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100 Gitmo Hunger Strikers Appeal to Zero Dark Americans

Word has it 100 of the 166 inmates of Guantanamo are participating in a hunger strike.

The innocent detainees (“officially” 86 but God only knows how many more) of Guantanamo apparently still think there is a snowball’s chance in hell that if Zero Dark Americans -- especially the deluded “personality over principle” progressives -- really knew the truth of what had and has been happening to them before and during their unending detainments, the colossal abuses they have had to endure (and especially lately that they are enduring) not to mention their colossal and ever escalating despair after 11 LONG YEARS of incarceration without due process -- waiting, waiting, waiting for a not slow-go but really NO-go Obama-Godot, then those Zero Dark Americans would actually give a serious shit.

HAH! That’s rich! What is that expression, “Hope was the last temptation of Christ”?

Of course, the majority of Americans are rarely challenged to exercise their flabby consciences since mainstream corporate media won’t begin to disclose to them unjust realities perpetrated by their government. If there is the threat of reality penetrating American propaganda-ville, media will disinform and reassure them with the administration’s flimsy, say anything for impression management party lines.

Orwellian Bushworld has been replaced by an even slicker Orwellian Obamaworld.

So let’s TRY to see what is happening re Gitmo these days in spite of the smoke and mirror Obamaworld opaque-ness.

Twelve lawyers who represent most of the Guantanamo detainees are expressing alarm over the apparent widespread hunger strike occurring there. Some of their clients are “coughing up blood” and “losing consciousness.” One of those lawyers, David Remes, was especially concerned with one of his clients -- Hussain Almerfedi, a Yemeni. He claims Hussain has lost “substantial weight” and was “very sick.” These attorneys have written a group letter expressing their concerns to Navy Rear Adm. John W. Smith, the commander of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo.

Amy Goodman in “Starving for Justice at Guantanamo” writes:

Reports are emerging from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay that a majority of the prisoners are on a hunger strike. One hundred sixty-six remain locked up, although more than half of them have been cleared by the Obama administration for release. Yet there they languish (in some cases now in their second decade) in a hellish legal limbo, uncharged yet imprisoned. President Barack Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo, as he boldly promised to do with an executive order signed on Jan. 22, 2009, and the deterioration of conditions at the prison under his watch will remain a lasting stain on his legacy.
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From Guantanamo, Yemeni prisoner Bashir al-Marwalah wrote to his lawyer: “We are in danger. One of the soldiers fired on one of the brothers a month ago. Before that, they send the emergency forces with M-16 weapons into one of the brothers’ cell blocks. ... Now they want to return us to the darkest days under Bush. They said this to us. Please do something.”

Al-Marwalah was referring to the first recorded use of rubber bullets being fired at a Guantanamo prisoner by the U.S. military guards there.

According to Pardiss Kebriaei, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, her client Ghaleb al-Bihani is one of the Guantanamo prisoners currently on a hunger strike. She told me Al-Bihani told her that “there is a large-scale hunger strike in Camp 6, which is the largest of the facilities at Guantanamo. That prison holds about 130 men. He said that almost everyone, except for a few who are sick and elderly, is on strike. He had lost over 20 pounds. He is a diabetic. His blood-glucose levels are fluctuating wildly. He told me that medical staff at Guantanamo has told him his life is in danger. And he and others want us to get the word out about this.”

snip

But what we have heard from every habeas counsel who has been down to the base or communicated with their clients since February is the same, which is that there is a large-scale strike, men are refusing food. We’ve heard reports of people losing over 20, 30, 40 pounds. And we’re now today in day 36 or so of the strike. By day 42, 45, you start seeing things like loss of vision, loss of hearing, and eventually death. So this is—it’s an emergency situation. We view it as an emergency situation. And denials by the authorities, at this point, of the strike are dangerous and irresponsible.

Kebriaei on the plight of her client and other detainees:

He is a young man from Yemen. He’s one of 89 Yemenis. They make up the largest group of men at Guantánamo. There are 166 people who remain. He and—like everyone else from Yemen, even if he were cleared to leave Guantánamo, which most of the men at Guantánamo now are cleared by the Obama administration to leave, he would be stuck there. He would remain in prison because of a continuing moratorium on all transfers to Yemen. So, he’s one of many men who has, at this point, lost a great deal of hope about when his detention at Guantánamo will ever end. He’s never been charged. He’s been held now for over 11 years.

snip

There are 166 men; 86 of them have been cleared by the Obama administration to leave. That means that every government agency with a stake in Guantánamo has unanimously declared that those people do not need to continue to be held. Most of the men who are cleared are Yemeni. There are 56 Yemenis who are cleared. There’s a handful of other men who could leave but need resettlement in third countries.

