Barack Obama had been President for only one full day when, on Jan. 22, 2009, he acted on a central campaign promise. Arguing that the Founding Fathers would agree that America must “observe the core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy but also when it’s hard,” Obama signed an executive order to close the notorious military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, where the Bush administration had detained hundreds of men captured in combat and counter terrorism operations since 2001. With dozens of men imprisoned for years without charges brought against them, and in many cases having actually been cleared for release, Obama said closing Guantánamo would return America to the “moral high ground” it had yielded in its ruthless pursuit of al-Qaeda during the Bush years. “I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away,” Obama said in May 2009. “I refuse to pass it on to somebody else. It is my responsibility to solve the problem.”
Four years later, with Guantánamo still open–and the site of widespread hunger strikes and other acts of disobedience by many of its 166 inmates–Obama is again trying to fulfill that responsibility. In a May 23 address about a range of his counter-terrorism policies, including drone strikes, Obama declared the start of a new push against the political obstacles that thwarted his first attempt to close the most infamous symbol of the US’s post-9/11 war on terrorism. “[History] will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it,” Obama said.
But Obama will be hard pressed to live up to his grand rhetoric. Opposition still runs high to the idea of releasing or bringing into US prisons dozens of men widely considered dangerous terrorists even if many are not. Asked to gauge the probability that Obama can close Guantánamo before he leaves office, David Remes, a lawyer who represents 18 Guantánamo inmates replies, “Zero.” And even if Obama can shut down the site known colloquially as Gitmo, he hasn’t promised to end the practice of long-term incarceration without trial that along with interrogation techniques like waterboarding blighted the US’s track record for treating prisoners in the so-called global war on terrorism. The prison camp on Cuba’s southern tip may or may not be shuttered during Obama’s watch, but Gitmo, in the metaphorical sense, may never really close.
Nor is America’s long war on terrorism about to end. Obama’s speech revealed a man “haunted” by the deaths of innocents in drone strikes and wrestling with the balance between national security and the constitution’s integrity. But while he announced tighter standards for ordering drone strikes abroad (including an unspoken plan to partly shift the programme from the CIA to the theoretically more accountable Pentagon) and spoke of a day when the war might be declared over, Obama is retaining broad powers to detain or kill suspected terrorists, to conduct aggressive surveillance and to use military force in foreign nations. “To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties,” Obama said. “We must finish the work of defeating al-Qaeda and its associated forces.”
Hungry for Clarity
At last count, military medical personnel at Gitmo were force-feeding 35 of the more than 100 inmates who refuse to eat. Twice a day, those men are strapped into restraining chairs as tubes that run up their noses and down their throats fill their stomachs with a compound called Ensure, a supplement used by everyone from athletes to dieters. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called force-feeding a violation of international law, and the World Medical Association, of which the US is a member, declared in 1991 that the practice is “never ethically acceptable” unless a prisoner consents or is unable to make a rational choice. (The WMA calls it “ethical to allow a determined hunger striker to die.”)
Although Remes says he suspects the inmates at Gitmo are aware of the President’s speech and that some may even have watched it on television, he doubts that the hunger strikes will end anytime soon. “Obama has no credibility with the detainees,” he says. “I bet they didn’t even look up from their chessboards.” Then, recalling that after recent scuffles with their guards, inmates were barred from congregating, he adds, “No, they’re not playing chess. They’re not even allowed to be together.”
A lack of faith in Obama is one reason for the hunger strikes (although detainees have also alleged improper treatment by guards, including charges of mishandling Quran, that the military denies). Among the hunger strikers are 86 who have been declared safe for release–some of them by two different administrations–and who were crushed when Obama failed to deliver on his 2009 promise to close Gitmo.
Should They Stay or Should They Go?
Understanding why Gitmo hasn’t closed requires understanding who exactly is there. The camp holds three types of inmates, each posing different challenges. The first group consists of those 86 detainees deemed safe to release to their home countries or third nations, so long as they can be monitored and accounted for to ensure they don’t take up arms against the US The second group consists of suspected terrorists whom the administration is prosecuting or plans to charge with specific crimes. The third group consists of prisoners too dangerous to simply release–for reasons that could include a suspected organizational role in al-Qaeda, explosives training or in some cases an openly stated desire to kill Americans–but also impossible to put on trial, maybe because of evidence rendered inadmissible by torture; because the troops who captured them didn’t collect evidence; or because they supported al-Qaeda before the US made that a crime for foreigners overseas.
The first group is the easiest to deal with. Obama has the freedom to send the 86 men home on his own. Fifty-six of them are from Yemen–all of whom could be there by now had al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, whose leaders included an ex–Gitmo detainee, not tried to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009, leading Obama to halt detainee transfers back to the country. Obama now says improvements in the Yemeni government’s ability to monitor repatriated detainees allows him to lift his self-imposed moratorium on returning detainees there. He can likewise dispatch the rest of the cleared inmates to other countries unilaterally.
Republicans warn that even some of those detainees deemed safe for release will inevitably join forces with Islamic radicals–as did Saeed al-Shihri months after his 2007 release from Gitmo, eventually rising to the No. 2 spot in al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch before being killed by a drone strike earlier this year. “I don’t trust the government” in Yemen, Republican Representative Peter King told ABC’s This Week on May 26. But they can’t prevent Obama from proceeding. How fast he’ll move is another question: Obama said each of the Yemenis must first undergo yet another review.
The second and third groups are considerably tougher cases. Obama would like to move the trials by military commissions now under way at Guantánamo to a location in the US and bring any new cases against prosecutable suspects on American soil, either in military or civilian courts. He also presumably intends to move to highly secure sites in the US the roughly 46 who can be neither released nor tried, until some solution can be found for them. But right now Obama can’t move any detainees into the US without Congress’s help. In 2009 he tried to resettle some low-risk prisoners in the US and also proposed trying alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Gitmo inmates in federal court. A furious backlash from conservatives and even many Democrats who feared the soft-on-terrorists label prompted Congress to block inmate transfers into the US for any reason.
And while Obama’s May 23 speech may have stirred the hearts of some liberal supporters, it doesn’t seem to have moved the Republicans whose support he’ll need to move detainees into the US, particularly in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. “I don’t get the sense that this pressure is having an impact” on House Republicans, says Representative Adam Smith, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Many Republicans argue that the risk of detainees’ committing future acts of terrorism outweighs the damage Guantánamo does to the US’s image. And they have little interest in Obama’s appetite for moving more terrorism cases into civilian courts.
Lately Obama has tried speaking the language Republicans best understand–spending–by pointing out that each inmate at Gitmo costs $800,000 per year to house, for a total of about $150 million per year in operations. But when it comes to closing Gitmo, Smith says, many of the Republicans whose support Obama would need to approve transfers to US prisons have boxed themselves in politically. House Speaker John Boehner, for instance, has called the prison a “world-class facility” and in 2010 said he wouldn’t vote to close it “if you put a gun to my head.”
The broader themes of Obama’s speech may not have helped the Guantánamo cause either. Far from agreeing with the President’s talk of a severely weakened al-Qaeda and his aspiration to wind down the war on terrorism, some Republicans accused him of complacency and retreat. Newt Gingrich called Obama’s vision “breathtakingly, stunningly naive.” Such talk is hardly the groundwork for a new spirit of cooperation.
Some Problems Have No Solution
Even assuming that the president can close Gitmo by resettling some detainees in other countries and bringing the rest to trials and prisons in the US, a major problem will remain: What to do with the 48 detainees who can’t be tried or released for fear that they will return to the “battlefield” of the war on terrorism? After all, holding prisoners without charges would seem to violate the constitution’s fundamental habeas corpus guarantee. Obama doesn’t claim to have a clear answer, and his speech punted the question. He said only that “once we commit to a process of closing [Guantánamo], I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.”
