Persistent Dehumanization at Guantánamo: US Claims It Owns Prisoners’ Art, Just As It Claims to Own Their Memories of Torture

"Empty glassware" (2015) by Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article (as “The Persistent Abuse of Guantánamo Prisoners: Pentagon Claims It Owns Their Art and May Destroy It, But U.S. Has Long Claimed It Even Owns Their Memories of Torture“) for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

After years of letting Guantánamo prisoners keep the artwork they have made at the prison, subject to security screening, the Pentagon has suddenly secured widespread condemnation for banning its release, and, it is alleged by one of prisoners’ attorneys, for planning to burn it.

The story was first reported on November 16 by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, and updated on November 20. Rosenberg explained how, for years, prisoners’ art had been released “after inspection by prison workers schooled in studying material for secret messages under the rubric of Operational Security.”

However, as Rosenberg explained, “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” an exhibition in the President’s Gallery of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice until January 16, 2018, which features “paintings and other works by current and former captives” — and “which garnered international press coverage” — “apparently caught the attention of the Department of Defense,” because of an email address provided for people “interested in purchasing art from these artists.” Read the rest of this entry »

My New Article for Al Jazeera English: The Struggle to Stop the Trump Administration’s Potentially Deadly Neglect of Guantánamo Hunger Strikers

An image of Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis Peake in 2008, based on a drawing by Sami that the Pentagon censors refused to allow the public to see. The drawing, one of a series of five, was commissioned by Sami's lawyers at the lawyer-led international human rights organization Reprieve.I’m delighted to report that Al Jazeera English have just published an article I wrote for them, Guantánamo detainee: US changed force-feeding policy, which I hope you have time to read, and will share if you find it informative.

The article came out of the shocking news announced by the human rights organization Reprieve six weeks ago, when they reported that they had been told that the authorities at Guantánamo were no longer force-feeding long-term hunger strikers, as had been happening for ten years — an announcement that I wrote about at the time in an article entitled, Trump’s Disturbing New Guantánamo Policy: Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve to Death.

Force-feeding is akin to torture, as medical experts have long established, but, as I have been mentioning since this story broke, it surely cannot be acceptable for men who have been held for up to 16 years without ever being charged or tried to be allowed to starve to death, and there should, therefore, be another response, one sought by the prisoners themselves, who are asking either to be charged or released, a not unreasonable request after so long. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene Condemns “Cruel, Sadistic” New Policy of Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve

Former Guantanamo prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

It’s nearly a month since Guantánamo thrust its way back into the public consciousness with news from the human rights organization Reprieve that, under a new chief medical officer at Guantánamo, the rules for treating long-term hunger strikers had changed. Where, previously, those going without food were force-fed when they lost a fifth of their body weight, two hunger strikers — Ahmed Rabbani and Khalid Qassim, clients of Reprieve — indicated that, since the new appointment, on September 20, they were no longer being force-fed, and were not even being monitored.

Following further phone discussions with their clients, Reprieve suggested that what was happening was that prisoners were being left to suffer whatever damage might ensue from prolonged starving, but the medical authorities were still intending to force-feed them if it looked like they might die.

Force-feeding is a horrible process, of course, akin to torture, but although medical experts insist that mentally competent prisoners must be allowed to starve themselves to death, if they wish, that does not strike me as relevant at Guantánamo, where the men on hunger strike have never been tried or convicted of any crime, and allowing them to die would actually endorse the very reason they are hunger striking in the first place — because they are being held without charge or trial, with no end in sight to their preposterously long ordeal, and they have no other way of protesting about the injustice of their predicament. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrities Fasting With the Hunger Striking Guantánamo Prisoners That Donald Trump Is Allowing to Die

Some of those fasting in solidarity with the hunger striking prisoners at Guantanamo, who are at risk of dying under a new policy implemented by the Trump administration on September 20, 2017. Clockwise from top left: Roger Waters, Tom Watson MP, Sara Pascoe, David Morrissey, Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

It’s two weeks since the international human rights organization Reprieve let the world know that, under Donald Trump, the military at Guantánamo has come up with a disturbing new way of dealing with hunger strikers — allowing them to die. Previously, long-term hunger strikers who lost one-fifth of their body weight but refused to stop hunger striking were force-fed — a barbaric process that experts view as tantamount to torture, and a view that I endorse. However, although experts also state that competent hunger strikers must be allowed to die if they wish, that has always struck me as an unacceptable option for prisoners who have never been convicted of a crime. The third option, which should be implemented, is for the US government to do what the hunger strikers want — which is to be charged or released.