Goodman reveals at a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Pardiss Kebriaei’s colleague at the Center and attorney Omar Farah, had this to say of his client’s plight:

“I represent Tariq Ba Odah, a young Yemeni man who’s been on an uninterrupted hunger strike since February 2007. He is force-fed daily by Guantanamo guard staff. As we speak, it’s likely that he’s being removed from his cell, strapped to a restraint chair, and a rubber tube is being inserted into his nose to pump a liquid dietary supplement into his stomach. Tariq says this is the only way that he has to communicate to those of us who have our freedom what it means to be unjustly detained, to be put in a cell for a decade without charge. It’s his only way to communicate the barbarism of such conduct.”

Yet another lawyer for Guantanamo prisoners, Kristine Huskey of Physicians for Human Rights explained some of the psychological and physical impact of indefinite detention:

... indefinite detention causes “severe and lasting psychological trauma ... caused by chronic states of stress, anxiety and dread, because these people at Guantanamo don’t know if they’re going to be released, if ever ... all of this uncertainty and uncontrollability causes extreme stress on the immune system, the cardiovascular system. It leads to asthma, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, spread of cancer, viral infections, hypertension, depression, suicide, PTSD.”

Michael Isikoff cites Remes, one of the attorneys aforementioned:

“The men are at their wit’s end,” he said. “This is their eleventh year of being there and they have no prospect for release.” He also said that since taking over last year as commander,  Adm. Smith had “turned the clock back” to 2002 and 2003, imposing harsher restrictions on the detainees and more-rigorous searches in which personal items were being seized. The searches are being carried out by guards -- some of whom are returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq -- who he asserted appear to be extracting vengeance for what they encountered overseas, he said.   

One flashpoint appears to have been a Feb. 6 search at Camp 6 in which, according to the lawyers, camp authorities seized blankets, sheets, towels, sleeping mats, razors and other items from the detainees,  including family photos and religious CDs from the detainees. In their letter to Smith, the lawyers alleged that Arabic interpreters at the camp inspected Qurans “in ways that constitute desecration.”

Renowned by those to the left of ”pop”-progressives, Gitmo investigative journalist Andy Worthington [references here, here and here] had this to say:

.... prisoners feel they’re in a living tomb.

snip

There is a palpable sense of despair amongst the Guantánamo Bay prisoners, both those who years ago had been told they would be released and those who were designated for indefinite detention...

snip

For the most part, despite the hyperbole about the prisoners being “the worst of the worst,”  the captives were people that the US had largely bought from its Afghan and Pakistani allies, or had rounded up randomly, and had then tortured or otherwise coerced — or in some cases bribed — into telling lies about themselves and their fellow prisoners to create a giant house of cards built largely on violence and involving very little actual intelligence.

snip

It is my hope that this project [“The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a projected 70-part, million-word series, in which I am forensically analysing the information in the WikiLeaks files, adding it to what was already known about the prisoners, to create what I believe will be a lasting indictment of the lies and distortions used by the Bush administration to justify holding the men and boys imprisoned at Guantánamo] will provide an invaluable research tool for those seeking to understand how it came to pass that the government of the United States turned its back on domestic and international law, establishing torture as official US policy, and holding men without charge or trial neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects to be put forward for trial in a federal court, but as “illegal enemy combatants” [or "unlawful enemy combatants," or, as they now are under President Obama, "alien unprivileged enemy belligerents"].

... how that same government, under the leadership of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, established a prison in which the overwhelming majority of those held — at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total — were either completely innocent people, seized as a result of dubious intelligence or sold for bounty payments, or Taliban foot soldiers, recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or international terrorism.

snip

Moreover, the very notion that there are people who are too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial, profoundly undermines the entire basis of detention in countries that call themselves civilized, in which the writ of habeas corpus (first introduced in England in 1215), guarantees that no one may be arbitrarily imprisoned — that everyone, in other words, has the right to have the case against them heard in a court of law.

The only exception to the above is to hold people seized in wartime as prisoners of war, who can be held until the end of hostilities, but this is an option that was done away with by the Bush administration, and has not been reinstated by President Obama.

Back in March 2011, when President Obama issued his executive order authorizing the indefinite detention of 48 of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners, he attempted to placate critics by promising that there would be periodic reviews of the men’s cases to establish whether or not it was appropriate for them still to be held. This was an insult, in that "periodic reviews" had been a hallmark of the Bush administration — a process that the Supreme Court found "inadequate," which involved the use of classified evidence, and prohibited the prisoners from having lawyers.

Under President Bush, however, the review process at least led to the release of numerous prisoners, whereas it recently became apparent that the reviews promised by President Obama have not even materialized.

snip

The administration could begin certifying some of them for transfer even under the strictures established by Congress; it could negotiate with governments such as Tunisia and Saudi Arabia about creating conditions for the return of other detainees. The biggest single problem is a group of 56 Yemenis cleared for return, but even in that difficult case the administration could begin working with Yemen on creating an appropriate detention facility.