For now, Obama deals with this legal equivalent of radioactive waste by treating those inmates as prisoners of war. In March 2009, Obama’s lawyers filed a legal brief justifying detention of Gitmo detainees under the laws of war–in this case the war on al-Qaeda, made official by Congress’s September 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which allowed for the invasion of Afghanistan and other counter-terrorism efforts. Ironically, “while it decries Guantánamo as contrary to American values, the Obama administration has convinced courts of its legal validity,” says Matthew Waxman, a former Bush detainee policy official now at Columbia Law School.
Rather than see Obama stretch that validity in new directions, one prominent human rights lawyer has actually argued for keeping Gitmo open. Closing it now “would do more harm than good,” human rights lawyer and Georgetown law professor Jennifer Daskal wrote in a January New York Times op-ed, because it would mean simply opening up a similar camp in the US, thereby “setting a precedent and creating a facility readily available to future Presidents wanting to rid themselves of a range of potentially dangerous actors.”
According to this vision, Gitmo would close when the war on terrorism is finally considered over. Lawyers for detainees might argue that should happen once the US’s lead combat role in Afghanistan ends in late 2014, for instance. Obama also says he’d like Congress to revisit the AUMF, perhaps to narrow its scope or even to declare the war over. “Usually if you’re holding prisoners of war, you release them at the end of hostilities,” says C. Dixon Osburn of Human Rights First.
But at a recent Senate hearing on the AUMF, a top Pentagon official testified that the war on al-Qaeda could last 10 to 20 more years. Some Republicans, including Senator John McCain, have suggested that the law should be broadened, not narrowed or repealed.
Rhetoric about the founders aside, it’s hard to imagine Obama’s releasing trained al-Qaeda members who have not renounced terrorism into the wild, as it were. “The administration’s view seems to be that so long as it’s only a small number of very dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists, it is legitimate to hold them without trial,” Waxman says. Obama would prefer not to hold them in the prison that stains America’s international reputation. But he may find the moral high ground he seeks is simply out of his reach.
What are the implications for the US if the hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay result in death?
The result will be widespread rioting in the Muslim world. The deaths will further fuel the resolve and enhance the aims of Muslim terrorists. A possible fragmentation of what friends the US has left in the Middle East is also a possible outcome
On May 5, 1981, imprisoned Irish Catholic militant Bobby Sands dies after refusing food for 66 days in protest of his treatment as a criminal rather than a political prisoner by British authorities. His death immediately kicked-off widespread rioting in Belfast, as young Irish-Catholic militants clashed with police and British Army patrols and started fires. Bobby Sands was born into a Catholic family in a Protestant area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1954. In 1972, sectarian violence forced his family to move to public housing in a Catholic area, where Sands was recruited by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). The Provisional IRA, formed in 1969 after a break with the Official IRA, advocated violence and terrorism as a means of winning independence for Northern Ireland from Britain. (The Provisional IRA, the dominant branch, is generally referred to as simply the IRA.) After independence, according to the IRA, Northern Ireland would be united with the Republic of Ireland in a socialist Irish republic. In 1972, Sands was arrested and convicted of taking part in several IRA robberies. Because he was convicted for IRA activities, he was given “special category status” and sent to a prison that was more akin to a prisoner of war camp because it allowed freedom of dress and freedom of movement within the prison grounds. He spent four years there. After less than a year back on the streets, Sands was arrested in 1977 for gun possession near the scene of an IRA bombing and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Because the British government had enacted a policy of “criminalization” of Irish terrorists in 1976, Sands was imprisoned as a dangerous criminal in the Maze Prison south of Belfast. During the next few years, from his cell in the Maze, he joined other imprisoned IRA terrorists in protests demanding restoration of the freedoms they had previously enjoyed under special category status. In 1980, a hunger strike lasted 53 days before it was called off when one of the protesters fell into a coma. In response, the British government offered a few concessions to the prisoners, but they failed to deliver all they had promised and protests resumed. Sands did not take a direct part in the 1980 strike, but he acted as the IRA-appointed leader and spokesperson of the protesting prisoners. On March 1, 1981 (the fifth anniversary of the British policy of criminalization) Bobby Sands launched a new hunger strike. He took only water and salt, and his weight dropped from 70 to 40 kilos. After two weeks, another protester joined the strike, and six days after that, two more. On April 9, in the midst of the strike, Sands was elected to a vacant seat in the British Parliament from Fermanagh and South Tyrone in Northern Ireland. Parliament subsequently introduced legislation to disqualify convicts serving prison sentences for eligibility for Parliament. His election and fears of violence after his death drew international attention to Sands’ protest. In the final week of his life, Pope John Paul II sent a personal envoy to urge Sands to give up the strike. He refused. On May 3, he fell into a coma, and in the early morning of May 5 he died. Fighting raged for days in Belfast, and tens of thousands attended his funeral on May 7. After Sands’ death, the hunger strike continued, and nine more men perished before it was called off on October 3, 1981, under pressure from Catholic Church leaders and the prisoners’ families. In the aftermath of the strike, the administration of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher agreed to give in to several of the protesters’ demands, including the right to wear civilian clothing and the right to receive mail and visits. Prisoners were also allowed to move more freely and no longer were subject to harsh penalties for refusing prison work. Official recognition of their political status, however, was not granted.
Detainees Frequently Fainting as Health Worsens
“Code yellow,” an emergency where a prisoner has lost consciousness, is now a regular event in the cellblocks, forcing medics to rush in and see if the detainee is still alive, or just passed out from hunger. So far, it has been the later, but as the strike continues it will eventually lead to deaths.
Over 100 prisoners are now believed to be involved in the hunger strike, which began in February to protest the confiscation of detainees’ Qurans during a security sweep. The Pentagon initially claimed only nine strikers, but now admit to over 50. They claim the rest aren’t “official” hunger strikers, and accused them of “cheating” and sneaking snacks.
Lawyers and human rights groups have urged reforms at the prison to end the strike, as well as releasing people already exonerated instead of just keeping them forever. The military seems to be taking the opposite approach, punishing strikers and putting everyone in solitary cells in the hopes of scaring them into abandoning the strike. With many detainees already cleared for release and apparently going nowhere, they remain convinced they have nothing to lose.
The long-troubled military trials at Guantanamo Bay were hit by revelations earlier this year that a secret censor had the ability to cut off courtroom proceedings, and that there were listening devices disguised as smoke detectors in attorney-client meeting rooms.
Now, another potential instance of compromised confidentiality at the military commissions has emerged: Defense attorneys say somebody has accessed their email and servers.
“Defense emails have ended up being provided to the prosecution, material has disappeared off the defense server, and sometimes reappeared, in different formats, or with different names,” said Rick Kammen, a lawyer for Abd Al Rahim Al Nashiri, who is accused of plotting the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole.
The lawyers say they don’t know exactly who is accessing their communications. And it’s not yet clear whether the emails were intentionally grabbed or were scooped up mistakenly due to technical or procedural errors.
Either way, the lawyers are concerned.
In response to the apparent breaches, the military’s chief defense counsel ordered defense lawyers to stop using email for privileged or confidential communications.
“This follows on the heels of the seizure of over 500,000 e-mail containing attorney-client privileged communications as well as the loss of significant amount of defense work-product contained in shared folders,” Commander Walter Ruiz, one of the military defense counsels, said in an email.
The search of thousands of emails was revealed by the prosecution, attorneys say.
“The searches on their face looked to be fairly benign,” Kammen said. The defense emails turned up when prosecutors requested a search of prosecutors’ own emails. “The people who were doing the searches ended up providing all manner of defense material as well.” It’s not clear what department, agency, or office did the search.
It is not possible to corroborate the attorneys’ accounts because the full documents are undergoing security review, and are not yet public.
The Pentagon declined to comment, citing the ongoing trial.
In recent months, defense lawyers also realized that files were missing from their shared and personal servers. There is no evidence that the missing files are connected to the email searches.