I broke the news of this disturbing policy change on my website on October 7, and followed up with an analysis of the New York Times’ coverage four days after. Since then there have been op-eds by the two prisoners represented by Reprieve, Ahmed Rabbani (in Newsweek) and Khalid Qassim (in the Guardian), and to accompany the coverage — finally shining a light back on Guantánamo after, for the most part, silence on the topic since Donald Trump took office — Reprieve launched a petition to Donald Trump, asking for him to allow independent medical experts to assess the health of the hunger strikers, and to close Guantánamo for good, which currently has nearly 22,000 signatures, and also encouraged supporters to fast in solidarity with the hunger strikers.

Reprieve’s founder, Clive Stafford Smith, led the way with the fasting (for five days straight), and was soon joined by others. Over a thousand days have been pledged so far, with some well-known people joining in, like music legend Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, who wrote on Facebook: Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi, Admitted Terrorist at Guantánamo, Receives 13-Year Sentence Following 2014 Plea Deal

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Last Friday, the US authorities secured a rare success at Guantánamo, when a panel of US military officers gave a 13-year sentence to Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner, for what the New York Times described as “his admitted role in a 2002 attack by Al Qaeda on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.”

Al-Darbi had pleaded guilty in his military commission trial in February 2014, but his sentencing had not taken place until now because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook this summer, providing videotaped testimony against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in the bombing off the USS Cole in 2000, and a deposition in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another prisoner facing a trial by military commission.

Under the terms of the plea deal, as Charlie Savage described it in the New York Times, “the commission could have imposed a sentence of 13 to 15 years.” However, the prosecutors joined with al-Darbi’s defense team to ask for “the minimum available term in light of his extensive assistance to the government.” As Savage put it, al-Darbi “has renounced Islamist ideology and lived apart from the general detainee population for years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Striker Ahmed Rabbani, Left to Die by Trump, Calls for “Basic Justice – a Fair Trial or Freedom”

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at Reprieve, and taken before his weight dropped to under 100 pounds as a hunger striker.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

It’s now nine days since the international human rights organization Reprieve issued a shocking press release, explaining that two clients at Guantánamo, the Pakistani Ahmed Rabbani, and Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni, both hunger striking to protest about the injustice of their seemingly endless imprisonment without charge or trial, had told them that, since September 20, following new instructions from Donald Trump, “a new Senior Medical Officer (SMO) stopped tube-feeding the strikers, and ended the standard practice of closely monitoring their declining health.”

I immediately wrote an article about the news, and was, frankly, astonished that it took another four days for the mainstream media to respond — and when that happened, it was just the New York Times paying attention, and, to my mind, giving too much credibility to the authorities, via a spokesman who claimed that the military’s “11-year-old military policy permitting the involuntary feeding of hunger-striking detainees remained in effect.” Given the lies we have heard from the military at Guantánamo over the years, I asked, in an analysis of the New York Times article, why we should trust them.

Expanding on the story further, Reprieve, on Thursday, secured coverage in Newsweek — a description of the current situation, made in a phone call to Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, by Ahmed Rabbani, who has been at Guantánamo, without charge or trial, for just over 12 years, and who, before that, was held and tortured for 545 days in CIA “black sites” including the disgusting “black site” in Afghanistan, codenamed COBALT, which was known to the prisoners as the “dark prison.” Read the rest of this entry »

New York Times Finally Reports on Trump’s Policy of Letting Guantánamo Hunger Strikers Die; Rest of Mainstream Media Still Silent

An image of Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis Peake in 2008, based on a drawing by Sami that the Pentagon censors refused to allow the public to see. The drawing, one of a series of five, was commissioned by Sami's lawyers at the lawyer-led international human rights organization Reprieve.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

So today, five days after the lawyer-led human rights organization Reprieve issued a press release, about how two of their clients had told them that, since September 20, prisoners on a long-term hunger strike were no longer being force-fed, and four days after I reported it (exclusively, as it turned out), the New York Times emerged as the first — and so far only — mainstream media outlet to cover the story, although even so its headline was easy to ignore: “Military Is Waiting Longer Before Force-Feeding Hunger Strikers, Detainees Say.”

As Charlie Savage described it, military officials at Guantánamo “recently hardened their approach to hunger-striking prisoners,” according to accounts given by prisoners to their lawyers, “and are allowing protesters to physically deteriorate beyond a point that previously prompted medical intervention to force-feed them.”

