In the Los Angeles Times, Clive Stafford Smith, the legal director of the London-based legal charity Reprieve, which represents dozens of Guantánamo detainees, recently filed a report from the “Combined Bachelors’ Quarters” at Guantánamo, where visiting lawyers are housed. He had been visiting some of his clients, although, as he explained, “I can’t tell you what anyone has told me, as it must all go through the censors.” He added, tellingly, “Most of the secrecy in Guantánamo involves suppressing bad news about the base rather than anything that should really be classified. But I obey the rules or I go to jail, so until I get permission, I can only write about what I see, not what is said.”
He went on to talk about Sami al-Haj, the imprisoned al-Jazeera cameraman, who has been on a hunger strike since January, and explained, succinctly, why it is illegal to force-feed prisoners, why the authorities are doing it, and how painful the process is: “Medical ethics tell us that you cannot force-feed a mentally competent hunger striker, as he has the right to complain about his mistreatment, even unto death. But the Pentagon knows that a prisoner starving himself to death would be abysmal PR, so they force-feed Sami. As if that were not enough, when Gen. Bantz J. Craddock headed up the US Southern Command, he announced that soldiers had started making hunger strikes less ‘convenient.’ Rather than leave a feeding tube in place, they insert and remove it twice a day. Have you ever pushed a 43-inch tube up your nostril and down into your throat? Tonight, Sami will suffer that for the 479th time.”
Writing after his visit, Stafford Smith added, “Sami looked very thin. His memory is disintegrating, and I worry that he won’t survive if he keeps this up. He already wrote a message for his 7-year-old son, Mohammed, in case he dies here.”
After another visit –- with Hisham Sliti, a Tunisian whose story I reported here –- Stafford Smith wrote of his plans to see Shaker Aamer, the British resident who was at the centre of a recent and ludicrous bout of paranoia on the part of the authorities over some allegedly smuggled underwear, but whose plight is far from frivolous. Held in solitary confinement since August 2005 –- a predicament which is both barbaric and misguided, based on false assumptions that Shaker, because of his outspoken nature, his compassion and his eloquence, is a leader of al-Qaeda in Guantánamo –- Stafford Smith noted, sadly, “Shaker has never met his youngest son, Faris, who was born after his imprisonment and who waits in London, hoping to meet his father. I’d love to ask Shaker about the Speedos I supposedly gave him, but he was floridly psychotic the last time I saw him. He’s been on a hunger strike even longer than Sami –- almost 300 days –- and an interrogator told him I was Jewish to sow discord between us. He is fairly certain that I work with the CIA.”
In conclusion, Stafford Smith noted, “In more than 20 years trying death-penalty cases, I have visited all the worst prisons in the Deep South, yet none compares to Camp Six here [the newly-built block where even detainees cleared for release are held]. To the military, this tribute to Halliburton’s profiteering is state-of-the-art; to the human being, it is simply inhumane. The prisoners have an average of 23 hours a day in isolation, six hours of direct sunlight a month, perhaps one fishing magazine a week to read, and never, ever the chance to see a loved one. The immoral has become so mundane.”
Note: The BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who was released in July after being kidnapped in Gaza City and held for four months, recently wrote an open letter to Sami al-Haj, who had made a public appeal from Guantánamo on Johnston’s behalf, in which he declared, “While the United States has kidnapped me and held me for years on end, this is not a lesson that Muslims should copy.” In his letter, Johnston wrote, “While I was kidnapped recently in the Gaza Strip fellow journalists from around the world joined the campaign mounted to try to secure my release, and of course you were among them. I was particularly grateful for your contribution given your own very difficult circumstances. In the light of my own experience of incarceration I am aware of how hard it must be for you and your family to endure your detention, and I very much hope that your case might be resolved soon. I understand that after some five years in Guantánamo you are calling to be allowed to answer any allegations that are being made against you. And of course I would always support any prisoner’s right to a fair trial.”
For more on the detainees discussed in this article, see 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.
This is a link to my letter to the FT, which published the same photo.
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.
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