“The main thing is that the integrity of the system as the whole is in very serious question,” said Commander Ruiz. The order to stop using servers and emails, “essentially cripples our ability to operate,” he said.
Hearings in Nashiri’s case were scheduled for next week, but in response to a motion from his lawyers, military judge James Pohlhas delayed the hearings for two months. Yesterday, lawyers for the 9/11 plotters also filed a motion regarding “Information Technology Corruption and Loss of Relevant Defense Files.”
These new concerns are the latest example of irregularities of military commissions overshadowing the actual facts of the cases brought before them. Pretrial hearings have been consumed by issues such as whether defendants can wear camouflage to court (they can), when mail can be read, and what exactly lawyers can discuss with or send their clients. The prosecution has also tried to prohibit “informational contraband,” including any material on “current political or military events in any country; historical perspectives or discussions on jihadist activities.” Copies of the 9/11 Commission Report and the memoirs of an FBI agent have been taken from defendants’ cells.
In cases before the commissions, defendants’ interactions with their attorneys are subject to strict controls. Orders aimed at protecting classified information govern most proceedings and lawyers have limited access to their clients. Defense lawyerspreviously had to get a security officer’s approval to use even mundane information from defendants. That requirement was loosened a bit, but details of the defendants’ time in CIA custody – including their own accounts of being tortured – are automatically classified.
There have been seven convictions under the military commissions. Another seven detainees are currently facing charges, and 24 others may yet be prosecuted. The government has deemed 46 detainees simply too dangerous to release but doesn’t plan to try them.
The Obama administration initially sought to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other alleged 9/11 plotters in federal court in Manhattan, but reversed its position after heated opposition from Congress and New York City officials.
Though President Obama has thus far failed to fulfill his pledge to close Guantanamo, no one has been brought to the prison under the Obama administration. In recent months, a string of terror suspects have been extradited from foreign countries to face charges in U.S. courts.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale disputed defense attorneys’ characterizations of the email and data breach described below, saying that none of the government prosecutors “saw the content of any privileged communications.”
The search was conducted by the Pentagon’s IT department. Breasseale said the reason prosecution ended up with defense emails at all was likely because a security officer “miscommunicated the search parameters.” As soon as one prosecutor “realized the search results included privileged material, the searches completely ceased, and, upon agreement of defense counsel … the IT department deleted all the search results from the two searches,” Breasseale said.
Statement emailed to reporters by Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale:
Perhaps the biggest myth in the current reporting is that US government prosecutors saw defense e-mails.
I can tell you unequivocally that NO prosecutor and no member of the privilege review team saw the content of any privileged communications. Only one prosecutor and only one member of the privilege review team each actually saw a single defense communication. To be clear: there were a series of searches for a particular piece of information in which both prosecution and defense took part. One prosecutor saw the email when reviewing results generated from the first search. The privilege-review attorney saw the email when reviewing the results generated from the second search. However, in both cases, they only saw the “To,” “From,” and “CC” lines, and the one prosecutor saw the opening salutation of the email (it was “team,” or some similar word) and saw NOTHING ELSE. As soon as that prosecutor realized the search results included privileged material, the searches completely ceased, and, upon agreement of defense counsel in Qosi, the IT department deleted all the search results from the two searches.
But more generally – though terrifically more importantly – the attorney-client privilege ranks among the oldest and most established evidentiary privileges known to our law, and we take this seriously. The fact that this arose from a defense-initiated petition, was promptly dealt with due to a PROSECUTION report, and that it is receiving appropriate focus to identify corrective measures, confirms that. All attorneys, including both our professional corps of defense and prosecuting attorneys, are duty-bound to safeguard privileged material. Attorneys are obligated to scrupulously avoid reviewing the other side’s privileged material. Specifically, the attorneys in the office of the chief prosecutor have demonstrated their respect for the attorney-client privilege and they diligently work to protect it.
In any complex litigation, privileged material sometimes accidentally ends up in the wrong place – from both ‘sides.’ For example, just last week, a member of the defense counsel mistakenly sent to a number of prosecutors an ex parte filing that was meant to be sent only to the court. Defense counsel notified the prosecution, and actions were immediately taken to protect the confidentiality of the filing. This sort of human error is unfortunate but not out of the ordinary in complex litigation in both civilian and military systems, and both sides work together to resolve any issues that arise.
Meanwhile, encryption–which is the recommended means of communication–would have precluded even this inadvertent and fully contained disclosure that involved no content.
So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to offer some point-for-point responses to some of the growing myths that are out there.
“[I]t was revealed that hundreds of thousands of defense e-mails were turned over to the prosecution.”
“In the latest controversy, the prosecution gained access to about 540,000 emails from defense teams.”
— This is patently FALSE. **The Enterprise Information Technology Services Directorate (EITSD) did not turn over any of the those emails to any attorneys—prosecution or otherwise. IT has maintained possession of these emails and the prosecution attorneys do not have access to them. Because no one has reviewed these emails, we simply do not know whether any of the emails included any defense emails.
“Defense attorneys said military IT personnel unsuccessfully tried to refine their search parameters two more times—and in each case discovered more confidential material.”
— The court wanted communications between the prosecution and the defense regarding waiver of appellate review. The office of the Chief Prosecutor (OMC-P) asked their IT professional, he relayed to them that they had to go through OMC Security Department (now part of Washington Headquarters Services), and OMC Security relayed that they would have to contact the search technicians with OMC-P’s search request. OMC-P gave the search parameters to OMC Security (including the names of the relevant prosecutors and defense attorneys, identifying who was a prosecutor and who was a defense attorney), and OMC Security was supposed to properly communicate them to the search technicians. The representative from OMC-Security miscommunicated the search parameters, which we asses is the likely reason it caused OMC-P to receive the privileged communications which, again, were never read by the prosecutors.
— The IT search that generated 540,000 emails was the third search. Again: no one has reviewed these emails, so we do not know if they include confidential material. After the first search, prosecutors directed IT to deliver any search results to a privilege review team composed of attorneys from the DOD OGC who had no involvement in the Qosi case before the United States Court of Military Commission Review or the Cole and 9/11 trials. IT has deleted the search results from the first two searches.
— Finally, the Office of Military Commissions (OMC), in toto – including both defense and prosecution – suffered from a nearly catastrophic server ‘crash,’ that affected not only the main server, but both of its back-up servers. The server ‘crash,’ coupled with the satellite latency issues that exist between computers here in the US and those at Guantanamo Bay, have caused losses of indiscriminate data across the OMC spectrum. Of the nearly 400 gb of data originally ‘lost,’ there remain some 7 gb yet to be accounted for. To be sure, this data loss – which affects the whole of OMC – is indeed indiscriminate and appears to be mostly affecting updates to pre-existing documents and new documents that were saved to the server and not e-mailed.
**Breasseale’s statement originally said that, “no one knows from where this “540k” number comes and I would direct you to the defense counsel who allege this number.” In a follow-up, Breasseale corrected that to say that “the 540k number comes from one of the prosecution’s pleadings.
The detainees used self-made weapons to resist the transfer, thus forcing guards to fire, the US military said in a statement.
“Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons, and in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired,” Navy Captain Robert Durand said in a news release.
Officials say no guards or detainees have been seriously injured.
The reason for the move was explained because the detainees covered surveillance cameras, windows and partitions, preventing guards from observing them during a hunger strike that has been continuing for more than two months.
Round-the-clock monitoring is necessary to ensure security, order, and safety as detainees continued a prolonged hunger strike by refusing regular camp-provided meals,” Durand said.
Over the years Guantanamo detainees participated in various forms of protests, Durand explained to RT, adding that this new coordinated effort has created an “unsafe situation.”
“We made the decision to move detainees into individual cells based on the detainees’ continued efforts to block observation,” Durand stressed. “We recently determined that the risk to the health and security of certain detainees had reached an unacceptable level due to non-compliant behavior.”
