Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes – video animation

This is posted on The Guardian: In March 2013, reports of a hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay, the US detention camp in Cuba, began to surface. Details were sketchy and were contradicted by statements from the US military. Now, using testimony from five detainees, this animated film reveals the daily brutality of life inside Guantánamo. Today there are 17 prisoners still on hunger strike, 16 of whom are being force-fed. Two are in hospital

Warning: contains scenes some viewers might find disturbing

شاهد هذا الفيلم مع ترجمة بالعربية

Prison-Wide Hunger Strike Still Rages at Guantánamo

From: Andy Worthington
30.3.13

Three weeks ago, I wrote an article entitled, “A Huge Hunger Strike at Guantánamo,” in which I reported the stories emerging from Guantánamo of a prison-wide hunger strike, the most severe since George W. Bush was President, and the gulf between what was being reported by the prisoners, via their attorneys, and what the US authorities were saying.

At the time, the authorities stated that just six of the 166 men still held were classified as hunger strikers, and that five were being force-fed, through tubes inserted up their nose and into their stomachs — these men all being long-term hunger strikers, at least one of whom has, alarmingly, been on a hunger strike since 2005.

It was, to be frank, inconceivable that the hunger strike had been invented by the prisoners, when attorneys reported visiting their clients, and seeing that they had lost 20 to 30 pounds in weight. However, it took until March 15, as Carol Rosenberg reported for the Miami Herald, for “the first admission of a protest” to be made by the authorities. Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison authorities, denied “a widespread phenomenon, as alleged,” but conceded, “for the first time after weeks of denial,” as Rosenberg put it, “that the number had surged to 14 from the five or six detainees who had for years been considered hunger strikers among the 166 captives at Guantánamo.”

Since the blanket denials were dropped, and the media began to take an interest in the story, focusing the world’s attention on the problems at Guantánamo to a greater degree than has happened for many years, the authorities have steadily acknowledged that more and more prisoners are on a hunger strike. Last week, the numbers went up to 21, and ended the week at 26, and this week the latest tally is 31 [Note: Since writing this article, the figure has been revised up to 37]. That, however, is still a far cry from the claims made by the prisoners and their attorneys, who state that the majority of the prisoners in Camp 6 — 130 men in total — are involved in the hunger strike.

Whatever the exact figures, transparency and honesty are not attributes that the US government can claim when it comes to Guantánamo, and it is difficult to see why the authorities should be trusted. As well as disputing the figures, the government also claims that the main reason given for the hunger strike is a lie. 51 attorneys wrote to defense secretary Chuck Hagel on March 14, explaining that the hunger strike “was precipitated by widespread searches of detainees’ Qur’ans — perceived as religious desecration — as well as searches and confiscation of other personal items, including family letters and photographs, and legal mail, seemingly without provocation or cause. We also understand that these searches occurred against a background of increasingly regressive practices at the prison taking place in recent months, which our clients have described as a return to an older regime at Guantánamo that was widely identified with the mistreatment of detainees.”

Chuck Hagel has not responded, but the authorities deny the prisoners’ claims.

However, there is another reason for the hunger strike that is rather harder to deny; namely, that the prisoners despair of ever being released, over four years after President Obama promised to close Guantánamo, and despite 86 of the remaining prisoners being cleared for release by an interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that the President established in 2009.

The President himself is to blame for imposing a blanket ban on the release of two-thirds of these men — all Yemenis — after a Nigerian man,Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US on Christmas Day 2009. Abdulmutallab was recruited in Yemen, but the President’s ban imposes an unjustifiable life sentence on the Yemenis on the basis of their nationality alone.

Also to blame is Congress, where lawmakers introduced legislation designed to block the release of prisoners, including an obligation on the defense secretary to certify that any released prisoner would not subsequently be able to engage in anti-American activities — a certification that seems to me to be impossible to make. As a result, only four prisoners have been released in the last two years, and during that same time period three prisoners have died. The prisoners also understand these statistics: at present there is a 43 percent probability that if they manage to leave Guantánamo, which is unlikely, it will be in a coffin.

