150 Doctors Condemn Force-Feeding at Guantánamo; Ahmed Belbacha Describes It As a Painful Ordeal

Over 150 doctors from the US and around the world have condemned the force-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantánamo in a letter to President Obama that was published in the Lancet this week. They were following up on a letter to medical professionals at the prison, which 13 prisoners wrote at the end of May, and which I posted here.

In that letter, the prisoners complained about their abuse by doctors — “For those of us being force-fed against our will, the process of having a tube repeatedly forced up our noses and down our throats in order to keep us in a state of semi-starvation is extremely painful and the conditions under which it is done are abusive” — and called for “independent medical professionals” to be allowed into Guantánamo to treat them, and to be given full access to their medical records, in order to determine the best treatment for them.

The letter from 153 doctors echoes these calls, pointing out that the prisoners “do not trust their military doctors,” and that they “have very good reason for this,” as was revealed in the document, “Standard Operating Procedure: Medical management of Detainees on Hunger Strike,” dated March 5, 2013, which was recently obtained through FOIA legislation by my friend and colleague Jason Leopold for Al-Jazeera. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Stories: 19 of the 43 Men Being Force-Fed in the Prison-Wide Hunger Strike

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This is my 2000th post since I began writing articles about Guantánamo on a full-time basis as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator six years ago. Please donate to support my work if you appreciate what I do.

As the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo reaches its 128th day, we are still awaiting action from President Obama, who promised three weeks ago to resume the release of cleared prisoners (who make up 86 out of the remaining 166 prisoners), and to appoint new envoys in the State Department and the Pentagon to deal with the resettlement of prisoners.

In the meantime, conditions in Guantánamo are harsher than they have been at any time since President Obama took office, nearly four and a half years ago. Two months ago, the authorities staged a violent dawn raid on Camp 6, where the majority of the prisoners are held, and where they had been allowed to spend much of their time communally, and locked everyone up in solitary confinement.

Militarily, this may have restored order, but it has not broken the hunger strike, and morally and ethically it is a disgrace. The reason the men are on a hunger strike is not to inconvenience the guard force, but to protest about their ongoing imprisonment — in almost all cases without charge or trial, and literally with no end in sight, after their abandonment by all three branches of the US government. As a result, a lockdown, which involves isolating these men from one another while they starve themselves, and while many of them are force-fed, is the cruellest way to proceed. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Forget the Hunger Strike at Guantánamo

It is now 119 days since the prison-wide hunger strike began at Guantánamo, and 12 days since President Obama delivered a powerful speech at the National Defense University, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners. The process of releasing prisoners — based on the deliberations of an inter-agency task force established by President Obama in 2009, which concluded that 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners should be released — has been largely derailed, since August 2010, by Congressional opposition, but must resume if President Obama is not to be judged as the President who, while promising to close the prison, in fact kept it open, normalizing indefinite detention.

The obstacles raised by Congress consist primarily of a ban on the release of prisoners to any country where even a single individual has allegedly engaged in “recidivism” (returning to the battlefield), and a demand that the secretary of defense must certify that, if released to a country that is not banned, a prisoner will not, in future, engage in terrorism. Practically, however, the men are still held because of President Obama’s refusal to deal with this either by confronting Congress or by using a waiver in the legislation that allows him and the secretary of defense to bypass Congress and release prisoners if he regards it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.”

Monitoring the hunger strike — and pointing out that President Obama must keep his promises — are both hugely important, especially as the media, and people in general, may well lose interest after President Obama’s speech, and believe that, because he has made promises, those promises will inevitably come true. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the 55 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners on the List Released by the Obama Administration?

I wrote the following report exclusively for the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

POSTSCRIPT January 2013: The Center for Constitutional Rights has confirmed that a 56th prisoner was added to this list after its initial drafting — Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian mentioned below.