Each detainee’s physical and mental health has been evaluated after the sweep.
“Detainees may continue to hunger strike as a form of protest,” Durand said, also adding that moving them into individual cells has allowed JTF to “ensure that detainees are not being coerced by other detainees to participate in the hunger strike.”
Although Guantanamo authorities claim the detainees were resisting with “improvised weapons,” Cindy Panuco, a lawyer representing one of them told RT that the truth is still to be determined as “there is no way they could have any sort of weapons.”
“That is interesting to find out they have makeshift weapons,” Panuco said. “Whenever we have gone down to visit our clients the only thing they are allowed are small ball-point inserts of a pen… almost like straws. That is pretty much all they are allowed. So I don’t see, especially given the invasive searches that were conducted in February, what kind of makeshift weapons the government is referring to.”
She believes that isolation is just another effort to undermine solidarity among the prison population.
“If they are together, if they are in a communal living space they can communicate and at least support each other and now that they are being isolated, it is another form of torment. To be taken away from your friends and comrades, who were there with you, makes it much more difficult to endure what is already a very difficult situation.”
The detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba holds 166 men, most of them captured more than a decade ago in different counter-terrorism operations.
Saturday’s early-morning sweep took place in Camp 6, a medium-security building where 80 to 100 detainees lived in cells that open into communal bays where they could eat, pray and watch television together. As part of the hunger strike, prisoners have been refusing to let food carts enter some of the bays.
Lawyers say most of Gitmo inmates are currently participating in the hunger strike. The US administration, however, is only acknowledging 43 cases, including 11 people who are being force-fed liquid nutrients through tubes inserted into their noses and down to their stomachs.
The hunger strike began in February in protest to the seizure of personal items from detainees’ cells. Some prisoners told their lawyers that their Qurans had been mistreated during the cell searches, which the US military denied.
Lawyers say the hunger strike is caused by the fact that most detainees are held there without being charged, overwhelmed by the depressing feeling they may never leave the prison.
Obama pledged to close the facility at the start of his first term, but has failed to do it so far.
NEW YORK – Why add to something that is not supposed to exist?
The something in question is the Unites States’ prison in Guantánamo Bay, for which the Pentagon recently requested $49 million in extra funding. Despite Barack Obama’s promise in 2009 – one of his first as President – to shut down “Gitmo,” the US evidently has no intention of doing so anytime soon. In fact, the only thing concerning Gitmo that the Obama administration has shut down is the office of the special envoy, Daniel Fried, who had been tasked with its closure. The US State Department reassigned Fried in late January, and he will not be replaced.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphHow better to memorialize that decision than with a building boom at the prison? The new facility for which the money is to be earmarked will house 106 prisoners (the precise number is uncertain) who have been neither tried nor charged.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphEight of the prisoners are now entering the second month of a hunger strike. According to the spokesman for the US Southern Command, which oversees Gitmo, the hunger strikers are disillusioned, because they believed Obama’s pledge to close Gitmo. Indeed, they are cleared to leave, and it is only Obama’s failure to keep his promise – and the US Congress’s failure to legislate their transfer – that is keeping them there. So now they feel that the only way they can get the world’s attention is to “do something drastic.”
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphOne reason why the Pentagon needs to build a costly new facility has to do with the role of private contractors in driving detention policy. At Gitmo, corporate contractors run the show. They share signage with military units; enjoy better housing than military personnel; run the food services; and import Southeast Asian workers to build the gigantic infrastructure, which was new when I visited in 2009 (calling into question the “deterioration” cited to justify the latest cash infusion).
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphContractors also ran the military tribunal facility, and even set policy – deciding, for example, what could be told to the press. Based on some disputes that I witnessed, contractors appeared to outrank soldiers.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThe vast, often undocumentable profits that flow to these companies go a long way toward explaining why facilities like Gitmo – and privately owned and operated prisons in the US itself – never close. The transfer of public money to private corporations is far more attractive than old-fashioned market capitalism.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphBut then there is the brutality of the prison. I recently toured Alcatraz, the former US federal prison in San Francisco Bay. Like Gitmo, Alcatraz was created, in the 1930’s, to house what was then “the worst of the worst” – the Muslim terrorists (or accused terrorists) of their day. Mass murderers and gangsters – including, for example, Al Capone – were incarcerated there.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphAlcatraz was closed 50 years ago, in 1963, owing to its perceived inhumanity, and the prisoners were transferred elsewhere. Yet I was struck by how much more humane the facility and regime at Alcatraz were compared to Gitmo.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphFor starters, prisoners at Alcatraz who broke rules or were violent were punished by being put in “D Block,” where the cells had no windows; at Gitmo, all the cells that journalists are shown lack windows or natural light. Solitary confinement in D Block was seen as the harshest punishment, and it was never used for more than 48 hours at a time. At Guantánamo – and in other US facilities – prisoners are placed in solitary confinement for days or weeks at a time, which can lead to psychosis.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphLikewise, in Alcatraz, prisoners had access to a fully stocked library, monthly visits from loved ones, and mail delivery. At Gitmo, contrary to Red Cross rules, prisoners may not receive visits or mail from family, their reading is dramatically curtailed, and news is censored. They are not even notified of the deaths of parents and children.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphPrisoners at Alcatraz also had basic privacy. They were stripped naked on entry, but then wore clothing and showered in single-sex groups with male guards. By contrast, prisoners in Guantánamo must shower in individual shower stalls that are placed in main hallways and fronted by glass, leaving them naked in full view of female guards.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphAnd, of course, the prisoners in Alcatraz had been tried in a court of law, defended by lawyers whose communications with them were privileged, and duly convicted of their crimes. The men in Guantánamo have never been tried; their lawyers’ communications are monitored; and their lawyers may not even report to journalists or tribunals what was done to their clients to extract confessions, because – in a twist worthy of Franz Kafka – investigators’ methods, which detainees claim include torture, are classified.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThe eight hunger strikers are being fed through tubes inserted into their stomachs. This is a brutal process – the men are strapped onto restraint chairs twice a day and force-fed, in a facility that I witnessed. During my visit in 2009, a Yemeni hunger striker, Mohammad Saleh, died. As with all hunger strikers who have died at Gitmo, the US military ruled his death a suicide.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphPerhaps, someday, tourists will travel to Guantánamo and look in horror and amazement at what America built. Until then, Americans need to ask themselves what has coarsened in the national conscience between 1963 and today. How is it that a prison too brutal for gangsters, too un-American to house the worst of the worst, was more humane than a place that Americans are spending millions to enlarge?
The lawyers said they were concerned about the critical health condition of the prisoners, who began the hunger strike on February 6.
They also said the majority of the 166 detainees held at the base stopped eating and many lost dangerous amounts of weight and were now being forced-fed through the nose.
The lawyers also noted that the lack of drinkable water had led to medical conditions affecting the kidneys, urinary system, and the stomach of the prisoners on strike.
The hunger strike began after the Gitmo staff reportedly seized their personal belongings of the inmates, including letters, photographs and copies of the Holy Qur’an in a sacrilegious manner during searches of their cells.
The prisoners are also protesting against their indefinite detention without charge or trial.
An attorney representing thirteen hunger striking prisoners said on Saturday that the inmates were prepared to die if their demands are not met.
“Suffering for these years, the torture, the isolation, the brutality by the guards have made it intolerable to the point where so many of the prisoners have decided that they will try until death,” said Gloria La Riva with Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition.
Reports show that only six of the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison or one in 28 are facing trial. Close to 90 of the prisoners, or more than one in two, have been cleared for release. The United States, however, continues to keep them locked up and has no imminent plans of letting them go.
US President Barack Obama had vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay prison as a main premise for his first term election. The facility, however, remains open five years later.
A GROWING number of Guantanamo inmates are going on hunger strike, protesting against their indefinite detention and the diminishing prospects that the infamous prison will be closed.
