Below is a powerful new animated film, six minutes in length, which tells the story of the hunger strike at Guantánamo that began in February, and involved the majority of the 164 prisoners still held over the six-month period that followed. At its height, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, and even though just 17 prisoners are still taking part in the hunger strike, 16 of them are being force-fed. Force-feeding is a brutal process, condemned by the medical profession, but it is difficult to understand what is happening at Guantánamo because no images are available of prisoners being force-fed.
To overcome the difficulty for people to empathize with people whose suffering is deliberately kept hidden, the new animated film, “Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes,” produced by Mustafa Khalili and Guy Grandjean of the Guardian, and the animation company Sherbet, features the testimony of four prisoners, all of whom have been cleared for release but are still held (a situation in which 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners find themselves). The film, which depicts life in the prison, including the horrible reality of force-feeding, is narrated by the actors David Morrisey and Peter Capaldi. See here for an account of the making of the film in today’s Observer, and see here for David Morrissey’s comments about it.
The men whose stories are featured are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Younus Chekhouri (aka Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan who has strong ties to Germany, Samir Moqbel (aka Mukbel), a Yemeni whose op-ed in the New York Times in April drew attention to the hunger strike, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived in the UK before his capture. The film also includes testimony from Nabil Hadjarab, one of just two prisoners released since President Obama promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners in May, and all of the statements were provided by the men’s lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly a year ago, on September 8, 2012, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, died in circumstances that are still disputed. The US authorities claim that he committed suicide by overdosing on psychiatric medication that he had hoarded, but that has always seemed unlikely, given that the prisoners at Guantánamo are closely monitored, and it has become clear that he was moved around the prison on a number of occasions before his death, making the hoarding of medication even more unlikely.
Despite the inconsistencies in the US authorities’ account of Adnan’s death, it is undisputed that, throughout his ten years at Guantánamo, he had attempted to commit suicide on several occasions. A talented poet, and a father, Adnan also had severe mental health problems, the result of a car crash in Yemen many years before his capture. Adnan always claimed that he had traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in search of cheap medical treatment for his head wounds, in contrast to the US authorities’ attempts to portray him as a member of al-Qaeda.
Those claims, however, evaporated over the years of Adnan’s long and pointless imprisonment, as he was cleared for release on three occasions, only to discover that decisions to release prisoners meant very little, especially in the case of Yemeni prisoners. At the time of his death, 87 of the remaining 167 prisoners had been cleared for release, by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in January 2009, but were still held, and 57 of these men were Yemenis. Read the rest of this entry »
After seven and a half years of researching and writing about the prisoners held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, it’s always refreshing to hear from former prisoners — and, in many cases, to see their faces and hear their voices for the very first time.
The highlights of “Life After Guantánamo,” Al-Jazeera America’s newly released documentary about Guantánamo (available below, via YouTube) are interviews with two released Yemeni prisoners, Mohammed Hassan Odaini (freed in July 2010), and Farouq Ali Ahmed (freed in December 2009). I told the story of Ahmed, the victim of two notoriously false allegations made by other prisoners, in an article following his release, and I told the story of Odaini, an innocent student seized in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002, in a series of articles between May 2010, when he had his habeas corpus petition granted, and his release 48 days later (see here, here and here).
At the time, it was clear to me that both men were palpably innocent, and seeing and hearing them now only confirms it. Both are charming and articulate, working, married, and expecting their first children, and, importantly, neither man even remotely fulfils American fears that released Yemenis will “return to the battlefield.” Read the rest of this entry »
This article, published simultaneously here and on the “Close Guantánamo” website, contains exclusive information from the unclassified notes of a visit to Abdelhadi Faraj — a Syrian prisoner, and one of 86 men cleared for release from Guantánamo but still held — by his attorney, Ramzi Kassem, in October 2012. During that visit, Faraj spoke about the death of Adnan Latif, the Yemeni prisoner who died at Guantánamo last September, and the notes from that visit, made available to me via Ramzi and his team at CUNY (the City University of New York) are compared and contrasted with the military’s own account, as described in a report released to the journalist Jason Leopold through FOIA legislation at the start of July 2013.
Ten months ago, on September 8, 2012, Adnan Latif, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantánamo, died in his cell. While no one at the time knew the circumstances of his death, it was clear that, however he had died, it was the fault of all three branches of the US government – of President Obama and his administration, of Congress, and of the Supreme Court and the court of appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court).
