Guantánamo: unhappy detainees are desperate (official)

2.9.07

Despite attempts by the administration to portray Guantánamo as an efficient, lawful, functioning prison, the Associated Press notes that a new US military report, “Danger Inside the Wire” (it’s one page long, so it’s more of a memo, really) declares that, although assaults on guards are down by more than 60 percent, “there were 385 mass disturbances in the first six months of 2007 compared to 201 for all of 2006, an increase of more than 90 per cent with half the year still to go.”

Although the military “declined to provide details about the incidents,” a spokesman for Guantánamo, Army Lt. Col. Ed Bush, explained that the category “includes assaults or ‘other acts’ involving at least three detainees that were intended to disrupt operations at the detention centre.” According to the AP, the report “also showed that several other disciplinary categories, including ‘forced cell extractions’ and ‘assault with bodily fluids,’ are on pace to match or exceed last year’s totals, and Lt. Col. Bush added, helpfully, that “the ‘mass disturbance’ category does not include the long-running hunger strike” (last reported here, although a more detailed appraisal was provided by the wrongly imprisoned detainee –- and al-Jazeera cameraman –- Sami al-Hajj).

A guard patrols a cell block at Guantanamo

How could this be? Military officials claimed, predictably, that the figures proved that the detainees “are still dangerous,” and Army Col. Bruce Vargo, the commander of Guantánamo’s Joint Detention Group, parroted the official line, telling the AP that the detainees “continue to wage war by employing various tactics … to either harm the guard force or bring international attention upon themselves in order to obtain release and return to the fight.”

Rephrased without spin, that statement could simply read that they continue to protest their unjust detention without charge or trial, by employing whatever means they can, to bring international attention upon themselves in order to obtain release.

This would hardly be surprising. Although 124 detainees have been released since the deaths of three Saudis in June 2006, the remaining 359 detainees are held in conditions that, if not conducive to unrest, are almost certain to cause severe mental distress. After the deaths –- and a subsequent disturbance in Camp 4, where detainees had previously been allowed to live communally, in conditions that at least approached those demanded by the US-spurned Geneva Conventions –- almost all the detainees (including the many dozens who have been cleared for release) “are now held in solitary confinement in solid-wall cells for all but two hours a day.”

Noting that these are “harsh conditions that detainee advocates say could contribute to disciplinary problems,” the AP sought the opinion of Sabin Willett, a lawyer who represents some of the Uyghur (Chinese Muslim) detainees, who managed to dismiss the administration’s talk of detainees waging “war” and seeking freedom to “return to the fight” in a single sentence, pointing out, “If you keep people pent up in conditions of isolation and hopelessness, they become frustrated.”

Note: The hunger strikes –- and the detainees’ current conditions –- are discussed at length in my book 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). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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