The authorities have not spoken officially about the prisoners’ despair, although in Congressional testimony last week, Gen. John F. Kelly, the naval commander at Guantánamo, acknowledged the reality of it when he said, “They [the prisoners] had great optimism that Guantánamo would be closed. They were devastated, apparently … when the president backed off — at least their perception — of closing the facility. He said nothing about it in his inauguration speech. He said nothing about it in his State of the Union speech. He has said nothing about it. He’s not — he’s not restaffing the office that … looks at closing the facility.”

What happens next is unclear. People will die unless action is taken to bring the hunger strike to an end, and President Obama needs to stir himself from his torpor and act to bring to an end the disgraceful situation whereby prisoners cleared for release by the government may be imprisoned for the rest of their lives because it has proven to be politically inconvenient to release them. One of these men, Adnan Latif, a Yemeni, died at Guantánamo last September, and there are now understandable fears that others will die.

Instead of responding, however, President Obama is doing nothing — or rather, just watching as officials establish that nearly $200 million is required to renovate the facilities at Guantánamo, including, as Gen. Kelly let slip, $50 million to replace Camp 7, the secretive camp where the 16 “high-value detainees,” including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are held. The President, I’m sorry to note, escaped the scrutiny he deserved when these figures emerged, because the cost, of course, includes the figures for the cleared prisoners. It was established in November 2011 that it costs $72 million a year to hold the cleared prisoners; and to that can be added half of the $150 million that is not being spent on the “high-value detainees.” With the annual cost, that is $150 million that will be spent this year on holding men that the US government decided three to four years ago it no longer wished to hold.

When asked about the reasons for the hunger strike, Capt. Durand stated that

Read the rest here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2013/03/30/prison-wide-hunger-strike-still-rages-at-guantanamo/

Guantánamo in America (Part One): NPR Explains How Muslims Are Deprived of Fundamental Rights in Secretive Prison Units

From: Andy Worthington´s Guantanamo Bay Webarchive:

20 March 2011

It has long been a regret of mine that I don’t have enough time to write about the domestic prison system in the US, because of the distressing scale of incarceration in the US (the highest per capita rate in the world, by far) and also because of the violence and brutality, and the use of prolonged isolation, that mirrors much of what has been taking place at Guantánamo and elsewhere in the “War on Terror” for the last nine years.

Fortunately, two weeks ago NPR ran a major feature on a disturbing aspect of the isolation regime in domestic US prisons, focusing on the little-known Communications Management Units (CMUs), located in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Marion, Illinois, where the inmates are mostly Muslims, who are subjected to surveillance 24 hours a day, have their mail monitored, and are prevented from having any physical contact whatsoever with their families during prison visits –behavior that is more reminiscent of Guantánamo than of the rest of the domestic prison system.

Although Muslims make up the majority of the prisoners in the CMUs, there appears to be little internal logic regarding who is held and why, as those held range from foreign nationals involved in major acts of international terrorism to American citizens involved in fundraising for organzations acting as alleged fronts for terrorism and others caught in US government sting operations, which rather tends to enforce the notion that a large part of the CMUs’ rationale involves racial and religious profiling.

The prisoners also include — or have included — individuals involved in various forms of political activism, including environmental activism, and others for whom the rationale for keeping them under 24-hour surveillance appears to be that they “have spoken out at other prison units and advocated for their rights” and/or “have taken leadership positions in religious communities in those other prisons,” and/or because “officials worry that they could recruit other inmates for terrorism or direct people in the outside world to commit crimes.”

If you didn’t come across the NPR feature, I’ve cross-posted below the main article, “Guantánamo North”: Inside Secretive U.S. Prisons, but I also recommend a shorter follow-up article, Leaving “Guantanamo North”, and two other parts of the NPR feature that are not reproduced here: TIMELINE: The History Of ‘Guantanamo North’ and, in particular, DATA & GRAPHICS: Population Inside The CMUs, which contains the names and details of the 86 prisoners (and ex-prisoners) identified in the NPR report.