“It is unprecedented in its scope, in its duration, in its determination,” David Remes, an attorney representing 15 Guantanamo detainees, said as the growing strike at the US prison facility enters its seventh week.
As of Friday 26 detainees were on hunger strike — nearly double the number from a week earlier — with feeding tubes administered to eight, according to military authorities at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Captain Robert Durand, a prison spokesman, said two detainees were at the hospital “for re-hydration and observation, on enteral feed.”
The strike was launched at Camp 6 on Feb. 6, when a “routine” inmate search took place, according to Durand. Camp 6, built on the hills around Guantanamo, houses inmates who pose no particular threat and have no special value in the eyes of US authorities.
“Two-thirds of the population are detainees cleared for transfer,” Remes said. “They were caught by accident, their life has been ruined, everything has been taken from them.”
These inmates include 56 Yemenis who cannot return home because of a moratorium imposed by President Barack Obama in the wake of attacks plotted in recent years by Al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate, which has counted former Guantanamo inmates among its ranks.
Remes said the Yemenis live at Guantanamo in “absolute frustration in their 12th year without being charged and with the increasing prospect of never getting out. “The camps are a tomb,” the lawyer added.
Obama — who has long seen the prison set up in the early months of the so-called war on terror as a lightning rod for anti-Americanism and a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda — moved to close the facility in 2009, but his plans to try suspects in US civilian courts were stymied by Congress.
Omar Farah, from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), said the US government has no plan to close Guantanamo and no idea how to solve the problem. “Their solution is just to do nothing,” he said. As proof, he cites a request submitted to the US Congress asking for funds to renovate the military base.
General John Kelly, head of the Southern Command, which runs Guantanamo, has requested $170 million to improve facilities for the troops stationed there and spoken of the need to replace the camp for so-called “special” inmates. This undoubtedly refers to Camp 7, which houses 15 “high value” detainees, including five accused of masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
“There are no excuses for it,” said Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director of Amnesty International US. “We do believe one way to realize the closure of Guantanamo is by first … reducing the population there,” starting with those who have been cleared for release.
He said Amnesty International was worried indefinite detention was becoming a new norm. “It flies in the face of international law,” he added. Farah said the hunger strike can be explained by the fact that prisoners see no light at the end of the tunnel.
“They are desperate. They’re looking at getting old and dying in an harsh prison without having ever been charged with a crime or having had a trial,” he said.
In a comment to RT the United Nations rights body said it is investigating allegations of mistreatment at America’s detention facility in Cuba.
“While aware of some of the allegations of mistreatment of inmates said to have provoked the hunger strike – which include undue interference with the inmates’ personal effects — we are still trying to confirm the details,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay said.
The Red Cross, which visited the island prison from February 18 to 23, was one of the few international organizations to comment on the situation at the Guantanamo detention camp. It acknowledged that a hunger strike was actually taking place, but so far the organization has only released a statement, stating “The ICRC believes past and current tensions at Guantanamo to be the direct result of the uncertainty faced by detainees.”
Military censorship makes it quite difficult to access any information about Gitmo prisoners. It was the attorneys for the detainees that first expressed urgency and grave concern over the life-threatening mass hunger strike that reportedly started in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on February 6.
According to the Center for Constitutional Rights 130 prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest the alleged confiscation of personal items such as photos and mail and the alleged sacrilegious handling of their Korans.
Prison spokesman Navy Capt. Robert Durand, however, acknowledged only 21 inmates to be on hunger strike. He also denied all allegations of prisoners being mistreated.
Even if not for mistreatment and abuse, prisoners could have started the strike just to draw attention to their being kept in Guantanamo, with the US refusing to repatriate them, despite some being cleared for release.
“There are 166 people at Guantanamo. Of those there are probably 20 guys who are bad guys… like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The other people… more than half of them – 86 of them have been cleared at least for three years and some during the Bush administration – cleared as innocent people. And they are still there and they are frustrated,” says Thomas Wilner, a lawyer, who used to represent some of the Guantanamo detainees in court.
According to Durand, none of the inmates on hunger strike is in immediate health danger.
Lawyers for the prisoners believe otherwise. They have reported some of their clients had weight loss of up to or more than 20 pounds (8kg) and have been hospitalized. Medical experts say that by day 45, hunger strikers can experience potential blindness and partial hearing loss.
The Center for Constitutional Rights and habeas counsel have sent a letter to US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, urging him “to address this growing crisis at Guantánamo before another man dies at the prison, this time under his watch. The hunger strike should be a wake-up call for the Obama Administration, which cannot continue to ignore the human cost of Guantánamo and put off closing the prison any longer.”
Meanwhile, JTF-GTMO announced that flights to the island prison from South Florida will be terminated on April 5. The step is seen by the prisoners’ attorneys as an attempt by the Defense Department to limit access to their clients.
If this developing story ends in deaths I thing we can expect severe repercussions from the Muslim countries.
What are the chances of another oil embargo
A mass hunger strike has been unfolding in the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison for nearly six weeks. RT has been badgering the UN, prison officials, detainees’ attorneys and activists to get a full account of the situation.
The number of Guantanamo Bay detainees on hunger strike has increased to 26, up one from the previous day, Guantanamo Bay spokesman Capt. Robert Durand told RT via email on Friday following a written request.
“As of Friday, 22 March 2013, we have 26 hunger strikers, with 8 receiving enteral feeds. This an increase from Thursday, which was 25/8. Tuesday and Wednesday, it was the 24/8, Monday, 21/8, and Friday, 14/8.
We have two detainees in the detainee hospital for rehydration and observation, on enteral feed. We have two other detainee in the detainee hospital for non-hunger strike, non-life threatening treatment,” Durand said.
The Pentagon has been accused of underestimating the number of inmates on hunger strike. The New-York based Center for Constitutional Rights slammed the US government for “not admitting scale and scope” of the strike, saying they had received reports that 130 inmates were involved in the protest.
It’s going to take the American people to demand Guantanamo Bay prison facilities be closed, former Gitmo prison official Ret. Col. Morris Davis told RT. Until the issue catches the public’s attention, there is little hope for improvement, he says.
“A majority of the men at Guantanamo — 86 of the 106 who have been cleared for transfer — have been in confinement now for more than a decade in some cases,” Davis said. “So to them… the only way to potentially call attention to it is to do something drastic like a hunger strike.”
Meanwhile, US military officials are requesting funding for construction of a new building in Guantanamo Bay, as well as for maintenance on the existing facility. The new project could cost American taxpayers a sum approaching $49 million.
During a conversation with RT Dr. Terry Kupers, a California psychologist and author of Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It, tried to answer some of the same questions that have boggled Guantanamo Bay critics since the prison opened in early 2002. While a hunger strike may initially seem illogical, Kupers praised the inmates for exerting one of the few actions within their capabilities in trying to attract international attention. He also pointed to another less-discussed result of long period of time behind bars: prisoners read up on their rights, learning the legal ramifications of their dire situation.
Among the many prisoners of Camp Delta’s detention facility at Guantanamo Bay one British citizen remains, despite being cleared for release over five years ago. A national of a key US ally, RT recently sought an explanation from the UK government.
Shaker Aamer, the 44-year-old British resident, has been incarcerated at Guantanamo for 11 years without any charges ever brought against him.
A father of four, Saudi national Aamer is the last British citizen remaining in Guantanamo Bay prison, despite being cleared for release as early as 2007.
In his letters, prisoner Shaker Aamer appeals in desperation to his captors and the outside world:
“Please … torture me in the old way. Here they destroy people mentally and physically without leaving marks.”
Following the developments of the hunger strike at Guantanamo detainment facility, RT sent a formal enquiry to the British Foreign Office. In our letter we asked the Foreign Office to comment on the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where a British resident is being kept among detainees, and whether the British government plans to take any measures to resolve the situation.
