Video: 100 Days of the Guantánamo Hunger Strike – Andy Worthington Speaks to RT and Press TV, as Global Actions Take Place

17.5.13

On the 100th day of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, please ask the US authorities to free prisoners and take concrete steps towards finally closing the prison. Call the White House (202-456-1111, 202-456-1414), US Southern Command (305-437-1213) and the Department of Defense (703-571-3343). You can say, “I support closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay. President Obama can and should resume transfers, today, for the 86 cleared prisoners who are still held. Indefinite detention without charge or trial is a human rights violation.” You can also call or e-mail your congressperson and senator to ask them to support swift executive action to close Guantánamo, and you can also send a letter to a prisoner.

To mark 100 days of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, events are — or have been — taking place in the US, the UK and worldwide, involving, amongst others, my friends and colleagues in Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, World Can’t Wait and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in the US, and the London Guantánamo Campaign and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign in the UK.

In the US, the various groups delivered petitions to the White House containing over 370,000 signatures, including, in particular, the petition on Change.org initiated by Col. Morris Davis, which currently has over 200,000 signatures, and is still ongoing. In London, campaigners will be performing street theatre outside the US Embassy tomorrow (Saturday May 18) at 2pm. For further information, including other actions you can engage in, see the Witness Against Torture website, and Amnesty International’s Facebook page. Also see the video for “Hunger Strike Song” by the Peace Poets and Witness Against Torture.

Following the action in Washington D.C., the National Religious Campaign Against Torture sent out a press release, in which executive director Rev. Richard Killmer stated, “Years of detention without charge or trial have created a sense of desperation and hopelessness among the men at Guantánamo, which has led over 100 of them to join a hunger strike. The human crisis in Guantánamo is a moral one that needs to end immediately. The faith community calls on the President to close Guantánamo. It is the right thing to do.”

The campaigners, who included Col. Morris Davis, called on President Obama to undertake the following four actions immediately:

  1. Direct Secretary of Defense Hagel to use existing certification procedures to repatriate and resettle abroad all prisoners who have been cleared for transfer.
  2. Lift the self-imposed ban on transferring detainees back to Yemen. Of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from the prison, 56 are Yemenis. Obama imposed the ban after the “underwear bomber,” a Nigerian trained in Yemen, tried to detonate explosives on a plane headed for Detroit in 2009. The ban, at this point, does more harm than good.
  3. Work with the Yemeni government, a strong ally in the US fight against al-Qaida affiliates, to provide assistance, security measures, and rehabilitation programs that would allow the United States to more safely transfer Yemeni prisoners back to their country.
  4. Appoint a senior White House official to be responsible for transferring all detainees back to their home countries or to a third country, and for closing the prison. In February, the administration closed the State Department office charged with closing the facility.

To mark 100 days of the hunger strike, I was interviewed by RT and Press TV, which are posted below — video of the RT interview, followed by a transcript, and a telephone interview with Press TV. I also appeared by Skype on Press TV’s news broadcast, and hope to make that available soon.

‘Political football’: Gitmo detainees ‘abandoned’ by US government
RT, May 16, 2013

Left in legal limbo, desperation continues to drive the Guantánamo hunger strike on its 100th day. Facing a chronic lack of political will from Washington, the fate of the prisoners remains ambiguous, investigative journalist Andy Worthington argues.

On Thursday the number of Guantánamo’s 166 prisoners now taking part in the mass hunger strike reached 102. Thirty of the detainees are being force-fed, and three are being observed in the detainee hospital.

In the eleven and a half years that the prisoners have been held in the detention camp, some 90 per cent of them have not been charged with a crime. That, coupled with the fact that many of the detainees were already cleared for release but have faced stiff resistance from Congress and equivocation from the White House, has forced the prisoners to risk life and health to be heard, Worthington told RT.

RT: You’ve been gathering information on the inmates. What can you tell us about the conditions for them now.

Andy Worthington: Well the conditions for them are terrible in the sense that they have literally been abandoned by all three branches of the United States government. So since President Obama failed to keep his promise to close the prison within a year — that was in January 2010 — they have been unable to see any future for themselves apart from staying in Guantánamo forever.