“Guantánamo North”: Inside Secretive U.S. Prisons
By Carrie Johnson and Margot Williams, NPR, March 3, 2011

Reports about what life is like inside the military prison for terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay are not uncommon. But very little is reported about two secretive units for convicted terrorists and other inmates who get 24-hour surveillance, right here in the U.S.

Read the rest here….

Reprieve Encourages Supporters to Write to Prisoners in Guantánamo

From Andy Worthington´s Blog:

19.1.11

In the Guardian’s Comment is free yesterday, Cortney Busch of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 of the remaining 173 prisoners in Guantánamo, encouraged Guardian readers to write to prisoners who might be losing hope because of the failure of the Obama administration to close the prison as promised — and as I described in my recent articles, Guantánamo Forever? and The Political Prisoners of Guantánamo.
Writing to the prisoners is an excellent idea, and one that I last helped promote last June, when some Facebook friends and activists took it upon themselves to encourage people to write to all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo. I’m also pleased to have helped to encourage people to write to prisoners through my involvement in the creation of a short film of former prisoner Omar Deghayes showing cards and letters he received while in Guantánamo, and speaking about what they meant to him and to the other prisoners, which was filmed as part of the making of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” and is included in the promotion for Amnesty International’s letter-writing campaign.

I’m pleased, therefore, to cross-post Cortney’s article below — and am also pleased that she specifically mentioned Younous Chekkouri, described as “one of the most peaceful and cooperative” prisoners, whose calmness and intelligence struck me when I was researching my book The Guantánamo Files five years ago, and trawling through the publicly available documents released (after a lawsuit) by the Pentagon.
I was delighted to hear that Younous “comes to each attorney meeting with a stack of pictures of roses to distribute to [Cortney’s] Reprieve colleagues as tokens of thanks,” and also to discover that he is a Sufi — something that, in all these years, I had never discovered. However, I also fear that, despite his formidable inner peace, and his valid explanations for being in Afghanistan (available here), Younous is regarded as one of the 48 prisoners that the Obama administration intends to hold indefinitely without charge or trial.

Pen pals can give hope to Guantánamo prisoners
Cortney Busch, The Guardian, January 18, 2011

The latest US legislation is causing dozens held at Guantánamo Bay to lose hope — but you can make a difference

When Reprieve attorney Cori Crider met her youngest client, 19-year-old Mohammed el Gharani, before his release from Guantánamo Bay in 2009, he made an unexpected request. He asked if she knew how he could get hold of some books, ideally on history or politics, to help him prepare himself for the outside world.

Mohammed had been sold to the US for a bounty when he was just 14, and spent his school years in Guantánamo’s military prison. He was worried that he would appear ignorant when he emerged. Reprieve put out a call and was quickly inundated with donated books, which Mohammed received with delight. But what encouraged him most were the hundreds of notes scrawled inside the covers — messages of humanity and kindness that Guantánamo prisoners rarely, if ever, receive.

Today Mohammed is a free man, and working hard at setting up his own laundrette in Chad. But many of his fellow detainees remain imprisoned — and have just been dealt a fresh and crushing blow. The National Defense Authorization Act 2011, recently signed into US law, bans the use of military funds to bring Guantánamo prisoners before US civilian courts — and makes releasing the 89 men who are already cleared to leave much more difficult. President Obama has criticised these provisions, promising to repeal them or to mitigate their effects. But for the moment the mood among Guantánamo’s prisoners is distinctly gloomy. This is why Reprieve is now asking people to take the unusual step of writing them letters of support.

A Guantánamo pen pal may seem a daunting prospect, but from my trips to the island prison over the past year I can personally recommend Younous Chekkouri, widely regarded as one of the most peaceful and cooperative detainees. He bears no ill will towards Americans and comes to each attorney meeting with a stack of pictures of roses to distribute to my Reprieve colleagues as tokens of thanks. Far from being a violent jihadi, Younous is a Sufi — a strikingly benign strand of Islam that values love and peace above all.