In a statement answering RT’s inquiry, a spokesperson of Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated the following.
“The UK has long held that indefinite detention without review or fair trial is unacceptable and we welcome President Obama’s continuing commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and to maintain a lawful, sustainable and principled regime for the handling of detainees there.”
The answer contains no exact information neither on the British citizen being held captive in a US prison, nor on the hunger strike of several Guantanamo prisoners that continues for six weeks already.
As for the US President’s ‘continuing commitment’, it was Barack Obama who promised to close down Guantanamo Bay prison during his presidential campaign in 2008 and who has already returned to the White House for his second presidential term, without any change on the horizon. As such blame for alleged mistreatment at Guantanamo appears less easily labeled a President Bush era problem.
In December 2012 the lawyers of Shaker Aamer filed legal papers with both the UK’s home and foreign secretaries claiming that British secret services made “knowingly false statements” to the US authorities concerning their client. According to the filed documents, UK’s MI5 and MI6 claimed Shaker Aamer was recruiting people to fight for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after the 9/11 and that he was paid directly by Bin Laden – without producing any reliable evidence.
Marine Corps General John Kelly, who spoke at the House Armed Services Committee in Washington on Wednesday, gave the reasons behind the prisoners’ hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay. He explained that the prisoners
“had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed. They were devastated apparently … when the president backed off, at least (that’s) their perception, of closing the facility.” He also re-iterated the prison administration’s earlier statement about the desecration of the Koran – a topic of contention and one of the main contributing factors to the ongoing hunger strike – saying that any claims of desecration are “nonsense” . He went on to say that in “no way has the Koran in any way, shape or form been abused or mistreated” and that he had been presented with copies of the “Sacred Koran” by senior Muslim clerics while he was on duty in Iraq. Finally, he added that while it is known that non-believers are allowed to touch the book, the only personnel who had been doing so at Guantanamo were Muslim translators.
Kelly heads the US military’s Southern Command for the Latin America region in Miami. The body also oversees the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba.
Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich tells RT the situation in Guantanamo represents the US as a country “abandoning its constitutional principles, because when prisoners are under US control and discretion they should have the same rights that any other prisoner would have. They should have the right to be told the charges against them, the right to a speedy trial, [the] right to habeas corpus, which would enable them to be released if charges against them can’t be levied.”
Stephen Soldz, clinical psychologist, who was a consultant when previous hunger strikes happened at Guantanamo prison, explains in an interview to RT, that Guantanamo inmates are frustrated to the point they are reluctant to communicate with the only people who are allowed to visit them – their lawyers.
“Those men would tell their attorneys, ‘I don’t want to talk with you. What’s the point of talking with you? I only want to know the date I’m going out of here.’ But there is no date. People can’t accept being completely powerless and hopeless,” Soldz says.
RT received a letter from the US Department of Justice saying it was not authorized to comment upon the Guantanamo hunger strike and suggesting RT to address the Defense Department for any interview regarding the status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
“The Defense Department oversees the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and is responsible for its operations – not the Justice Department,” said the letter written by Dean Boyd, Spokesman for the US Department of Justice.
However earlier, on March 4, prison spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, pointed at the Department of Justice as the body to respond to attorneys’ letters.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Konstantin Dolgov, spoke of the need to close Guantanamo in an interview to RT .
“I don’t think there’s lack of reaction from the international community. What’s obviously lacking is political will on behalf of the US government to bring the solution of the problem to its logical end. And the only logical end can be liquidation of this, let’s put it straight, shameful facility,” he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry is concerned with the destiny of a Russian citizen among the Guantanamo detainees.
Famous American human rights activist, Angela Davis calls for closure of Guantanamo in a French daily L’Humanité, AFP reports.
“This tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War makes us, finally, question the further existence of Guantanamo. On this sad date we must come up with a stronger and more resolute call for closure of the Guantanamo prison,” Davis wrote.
Front gate of “Camp Six” detention facility of the Joint Detention Group at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 19, 2012 (AFP Photo / Jim Watson)
The UN Human Rights body responds to mounting media coverage of the Guantanamo crisis. In a letter answering RT’s inquiry, spokesman for the High Commissioner says the office is looking into the details of the mass hunger strike.
“While aware of some of the allegations of mistreatment of inmates said to have provoked the hunger strike – which include undue interference with the inmates’ personal effects – we are still trying to confirm the details,” the letter says.
The statement from the office of the High Commissioner goes on to say UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has “repeatedly regretted that the US Government has not closed Guantanamo Bay.”
She is concerned with fact that the National Defense Authorization Act has created obstacles for the closure of Guantanamo and also trial of detainees in civilian courts, as well as failure to release those cleared of allegations.
Guantanamo Communications director Captain Robert Durand says the
number of detainees on hunger strike reached 24.
Still, he rejects claims by the detainees’ attorneys that the majority of inmates are involved in the protest.
Navy Capt. Robert Durand says 21 Guantanamo Bay prisoners are now on a hunger strike. Eight men are being fed with a liquid nutrient mix to prevent dangerous weight loss from occurring, while two others are at the prison hospital being treated with dehydration.
In a letter to RT, Durand said “the reports of hunger-strike related deteriorating health and detainees losing massive amounts of weight are simply untrue.”
However, lawyers for Guantanamo inmates maintain the strike is more widespread than the military acknowledges – and a former Gitmo prisoner agrees.
Omar Deghayes was held at Guantanamo Bay for five years before being released without charge. While participating in hunger strikes at the prison, Deghayes recalls hearing the same “rhetoric” from the US military.
“The rhetoric that [Durand] is describing is something that we went through many times when we were inside Guantanamo on hunger strikes. They used to say the same false things that I’m hearing now. They’d say ‘the number is small’ or ‘there is no hunger strike,’ or ‘we treat people with dignity,’” he told RT.
The London Guantanamo Campaign holds a demonstration outside the US embassy in London to “raise awareness about the hunger strike, which has more or less – at least in Britain – been ignored by the mainstream media,” the campaign’s coordinator, Aisha Maniar, tells RT.
“We’ve been in contact with some of the lawyers who have been [to Guantanamo] over the last week and they’ve been reporting that when they have met their clients, that their health has been pretty poor,” Maniar says.
Attorneys for at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, say that a general hunger strike involving many of the 166 detainees who remain incarcerated there has entered its second month.
However, the US military strongly denies that claim, calling it “a fabrication,” and instead says only 14 detainees are actively engaged in hunger strikes detrimental to their health.
“Our understanding is that based on previous standards, the determination of who is a hunger striker is a discretionary determination that Guantanamo makes. What those standards are, what the criteria are, are questions that they need to be asked. How are they defining hunger striker and when are they determining that someone needs to be tube fed? And if the definition of hunger striker is entirely in their control and it is a matter of their discretion, then I think that explains how they are able to say that there are no more than a handful of men on hunger strike,” Pardiss Kebriaei, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo, tells RT.
Guantanamo detention center spokesperson, Navy Capt. Robert Durand said in a letter to RT that the number of protesting inmates reached 14 people, five more than they had previously reported. He however stressed “the reports of hunger-strike related deteriorating health and detainees losing massive amounts of weight are simply untrue.”
Durand also stated one of the strikers was taken to the prison hospital, five others were being fed through tubes put through their noses into their stomachs, while eight others are not yet sufficiently malnourished to merit such treatment.
Durand denied that the hunger strike is “a widespread phenomenon, as alleged,” by the captives’ lawyers, and accused them of spreading “outright falsehoods and gross exaggerations.” He downplayed the reports of a mass hunger strike at Gitmo, saying that most of the alleged strikers are skipping regular meals, but substituting them with snacks.
“Refusing prepared meals and choosing to subsist for a time on snack foods does not constitute a hunger strike,” Durand said.
