There are currently 166 people imprisoned in Guantanamo, the majority of whom are known to be innocent. 86 of them have already been cleared for release by the US government since many years. Yet their indefinite detention without trial continues. More than 130 of the prisoners are now embroiled in an agonizing hunger strike to draw attention to their plight. Shaker Aamer, the sole UK citizen still at Guantanamo, who has been locked up for 11 years despite being cleared for release 6 years ago, has already lost more than a quarter of his body weight.
“I barely notice all of my medical ailments any more – the back pain from the beatings I have taken, the rheumatism from the frigid air conditioning, the asthma exacerbated by the toxic sprays they use to abuse us. There is an endless list. And now 24/7, as the Americans say, I have the ache of hunger,” Aamer told the Observer, UK.
“I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow. But if it is God’s will that I should die here, I want to die with dignity. I hope, if the worst comes to the worst, that my children will understand that I cared for the rights of those suffering around me almost as much as I care for them.”
Yemeni prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel wrote in a letter published in The New York Times, “The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply… 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 Guantánamo before it is too late.”
The US Supreme Court ruled (Hamdan vs Rumsfeld) on June 29, 2006 that Guantanamo detainees were legally entitled to protection under the Geneva Convention and under US laws regarding prisoners’ rights during armed conflicts. In a speech on August 1, 2007, Obama, then a senator, said, “In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantanamo, we have compromised our most precious values.” On January 22, 2009, the new president Obama signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility within one year, in order to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.”
Ramzy Baroud writes on antiwar.com, “While his second term is unlikely to deliver much of the “change” he had so industriously promised, skeletal men continue to sink into utter despair at the American gulag at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.”
Attorney Carlos Warner, who represents 11 prisoners at Guantánamo, told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, “The president has the authority to transfer individuals if he believes that it’s in the interests of the United States. He doesn’t have the political will to do so because 166 men in Guantánamo don’t have much pull in the United States. But the average American on the street does not understand that half of these men, 86 of the men, are cleared for release.”
Things had been improving at Guantanamo in terms of prison conditions. Torture had stopped. Once the prisoners were found to lack any useful information, the brutal interrogations stopped. Warner continues:
“There are about four years of détente between the guards and the men, where really, the guards were understanding of the men and the men were very respectful to the guards. And the guard force was changed in September. It went from the Navy to the Army. It was from that time, we started to have crisis…
“Basically, the Army made a decision: We want to take everything out of the camps and know what we’re dealing with. This all came to a head on February the 6th when the men’s cells were stripped and Muslim linguists were leafing through the Qur’ans with the Army looking on. And this was, as I’ve said, the spark that ignited this current strike. And from there, we’ve just devolved and devolved.”
Guantanamo prisoner Fayiz al-Kandry reported that he is being force-fed with a bigger tube than is required. This makes it difficult for him to breathe, and induces vomiting.
Sami al-Hajj, the al-Jazeera journalist who was held in Guantanamo for over 6 years, reported that while he was on the hunger strike that led to his release, guards forcibly shoved a large tube through his nose down into his stomach, and violently yanked it out after the feeding was done. They reused the same tube filled with blood and vomit to shove inside the hunger striking prisoners.
The new Army guards have attempted to break the hunger strikers’ resolve by placing them in solitary cells. This led to violent clashes, with guards firing “non-lethal” rounds on prisoners.
On March 21, 2013, al-Kandry sent a gift to Attorney Warner with a letter that reads: “I made this lantern with my brothers. It’s made with bits of paper and cardboard. We used a water bottle sanded on the floor as glass. We painted it with bits of paint and fruit juice. It’s held together by pressure only. We made this lantern for those in the world who remember and pray for us during this time of suffering. Let its light fill you. Use it to bring peace to your heart.” Attorney Warner said that it felt like a goodbye letter.
Without any serious pressure from concerned Americans to close Guantanamo, and without any heroic attempt by the Cuban people to rid themselves of the grotesque American occupation on their soil, it appears that an entire corporate industry has grown around the continuing injustice towards these men, most of whom were randomly kidnapped while traveling abroad, and sold to the US for a couple thousand dollars’ bounty. Releasing them would mean Americans admitting they were wrong. Something we are not used to doing.
Ryan J Reilly reports in the Huffington Post, “As Obama’s second term begins, Guantanamo seems to be putting down roots. Indeed, parts of the naval base have taken on the appearance of a new beach side housing development. Hundreds of homes are currently under construction in neighborhoods with names like Iguana Terrace and Marina Point, to house the growing population of military personnel, civilian contractors and their families, which currently stands at approximately 5,000… The base features a Starbucks, a Subway, a McDonald’s, a KFC/Taco Bell, a supermarket, a golf course, a restaurant serving Jamaican jerk chicken and an Irish pub. A gift shop sells stuffed iguanas and T-shirts emblazoned with Guantanamo Bay slogans like ‘Close, But No Cigar.’”