PressTVGlobalNews·Mar 16, 2013
An analyst says US citizens need to force US President Barack Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp by joining in solidarity with the prisoners’ hunger strike.
Over 100 inmates at the notorious US Guantanamo military prison and torture camp have joined a hunger strike, protesting their indefinite detention and worsening conditions there. Detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp initiated the strike after authorities confiscated personal items, including Korans, in early February, according to lawyers and prison officials.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Dr. Franklin Lamb, an international lawyer, Beirut to further discuss the issue.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at email@example.com.
‘Gitmo prisoners feel they are in living tomb’
with Andy Worthington
RussiaToday·Mar 16, 2013
There is a palpable sense of despair amongst the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, both those who years ago had been told they would be released and those who were designated for indefinite detention, investigative journalist Andy Worthington told RT – READ FULL SCRIPT http://on.rt.com/49wyis
A Huge Hunger Strike at Guantánamo
When is a hunger strike not a hunger strike? Apparently, when the government says it doesn’t exist.
At Guantánamo, reports first began to emerge on February 23 about a camp-wide hunger strike, of a scale not seen since before Barack Obama became President. 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, the following message appeared: “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.”
Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers arrived at the prison on February 25, and the day after announced, “Fayiz has lost more than twenty pounds 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.”
On February 27, the team reported, “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.”
On February 28, the lawyers confirmed that Fayiz al-Kandari’s weight loss over the previous three and a half weeks had reached 26 pounds (12 kg), and on March 5, after meeting their client, they reported that he had said that the hunger strike “certainly hurts physically,” but he felt “very sorry for his parents whose psychological pain is ten times greater than his physical discomfort.”
While that last comment showed great concern for others, no one aware of the situation at Guantánamo would begrudge the men still held from dwelling on their own position, and concluding that a hunger strike is the only way to try and draw attention to their plight. Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, al-Kandari’s military lawyer, told FireDogLake, “there is a growing feeling here that death is the road out of GTMO.”
Death has indeed been the way out for three of the last seven prisoners to leave the prison — two who died in 2011, and one, Adnan Latif, a Yemeni, who died last September, despite having repeatedly been cleared for release from the prison.
Despair is entirely appropriate at Guantánamo for the 166 men still held, because, although 86 of them were cleared for release at least three years ago by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama (and some were cleared for release under President Bush, between 2004 and 2007), they are still held because of Congressional obstruction, and because of President Obama’s refusal to make the case that holding men cleared for release is a disgrace.
Of the 80 others, 46 were recommended for indefinite detention without charge or trial by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, and the rest were recommended for trials. Two years ago, President Obama issued an executive order formalizing the indefinite detention of those 46 men, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. This was also disgraceful, as it attempted to create the illusion that a collection of unverifiable statements produced through the use of torture, other forms of coercion, or bribery could be regarded as something approximating evidence, when that is clearly not the case.
In an effort to placate critics, the President promised periodic reviews of these men’s cases in his executive order, although two years later no reviews have taken place at all, and a review board has not even been established. These men can, therefore, reasonably be expected to regard themselves as having been abandoned by the President at least as thoroughly as the 86 men cleared for release who are still held. In addition, the majority of the rest of the prisoners — those recommended for trials — are also effectively being detained forever without any kind of review process, because, in recent months, the deeply conservative court of appeals in Washington D.C. has ruled that two of the key charges in the military commission trial system first established under President Bush to charge Guantánamo prisoners were not regarded as war crimes when the trial system was established, and has thrown out the convictions against two men tried in 2008.
On March 4, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and others representing prisoners at Guantánamo, sent a letter to Rear Adm. John W. Smith, Jr., the Commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo, adding further information about the hunger strike. They stated that, “through reports by several detainees to their counsel,” they understood that “conditions in the camps have worsened to the point that all but a few men have now gone on a hunger strike in protest,” and explained that they had been informed 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.”