“For years,” Savage continued, “the military has forcibly fed chronic protesters when their weight dropped too much. Detainees who refuse to drink a nutritional supplement have been strapped into a restraint chair and had the supplement poured through their noses and into their stomachs via nasogastric tubes.” Read the rest of this entry »

Trump’s Disturbing New Guantánamo Policy: Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve to Death

A hallucinatory image of force-feeding at Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis Peake in 2008, based on a drawing by Sami that the Pentagon censors refused to allow the public to see. The drawing, one of a series of five, was commissioned by Sami's lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Disturbing news from Guantánamo, via the human rights organization Reprieve. Yesterday, in a press release, Reprieve explained that the authorities at Guantánamo have stopped force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners, a practice that has existed for ten years, because of a new Trump administration policy.”

Hunger strikers have existed at Guantánamo almost since the prison opened, and in 2013 a prison-wide hunger strike drew worldwide condemnation for President Obama’s inaction in moving towards closing the prison, as he had promised on his second day in office. Inconvenienced by Republican lawmakers, who had raised considerable obstacles to the release of prisoners, Obama had chosen not to challenge the Republicans, and had, instead, done nothing. The hunger strike changed all that, but towards the end of 2013, after the release of prisoners resumed, the authorities at Guantánamo stopped reporting the numbers of men who were on a hunger strike.

According to Reprieve, since that time, some prisoners have continued with their hunger strikes, “peacefully protesting a lack of charges or a trial,” although very little has been heard about them, with just one example reported in recent years — that of Sharqawi al-Hajj, a Yemeni held without charge or trial at Guantánamo since September 2004, whose case I reported on last month, when he weighed just 104 pounds, and when, after he refused to submit to being force-fed, he “lost consciousness and required emergency hospitalization.” Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Groundhog Day: Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith Reports from Guantánamo After 70 Days of Trump’s Presidency

The concrete drums at Guantanamo featuring the words "Honor Bound", by the photographer Eugene Richards from a set of photos he took at Guantanamo in 2013.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Yesterday, March 30, marked 70 days since Donald Trump became president, and we hope you’ll join us in our photo campaign. On the day of Trump’s inauguration, we set up a page on the Close Guantánamo website featuring photos of supporters holding posters asking Donald Trump to close the prison, and, to join us, please print off a poster, take a photo with it, and send it to us.

Since Trump took office, there have been disturbing suggestions of new activities regarding Guantánamo, although nothing has yet come to fruition. A week after his inauguration, as I wrote about in an article entitled, Donald Trump Proposes to Keep Guantánamo Open, to Prevent Further Releases, and to Reintroduce Torture and “Black Sites”, a draft executive order was leaked, revealing that he intended not only to keep Guantánamo open, but also to send new prisoners there, and to “suspend any existing transfer efforts pending a new review as to whether any such transfers are in the national security interests of the United States.”

Trump also intended to reinstate torture and the use of CIA “black sites,” but immediately faced a huge backlash from the intelligence agencies, from lawmakers, and even from his own appointment as defense secretary, retired general James Mattis. In early February, another draft executive order was leaked, in which all mention of torture and “black sites” was dropped, and the focus shifted to a proposal to bring Islamic State prisoners to Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Afghan Money Exchanger Approved for Release from Guantánamo; Former Child Prisoner and Pakistani Have Ongoing Imprisonment Upheld

Afghan prisoner Haji Wali Mohammed, in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

From November 2013 until last month, reviews — Periodic Review Boards — took place for 64 Guantánamo prisoners who had been assessed as “too dangerous to release” or eligible for prosecution by the previous review process, conducted by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009.

The PRBs — consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — have so far delivered 57 decisions, approving 34 men for release, while upholding the ongoing imprisonment of 25 others. Five decisions have yet to be taken in the process, which is similar to parole, although with one obvious difference— none of the men at Guantánamo have been tried or convicted. Like parole, however, the PRBs require them to show remorse, and to demonstrate that they would establish peaceful and constructive lives if released.

The success rate in the PRBs to date — 58% — confirms that the decisions in 2009 demonstrated unnecessary caution on the part of the officials who made up the Guantánamo Review Task Force. For further details, see the definitive Periodic Review Board list that I wrote for the Close Guantánamo website that I established in January 2012 with the US attorney Tom Wilner. 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.
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