Although I’ve been very busy for the last few months with a steady stream of articles about Guantánamo and the ongoing hunger strike, I haven’t been able to keep track of everything that has been made available. In terms of publicity, this is an improvement on the years before the hunger strike reminded the world’s media about the ongoing existence of the prison, when stories about Guantánamo often slowed to the merest of trickles, and everyone involved in campaigning to close the prison and to represent the men still held there was, I think it is fair to say, becoming despondent and exhausted.
However, it is also profoundly depressing that it took a prison-wide hunger strike to wake people up to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, where 86 cleared men are still held (cleared for release in January 2010 by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force), and 80 others are, for the most part, held indefinitely without charge or trial. And it is just as depressing to note that, despite making a powerful speech eight weeks ago, and promising to resume releasing prisoners, President Obama has so far failed to release anyone.
With Ramadan underway, there has been a slight dip in the total number of prisoners on the hunger strike — 80, according to the US military, down from 106, although there has been a slight increase in the number of prisoners being force-fed — from 45 to 46.
Yesterday, a judge turned down a motion submitted on behalf of three prisoners — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident, and Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab, two Algerians — asking the court to order the government to stop force-feeding prisoners, and giving them medication without their consent, following a similar ruling last week in the case of another prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian. All four are hunger strikers, and amongst the 86 men cleared for release but still held.
In last week’s ruling, Judge Gladys Kessler (a Bill Clinton appointee) did not seem entirely happy that judges in the court of appeals had tied her hands regarding jurisdiction over the prisoners, because of a previous ruling in 2009. She also acknowledged that medical authorities describe force-feeding as torture, and made a point of telling President Obama that he has the authority and power to deal with the hunger strike, and the force-feeding, as Commander in Chief.
Yesterday, however, Judge Rosemary Collyer (a George W. Bush appointee) had no interest in criticizing anyone but the prisoners and their lawyers. In her opinion, she wrote that, although the prisoners had framed their motion as one intended to stop force-feeding, their “real complaint is that the United States is not allowing them to commit suicide by starvation.” She added, “The right to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments does not include a right to commit suicide and a right to assistance in doing so.” She also wrote that there was “nothing so shocking or inhumane in the treatment” that it could be regarded as raising a constitutional concern.
In response, Jon Eisenberg, one of the prisoners’ lawyers, said Judge Collyer was wrong to claim that the prisoners were “demanding a right to commit suicide,” as the Associated Press described it.
“She has misunderstood the purpose of the hunger strike. It’s not to commit suicide, it’s to protest indefinite detention,” Eisenberg said, adding that her opinion regarding force-feeding — that it was not “inhumane” — was not backed up by experts. “Human rights advocates, medical ethicists and religious leaders say otherwise,” he said.
Judge Collyer’s ruling — and her dismissive attitude to the force-feeding — reminded me of a letter by Abdelhadi Faraj (aka Abdulhadi Faraj), another Syrian prisoner, which was published two weeks ago in the Huffington Post. Mr. Faraj (originally identified by the authorities as Abu Omar al-Hamawe) is one of the 86 men cleared for release but still held, and is in need of a new home because of the perilous situation in Syria. Moreover, he is one of four men captured together, who were all cleared for release, although only one of them was freed — a man named Maasoum Mouhammed, who was given a new home in Bulgaria in May 2010. He is also one of the hunger strikers, and, moreover, is one of the 46 men being force-fed.
The letter, with its harrowing descriptions of force-feeding, and of abuse by some military personnel was translated from the Arabic by Abdelhadi Faraj’s attorney, Ramzi Kassem, and I’m cross-posting it below for those who missed it the first time around.
This is my call to the outside world from behind these rusty bars, in this monstrous cell. Does the world know what is happening in this prison?
Despite the long years we the prisoners have spent in this place from 2002 to 2013, the American government does not seem interested in solving the problem. The past few months have been among the harshest lived by the prisoners here. During the Bush years, solutions seemed possible. Under Obama, it seems like there is no will to solve the problem.
I once lived communally with the other prisoners in Camp Six. Now we are all in solitary confinement here, with only two hours of recreation a day. Some prisoners are too weak and sick to ever leave their cells as a result of the hunger strike and the US military’s reaction to it.
The military here has used brute force against the hunger strikers. They have beaten us and used rubber-coated bullets and tear gas against us. They have confiscated everything from our cells, from toothbrushes to blankets and books. They have confined us to cold, windowless cells, beyond the reach of the sun’s rays or a fresh breeze. Sometimes, we don’t even know if it’s day or night out.
