On June 30, as I reported here, lawyers for four prisoners in Guantánamo — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian — filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C., asking a judge to issue a ruling compelling the government to “stop force-feeding in the prison and stop force-medicating prisoners, particularly with Reglan, a drug used by the US during the force-feeding process that when used for extended periods of time can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease,” as it was described in a press release by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers filed the motion, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in the US.
The men are amongst the 86 prisoners (out of the 166 men still held), who were cleared for release by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama when he took office in 2009. In addition, all are involved in the prison-wide hunger strike that began six months ago, and both Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha are amongst the 41 prisoners who are being force-fed.
Although the prisoners made a compelling argument for the need for intervention, the judge ruling in Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s case, Judge Gladys Kessler, was unable to grant the motion, because of a legal precedent from February 2009, when, in the case of Mohammed al-Adahi, a Yemeni who sought to stop his force-feeding, a court ruled that “no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant.”
Judge Kessler was, nevertheless, sympathetic to the prisoners’ plight, pointedly noting that Abu Wa’el Dhiab had “set out in great detail in his papers what appears to be a consensus that force-feeding of prisoners violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment,” and also explained that “the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority — and power — to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay.”
The judge addressing the motion submitted by the other three prisoners — Judge Rosemary Collyer — was less sympathetic, but sympathetic or not, the refusal to grant the men’s motion led to only two options, appealing or not, and today the lawyers at Reprieve, and Jon B. Eisenberg, filed an appeal on behalf of Shaker Aamer, Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab, asking the appeal court in Washington, D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) to reconsider their motion.
In a recent phone call with Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, Ahmed Belbacha described how horrendous the force-feeding still is.
I’m still being force-fed, once a night, and the way that they do it in Ramadan makes us all exhausted. There are two waves: the first group goes at 8pm, and the second group later. In theory, it’s at 10pm, but sometimes it happens at 11, midnight or even later. It’s extremely tiring.
The other problem I’ve had since Ramadan is this new feeding solution they use, called Jevity — it’s very strong. Before was bad, but this is even worse. I’ve thrown it up several times. They never seemed to notice. I’ve never been fed twice in a night. I suppose because I haven’t vomited until I have gotten back to my cell. I weigh 125 pounds now and am extremely feeble.
If someone has a nose problem, they can be with them for a very long time and will have to try to insert the tube repeatedly. A lot of people have a problem getting the tube in the nose. I still cry sometimes, with the tube. It’s very difficult.
One guy broke his hunger strike because the tube was just too painful. It took a very, very long time to get the tube in. Every single time it was torture for him, and eventually he just had to give up.
Soldiers are always trying to get us to stop the hunger strike. Most recently the doctor took people and told them that they wanted us to stop — and officers said to us at the start of Ramadan that if we didn’t stop we’d be put in isolation.
In response to Ahmed Belbacha’s complaints, Cori Crider said, “As a federal judge has pointed out, President Obama has the power to address this situation — but he has persistently failed to do so. He could bring this crisis to an end by letting the prisoners which his own Government has cleared, and that’s the majority at this point, go home.”
I can only agree. It is now 73 days since President Obama delivered a major speech on national security in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners, but not a single one of the 86 cleared prisoners has yet been released. Severe obstacles have been raised by Congress, requiring the administration to certify that released prisoners will be unable, after their release, to take up arms against the US, but President Obama needs to overcome these cynical obstacles if he is not to be judged as the President whose fine words and promises were not matched by his actions — if necessary, by using a waiver in the legislation that allows him to bypass Congress.
Last week, the White House announced that the Department of Defence had “certified to Congress its intent to repatriate an additional two detainees to Algeria,” adding, “We are taking this step in consultation with the Congress, and in a responsible manner that protects our national security.”
The administration is to be congratulated for taking the necessary steps to release these two men, who have not been publicly identified, but are amongst the five Algerians still held who have been cleared for release. Disgracefully, however, they will be the first prisoners to be released as a result of the task force’s determinations — and President’s Obama’s leadership (or lack of it) — since September 2010, because, in the last three years, the only men to be released — just five in total — either had their release ordered by the courts, or as a result of plea deals negotiated in their military commission trials.
These two men need to be followed, as swiftly as possible, by the 84 other cleared prisoners. 56 of these men are Yemenis, whose release was prevented not only by Congress but also through a disgraceful ban imposed by President Obama in January 2010, after it was discovered that a failed bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 had been hatched in Yemen. In his speech in May, President Obama stated, “I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis,” but although he met with President Hadi last week, the two men did not reach a specific agreement on repatriating the men.
Others need third countries to provide them with a new home, as it is unsafe for them to be repatriated, but others, like Shaker Aamer, could be immediately returned to his family in the UK if the will existed in Washington — and if the British government made it a priority. The recent news that P.J. Harvey has recorded a song about Shaker will no doubt spur new interest in his case in the UK, and will hopefully lead to added pressure on David Cameron and William Hague to insist on his immediate return to the UK, but the key to his release and that of the other cleared prisoners, as Judge Kessler recognized last month, is President Obama.
In his speech on May 23, President Obama said, “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike,” and asked, “Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?” The answer is no, but there is only one way to end the force-feeding of hunger strikers, and that is for President Obama to release the cleared prisoners, and to initiate urgent and objective reviews of the cases of the other men, to establish whether or not they can be put on trial. If not, they too should be released.
Note: Please see here for the website of Lewis Peake, the artist who drew the illustration at the top of this article in 2008, as part of a series of five illustrations based on drawings by Guantánamo prisoner Sami al-Haj, which the Pentagon censors had refused to allow the public to see. Reprieve commissioned Lewis Peake to reproduce the drawings based on descriptions of what Sami had drawn, and I reproduced them in my article, “Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo.”
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.
These stories are heartbreaking.
Do you know a UK singer named PJ Harvey?
Several newspapers are comparing a song she wrote about Shaker Aamer to Bob Dylan’s song about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter
Yes, she’s quite a star, arcticredriver, so she’s getting a lot of attention for Shaker’s cause. The analogy is apt, although she’s not as big as Bob Dylan, of course, and her song is more of a vignette, whereas “Hurricane,” like most of the songs on Desire, is more like a full-length feature film. I’m very glad that there’s such high-profile campaigning for Shaker, though. This follows the hunger strike by Clive Stafford Smith and then by Frankie Boyle, who’s a well-known comedian here in the UK.
On Facebook, Sylvia P. Coley wrote:
Andy, can you not get this again and again to the President. Do not stop!
Willy Bach wrote:
Thanks Andy, sharing.
Thanks, Sylvia and Willy. Great to hear from you both, and Sylvia, I intend to keep on exerting as much pressure as possible on President Obama, to keep reminding him that doing nothing – or doing very little – is unacceptable.
Force feeding is torture and lowers people who do it to the level of the very monsters they claim to be fighting against.
Thanks for the comment, Thomas. Yes, it’s time to bring the hunger strike to an end by freeing the cleared prisoners, and bringing justice to the rest. I’m reminded of something I just read on the Huffington Post, by Jared Del Rosso, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Denver:
“By forcibly feeding detainees to prevent them from starving to death, the U.S. risks flaunting international law and medical ethics in order to sustain the lives of men who may reside at Guantanamo until some other death overtakes them. The implication of this has not yet been recognized. If detainees remain on hunger strike and the U.S. finds no alternative to Guantanamo, the spring and summer of 2013 may mark the moment when the nation committed itself not simply to indefinite detention, but to the indefinite forced feeding of detainees.”
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