Durand confirmed the reports that some of the detainees had their Korans taken from them, but called it an attempt at manipulation: “If we accept their Koran, it would be portrayed as either an admission that it required protection and safekeeping, or as a confiscation by the guard force, depriving them of the religious articles needed to practice their faith.”
He also insisted that all searches are conducted in a regular way, and that no mistreatment of Muslim holy books has taking place at Gitmo.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which visited the island prison from February 18 to 23, gave an interview to RT, saying that the “ICRC believes past and current tensions at Guantanamo to be the direct result of the uncertainty faced by detainees.”
The secrecy maintained by the prison and the communication barriers in place have been an obstacle for human rights organizations for years, Rob Freer of Amnesty International told in an interview to RT.
“We have to wait until a detainee is released, before we can speak to them. This leads to underreporting on individual detainee cases and at least to a time lag. The lawyers themselves are not there the whole time and it requires declassification of certain information when they do get to,” he said.
The health of prisoners held in Kafkaesque limbo at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp has deteriorated alarmingly after over 100 inmates went on a protest hunger strike five weeks ago.
The detainees have claimed that most of them are involved in the do-or-die hunger strike, and their attorneys have become concerned about the prisoners’ worsening health.
“By Day 45 we understand from medical experts there are serious health repercussions that start happening. Loss of hearing, potential blindness,” Pardiss Kebriaei, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo, tells RT. “The potential there is for death as well if the hunger strike continues for weeks.”
Her client has allegedly lost 20lbs (9kg) since the beginning of the strike. The collective protest was reportedly triggered by the prison staff’s seizure of the inmates’ personal belongings. The hunger strike began on February 6, with the prisoners protesting against the confiscation of their personal letters, photographs and legal mail, as well as the allegedly sacrilegious handling of their Korans during searches of their cells.
The real challenge for the detainees is to make themselves heard by means of the hunger strike. Their lawyers have sent a letter to the US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging him to take action to end the protest.
“It’s really an abominable humanitarian situation where you’re depriving these people of life and liberty and for no really valid basis,” detainee lawyer Eric Montalvo told RT.
Prison officials have acknowledged that the hunger strike is taking place. However, they deny that it is a large-scale event: Nine detainees are refusing food, five of whom are being fed through tubes inserted into their stomachs, according to Robert Durand, director of public affairs for the Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
Durand also said that the claims of desecration of the Koran were unfounded.
“To be clear: there have been no incidents of desecration of the Koran by guards or translators, and nothing unusual happened during a routine search for contraband,” he told AFP.
Reuters started reporting on the Gitmo hunger strike.
The detainee hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay’s maximum-security prison is a last-resort cry for help from those who have spent years in custody without being charged, and who have no hope of release, anti-war activist Sara Flounders tells RT.
“What we did last week was send a letter on behalf of the attorneys who have received direct information, asking questions and reporting what we have heard from our clients to the authorities at Guantanamo, and copying the Department of Justice. Asking for their side of the story and to respond, seeking a quick resolution to what’s going on. We’ve received no response from that letter so far. At this point, the strike is more than 30 days old and by Day 45, we understand from medical experts there are serious health repercussions that start happening,” Pardiss Kebriaei, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo, tells RT.
Meanwhile, geopolitical analyst Ryan Dawson tells RT that the prisoners were left with little recourse other than a hunger strike. The prisoners had a previous hunger strike in 2005, which led to the hospitalization of 18 people.
“What I find disgusting in this one is the US is denying the strike is as large as it is and downplaying it, saying its only a few inmates but they’ve had to admit that at least five are being force-fed through tubes in their stomachs, so this is obviously real…Its hard to get lower than Guantanamo Bay. A lot of these men are detained without trial, some without even charges. That doesn’t mean they’re innocent, but it doesn’t mean they’re guilty either. And the problem is secrecy. When you have this level of secrecy, you’re just creating an environment for abuse because they are basically human beings with no rights,” Dawson said.
“My client and other men have reported that most of the detainees in Camp 6 are on strike, except for a small few who are elderly or sick,” Pardiss Kebriaei, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo, Pardiss Kebriaei tells RT. Men have reported coughed up blood, lost consciousness and were forced to move to other wings of the facility for observation.
“We have to understand that all the inmates at Guantanamo bay are devout Muslims so desecrating a Koran for them is the last blow to their dignity. It is of extreme importance to them and according to them they are imprisoned because they are Muslim and that’s kind of proving their point. Unfortunately that’s something that was quite common under [President George W.] Bush. We thought [President] Obama would be more thoughtful to Muslim beliefs but we are seeing that’s not the case…for people who have been incarcerated for 11 years, been away from their families for 11 years, have not been charged for for 11 years, its understandable that taking what is a small item to us is nothing, but to them it is basically their life… the main question is not why they are being treated like that in prison, but why are they in prison, because they have been cleared for release,” Arnaud Mafille, an activist with Cageprisoners Human Rights group, tells RT.
“The current tensions in Guantanamo, as far as we can see and as far as we understand, are really the result of the uncertainty faced by the detainees in Guantanamo – the uncertainty linked to their fate, what is going to happen to them. There is a lack of clear, legal framework for their dentition. Most of them don’t know what is going to happen to them. So it has always been our position that there needs to be a clear, legal framework and a transparent process in terms of procedural safeguards for the detainees. It needs to be transparent and fair to alleviate the emotional and mental strain that the uncertainty triggers for the detainees,” Simon Schorno, spokesperson for the International Red Cross in North America, tells RT
Washington-based attorney David Remes tells CBS News that as of March 8, six detainees he represents had refused food for 36 days, skipping 102 meals, and each man said he had lost at least 30lbs (13.6kg).
“It was quite noticeable,” Remes says. “The men I saw were weak, tired, chilled, and had lost a substantial amount of weight.”
One of those detainees, Yasin Qassem Muhammad Ismail, from Yemen, who followed up with a phone call to Remes on Wednesday, told the attorney that he now weighed 109lbs (49kg), down from 150lbs (68kg).
After meeting their client, Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers report that al-Kandari said that the hunger strike “certainly hurts physically,” but he felt “very sorry for his parents whose psychological pain is 10 times greater than his physical discomfort.”
Attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo, says attorney reports of the hunger strike are consistent.
“What we understand for our clients – and this is coming from every attorney that has either been down to Guantanamo since February or has communicated with their client in some form through letters or phone calls – is that there has been a hunger strike going on at among almost all of the men in Camp 6 at Guantanamo, which is the largest facility at Guantanamo. They have been refusing all food, only drinking water, tea, and coffee, since early February,” Pardiss Kebriaei tells RT.
America’s infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba has reportedly become the scene of a widespread hunger strike – now in its third week – yet on Monday a prison spokesman denied that any such activity was taking place.
The lawyers for the prisoners said in a letter to the prison commander, that “all but a few men” are on hunger strike and that their condition “appears to be rapidly deteriorating and reaching a potentially critical level.”
The protest can best be summed up with a statement that the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sent to military officials. They wrote that “since approximately February 6, 2013, camp authorities have been confiscating detainees’ personal items, including blankets, sheets, towels, mats, razors, toothbrushes, books, family photos, religious CDs, and letters, including legal mail; and restricting their exercise, seemingly without provocation or cause.” Moreover, “Arabic interpreters employed by the prison have been searching the men’s Korans in ways that constitute desecration according to their religious beliefs, and that guards have been disrespectful during prayer times.”
A prison spokesman said that the Department of Justice will address the lawyers’ letter of complaint, he also claimed that there had only been six people on strike for a year now. Other detainees simply didn’t skip enough meals to be considered on strike at all, according to military rules. The spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, said that “some detainees have attempted to coordinate a hunger strike and have refused meal deliveries. Most detainees are not participating.” He tried to describe the reasons the inmates had for going on strike as blown out of proportion, claiming that they “have chosen one routine search in early February as the rallying point for their grievances.”