So how did such a person end up in Guantánamo? Much like Mohammed el Gharani, Younous was “sold” to the Americans. When the US declared war on Afghanistan in 2001, Younous and his wife fled Kabul for Pakistan, only to find that men of Arabic descent had become precious commodities. American forces were offering bounties of $5,000 (£3,125) per head to anyone who handed over a “terrorist”. The fliers offering the money promised schools, doctors, housing and unimaginable wealth for the reader and the community. Hundreds of people were rounded up, arrested en masse and sold to the US, and Younous found himself caught up in one of these sweeps and ultimately transferred to Guantánamo Bay.

Almost nine years later, Younous, like dozens of other men still held at Guantánamo, has never been charged with a crime or given the chance to clear his name. In fact, his challenge to his detention has only just reached the courtroom. As a member of Younous’s legal team, I know we have a good case that should soon, by rights, set him free. But I also know that Younous, like the other 172 men left in Guantánamo, is now beginning to despair of ever being released.

For many of these men, the last eight or nine years have been spent hundreds of miles from family and friends, without compassion and very little hope. Yet these are perhaps their darkest days yet. Please consider writing one of them a letter. As with the messages scrawled in Mohammed’s books, even the smallest word of encouragement lets them know they are not forgotten.

For details on how to write to one of Guantánamo’s “forgotten” prisoners, please visit this page on Reprieve’s website.

Note: Reprieve’s initiative contains the names and brief stories of some of the 173 men still held, and the following instructions for those planning to write:
Please address all letters to:
Detainee Name
Detainee ISN
Guantánamo Bay
P.O. Box 160
Washington, D.C. 20053
United States of America
Include a return address on the envelope.

Further information about prisoners to whom readers might want to write is available on the page I compiled last June for a similar project, Write to the Forgotten Prisoners in Guantánamo, and more detailed information about the men still held can be found in my nine-part series profiling the men still held, available via the following page: Introducing the Definitive List of the Remaining Prisoners in Guantánamo.

And finally, the short video below is of Mohammed El-Gharani thanking supporters for the many books that they sent him after Reprieve launched a campaign to help him:

Andy Worthington is 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. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Christmas at Guantánamo

By: Andy Worthington, taken from his weblog

25.12.10

Ten days ago, when I traveled to Sheffield with my friend, the former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, for a screening of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (which I co-directed with Polly Nash), I asked Omar what Guantánamo was like at Christmas, as I knew that he had spent five Christmases imprisoned in Guantánamo, and I thought it might make an interesting article for Christmas this year.

In fact, there was little to report. The authorities, it seems, made some effort on this great Christian holy day, but the prisoners, for the most part, were in no mood to accept one day of charity when the rest of the year was so devoid of Christian charity.
Instead, I thought I’d take this opportunity to remind readers who may be searching the Internet because they need a break from eating and drinking, or because they want to get away from their families for a while, or because the TV is so relentlessly pointless, or because they don’t celebrate Christmas, about some of the 174 men still held in Guantánamo, for whom concern is particularly appropriate right now, as, between them, the Obama administration and Congress seem to have ensured that the majority of them will be spending many more Christmases at Guantánamo.

My first thoughts were for prisoners I have written about recently — in particular, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, cleared for release in 2007 but still held; Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian, also cleared for release in 2007, who is terrified of being forcibly repatriated; and Fayiz al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti who lost his habeas petition in September, but who appears, by any objective measure, to be an innocent man.
I encourage readers to visit this page for information about how to write to the British and American governments about Shaker Aamer, to visit this page for information about the latest attempts by Ahmed Belbacha’s lawyers to prevent his involuntary repatriation, and to visit this page to sign a petition asking Attorney General Eric Holder to return Fayiz al-Kandari to Kuwait (or just sign the petition here).
However, in thinking about all the prisoners still held, I was also reminded of one particular prisoner whose story I have not written about for many months, but who is in desperate need of help. That man is Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 34-year old Yemeni prisoner who won his habeas corpus petition on July 21 this year, but is still held, even though it became apparent during his hearing that the Bush administration had cleared him for release from Guantánamo in 2007, and even though one of his lawyers, David Remes, explained after the ruling, “This is a mentally disturbed man who has said from the beginning that he went to Afghanistan seeking medical care because he was too poor to pay for it. Finally, a court has recognized that he’s been telling the truth, and ordered his release.”

Read the rest here.