It isn’t unusual for prison guards here to search prisoners’ genital parts and their rectum ten times in a single day.
Daily, I am forced into a restraint chair, my arms, legs and chest tied down tight. Big guards grab my head with both hands. I feel like my skull is being crushed. Then, so-called nurses violently push a thick tube down my nostril. Blood rushes out of my nose and mouth. The nurses turn on the feeding solution full throttle. I cannot begin to describe the pain that causes.
Recently, a nurse brutally yanked out the force-feeding tube, threw it on my shoulder, and left the cell, leaving me tied down to the chair. Later, the nurse returned to the cell, took the tube off my shoulder and began to reinsert it into my nose. I asked him to cleanse and purify the tube first but he refused.
When I later tried to complain to another nurse about the incident, the other nurse threatened to force the feeding tube up my rear, not down my nose, if I didn’t suspend my hunger strike.
And when I tried taking the matter to a senior medical officer, he told me that they would strap me to a bed and make me urinate through a catheter forced into my penis if I kept up my peaceful protest.
I used to think I was the only one coping with severe joint pain, a weakened memory, having a hard time concentrating, and feeling constantly distracted as a result of all this. But I’ve since discovered that many hunger strikers struggle with the same symptoms. Without realizing it, some of the hunger strikers even speak to themselves out loud when they’re alone.
But we also know that there are peaceful protests in solidarity with our plight in many countries. Even in America itself, there are protests demanding that the US government close this prison that has hurt America’s reputation. And international criticism mounts daily.
We the hunger strikers continue to demand our rights. President Obama can begin by releasing those of us who have been cleared for release years ago, followed by the prisoners who have not been charged with any crime after eleven years in captivity.
Despite the difficulties, the hard conditions, and the challenges created by the US government, those of us on hunger strike will continue protesting until our demands for justice are met.
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).
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On Facebook, I wrote:
Thanks for liking and sharing, my friends. I fear that the focus is drifting away from Guantanamo once more, even though nothing has been resolved. 86 men still await release, waiting for President Obama to decide that it is worth spending political capital doing what is right, rather than making fine speeches but doing nothing. And in the meantime, of course, the kind of horrors that Abdelhadi describes are still ongoing.
Cindy Craig wrote:
Thank you, Andy. Lest these be forgotten, also…
You’re welcome, Cindy. Good to hear from you.
Jan Strain wrote:
My goal is never to let these men be forgotten…Thank you for helping to keep the stories alive
Thanks, Jan. Lovely to hear from you. I had been meaning to get in touch to check how everything is with you and your family. Yes, not letting the men be forgotten. That’s crucial. The reason the hunger strike woke the media up, I believe, was because lawyers – and especially those at Reprieve – got their words out to the public. Samir Moqbel’s op-ed in the New York Times, three months ago, was extremely important: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/15/opinion/hunger-striking-at-guantanamo-bay.html
But now we need to rally support again, as President Obama is once more wallowing in inertia. His lack of political courage is really discouraging. He can talk the talk, but he refuses to act.
Hassen Deedaur wrote:
The system is Criminal. How can we expect its servants to work for justice?
Thanks, Hassen. You make a very good point about the system. Having said that, Guantanamo isn’t, strictly speaking, something consciously chosen by the US government to prove that. It was what Bush intended, certainly – to be free to hold people forever without charge or trial, and to interrogate them in whatever way he and his unqualified senior officials (up to and including Cheney and Rumsfeld) thought appropriate, in defiance of criticism by those with expertise ad experience, who were opposed to the use of torture for moral, legal, ethical and practical reasons.
However, what Obama inherited, he has turned into a temple to inertia, and, surreally, one that he himself eloquently condemns while refusing to do anything about it. It is now a place where men in despair starve themselves to highlight the injustice of their indefinite detention, while those with power and authority huddle together and whip themselves into a lather of fear about releasing any of them (even the 86 cleared by Obama’s task force), in case a single one of them might retaliate in some way for the treatment they have been receiving for the last 11 and a half years at the hands of their US captors. This cycle only gets more intractable the longer it goes on, and so decisive action is needed, but the wind howls through the corridors of the White House, and Obama does nothing.
[…] several Guantánamo prisoners, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and Abdelhadi Faraj, a Syrian. Speaking to the Miami Herald, Mr. Kassem said, “For the Periodic Review Boards to be […]
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker.
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