UPDATE March 14, 2014: Please note that this list of 56 men cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (plus the 30 other Yemenis cleared for release but held in “conditional detention” until the authorities are satisfied that the security situation in Yemen has improved) reflected the situation at Guantánamo from the time of its publication in October 2012 until August 2013, when two Algerians on the list were released, followed by eight other cleared prisoners in December, and one more in March 2014. I have noted who has been released on the list. As a result of these releases, there are now 76 cleared prisoners (46 plus the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”). For a breakdown of who is who (including the identities of the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”), see the “Close Guantánamo” prisoner list.

On September 21, lawyers for the Guantánamo prisoners — and others who had been watching Guantánamo closely — were completely taken by surprise when, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force.

The Task Force was made up of officials and lawyers from all the relevant government departments and from the intelligence agencies, and its final report was issued in January 2010. Of the 166 prisoners still held, 86 of those were recommended for release, but are still held, and the list reveals, for the first time ever, 55 of those names. Read the rest of this entry »

EXCLUSIVE: Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago

This investigative report is published simultaneously here, and on the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

One of the greatest injustices at Guantánamo is that, of the 169 prisoners still held, over half — 87 in total — were cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force. The Task Force involved around 60 career officials from various government departments and the intelligence agencies, who spent the first year of the Obama Presidency reviewing the cases of all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo, to decide whether they should be tried, released, or, in some cases, held indefinitely without charge or trial. The Task Force’s final report is here (PDF).

Exactly who these 87 men are is a closely held secret on the part of the administration, which is unfortunate for those of us working towards the closure of Guantánamo, as it prevents us from campaigning as effectively as we would like for the majority of these men, given that we are not entirely sure of their status. Attorneys for the prisoners have been told about their clients’ status, but that information — as with so much involving Guantánamo — is classified.

However, through recent research — into the classified military files about the Guantánamo prisoners, compiled by the Joint Task Force at the prison, which were released last year by WikiLeaks, as well as documents made available by the Bush administration, along with some additional information from the years of the Obama administration — I have been able to establish the identities of 40 men — 23 Yemenis, and 17 from other countries — who, between 2004 and 2009, were cleared for release by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, by military review boards under the Bush administration, or by President Obama’s Task Force, and to identify the official documents in which these decisions were noted. Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Belbacha, An Algerian Refugee in Guantánamo, Has Been Waiting for a New Home Since 2007

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

The message came in February 2007: Prisoner 290 was cleared to leave Guantánamo. Prisoner 290, Ahmed Belbacha, greeted the news not with jubilation, but with fears that he would be returned to his home country, Algeria, against his will. Ahmed was in a difficult position. Born in 1969 in Algiers, to a middle class family, he has ten siblings and would love to be reunited with his family, but Algeria is not a safe place for him.

After high school, he worked as an accountant for the state oil company, Sonatrach, where he also played for the company’s football team. He worked for Sonatrach until 1997, with a break for national service, but when he was called for a second period of national service, he attracted the unwelcome attentions of the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), the government’s Islamist opponents, who threatened to kill him if he rejoined the army, and also told him to give up his his job.

Unable to evade those threatening him, he decided he had leave Algeria, and traveled to the UK, where he found work in the southern English seaside town of Bournemouth, working first in a launderette (laundromat), and then at the Swallow Royal Hotel, where he was responsible for cleaning Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s room during the 1999 Labour Party conference, a job that he did so well that the Deputy PM gave him a thank-you note and a tip. Read the rest of this entry »

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Calls for Release of Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian in Guantánamo

As published on the “Close Guantánamo” website. Please join us — just an email address required.

On March 30, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued what was described as “a landmark admissibility report” in the case of Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian held at Guantánamo, who, like the majority of the 171 men still held, has been detained for over ten years without charge or trial. The IACHR is one of the principal autonomous bodies of the OAS, whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.” Its resolutions are binding on the US, which is a member state. As Djamel’s lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explained in a press release:

This ruling marks the first time the IACHR has accepted jurisdiction over the case of a man detained at Guantánamo, and underscores the fact that there has been no effective domestic remedy available to victims of unjust detentions and other abuses at the base. The IACHR will now move to gather more information on the substantive human rights law violations suffered by Djamel Ameziane — including the harsh conditions of confinement he has endured, the abuses inflicted on him, and the illegality of his detention.

