Video: On Guantánamo Hunger Strike, Andy Worthington Tells RT that Prisoners “Feel They’re in a Living Tomb”

15.3.13

Yesterday, I spoke to RT about the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo, which involves over a hundred of the remaining 166 prisoners. I first discussed it last week in an article entitled, “A Huge Hunger Strike at Guantánamo,” which, I’m glad to note, was very widely read.

The six-minute video is available below via RT’s YouTube channel, and below is a transcript of the interview, made available by RT (where the video is also available). I do hope you have the time to watch it, and if you like it, please feel free to share it, to let as many people as possible know about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, over 11 years after the prison first opened, and over four years since President Obama came to office promising to close it.

“Gitmo prisoners feel they are in a living tomb”
RT, March 14, 2013

There is a palpable sense of despair amongst the Guantánamo 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.

RT: Some inmates are said to be so sick, they’re coughing up blood. Others are being hospitalized and force-fed. How bad is this hunger strike getting, do you think?

Andy Worthington: Well, it sounds very bad, and the problem that we have is that on the one hand we have the lawyers for the men talking about how over 100 out of the remaining 166 men are on a hunger strike and this strike started last month, and on the other hand we have the Obama administration apparently claiming that there is not very much going on. So, that is not helping us to get any clarity, but of course that has always been the problem with Guantánamo, that this is a very opaque facility, however much the administration — first of all Bush and now Obama — has tried to pretend that they are open about what is happening there. And that isn’t true.

And really, there’s an enormous sense of despair amongst the Guantánamo prisoners. We’ve got over half the men [86 in total] who were told years ago that they were going to be released, who are still held. We’ve got other men who were designated for indefinite detention, which is a terrible thing anyway. Obama issued an executive order authorizing that, but promising that their cases would be reviewed, and they haven’t had their cases reviewed. The men there must feel like they’re in a living tomb.

RT: What will this hunger strike achieve?

Andy Worthington: Well, it is already achieving — I imagine part of what the purpose is, is to let the outside world know that it is not acceptable for these men to be held forever with nobody making any moves to release them, even though, as I say, more than half of them have been cleared for release, but they have been forgotten. And they have primarily been forgotten by the United States government, by the United States media, and by the American people. And that is really not acceptable.

So we are talking about it here, but I’ve noticed that it is filtering out gradually into the mainstream media and is getting the issue discussed. Because clearly the situation that we had for some time now is that President Obama can’t really be bothered to overcome the opposition in Congress, can’t really be bothered to try and secure a decent legacy for himself by revisiting his failed promise to close the prison. Everyone has forgotten about it.

RT: But what about the issue of human rights? Isn’t that a concern for President Obama?

Andy Worthington: Well, it should be of concern. The President claims that the legislation passed under Bush, just after the 9/11 attacks [the Authorization for Use of Military Force], authorizes the detention of prisoners and that therefore it is acceptable for these men to be held. But it isn’t acceptable.

These are still men who aren’t held either as prisoners of war according to the Geneva Convention or as criminal suspects who are going to face a trial. Nearly all of them there in Guantánamo are effectively still held as “enemy combatants.” The Bush administration’s plan was to hold people forever without ever being to justify objectively why they were being held.

RT: The US maintains that intelligence gathered at Guantánamo saved American lives. Isn’t that a strong case for keeping the prison open?

Andy Worthington: No, I think this is nonsense. The United States authorities have never officially claimed that any more than a few dozen of the people that they held were people with any connection to terrorism. There has been no evidence provided that the torture of prisoners led to any information that actually foiled terrorist attacks.

What they are left with is a problem mostly of detaining people who have been horribly abused throughout their eleven years in custody. Primarily, it is the opposition within Congress and inactivity in the administration to clear up this terrible, terrible mess that was left by the Bush administration.

And it is now Obama’s prison. It is very much a place where he is not doing anything about it. The people held there, as I say, the majority of them who are supposed to be released who are still being held. That is a terrible indictment, the way President Obama is behaving. And it seems it is down to the prisoners to make the world aware of this situation.

RT: Will media coverage of this case spur President’s Obama’s decision?

Andy Worthington: I hope so. What it needs is to be backed up by sustained reporting about this. And then I would hope for representatives of other governments to try and put pressure on the US. Maybe the home countries of the people who are being held at Guantánamo need to start putting more pressure on him.

As it stands, lawyers for the prisoners have had to go to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which does not have power in the United States, but at least it is a venue where they can raise these issues, because sadly the US is not answerable to anybody about its behavior. And I think what we’re seeing with Guantánamo is a an American problem that they did not want to have to deal with, because there isn’t internally in the United States enough political capital in it.

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.