Colonel Barry Waingard, who was assigned by the Pentagon to defend the Kuwaiti detainee at Guantanamo prison Fayez Al-Kandari, reveals that the Kuwaiti detainees Fayez Al-Kandari and Fawzi Al-Awda went on a hunger strike with other prisoners and lost nearly 10kg each, Al-Watan Arabic daily reported.
Waingard said in a statement that the detainees went on a hunger strike because they are being ill-treated inside the prison, indicating at the same time that the detainees have now realized death is the only way out of the prison.
The lawyers confirm that Fayiz al-Kandari’s weight loss over the previous three-and-a-half weeks had reached 26lbs (12kg).
The team of lawyers reports, “Today, we had a communication with the Kuwait legal team concerning Fayiz and Fawzi’s physical condition in GTMO. It is difficult meeting with a man who has not eaten in almost three weeks, but we are scheduled for an all-day session tomorrow which we are sure Fayiz will not be able to complete due his failing physical condition. Additionally, we learned that our other client Abdul Ghani, [an Afghan] who has been cleared for release since 2010, is also on a hunger strike. Eleven years without an opportunity to defend themselves.”
Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers announces, “Fayiz has lost more than 20lbs (9kg) and lacks the ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time due to a camp-wide hunger strike. Apparently there is a dispute over searches and the confiscations. We believe there is a desperation setting amongst the prisoners whereby GTMO is forgotten and its condemned men will never get an opportunity to prove their innocence or be free.”
Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers arrives at the prison.
Reports first begin to emerge about a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay.
The following message appeared on the “Free Fayiz and Fawzi” page on Facebook, run by lawyers for Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison: “Information is beginning to come out about a hunger strike, the size of which has not been seen since 2008. Preliminary word is that it’s due to unprecedented searches and a new guard force.”
The Guantanamo Bay hunger strike reportedly began on or around this date.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison has grown and now involves at least 21 men, a U.S. military official said Monday while denying reports trickling out from prisoners through lawyers that there is a more widespread protest and lives are in danger.
No prisoner faces any immediate health threat from the strike, though two have been admitted to the prison medical clinic because of dehydration, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the detention center at the U.S. base in Cuba.
In recent weeks, as lawyers returned from Guantanamo with accounts of clients weak from hunger and an angry standoff with guards, the military had said no more than a handful of prisoners met the definition of being on hunger strike, which includes missing nine consecutive meals.
That figure rose to 14 on Friday, and then grew by seven over the weekend. It has become the largest and most sustained protest at Guantanamo in several years, but Durand insisted there is no evidence to support reports of a strike involving most of the 166 men held there.
“The detainees certainly have the support of one another,” Durand said. “But if it was 166, I would tell you it was 166. I don’t have a reason to lowball or pad the numbers.”
A prisoner from Yemen, Yasein Esmail, told his attorney that he lost about 35 pounds (15 kilograms) after striking for 29 days and was struggling to keep his balance, according to notes taken by the lawyer, Washington-based David Remes, during a March 5 visit.
“Many of the detainees are desperate,” Esmail told his attorney. “They feel like they’re living in graves.”
The U.S. military does not identify hunger strikers and will not let journalists speak to prisoners so the account could not be verified.
A letter sent Thursday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that was signed by more than 50 lawyers who have represented Guantanamo prisoners said they had received reports that “the health of the men has continued to deteriorate in alarming and potentially irreparable ways.” They urged him to meet with them and work out a solution with the military officials in charge of the prison.
Lawyers say the protest began Feb. 6, when a relatively new officer in charge of camp operations, Army Col. John Bogdan, ordered an intensive search of the communal pod-like area where a majority of detainees are held. Guards confiscated personal items such as family letters, photos and mail from attorneys. The prisoners also said government-issued Korans were searched in a way they considered religious desecration.
Another apparent factor in the protest is the fact that the U.S. has largely stopped transferring and releasing prisoners because of security restrictions imposed by Congress and the administration of President Obama.
Durand said there had been no changes in the way searches are conducted. He said Korans are searched for contraband by Muslim translators, not guards, and are treated in a respectful way. The protest is simply a way to attract attention, he said.
“They have sort of fallen out of the public view and most of the legal issues have been settled,” Durand said. “If you want to burst back into the media then you have to start complaining about either Koran abuse or detainee abuse or deteriorating conditions.”
Hunger strikes have been a fixture at Guantanamo since shortly after it opened in January 2002. The largest one began in the summer of 2005 and reached a peak of around 131 prisoners, when the facility held about 500 detainees. The U.S. military broke the protest by strapping detainees down and force-feeding them a liquid nutrient mix to prevent them from starving themselves to death. As of Monday, the U.S. was feeding eight of the 21 prisoners on strike, Durand said.
An inmate hunger strike at Guantanamo prison has entered its 40th day, with more than 100 reportedly taking part. Experts warn of health risks over a strike prompted by the confiscation of prisoners’ belongings and rough handling of Korans.
The prisoners’ lawyers, along with other experts and former detainees, are sounding the alarm over the inmates’ critical condition. “They are indeed threatening their own lives, putting their lives on the line in this heroic effort to express a sense of autonomy, outrage at being imprisoned in what can be characterized as nothing less than the American sort of medieval torture chamber,” anthropologist Mark Mason, who studies the cultural factors behind human suffering, told RT.
“We have here conditions where 166 people are imprisoned, more of half of them cleared, they should be out to the streets, free today,” Mason added. “I frankly cannot describe some of the horrific conditions and treatment and humiliation that many detainees have reported. They have been stripped and required to stand around in cold rooms for hours naked. This is itself a physical stressor, but it is almost unspeakable psychological torture.”
“We are humans, we are not eagles in a bag of skin, we relate to each other, we need human contact and relationships to be healthy psychologically and physically,” he said.
Mason claimed that the US lives in a “distortion zone,” where “people imprisoned in Guantanamo should be free while the president, our former president, vice president and bankers in the US and Wall Street should be in jail.”
US President Barack Obama began his first term by announcing his intention to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Now, just two months into his second term, the prison has entered its 12th year of operation with 166 detainees still languishing behind bars and a reported 130 on a life-threatening hunger strike.
9- to 12-year-old kids detained and tortured in Guantanamo?
Former Guantanamo detainee Murat Kurnaz described to RT the horrible conditions he faced while being detained there, and explained the reasons behind the hunger strike.
“I have been tortured in different kinds of ways. There are no human rights over there. That means they could do whatever they wanted to with us,” Kurnaz said. “They tortured me to force me to sign papers and every time I’ve refused, they kept on torturing me in different kind of ways.”
“They really tried everything to break us including psychological and physical torture. I myself got tortured by electroshocks and waterboarding. I have seen also kids 9 years and 12 years old inside the camp. It was very difficult to watch how those kids getting beaten up in front of me,” he added.
Kurnaz argued that detainees have “many justified reasons” to go on a hunger strike:“It is a bad situation, prisoners want to go to court and want their rights back. They don’t have the opportunity to go to the court or see their families. They do not have the right to write or receive letters.”
The state of legal limbo was also frustrating for Kurnaz, who was determined to be innocent by the US but had to spend an extra five years in detention because Germany refused to take him back.
“Their hunger strikes are the only way they have of making themselves heard. Years and years without any hope of release. Without any real charges,” political writer and activist Sara Flounders told RT.
Lawyers for the Guantanamo prisoners said the men began the hunger strike on February 6 in protest against the alleged confiscation of personal items such as photographs and personal mail, as well as the alleged sacrilegious handling of their Korans during searches of their cells.
The Center for Constitutional Rights said that they have received reports of detainees coughing up blood, losing consciousness, losing more than twenty pounds of weight and being hospitalized. Medical experts have predicted that by the 45th day of a hunger strike, participants can experience hearing loss and potential blindness – on top of the psychological suffering they have endured for more than a decade.
The UN issued a statement this week that the US is violating international human rights law by holding detainees indefinitely and without charge.