From A World to Win News Service.
15 April 2013
After weeks of minimizing the extent and seriousness of a hunger strike at the U.S.'s Guantanamo prison camp, the authorities have moved to stop it by force. Shortly after 5 am on 13 April, guards moved in to the communal living area with the intention of forcing the men into individual cells. Prisoners "resisted with improvised weapons" and the guards fired "four less than lethal rounds", causing injuries, none of them serious, according to a statement from the U.S. military's Southern Command, which refused to provide further details. The weapons were said to be broom and mop handles.
The reasons given for this assault are mutually contradictory on the face of it. The statement says that the action was in response to the covering up of surveillance cameras, windows and glass partitions by the prisoners, and at the same time, it claims that the "ongoing hunger strike necessitated" that the prisoners be moved into individual cells for "medical assessments". The media was also informed that prisoners had to be isolated from one another to prevent "coercion" by their fellow detainees to join the hunger strike.
But the transfers from Camp VI to single cells in Camp V, considered a punitive unit, was already under way when the raid took place. The covering of cameras and windows had begun several months ago, according to a military official quoted by The New York Times (13 April 2013) The raid took place within hours after the completion of a three-week-long International Red Cross inspection of the prison.
Attorneys for the prisoners, including from the Reprieve legal charity in London and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, report that most of the 130 men in Camp VI have joined the hunger strike that began 6 February. A spokeswomen for the CCR said, "Rather than deal with the reasons for the hunger strike – the immediate trigger of the searching of the Korans and the long-term desperation caused by more than 11 years of indefinite detention without charge or trial – the government responded over the weekend by escalating violence and retaliation. Rounding the men up in pre-dawn raids and forcing them into single cells is consistent with other tactics the government is using to pressure men to break the strike as well as to stem the flow of information out of the prison. If the men are kept from one another, they cannot report on the situation as a whole to their attorneys and the only means available to tell their side of the story is cut off."
The CRC spokeswoman also called the searching of the Korans a "provocation". The prisoners have asked the military to confiscate their Korans instead of periodically inspecting them in a way the prisoners consider offensive, but camp officials have refused to do so. At the same time, the U.S. military has accused the men of "manufacturing claims of Koran abuse" and labelled the hunger strike a "weapon", implying that their bid for world attention is not a legitimate protest but part of a a wider war and proof that these men are too dangerous to be released.
Many sources indicate that the government of U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to treat these prisoners more harshly than before.
The isolation of the prisoners from one another is being matched by moves to further isolate them from the outside world. Civilian flights to the American naval base at Guantanamo are being halted. The only way to reach it is by a U.S. military flight, which requires attorneys and journalists to apply long in advance. A planned visit by a New York Times reporter was cancelled at the last minute, and other journalists have been told they cannot hope for access for many weeks. Further, media visits to the prison itself are no longer permitted. Reporters are prohibited from taking pictures of messages prisoners hang over fences or on cell windows.
There are now a total of 166 men being held at Guantanamo. Only three of these prisoners have been tried and convicted, after more than 11 years, and only 30 face trial. In fact, more than half have been "cleared for release" by the Obama government, but it refuses to let them go. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently reiterated that "the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law." But as Obama has indicated in the case of Israel as well, international law only applies where and when the U.S. wants it to.
Obama promised to close Guantanamo by January 2010 but there are no plans to ever do so. Instead, a new building is being built, reportedly including facilities for "ageing prisoners", even though most of the prisoners were captured when they were young, a few as children. At least seven prisoners are known to have committed suicide.
Prisoners are subjected to extremes of heat and cold. A U.S. court recently ruled that they must be supplied with safe drinking water, which hunger strikers say they are denied. They also report being injured by "forcible cell extractions", sometimes several times a day.
Some of the hunger strikers could face death in the near future, both Reprieve and the CRC say. Rather than medical treatment, they are being subjected to forced feeding in a manner that can only be considered deliberate torture, a continuation of the waterboarding, beatings and other forms of torture to which they were previously subjected to at Guantanamo and elsewhere. The facts about this earlier treatment have been confirmed by a U.S. Navy captain who ran a hospital for Guantanamo detainees according to a review by the Constitution Project, led by two former prominent members of the U.S. Congress.
Speaking to his attorneys at Reprieve by telephone, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel gave the following account:
"I've been on a hunger strike since February 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds (13.6 kilos). I will not eat until they restore my dignity.
"I've been detained at Guantanamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crimes. I have never received a trial...
"Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the ERF (Extreme Extraction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.
"I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can't describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit but I couldn't. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I have never experienced such pain before...
"There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren't enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up...
"When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the ERF team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding...
"The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.
"And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.
"I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantanamo, before it is too late." (New York Times, 15 April 2013)
The hunger striker Fayiz al-Kandari told his lawyer, "I scare myself when I look in the mirror. Let them kill us, as we have nothing to lose. We died when Obama indefinitely detained us. Respect us or kill us, it's your choice. The United States must take off its mask and kill us." (Russian Times, 27 March 2013)
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