Voices from Guantánamo: Obaidullah, an Afghan, Says “There is No Hope that We Will Ever Leave Here”

7.5.13

As the prison-wide hunger strike continues at Guantánamo, having reached the three-month mark on Sunday, it is more important than ever that the voices of the prisoners continue to be heard, to maintain the pressure on the Obama administration to act.

For meaningful action to be taken, President Obama needs to find ways to release the 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) who were cleared for release by the sober and responsible inter-agency task force he appointed to review the prisoners’ cases in 2009.

Two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, so the President needs to drop his ban on releasing any of these men, which he imposed in response to hysteria following the foiled Christmas bomb plot in 2009, when a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen tried and failed to bomb a plane bound for the US with a device in his underwear.

As I wrote in response to President Obama’s discussion of Guantánamo at a news conference last week, he can choose to tackle Congress — as he said he would — and to tell lawmakers that they need to drop the obstructions they have raised to prevent the release of prisoners over the last two years — in the National Defense Authorization Act. However, if Congress refuses to engage with him, he needs to use the waiver in the NDAA, which allows him to bypass Congress if he and the defense secretary regard it as being in America’s best interests.

Releasing men already cleared for release from the abominable open tomb that is Guantánamo — where all the prisoners are suffering indefinite detention without charge or trial, whether cleared for release or not — needs to happen as soon as possible, before some poor soul in Guantánamo dies. That, I am compelled to say, would most emphatically not be in America’s best interests.

However, President Obama also needs to do more — to appoint an official to deal specifically with the closure of Guantánamo, who can take charge of revisiting the President’s failed promise to close the prison in 2009, and to initiate objective reviews of the cases of the majority of the other 80 prisoners, to ascertain whether they should still be held.

Note: Please sign the petition to President Obama, calling for the closure of Guantánamo, if you have not done so already, as these demands are central to the demands in the petition.

In the last month, we have heard directly from Samir Moqbel, a Yemeni, in the New York Times, in a hugely influential opinion first-person account, and also, in the Observer, from Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. Detailed accounts from Shaker Aamer (see here and here), and from Younus Chekhouri, a Moroccan, have also emerged via Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, and other accounts have come from a Yemeni prisoner named Musa’ab al-Madhwani, from David Remes, who represents a number of Yemenis, and from Carlos Warner and Barry Wingard, lawyers for Fayiz al-Kandari, one of the last two Kuwaitis in the prison.

Just a few days ago, another first-hand account of the hunger strike, the reasons for it, and conditions in the prison, was released by lawyers for Obaidullah, an Afghan prisoner (one of 17 Afghans still held), whose case has long interested me. I was delighted, last year, to have had the opportunity to make available the findings of an investigation into his story, conducted by US military investigators, which demolished the already thin case against Obaidullah.

The weakness of the case against him had always been apparent to me, but not, sadly, to the US authorities. In September 2008, he was put forward for a trial by military commission under George W. Bush, and in September 2010 he had his habeas corpus petition denied  by a judge in the District Court in Washington D.C., despite the lack of evidence against him.

As I noted at the time, in an article in the New York Times, Charlie Savage wrote:

It is an accident of timing that Mr. Obaidullah is at Guantánamo. One American official who was formerly involved in decisions about Afghanistan detainees said that such a “run of the mill” suspect would not have been moved to Cuba had he been captured a few years later; he probably would have been turned over to the Afghan justice system, or released if village elders took responsibility for him.

Nevertheless, Obaidullah is one of the 80 prisoners designated for a trial or for indefinite detention by President Obama’s task force. He is probably in the latter category, containing 46 men in total, whose continuing imprisonment was formalized in an executive order issued by President Obama in March 2011, although the identities of those men have never been publicly revealed — and, shockingly, the periodic reviews of their cases that the men were promised when the President issued his executive order have never materialized, a situation that, to my mind, reveals nothing less than disdain for the prisoners from the administration.

Obaidullah’s account, submitted as a declaration to a US court as part of a failed attempt to persuade a judge to intervene on behalf of the prisoners, was discussed in an article in the Los Angeles Times on May 4, and was subsequently picked up by a number of other media outlets, although the full text was not made available. I’m posting it below, because I regard it as another significant contribution to the record being put together by the prisoners regarding the hunger strike, and the prisoners’ despair at being abandoned by all three branches of the US government — and, until recently, by the majority of the mainstream media.

The Los Angles Times described Obaidullah’s account as “the most extensive yet by a detainee about conditions at the military prison and what prompted the hunger strike,” adding that he explained that the trigger was “US soldiers rifling through the pages of many Korans and handling them roughly.”