The IACHR will specifically review the US government’s failure to transfer Djamel Ameziane or any man detained at Guantánamo for more than a year — the longest period of time without a transfer since the prison opened in January 2002. This failure has moved the United States further out of compliance with international human rights law and the precautionary measures issued by the IACHR to Djamel Ameziane (2008) and other detained men (2002). Read the rest of this entry »

Why Algeria Is Not A Safe Country for the Repatriation of Guantánamo Prisoners

Since July 2008, when the first Algerian prisoners were repatriated from Guantánamo, the position taken by the US government — first under George W. Bush, and, for the last three years, under Barack Obama — has been that Algeria is a safe country for the repatriation of prisoners cleared for release.

Lawyers and NGOs aware of Algeria’s poor human rights record disagreed, as did some of the Algerian prisoners themselves, to the extent that the last two Algerians sent home — Abdul Aziz Naji in July 2010 and Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed in January 2011 — had actively resisted being sent home, and had taken their cases all the way to the US Supreme Court, which had paved the way for their enforced return by refusing to accept their appeals.

In assessing whether or not it was safe for Algerians to be repatriated from Guantánamo, the US government was required to weigh Algeria’s established reputation for using torture against the “diplomatic assurances” agreed between Washington and Algiers, whereby, as an Obama administration official told the Washington Post at the time of Naji’s repatriation, the Algerian government had promised that prisoners returned from Guantánamo “would not be mistreated.” The US official added, “We take some care in evaluating countries for repatriation. In the case of Algeria, there is an established track record and we have given that a lot of weight. The Algerians have handled this pretty well: You don’t have recidivism and you don’t have torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read the Center for Constitutional Rights’ “Faces of Guantánamo” Reports

In December, I was privileged to work with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights on three reports about Guantánamo that were published to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison on January 11, 2012, and released at a press conference in Washington D.C. that I reported here. The three reports are entitled, “Faces of Guantánamo: Resettlement,” “Faces of Guantánamo: Indefinite Detention,” and “Faces of Guantánamo: Torture” (also available via this page) and they present a comprehensive analysis of Guantánamo’s history, President Obama’s failure to close the prison as he promised, and profiles of 20 of the 171 prisoners still held.

The first report, “Faces of Guantánamo: Resettlement,” focuses on the 89 prisoners still held who were cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, but who are still held either because they cannot be safely repatriated, and no country has volunteered to offer them a new home, or because they are Yemenis, and both the President and Congress have acted to prevent the release of any cleared Yemeni prisoners, even though this constitutes guilt by nationality, which is an indefensible generalization, and ought to be regarded as a profound shame.

The article explains in detail President Obama’s failures, including his refusal to allow any innocent prisoners (the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) to be settled in the US, and also describes how Congress has intervened to prevent the release of prisoners for nakedly political reasons. Included are recommendations for the Obama administration, and calls for other countries to help with the resettlement of those who cannot be safely repatriated. Read the rest of this entry »

During Obama’s UK Visit, Shaker Aamer’s Children – and Campaigners – Call for His Return from Guantánamo

On Tuesday, as President Obama, on his first state visit to the UK, was welcomed by the Queen at Buckingham Palace, campaigners from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign were outside, on the Mall, making a noise about the need to secure the return to the UK of the last British resident, Shaker Aamer, as I discussed in an article on Monday, During State Visit by Barack Obama, Amnesty International Asks David Cameron to Call for Return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer.

As can be seen from the accompanying photo (click on it to enlarge), they did such a good job that the Associated Press noticed, and the story of the plucky protestors, included at the end of an AP report, went around the world, picked up on by countless newspapers. What the AP said — which was excellent apart from the mistaken use of the past tense — was:

[E]ven at Buckingham Palace, it’s impossible to banish all the discordant notes. Just beyond the palace’s black-and-gold gates, about a dozen orange-jumpsuit clad demonstrators were rallying for the freedom of Guantánamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer, a former British resident who had been held without charge for some nine years. One man wore plastic shackles and an Obama mask. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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