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/

Plz Sign for Last British Citizen still being held in "Gitmo"

“I Affirm Our Right to Life”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, Explains His Peaceful Protest and Hunger Strike
From the website of Andy Worthington
6.4.12
Please Sign Here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/shaker-aamerguantanamo-bay/

This article is the second of two articles providing new commentary by Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo — and reproducing a statement he made about conditions in the prison, with additional notes by Ramzi Kassem, one of his lawyers. The two articles were published simultaneously — here and on the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and this is a cross-post of the article published on “Close Guantánamo.” Also, if you’re interested in seeing Shaker Aamer freed from Guantánamo, please sign the e-petition to the British government calling for his release (if you’re a UK citizen or resident — whatever your age), and the international petition on the Care 2 Petition Site, which will be delivered to both the US and UK governments.

In a letter dated July 15, 2011, which has recently been unclassified by the Pentagon, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, explained why he was embarking on a peaceful protest, which also involved a hunger strike. These reasons are posted below, because they provide a compelling snapshot of the current conditions in the prison, touching on the injustice of holding people for nine years — now ten — without charge or trial, so that they can be legitimately regarded as hostages; preventing them from having contact with their families; and not meeting their needs regarding healthcare and diet. He also criticized President Obama administration for not keeping his promise to close Guantanamo within a year of taking office.

These complaints are valid for all the prisoners still held at Guantánamo (171 in total), but from what we understand, Shaker Aamer is one of 89 prisoners who are still held despite being cleared for release over two years ago by an interagency Task Force established by President Obama. This, of course, is an absolute disgrace, and in Shaker’s case it is compounded by the fact that he was first told he was cleared under President Bush in 2007, and the British government has also been seeking his return for the last five years.

Following the points raised in the letter, below, Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, who is one of Aamer’s attorneys, explained that, on a visit in January, his client described what took place during the widespread peaceful protest and hunger strike on the tenth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo (on January 11 this year), and provided further background information regarding his complaints about the food and the lack of communication with his family, and also his frank and obviously very real fears about being killed.

SUBJECT: Peaceful Protest

From GTMO detainee to his lawyer.

I the signatory below, in Camp 5E [“Five Echo,” described here] announce the start of a peaceful protest/hunger strike for the reasons enumerated below:

1. The opening and continuing operation of this unjust detention facility for the ninth year of my continuing and indefinite detention in the absence of any real accusation or crimes committed. Therefore I am hostage.

2. The inhumane treatment and deprivation of some of the items we are truly in need of, most important of which are the family calls since they are most critical to our families, especially to those experiencing special circumstances. Therefore, I want these calls to take place on a continuing basis and recur once every 15 days. These family calls ought to last no less than 2 hours with further consideration given to those experiencing special circumstances. I also speak for the regular mail to be made more efficient and provide us with e-mail.

3. The inhumane treatment is taking place at the hospital among other areas especially affecting the sick and those who are on strike and our deprivation of real treatment, health diet and appropriate clothing which are not provided to us nor are we allowed to provide them for ourselves.

4. Not upholding the promise that both your president and government gave on 01/21/2009 concerning the closing of Guantánamo detention facility. Very few people have left ever since although many here have been deemed to not represent any danger for the United States. Therefore, I ask you to establish justice and remove the injustice that has befallen us and our brothers in all detention centers.

By submitting these demands, I affirm our right to life. We want our freedom and the right to return to our homes since I am innocent of the charges (if there were any) you have levied against us. I ask that you establish justice that you claim to be a foundation of your country.

After these years of hardship we have spent here — and which I managed to do only through the grace of God, otherwise I would have lost my sanity — I want you to consider my case as soon as possible and give me the right to a just and public trial or set me free without conditions.

Shaker Aamer (00239)

*****

Following this letter, Aamer was instrumental in organizing a peaceful hunger strike and protest on the tenth anniversary of the opening of the prison, on January 11 this year, which I reported here.

In a meeting with Ramzi Kassem on January 27, he explained that he and another prisoner were “on punishment status” during the week of the anniversary. With an eye for symbolism, they had asked to be issued with orange jumpsuits, which were worn by all the prisoners in the early days of Guantánamo, but were then issued only to prisoners “on punishment status.” However, the Joint Task Force refused, and Shaker found it ironic that refusing to allow the orange jumpsuits to be used was “part of an effort to whitewash the prison’s image.”

He complained that, despite claims that the prisoners are all fed well, the food is, in fact, “all mixed up together: the tuna mixed with the fruit salad, the eggs mixed with the oatmeal.” And then, he said, “there’s the thick, heavy, oddly non-circular shaped pseudo-falafel,” which he has taken to calling the “constipation cube.” He has explained that you could “throw it against a wall and it wouldn’t crumble apart.” As he stated: “You gonna be clogged up. No way you gonna go to the bathroom.”

Aamer explained that the quality of the food improved slightly in the first half of January, in an evidently cynical attempt to keep the prisoners calm on the anniversary, but then became as inedible as ever — so inedible, as Aamer said, that “sometimes even the stray cats he cares for during his recreation time won’t touch it.”

He also explained his fears — that he doesn’t feel safe without the constant presence of attorneys, and the constant threat of embarrassment in the media directed at the prison authorities. Only then, he said, does he believe there will there be “a meaningful check” on the abuse of prisoners.

He has said that he fears for his life, and fears that if, in the course of a “Forced Cell Extraction” by the notorious Immediate Reaction Force (the armored guards responsible for maintaining discipline and punishing infringements of the rules), the guards kill him, they will tell the world it was a suicide. Who knows, he has asked, if the men that the authorities claimed committed suicide truly had — the three men who died in 2006, and the others in 2007, 2009 and 2011? What, he wonders, if, instead of killing him, they paralyze him during one of their brutal beatings?

Touching on one of his major complaints in his letter of July 2011, Aamer stated that he has not been allowed to communicate with his wife and their children in London since a videoteleconference (VTC) arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross on August 12, 2011, and another with his mother and relatives immediately after Ramadan. The ICRC told him there would be another VTC with his family in December 2011, but that call never took place, and he wonders why. He also wonders why his brother and his family haven’t written to him, or if they know where to send letters.

He also fears that his letters to his family in the UK are not being sent, and has stated that he would like his attorney to find out how many of his letters have been received. Sadly, he has not received any letters from his wife in three years, with the exception of a single letter delivered by the British government via military lawyers for the prison authorities at GTMO.

Aamer asked Kassem if he knew what “SOP” stands for. He replied, “Standard Operating Procedures,” but Aamer told him, “Shit on Paper,” and told him that was the running joke amongst the prisoners, guards, and officers alike.

Shaking his head, and noting that he is now 46 years old, Aamer explained that in the last ten years, he has sat across the table from roughly 200 interrogators, and said, “Some of them were extremely experienced, older than 70 years of age.” However, neither they, nor the countless rotations of guards, have succeeded in breaking his spirit. As he said: “What keeps me happy, what keeps me alive, is that I haven’t surrendered. I tell the guards that even though they are putting shackles on me. I’m still a free man.”

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)

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….