Orange and black

Digging through the back of the closet
To find an old sweatshirt
I come across
Some bright orange coveralls
And a black hood,
Apparel I and many others
Wore frequently
During Operation Desert Storm
When the U.S. was destroying
The nation of Iraq
Using false claims about
Weapons of mass destruction
To justify the slaughter
To a willingly-fooled public.
We gathered in public places
Wearing our orange coveralls
And our black hoods
To simulate the Iraqi prisoners
Being brutally tortured in Abu Ghraib
And Guantanamo Bay.
We gathered on public streets
To enact dramas
Of water boardings, electrocutions,
Beatings, rapes,
Being done to Iraqi bodies
By American soldiers.
We gathered on public streets
To remind our fellow citizens
That unspeakable brutality
Was being carried out in our name.
We gathered on public streets
Dressed in orange and black
To stop traffic,
To make ourselves impossible to ignore,
To dramatize the pain and grief
Of all torture victims, everywhere,
To demand that our government
Cease and desist.

Just the other day I saw a photo
Of a score of people
Standing in front of the White House
Dressed in orange coveralls
With black hoods over their heads.
They were there to mark
The 21st anniversary
Of the opening of Guantanamo Bay detention center
And to demand that the President
Shut the place down.
Thirty-five prisoners remain in custody there,
The wreckage of thirty-five lives
Remain in custody there.

I don’t remember if we believed,
Back in the days of Shock and Awe,
That we would convince anyone,
That we would change anyone’s mind,
Wearing our orange coveralls and black hoods,
Doing our guerilla theater in busy intersections,
At bus stops,
Riding the subways,
Parading through fancy department stores.
I don’t remember if we thought
We could shame our government
Into shutting down
Enhanced Interrogation Inc.,
But I am sure we did not imagine
That that house of horrors
Would still be in operation
Two decades later,
That it would still be holding prisoners
From that misbegotten, asymmetrical war
Without being charged,
Without being tried.

I do remember
That we believed in a possible world,
A torture-less world,
A world of compassion and community,
A world of healing and of grace,
A world where orange and black
Are the colors of Halloween,
Not the colors of the American flag.

Buff Whitman-Bradley’s newest book is And What Will We Sing? a collection of protest and social justice poems spanning the last 25 years. He podcasts at and lives with his wife, Cynthia, in northern California. Read other articles by Buff.