Resolving Guantánamo’s problems is a matter of political will. So far Mr. Obama has failed to muster it.

Clearly Worthington steadfastly has been applying his inspiring sensibility of justice, logic and empathy to the shameless Guantanamo-American nightmare that invites no ready and honorable end, at least as far as the Obama administration, Congress and complacent Americans are concerned.

So what is the response of officialdom to the present surfacing and heart-breaking revelations on alternate media of the mass hunger strike?

Well, that it is not happening, of course. Not seriously. Move along, no disgusting institutionalized evil here, folks.

Humphhhh.

According to Michael Isikoff on March 5, 2013:

A spokesman for U.S. military at Guantanamo  disputed the lawyers’ claims of a widespread hunger strike, saying they and their clients were merely trying to get attention and keep Guantanamo “in the news.”

snip

The spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, said that a half-dozen detainees are currently on a hunger strike -- five of whom are being force fed through tubes -- and that no lives were in danger. Durand added that the figure was consistent with the average number of hunger strikers at Guantanamo over the past several years. He also acknowledged that “some detainees” have been disciplined and moved out of Camp 6 -- the most permissive of the camps at Guantanamo, with communal living arrangements -- but he declined to say how many or give the reasons for the action.

snip

Durand, the Guantanamo spokesman, disputed that any harsher restrictions had been imposed by the new commander and said the search last month was in keeping with past practice. He said that search, and earlier ones, have turned up  “a Wal-Mart worth of stuff,” including improvised weapons, illegal electronics and other illicit contraband. But he said that handling of the Qurans was tightly regulated  and that no guards are even permitted to touch the Islamic Holy Books during the searches.

Durand also acknowledged that some of the dispute between camp authorities and the detainees’ lawyers may be about defining terms. Guantanamo officials define a hunger strike as refusing to eat nine meals in a row. But, he said, some of the detainees may be hoarding food in their cells even when they claim to be on a hunger strike.

Hmmmm. 100 out of 166 OR six out of 166? Desecration of Qurans vs. “they are never touched by the guards”, hoarding food vs. spitting blood and losing consciousness assertions.

I’m thinking what we have here is a failure to communicate honestly from one faction -- government “officialdom”.

So Gitmo started out with 779 prisoners. So the supposedly “worst of the worst” weren’t. THE WORST OF THE WORST WEREN’T!!!!! Most of the detainees, traumatized by their renditions and torture ... or, ahem, enhanced interrogations ... were released over the years. All but 166, 86 of them legally cleared but NOT released. 9 detainees over the last eleven years escaped by dying.

Trust-me Obama assures that the remaining will be held only until “necessary” (one of those convenient, amorally black-holes of an Obama commitment, which as Jonathan Turley quipped recently, you could fly a drone through).

Until “necessary”? Meaning at the pleasure, convenience, cowardliness, indifference, politics of the President and a Congress that is so knee-jerk shallow and corrupt, so borderline paranoid about being called out as soft on terror that only two Dem senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and one Independent, Bernie Sanders, were willing to vote against confirming yet another troubling with a capital T Obama appointment, this time for CIA chief -- Bush’s premier “torture architect” John Brennan. Lots of ethical freakshows including and since Gitmo and the GWOT. Hell, even the new pope carries a strong whiff of collusion involving torture. The US justice system has committed such grotesque prosecutorial over-reach an activist took his own young life. A CIA whistleblower is now going to prison for 30 months for refusing to torture while torturerers and torture architects walk about and are even celebrated by Hollywood. 70,000 Syrians are dead and one million are displaced as the US enables al-Qaida linked jihadist anti-Assad forces in Syria with massive armaments, intelligence, etc. for ends justifies the means, the hell with “collateral damage” (the lives and welfare of innocent human beings) imperialist regime change. The Head-Start program is being gutted for more “precious” priorities like Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. Banks that worked closely, massively and shamelessly with drug cartels are given judicial slaps on the wrist and continue on in their too big to go to jail capacity. Droning Americans and anyone anywhere in the world, including American soil, without due process at the President's imperial whim is the latest amoral precedent. The sadistic, example-setting prosecution of Bradley Manning steamrolls onward.

There are so many fresh hells attributable to American mis-government, the list could go on and on. But the hell of Guantanamo continues to blaze, grotesquely unattended, and deserves attention. Its victims are risking their lives NOW over the injustice.

One last thing, from Clive Stafford Smith, written during the last wave of hunger strikes that made some media attention during the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld days. Published way back in October 2005.