Latif, who had severe mental health problems, had been cleared for release in 2006 by a military review board under George W. Bush, and again by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009. He also had his habeas corpus petition granted by a District Court judge in July 2010, but the Obama administration appealed that ruling, and the D.C. Circuit Court overturned it in November 2011. In 2012, when Latif appealed to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land refused to accept his case (or those of six other prisoners), and three months later he was dead.
Two weeks ago, in response to a FOIA request submitted by the journalist Jason Leopold, the military released its report into Latif’s death, which found that the prison guards and medical personnel responsible for him had failed to follow the prison’s rules in dealing with him, and that Latif himself had “hoarded medications and ingested them shortly before he was found unresponsive in his cell.”
However, not everyone finds this explanation convincing. Read the rest of this entry »
In preventing the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, all three branches of the US government are responsible. President Obama promised to close the prison within a year of taking office, but he lacked a concrete plan, and soon caved in to criticism, blocking a plan by White House counsel Greg Craig to bring some cleared prisoners who couldn’t be safely repatriated — the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province — to live in the US, and imposing a ban on releasing all Yemenis after it was discovered that a failed plot to blow up a plane bound for the US on Christmas Day 2009 was hatched in Yemen.
Congress, in turn, imposed ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland, and, in the last two versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, a ban on releasing prisoners to any country where even a single released prisoner has allegedly engaged in recidivism (returning to the battlefield), and a requirement that, if a prisoner were to be released, the Secretary of Defense would have to certify that they would not be able, in future, to engage in any terrorist activities — a requirement that appears to be impossible to fulfill.
Largely overlooked has been the responsibility of the judiciary — and specifically, the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court), and the Supreme Court, but their role in keeping men at Guantánamo is also crucial.
Nine years ago, in June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights, a momentous ruling that pierced the veil of secrecy that had allowed the Bush administration to establish a torture regime at Guantánamo, and also allowed the prisoners to be represented by lawyers, who were allowed to visit them. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 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. Also, please see our updated Guantánamo prisoner list here, which now, for the first time, provides the status of all of the remaining 166 prisoners, based on the “Final Dispositions” of President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force (dated January 22, 2010, but only made publicly available on June 17, 2013) indicating whether they have been cleared for release, whether they have been designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, and whether they were recommended for prosecution.
On June 17, 2013, through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) legislation, a long-standing mystery was solved — the identities of the Guantánamo prisoners recommended for trial, for indefinite detention and for “conditional detention” by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in January 2009 — when the task force’s “Final Dispositions as of January 22, 2010″ were released by the Department of Justice.
The “Final Dispositions” document contains the names of 240 prisoners, one short of the total number of prisoners held when the the task force began its deliberations — that extra prisoner being Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who was convicted after a one-sided trial by military commission in November 2008, at which he refused to mount a defense, and given a life sentence.
Of those 240, the task force, in its final report in January 2010, recommended 156 for release, 36 for trials and 48 for indefinite detention without charge or trial, but did not reveal which prisoners were assigned to the various categories.
71 were subsequently released, and three died, leaving 166 men still held. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Seven years ago, late in the evening on June 9, 2006, three prisoners — Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni, and Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani, both Saudis — died at Guantánamo, in what was described by the authorities as a triple suicide, although that explanation seemed to be extremely dubious at the time, and has not become more convincing with the passage of time.
At the time, the prison’s commander, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., attracted widespread criticism by declaring that the deaths were an act of war. Speaking of the prisoners, he said, “They are smart, they are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”
I described the deaths in my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007, after a fourth death at the prison, of Abdul adman al-Amri, a Saudi, on May 30, 2007 (see here and here), and I wrote my first commemoration of the men’s deaths on the second anniversary of their supposed suicide, followed, in August 2008, with a skeptical analysis of the report of the deaths by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which took over two years to be made available.
The next year, 2009, the anniversary was overshadowed by the death of a fifth prisoner, Muhammad Salih, another Yemeni.
I call this the season of death because all five men died in a two-week period at the end of May and the start of June, and to this day none of the deaths have been adequately explained. It is also, I believe, significant that all five men had been long-term hunger strikers. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 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.
Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are cautiously optimistic about the release of prisoners in the months to come, following promises made by President Obama in a major speech on national security on Thursday.
On Guantánamo, the President made three particular promises.
He said, “I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.”
We’ve all heard fine words from the President before — when he was running for President, and when he took office in January 2009. On his second day in office, of course, he issued an executive order in which he promised to close Guantánamo within a year. Then, of course, uncomfortable realities arose. The President encountered political opposition, from Republicans and from members of his own party. His close advisers told him the effort to close the prison was not electorally worth the expenditure of political capital. Read the rest of this entry »
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