More poignant, however, are Obaidullah’s descriptions of his fellow prisoners, as, for example, when he writes, “I have seen men who are on the verge of death being taken away to be force-fed. I have also seen some men coughing up blood, being hospitalized, losing consciousness, becoming weak and fatigued, and being moved to Camp 5 for observation.”

Also of particular relevance is Obaidullah’s despair. Having never embarked on a hunger strike before, this time he states that “the latest actions in the camps have dehumanized me, so I have been moved to take action,” adding, “Eleven years of my life have been taken from me, and now by the latest actions of the authorities, they have also taken my dignity and disrespected my religion.”

As he also explains, “our strike continues because conditions have gotten worse, not better, and there is no hope that we will ever leave here.”

Obaidullah’s declaration from Guantánamo, March 27, 2013

Obaidullah, son of Mir Nawaz Khan, declare as follows:

1. I am currently being detained in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and have been since October 2002. My ISN number is 762. I understand English and what is written in this declaration. I have personal knowledge of the facts stated herein.

2. I have been on a hunger strike for 50 days since approximately February 6, 2013. I have not taken any food from the guards since February 6 in protest to events of that week, and what has happened at the camp since then. That week, camp authorities asked all of the detainees in our block in camp 6 to step outside of the cells while a “shake-down” of the entire block was conducted by U.S. soldiers. While we were all outside of the cell blocks, soldiers went into our cells, and searched what little personal belongings we have. This kind of very intrusive search had not been conducted for at least 4 or 5 years, since the early years at Guantánamo under President Bush. The searches were unexpected, sudden, and disrespectful. To my knowledge there was no incident which provoked the searches.

3. During the invasive searches, the soldiers confiscated detainees’ personal items including blankets, sheets, towels, mats, razors, toothbrushes, books, family photos, religious CDs, and letters, including legal mail and legal documents [and] special books and things allowed under the law of the camp.

4. I personally had the following items taken from me: blanket, sheet, towel, photos, medically necessary items, some of my legal documents, mail from my attorneys and family photos, documents from my family. This has been especially distressing for me because I have done nothing to provoke the authorities to take my belongings and comfort items that gave me a small sense of humanity.

5. Most disturbing, was the way in which the soldiers disrespected our Qur’ans. While the soldiers conducted their searches, I and other detainees saw U.S. soldiers rifling through the pages of many Qur’ans and handling them roughly. This constitutes desecration. It has not been searched in five years.

6. I had not participated in hunger strikes, or organized protests in the past. I have been patiently challenging my imprisonment in U.S. civil courts. But the latest actions in the camps have dehumanized me, so I have been moved to take action. Eleven years of my life have been taken from me, and now by the latest actions of the authorities, they have also taken my dignity and disrespected my religion. Our Qur’an is not a security issue and the soldiers have never found anything in Qur’ans since the beginning of GTMO.

7. The February shake-down which caused our strike, was the beginning of many other changes at the camp. The guards then also started being very disrespectful during our prayer time by knocking on our doors while we prayed, laughing or talking loudly, and opening and closing doors. We had not had a problem with having our prayer time disrespected or interrupted in many years and it has become a problem after our hunger strike. They also restricted our exercise and started to relocate prisoners to different camps.

8. All of these actions showed me and the other prisoners, that camp authorities were treating us the way we were treated in the years under President Bush. In protest to the dehumanizing searches, confiscation of our personal items and the desecration of the holy Qur’an, I and the men at Camp 6 and some at Camp 5, waged a hunger strike on February 6, 2013. But our strike continues because conditions have gotten worse, not better, and there is no hope that we will ever leave here.

9. As our conditions and treatment got worse, many more prisoners joined the strike. Now, almost all of the prisoners in the camp are hunger striking except for the more older prisoners in Camp 5 and 6. There are so many men here who were declared innocent by the U.S. as long as 5 years ago, but they are also now living under these more harsh conditions just because the U.S. does not know where to send them. This is not right because the U.S. has said they have done nothing wrong, but they are still treated like prisoners.

10. The strike has led authorities to treat all of us more harshly even as our health is deteriorating. For the last 30 days, the authorities have sometimes lowered the temperature in Camp 6 so that it is freezing. Also, last week, for 1 day, the authorities shut off water to the camps between the hours of 11am to 8pm. Before the hunger strike, we were alloted 7 hours daily at the “Super Rec” facility. This is the large recreation facility where we could play soccer for example. After the hunger strike began, the authorities do not permit Camp 6 prisoners any time at the Super Rec.