"I am slowly dying in this solitary prison cell," says Omar Deghayes, a British refugee and Guantánamo Bay prisoner. "I have no rights, no hope. So why not take my destiny into my own hands, and die for a principle?"

snip

This magazine goes to press on the forty-ninth day of the Guantánamo hunger strike. In 1981 near Belfast, Bobby Sands and nine other members of the IRA starved themselves to death. The prisoners had insisted that they be treated as POWs rather than criminals. They died before the British government accepted that its use of kangaroo courts and its policy of "criminalization" did not just betray democratic principles; these methods functioned as the most persuasive recruiting sergeant the IRA ever had. How soon these lessons are forgotten. Three and a half years of internment without trial in Guantánamo, and any US claim to be the standard-bearer of the rule of law has dissolved.

But there are two important distinctions between the experience of Sands and Omar Deghayes: The US military has insisted on secrecy regarding Guantánamo, and the US media have been compliant in their apathy. Despite the traditional British hostility to free speech, every moment of Bobby Sands's decline was broadcast live. In contrast, nothing we lawyers learn from our Guantánamo clients can be revealed until it passes the US government censors. Thus, two weeks went by before the public even knew there was a hunger strike, and the military has been allowed to dissemble on the details since.

From its inception, Guantánamo has relied on a soldier-speak that is replete with half-truths and distortions. In 2002 there was a ripple of concern at the number of Guantánamo detainees trying to take their own lives. The military then announced that suicide attempts had radically declined. It took a foreign journalist to expose the truth: The very word "suicide" had been replaced by the authorities with the term Manipulative Self-Injurious Behavior (SIB)--and there were still plenty of SIBs. The military was lying by semantics.

Similar dissimulation is taking place around the Guantánamo hunger strike, which began June 28. It was suspended July 28, when the military promised various concessions, terrified at the public relations prospect of having six prisoners in the hospital within forty-eight hours of death. The strike started again on August 11, because the detainees concluded that the military had broken its promises.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has insisted that the Guantánamo prisoners are being treated in a manner "consistent" with the Geneva Conventions. To end their hunger strike, the detainees ask simply that they be treated in a manner "consistent with the Geneva Conventions." If Rumsfeld is telling the truth, why would the prisoners have to starve themselves to death?

The Conventions mandate that, unless convicted of a crime, "prisoners of war may not be held in close confinement." In Camp V each detainee is held in a Supermax solitary cell, hermetically sealed from all human contact, allowed out for just one hour each week. The detainees there include juveniles and even Sami Al Laithi, held for more than four months in his wheelchair after being found innocent by the US military's own biased tribunals.

The Conventions forbid coercive interrogations. The prisoners reasonably objected when, on August 5, Hisham Sliti had a mini-refrigerator thrown at him by an interrogator nicknamed King Kong.

snip

Governments did learn one lesson from Bobby Sands: He is famous because he died. The US military is determined not to allow its prisoners to make this ultimate, tragic political statement. Thus, the military admits to force-feeding prisoners. Recently its spin doctors changed the phrase to "assisted feeding," another attempt to hide the truth of what is going on. During the July hunger strike, prisoners tore the needles out of their arms to prevent drip-feeding, so the military is now using nose tubes. They assure us that none of the twenty-one people in the Guantánamo hospital will be able to kill himself.

But someone committed to self-starvation could easily remove such a tube, if he had any freedom of movement. So we can surmise that there is a line of twenty-one hospital beds, each with a prisoner held tight in four-point restraints. His head must be strapped down, immobile, and forcible sedation seems probable. Hardly the image evoked by the term "assisted feeding."

Deprived of legal rights, the Guantánamo detainees must rely on public scrutiny to protect them. This is also true for detainees in Iraq, where the United States has acknowledged it is bound by Geneva, but where soldiers recently interviewed by Human Rights Watch describe systemic humiliation and torture, encouraged by military higher-ups. The only lasting solution is for the United States to practice what it preaches, rather than hide its hypocrisy behind a smokescreen of secrecy and semantics. Human rights enforcement is the most effective counterterrorism measure the US government can take, and deep down its leaders have always known this. The United States signed the Geneva Conventions more than fifty years ago. Surely Rumsfeld has had enough time to work out how to apply them.

No. Not Rumsfeld. Not Obama et al. Geneva Conventions' protections? Flushed along with our Constitution!

When Obama was elected I put on a black arm band. I told friends and family I would remove it once Obama addressed the torture travesty. I had every confidence he would, though I was soon frustrated it was taking him so long. After three years of increasing disillusionment over the torture as well as so many other issues, I took it off in despair and surrender. I saw no evidence of a moral compass in our government and in most of our citizenry or evidence of my own power to impact.

Change I could believe in? No. The audacity of hope? More like the audacity of colossal audacity.

I am pulling the black arm band on once again in recognition of the spirit, will and principles of the Gitmo hunger strikers.

I hope rather than trust Obama, Congress and most of my fellow Americans will begin to do the right thing by them.

[cross-posted on open salon]

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