouTube page here. By the end of 2010, several other people had joined the vigil on a regular basis, and we had occupied street corners for more than 30 weeks. An article I wrote about some of the things I learned over the course of that year was published through Truthout. 

In 2011, two members of the group traveled to Washington, DC to participate in Witness Against Torture's national actions while other members continued the vigils in Iowa. The vigils have persisted for what is now 56 weeks and have been supplemented by other actions around Des Moines. Both the Flickr page and the YouTube channel continue to be updated with new information about the ongoing vigils.

Ahmed Errachidi

Current status: 
Cleared, no charges

 Ahmed Errachidi is a gourmet chef who worked at the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair (London, England). He had two young sons, one of whom was in dire need of a heart operation in 2001. He left for Pakistan in September of that year to buy silver jewelry there which he hoped to resell in Morocco in order to raise the money for his son's operation. However, in October of that year, when the US invaded Afghanistan, he left Pakistan to attempt to help civilians affected by the war.

Dilawar of Yakubi

Dilawar was a 22-year-old peanut farmer from Yakubi, Afghanistan. He used to drive the tractor on his family's farm, but eventually switched to driving a car his family bought him, which he used as a taxi. He picked up two passengers in Khost, and was then stopped at Fire Base Salerno by militiamen which the US had hired to provide local security around the base. His car was searched, and an electric stabilizer was found. He was accused of being involved in the rocket attacks on Fire Base Salerno earlier that morning, and chained to a fence with his passengers overnight.


Valley West Mall, West Des Moines, IA
35th & University Avenue, 50th & University Avenue, various other locations
West Des Moines, IA 50311
United States
Phone: 702-515-9098
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