They added, “Moreover, we understand that Arabic interpreters employed by the prison have been searching the men’s Qur’ans in ways that constitute desecration according to their religious beliefs, and that guards have been disrespectful during prayer times. These actions, and the fact that they have affected so many men, indicate a significant departure from the way in which the rules have been formulated and implemented over the past few years.”
The lawyers also explained that, as the men’s health has deteriorated, they had received reports of their clients “coughing up blood, being hospitalized, losing consciousness, becoming weak and fatigued, and being moved to Camp V [a maximum-security block] for observation,” as well as reports of the men “feeling increased stress, fear, and despair.”
Requesting that the Commander “take immediate measures to bring an end this potentially life-threatening situation in the camps by addressing the reasons that give rise to it,” the lawyers also noted, “The practices occurring today threaten to turn back the clock to the worst moments of Guantánamo’s history, and return the prison to conditions that caused great suffering to our clients and were condemned by the public at large. If prior experience serves as any guide, the current practices risk dire consequences and will only invite outside scrutiny.”
In response, as I mentioned at the start of this article, the prison authorities claimed that there is no widespread hunger strike. As Carol Rosenberg reported for the Miami Herald, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, the prison’s public affairs officer, said that only “six of the 166 captives at the base had missed enough consecutive meals to be classified as hunger strikers,” and that five of them “were being fed through tubes.”
David Remes, who represents a number of Yemeni prisoners, disputed the authorities’ claims. He said that, on Monday, he met with a Yemeni client, Hussein Almerfedi, who “hadn’t eaten in 22 or 23 or 24 days” to protest the Qur’an searches, but “had not deteriorated sufficiently to be force fed.”
The mainstream media has begun pick up on the story, but it remains to be seen if, in the current political climate, the situation at Guantánamo will be “condemned by the public at large,” as the lawyers stated with reference to the response to Guantánamo in George W. Bush’s second term. Experience shows us that, sadly, people no longer care sufficiently, and that President Obama shares that indifference. I hope that I am wrong, and that indignation once more becomes fashionable with reference to Guantánamo. Certainly the men who are still held deserve to have their complaints noticed, and if a hunger strike is the way to do it, then so be it.
After all, these are men whose situation ought to alarm and appal all Americans. Under President Obama, who promised to close the prison, they are, instead, held indefinitely despite being cleared for release, or they have officially been designated for indefinite detention and are then denied the reviews they were promised, or they were recommended for trials that even the most conservative judges in Washington D.C. regard as inadequate.
None of that is fair or just, and after eleven years, and with no end in sight, it is time for concrete steps to be taken to close Guantánamo once and for all.
Note: See Lewis Peake’s website, and also see this article featuring the five pictures Lewis drew based on descriptions of pictures drawn in Guantánamo in 2008 by Sami al-Haj, prior to his release, which were described to him by Sami’s lawyers at Reprieve.
As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
How Long Can the Government Pretend that the Massive Hunger Strike at Guantánamo Doesn’t Exist?
I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.
On March 14, 2013, 51 attorneys for prisoners at Guantánamo wrote to defense secretary Chuck Hagel to express “urgent and grave concern” about the mass hunger strike that has been taking place at the prison for the last five weeks, involving over a hundred of the 166 men still held — and to urge him “to address the underlying causes of the strike and bring it to a prompt and acceptable end.”
On March 4, some of the attorneys previously wrote to Rear Adm. John W. Smith, Jr., the Commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo, and Capt. Thomas J. Welsh, the Staff Judge Advocate, reporting “information received from clients about the hunger strike and its effects on the men.” Although they requested an answer to their letter, no response was received, and in the meantime, as they explained in their letter to Chuck Hagel, “we have received additional reports from clients that the strike is ongoing and that the health of the men has continued to deteriorate in alarming and potentially irreparable ways.”
As the lawyers proceeded to explain, “we understand that the hunger strike was precipitated by widespread searches of detainees’ Qur’ans — perceived as religious desecration — as well as searches and confiscation of other personal items, including family letters and photographs, and legal mail, seemingly without provocation or cause. We also understand that these searches occurred against a background of increasingly regressive practices at the prison taking place in recent months, which our clients have described as a return to an older regime at Guantánamo that was widely identified with the mistreatment of detainees. Indeed, the conditions being reported by the men appear to be a significant departure from the way in which the prison has operated over the past several years.”