29 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, when I first posted the link to the show yesterday night, I wrote:

    Watch me on RT discussing the horrible hunger strike at Guantanamo, in which over 100 of the 166 men still held are taking part, protesting about worsening conditions. I explain how despair is justifiable – 86 of the men have been cleared for release but are still held, 46 others are indefinitely detained by President Obama, but have not received the reviews of their cases that he promised two years ago. This needs to end before prisoners die.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Diane Cromer wrote:

    This doesn’t make me proud that he is our president.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    No, he has washed his hands of all of these men, Diane. It’s disgraceful.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Elizabeth Adams wrote:

    Please share the link to RT! Thank you! We must protest the hell of Guantanamo!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Bob Palmer wrote:

    Beyond time to end this injustice…

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Beth and Bob. Good to hear from you!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Mark Matthews wrote:

    Why talk about puppets?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Pardon? Do you mean Obama as a puppet, Mark?

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Mark Matthews wrote:

    Yes. He decides nothing.
    What bout the elite?,we don’t talk about them much.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    If the political will existed, the President and his administration could revisit his promise to close Guantanamo, confront Congress, and allocate funds to achieve at least some of their aims, Mark. There’s no desire to do so because there’s no political will to do so. Regardless of what other powers are at work in the corporate-military-industrial-inelliegence complex, it’s not true that the President and his administration are powerless. 71 prisoners have been released from Guantanamo since Barack Obama took office in January 2009, but the entire US establishment needs to be embarrassed, as Bush was in his second term.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Mark Matthews wrote:

    Obama cannot close Guantanamo,I know that,he is controled.
    Not much the average joe can do about it,and the presidents are selected for the most part.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Closing it will be very difficult, but releasing at least some of the 86 men cleared for release but still held is not an insurmountable problem, Mark, and nor is initiating the reviews for the 46 men he designated for indefinite detention in an executive order two years ago, while promising them periodic reviews, but then failed to implement. Some progress is possible. You’re ignoring the fact that 71 prisoners have been released under Obama.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Mark Matthews wrote:

    The elite will decide if anyone is released.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s simply not true, Mark, sorry. It’s never quite as one-dimensional as it can appear. Pressure exerted can change things. It has before, and it can again.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    MadLion Muir wrote:

    Thank you for keeping a torch lit in our hearts. Your work matters!

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, MadLion, for the wonderful encouragement!

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Pamela Lynne Kemp wrote:

    Andy, Keep fighting the good fight. In spite of the terrible tragedy of 9/11, it is wrong to indefinitely imprison people without trial. That’s a human rights issue, not a political one. Please continue to speak out for those who can not speak out for themselves. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” -When we intentionally deny justice to others, even those who may have harmed us, how we expect to receive justice ourselves.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you very much for supportive words, Pamela. Much appreciated.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Zilma Nunes wrote:

    I watched your video ..that situation take too much time but , they were cleared and they will not be held for ever..

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Zilma. I share your hope that they cannot be held forever. As I am fond of explaining, having a process that involves clearing prisoners for release, and then not releasing them, is worse than just locking them up and throwing away the key. President Obama can’t just wind back the clock and pretend he’s an old-school dictator. He will have to find some way to release them, and he needs to be seen to get the ball rolling now. Now. Not tomorrow. Now.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Rita Pal wrote:

    Worrying report. Good presentation by you. This should be featured by all the national TV stations.
    PS You are so right about the US not being accountable to anyone. Just been writing on the whistleblower Bradley Manning. Shocking failure of accountability.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Rita, for the supportive words. Yes, mainstream media would be nice, eh? As for Bradley Manning. I haven’t had time to write about his story recently, although I must. mainly, we need to ask: if the Pentagon papers exposed lawlessness in the public interest 40 years ago, why is Bradley Manning’s behaviour any different – certainly with reference to the war logs and, importantly, the Guantanamo files. I’ll try and write an article soon!

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Geraldine Torf wrote:

    What can I do to precipitate action from President Obama?

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Geraldine, it’s a very, very good question. At “Close Guantanamo,” we put together three demands recently, and have been encouraging people to write to President Obama. The information is here: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Articles/79-The-Relentless-Importance-of-Closing-Guantanamo

  25. paul siemering says...

    great job on RT Andy- also relayed by Debra on World Can’t Wait.
    free speech radio did a segment about gitmo a few days ago- very good, very graphic- made me feellike this is the end of the empire.

    the RT link is going up right now

    as usual, thanks a ton for all your great work

    all the best

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Paul. Great to hear from you, as ever. How nice it would be if this was “the end of empire,” but I don’t think the monsters who seek high office know how to change. Here’s to a new people-powered political movement!

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Nancy Vining Van Ness wrote:

    Great work, Andy. Thank you for not forgetting these men and helping others to remember them.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Nancy. Great to hear from you!

  29. From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike | MasterAdrian2nd says...

    [...] I have been reporting for many weeks (see here, here, here, here and here), the hunger strike began two months ago, in response to the renewed [...]

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