11. I have seen men who are on the verge of death being taken away to be force-fed. I have also seen some men coughing up blood, being hospitalized, losing consciousness, becoming weak and fatigued, and being moved to Camp 5 for observation.

12. Personally, I have lost a lot of weight. I am down from 167 pounds to 125 pounds. I am weak, and I have pain in waist, dizziness, I cannot sleep well, I feel hopeless, I can’t exercise, my muscles become weaker. In last 50 days I have thrown up 5 times.

13. Despite the difficulties in continuing the strike, and the health effects I am experiencing and witnessing, we plan to remain on strike until we are treated with dignity, the guards stop trying to enforce old rules, our prayer and religion is respected, and our Qur’ans are handled with the care and sanctity required. I am losing all hope because I have been imprisoned at Guantánamo for almost eleven years now and still do not know my fate.

I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the foregoing is true and correct.

Signed this 27th day of March 2013, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Obaidullah

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 “Close Guantánamo campaign”, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

21 Responses

  1. Fr. Robert Eccles O.P. says...

    The detainees should be charged and brought to court or released.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for the comment, Fr. Robert. Good to hear from you.

  3. Tom says...

    I know that one rule applies for all politicians. I’ve never met one who can pass up a good soundbite. That being said, as Obama was talking about FINALLY closing Guantanamo (whatever that means), I thought, he’s missing a perfect opportunity. I know there’s endless hype about Obama’s “legacy”. If you want change, the FDR “make me do it” cliché, and so on. If he really wants to be known for something positive, why not actually go to Guantanemo and see for himself what it’s like? What’s the camp commander going to do? Say no to his boss?

    To many in the States and abroad, it would be seen as a positive. Yes, like anything political it could be spun in many ways. However, if he really was serious about closing it, why not use every tool to your advantage?

    Now, reality. Obama is first and foremost a politician. Party loyalty and maintaining power come first. Blame the Other Side for any problems that come up. I know the right wing hawks would have a field day with this (see, this is why we should impeach him). However, the Democratic Powers that Be would never allow that. Then again, nobody does anything anymore in Congress as it is.

    Just trying to focus on positive action to help the cause.

  4. another american says...

    This is very wrong! It is time we go back to the constitution the U.S was founded on. This needs to be a nation of justice not oppression. Our justice system has a long way to go whether the detainees are afghanis, americans, british, arabs, etc. It doesn’t matter what is their nationality or ethniticity. All deserve a fair trial in the court of law

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, a visit to Guantanamo by the Commander in Chief is a fascinating idea, Tom, but as you note, it won’t happen. There appears to be no sincerity in anything politicians say and do. “Party loyalty and maintaining power come first,” as you say.
    I can only hope that Obama and his advisers realize that they no longer have the opportunity to ignore Guantanamo completely, as they have been doing for the last few years – although I also believe that relentless pressure is needed, as some of them will be hoping for it to fade as a topic of concern so they can get back to ignoring it.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, another american. Very well put. Thanks for getting in touch.

  7. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy.

    At this point I would like to see President Obama exercise his Commander in Chief authority and show his displeasure by getting “hands on” in the camp’s operation. I’d like to see him direct that both Colonel John Bogdan, Warden of the camp, and the Admiral who is the camp commandant, be suspended, pending an inquiry empowered to give them a reduction in rank, and dishonorable discharge, for insubordination.

    I strongly suspect that the arsenal of weapons Bogdan claims justified the increased brutality and repression contain counterfeits, made by his staff, solely to provide cover for the increased brutality and repression. Bogdan lied about whether he knew about the clandestine listening devices, and his suggestion that just because they were secretly fixed didn’t mean they were secretly being used.

    Guantanamo is an important issue — one so important he should go “hands on” — and personally interview whoever the military suggests should replace the Admiral and Bogdan. He should not tolerate the brass placing any hard cases, out to seek “payback”, in charge.

    Admiral Buzby made a point of making sure he tried to speak with every captive, at least once. He made a point of showing up and patrolling the cell blocks, at least once a week. I see this as an good way for a responsible officer to make sure his subordinates didn’t bend the rules to make the camp more repressive than the official rules laid out.

    As Commander in Chief he should make clear this inquiry should not be a whitewash, as so many previous inquiries have been. Reductions in rank and/or dishonorable discharges are serious blows, particularly to long service officers and NCOs. A reduction in rank will cost them tens, or maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars of pension. If I am not mistaken, a dishonorable discharge makes the discharged individual ineligible for the medical benefits verterans are normally eligible for — a serious blow given that the USA is the only industrialized country without universal health care like the NHS.