And what underpins the horror of all of this is that half of these men were cleared by an interagency task force which the president himself established. But he then imposed a ban on releasing two-thirds of them because they’re Yemenis, after a failed bomb plot in Christmas 2009 [which was initiated in Yemen]. And the rest of the men, in fact all of the men have had their release blocked or made extremely difficult by Congress.

So it’s become a game of political football. Cynically, I think, lawmakers are preventing prisoners from being released, and the president himself has been unwilling to expend political capital on an issue that isn’t popular enough with the voters. So it’s taken the hunger strike for the prisoners to get noticed.

RT: These men are now taking desperate measures, but we’ve seen hunger strikes there before. So will this one have any significant impact?

Andy Worthington: Well, I think it has to, because it’s such a long time the prison has been open. It’s not as though anyone legitimately is claiming that there is any reason [for most of] these men to be held apart from the fact that it’s proven difficult to close the facility down and to release the majority of them.

So I think the pressing question is: how is the administration going to go about particularly resolving the issue of the prisoners that its task force said the US no longer wanted to hold. Those men have to be released, and there have been good signs this week from [Attorney General] Eric Holder saying that — following what President Obama said two weeks ago, that they are looking to appoint someone to oversee the Guantanamo issue and yesterday hinting that this ban on the Yemenis, which officials reinforced just a few weeks ago — maybe they are thinking of lifting the ban. They have to lift the ban. It’s absolutely critical that these 56 Yemenis are sent home.

RT: And even Hillary Clinton said yesterday that the 86 who are being held without charge should be released, so in effect there could be a turn of the tide. At the same time, let’s concentrate on conditions for those prisoners at the moment, because it seems that they are getting worse and that the authorities there are really putting further pressure on them. That’s according to reports from the prisoners themselves.

Andy Worthington: Absolutely. I agree with all of the experts who find the force feeding of prisoners deplorable, but that said, there really is no way the United States government is going to allow prisoners to die at Guantánamo if they can help it, whether they should be allowing them to or not.

RT: So what are the consequences if the prisoners die? Would that really be a turning point if that did happen?

Andy Worthington: Well, I think the turning point that needs to happen is the political turning point. You know, the reason the men are doing this is because they are in despair. The reason they are doing this is because half of them were told they were going home and haven’t gone anywhere. So it needs resolving on that basis. As soon as there is motion on that, I suspect that the repercussions in the prison will bring that issue down a little bit. At the moment it seems to be very much [that] the prison is a kind of terrible bubble within which the authorities have been trying to regain the upper hand over the prisoners and have resorted to isolating them, which is a terrible thing for these men who are already despairing, and having to force feed them in this manner. If the politics takes the lead, we’ll actually see some improvement.

RT: If politics takes the lead and let’s say the prison is closed down, won’t we see another one opening up in its place?

Andy Worthington: I don’t think we’re close to seeing this one close down. We have to get the 86 cleared prisoners released. We then have 80 men left at Guantánamo. Some of these men are supposed to face trial, [although] those of course have been very, very slow in happening, and 46 of them were designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial by President Obama in an executive order two years ago. Now at the time, the only thing that made this notion even vaguely palatable to lawyers and human rights groups was that he promised there would be periodic reviews of these men’s cases to establish whether they remain a threat. Those reviews haven’t happened at all, so they need to happen, and there needs to be a genuine, objective analysis of quite how many really dangerous prisoners there are or ever have been in Guantánamo, and these people must be tried. Everything that we’ve seen over the years, and these are reports from the inside, suggest that this is no more than a few dozen of the 166 men who are still being held.

*****

Also see the Press TV interview, in which I said that it is “absolutely critical” that President Barack Obama revisits his promise to close Guantánamo. I said, “These men are starving themselves to death because they feel so abandoned by all three branches of the United States government and particularly by President Obama who promised to close the prison and then found that it was politically difficult to do so.”

