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/

Beyond Guantánamo, a Web of Prisons for Terrorism Inmates

From: New York Times
December 10, 2011

WASHINGTON — It is the other Guantánamo, an archipelago of federal prisons that stretches across the country, hidden away on back roads. Today, it houses far more men convicted in terrorism cases than the shrunken population of the prison in Cuba that has generated so much debate.

An aggressive prosecution strategy, aimed at prevention as much as punishment, has sent away scores of people. They serve long sentences, often in restrictive, Muslim-majority units, under intensive monitoring by prison officers. Their world is spare.

Among them is Ismail Royer, serving 20 years for helping friends go to an extremist training camp in Pakistan. In a letter from the highest-security prison in the United States, Mr. Royer describes his remarkable neighbors at twice-a-week outdoor exercise sessions, each prisoner alone in his own wire cage under the Colorado sky. “That’s really the only interaction I have with other inmates,” he wrote from the federal Supermax, 100 miles south of Denver.

There is Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, Mr. Royer wrote. Terry Nichols, who conspired to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building. Ahmed Ressam, the would-be “millennium bomber,” who plotted to attack Los Angeles International Airport. And Eric Rudolph, who bombed abortion clinics and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

In recent weeks, Congress has reignited an old debate, with some arguing that only military justice is appropriate for terrorist suspects. But military tribunals have proved excruciatingly slow and imprisonment at Guantánamo hugely costly — $800,000 per inmate a year, compared with $25,000 in federal prison.

The criminal justice system, meanwhile, has absorbed the surge of terrorism cases since 2001 without calamity, and without the international criticism that Guantánamo has attracted for holding prisoners without trial. A decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, an examination of how the prisons have handled the challenge of extremist violence reveals some striking facts:

¶ Big numbers. Today, 171 prisoners remain at Guantánamo. As of Oct. 1, the federal Bureau of Prisons reported that it was holding 362 people convicted in terrorism-related cases, 269 with what the bureau calls a connection to international terrorism — up from just 50 in 2000. An additional 93 inmates have a connection to domestic terrorism.

¶ Lengthy sentences. Terrorists who plotted to massacre Americans are likely to die in prison. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in 2010, is serving a sentence of life without parole at the Supermax, as are Zacarias Moussaoui, a Qaeda operative arrested in 2001, and Mr. Reid, the shoe bomber, among others. But many inmates whose conduct fell far short of outright terrorism are serving sentences of a decade or more, the result of a calculated prevention strategy to sideline radicals well before they could initiate deadly plots.

¶ Special units. Since 2006, the Bureau of Prisons has moved many of those convicted in terrorism cases to two special units that severely restrict visits and phone calls. But in creating what are Muslim-dominated units, prison officials have inadvertently fostered a sense of solidarity and defiance, and set off a long-running legal dispute over limits on group prayer. Officials have warned in court filings about the danger of radicalization, but the Bureau of Prisons has nothing comparable to the deradicalization programs instituted in many countries.

¶ Quiet releases. More than 300 prisoners have completed their sentences and been freed since 2001. Their convictions involved not outright violence but “material support” for a terrorist group; financial or document fraud; weapons violations; and a range of other crimes. About half are foreign citizens and were deported; the Americans have blended into communities around the country, refusing news media interviews and avoiding attention.

Read the rest here.

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….