    The military-intelligence complex punished John Kirikou, who spoke about Abu Zubaydah’s water-boarding — even though what he said was clearly in the public interest. Commander Diaz leaked the list of Guantanamo captives to the Center for Constitutional Rights in late 2005 — and even though US District Court Judge Jed Rakoff ordered the DoD to release that list on January 6, 2006, Diaz was jailed, and got that career ruining dishonorable discharge. That is highly unfair when those who made leaks that aided the deceitful Cheney-Rumsfeld narrative got off scot free.

    Omar Khadr’s prosecutor Jeffrey Groharing argued that he should be allowed to introduce prejudicial clips from the then secret video tape seized from the ruins of the compound where Khadr was captured. Colonel Brownback, to his credit, ruled that the recordings were not relevant to the issues at that hearing. Groharing was furious, and the recordings were leaked, and broadcast on CBS’s flagship show “60 minutes” within a week. If the principle that will see Bradley Manning face life imprisonment were applied evenly an inquiry would root out whether it was Groharing, or Hartmann, or some other rogue member of the prosecution who leaked that secret video.

    Why shouldn’t that leaker face the same penalties as those who made leaks that were genuinely in the public interest?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Ah, if only there was justice, arcticredriver. Your proposal is excellent, but it shows up what’s really taking place, because, of course, it won’t happen. The running of Guantanamo occurs more or less in a bubble which, it seems to me, President Obama doesn’t look at closely, so that what’s happening with the hunger strike is that the authorities are simply trying to restore order in a prison where the inmates have got out of control – or have been allowed to get out of control through the authorities’ perceived leniency in permitting them to spend so much time communally.

    The clampdown – and the subsequent removal of prisoners to solitary confinement – is particularly unacceptable because it completely fails to acknowledge why the prisoners were – are – so upset. And this, of course, is because they see no end to their indefinite detention without charge or trial, a situation that shouldn’t exist in a country that regards itself as civilized and founded on the rule of law.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Atho B. Smith wrote:

    While the American is said to be the state of human rights pioneer…..

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, there was a time, Atho … I’m thinking of Eleanor Roosevelt and her involvement in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    What would she think of this?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    I can’t imagine, Mary. In so many ways, the champions of a better world, post-WWII, would be deeply distressed by where we are now and where we’re going.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Mckenna wrote:

    ‘Freedom.’ There, US, your oft-used buzzword. Just. Release. Them.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, absolutely, Neil. The contorted reasoning the US uses to keep holding prisoners would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. In the cases of the Yemenis, a task force clears 56 of them for release on the basis that they no longer pose a sufficient threat to continue holding them, but then they’re not released in case their home countries are unable to guarantee that they won’t pose the threat that the task force said they didn’t pose in the first place. Come on, America. Sort it out.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Mckenna wrote:

    How can ‘we’ be so arrogant, in our relative but shrinking comfort, to be inured to such ‘chopped logic’? This is crazy thinking.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Mckenna wrote:

    May as well say ‘Every sentence, for anything, regardless of any concept of guilt, innocence, justice, needs to be a life sentence because locking people up turns them into a threat to society.’ Can’t people see where this propaganda goes?

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Well put, Neil. And the answer is no, sadly. There are dark forces who love Guantanamo, precisely because it allows them to hold people indefinitely without having to explain why, and they would also love to extend the false rationale of why it’s dangerous to release people to the domestic prison population in the US. After all, why release people if they might re-offend?

  18. Robert Redwoodhippie Palmer says...

    During and following WWII many German prisoners were held across the USA in different states at prisons, camps, and even at farms where they helped with farming. The arguments that any dangerous Gitmo prisoners cannot be moved to another facility and that those cleared for release cannot be freed are both false. Those who are a threat need to be tried and those who are cleared for release need to be released. Holding people indefinitely is illegal, immoral, and foolish. To do so creates a blot on our country and demeans the rule of law. Obama should have a backbone and close Gitmo as he said he would. When speaking of crimes of the Bush administration he said he did not like to look backward only forward, however whenever the legal system looks at any criminal activity it looks backward. In the case of indefinite detention their is no looking backward or forward their is just illegality and wrong. These people should be treated with respect and they should be released.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Robert. You have explained the injustice succinctly and with great insight.

  20. Tom says...

    Everyone here already knows this, but I’ll say it anyway. Our cause here is just. We’re telling the truth, and doing everything we can. As long as you stick to that, you’ll keep your self respect.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    I like that, Tom. Excellent message!

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