I added that the solution to what is happening in Guantánamo is “action from the administration to pick up and revisit this failed promise with the intention this time of following through on it.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

17 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Elizabeth Ferrari wrote:

    Just in case people have forgotten, this Congressional hearing runs down the innocence of the vast majority of the Gitmo “detainees”, their ill treatment up to and including torture and the no due process they have recieved. This hearing took place FIVE YEARS AGO. (Fair warning, Dana Rohrbacher speaks for about five minutes early into the thing, just fast forward him.) http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Detentiona

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Elizabeth Ferrari wrote:

    The only reason we are here now is because of political cowardice (read: fear of losing donors) on behalf of the Obama administration. I am ashamed that I ever was so naive as to support him and have to live with that.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Elizabeth. I didn’t know about that hearing. I also agree with your assessment of the colossal political cowardice of the last four years. As you know, I hesitate to be optimistic about the Obama administration, but I do think we’ve reached the point where political cowardice is no longer excusable.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Elizabeth Ferrari wrote:

    That hearing was mostly theater but it is revealing, Andy, and worth a look.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    While my server was down for maintenance, I posted the link to the RT video, and wrote:

    If you’re trying to find out my thoughts on the 100th day of the Guantanamo hunger strike, please watch my RT interview here.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Richard Ullom wrote:

    Thank you Andy..Paz..

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    Just watched this Andy – good interview.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Yes, good interview. Well Done, Andy.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Richard, Lindis and Dejanka. Those wanting a 4-minute explanation of what’s happening can find it in my phone interview with Press TV here: http://www.presstv.ir/usdetail/303921.html

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner wrote:

    Please consider this petition to get Nabil out of Guantanamo, he should have been freed in 2007. He is letting himself die, on hunger strike since Feb 8th, and forced fed since March 22nd, thanks!
    http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/11-years-in-guantanamo-for-no-reason-bring-nabil-hadjarab-back-to-france

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sandrine.

    Please sign this, my friends. I understand that the case of Nabil, an Algerian orphan with extended family in France, has finally begun to attract significant support from the French people. All support for Nabil will be very useful. See here for my article about him last year: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Articles/54-Nabil-Habjarab-An-Algerian-Known-as-the-Sweet-Kid-Seeks-a-New-Home-So-He-Can-Leave-Guantanamo

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Sara Naqwi wrote:

    “Passionate footballer”, “sweet kid”, “charming young man”… and a beautiful photograph. Thank you for the reminder of this petition.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Sara.

  14. Anna says...

    On May 23rd the European Parliament will vote on a motion for a very well documented resolution about Guantanamo :
    http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&reference=P7-RC-2013-168&language=EN

    Let’s all contact our national representatives in the European Parliament and urge them to vote this resolution through : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/full-list.html?filter=A&leg=
    And even those who aren’t from the EU, there’s no one to stop you from sending messages too and let them know that The Whole World’s Watching.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna, for that notification, and for the encouragement for people to get involved. Strong voices from Europe criticising the administration will certainly help to keep up the pressure for meaningful progress towards closing the prison.

  16. Tom says...

    What news outlet (in your opinion) has been the most receptive to covering this story and your input on it? If someone calls you for an interview, do you set any pre-conditions beforehand? The reason I ask is because of stories from some who go in thinking one thing, and then they get blatantly censored. Occasionally you’ll see a guest (usually a politician) basically say enough of this _____, and to hell with (famous presenter name here). However, I’ve never seen you fall into that situation. So good for you.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, Tom, we’re in a strange position regarding the mainstream media, because there’s generally so little coverage of Guantanamo – even now, with the hunger strike still raging. The BBC did a lot of coverage a few weeks ago, and invited me to take part – and were very receptive to the reality of the situation. Otherwise, I tend to be regularly sought out by RT and Press TV, whose coverage of the issue is what US broadcasters should be doing but aren’t. What’s mostly been happening lately is that print media in the US and beyond have been covering the story – and although few of these outlets have been in touch wiht me, I think it would be fair to say that some of them have been drawing on my work.

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