In addition, of course, the majority of the prisoners have lost hope that they will ever be released. Despite promising to close the prison on taking office over four years ago, President Obama gave in to cynical Congressional opposition to the release of prisoners, after releasing just 71 men, and also imposed his own unacceptable ban on releasing any Yemeni prisoners after a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane on Christmas Day 2009.
Of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release at least three years ago by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force — and some were previously cleared for release by President Bush, between 2004 and 2007. Two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, and, by banning their release, President Obama not only consigned them to indefinite detention on the basis of their nationality alone; he also made a mockery of the official process through which they had been approved for transfer.
In addition, 46 men were designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, in a disgraceful executive order issued by President Obama two years ago. This was disgraceful because it saw President Obama — the man who promised to close Guantánamo — instead authorizing indefinite detention without charge or trial, on the basis that these particular men were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. In fact, this so-called evidence is deeply problematical, having been extracted through torture or other forms of abuse, and/or having been produced by deeply unreliable witnesses. The only concession to critics was Obama’s promise that there would be periodic reviews of the men’s cases. However, it was revealed in December that these reviews have not taken place.
Explaining more about the hunger strike, the attorneys wrote, “We understand that most of the men in Camp 6, which holds the largest number of detainees at Guantánamo, have been on hunger strike since February 6 to protest these practices. We have also received alarming reports of detainees’ deteriorating health, including that men have lost over 20 and 30 pounds, and that at least two dozen men have lost consciousness due to low blood glucose levels, which have dropped to life-threatening levels among some. The information we have reported has been corroborated by every attorney who has visited the base or communicated with their client since February.”
They added, “According to medical experts, irreversible cognitive impairment and physiological damage such as loss of hearing, blindness, and hemorrhage may begin to occur by the 40th day of a hunger strike, and death follows thereafter. We would think officials charged with the care of detainees would consider these events urgent and gravely concerning; instead, JTF-GTMO officials have yet to offer any response other than to brush aside the reports by detainee counsel as ‘falsehoods.’”
This is a disgrace, of course — and especially so because the authorities refuse to accept that it is taking place. As Carol Rosenberg reported for the Miami Herald, March 15 was “the first admission of a protest” acknowledged by the authorities, although it did not go far enough. Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison authorities, denied “a widespread phenomenon, as alleged,” but he conceded, “for the first time after weeks of denial,” as Rosenberg put it, “that the number had surged to 14 from the five or six detainees who had for years been considered hunger strikers among the 166 captives at Guantánamo.”
He added that one prisoner was in the hospital on Friday, and, as as Rosenberg put it, that five others “were being fed elsewhere through tubes tethered through their noses into their stomachs.” Eight others “had not yet been sufficiently malnourished to merit tube feedings but had shunned enough consecutive meals and lost enough weight to meet the Pentagon’s Guantánamo definition of a hunger striker.”
The gulf between the prisoners’ statements and the government’s position is still immense however, and unfortunately the government has a terrible reputation for hiding the truth about Guantánamo — including last September, when Adnan Latif, a Yemeni, and a cleared prisoner with mental health problems, died at the prison in circumstances that have not been adequately explained.
In their letter to Chuck Hagel, the attorneys for the prisoners reminded the new defense secretary that, “As a United States Senator, you took the position that mistreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo could not be tolerated because it was immoral and because it jeopardized the security of the United States.” They added, “You also argued that the continued existence of the prison was one of the reasons why the United States was ‘losing the image war around the world.’”
Words can mean nothing, of course, as we know from the example provided by President Obama, but the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo does not go away by being ignored.
If men are not to die as a result of the hunger strike, senior officials need to act, and they need to act quickly. Pretending there are not fundamental, deep-seated and unacceptable problems at Guantánamo is not the way to do it. Cleared prisoners need freeing, and they need freeing now.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.