A prisoner, who has been held in detention for eleven years without charge or trial, has told an attorney that the prison authorities are trying to “break Muslims.” He is participating in a major hunger strike that has been ongoing since early February and shared details on his health as a result of his participation and what is fueling the hunger strike.
Clive Stafford Smith, executive director of the UK-based legal action charity, Reprieve, spoke with Younus Chekkouri on the strike on April 9. Chekkouri has been in the prison for eleven years without charge or trial. He is “very, very depressed” and misses his family.”
Violations of prisoners’ Qurans are believed to be what sparked the hunger strike. The Pentagon claims there were no violations of any Qurans. The prisoners were concealing drugs and the books needed to be inspected. But, Chekkouri says none of the detainees hid pills in their Qurans, as the Pentagon has claimed in unsubstantiated allegations.
According to Smith, the inspection of Qurans, to Chekkouri, is “a well-worn and unwise pretext for trying to impose control on the prisoners.
He relayed how the ICRC had confirmed to him and others that this was a pretext being used by the US authorities, and that it was not based in fact. There is an Islamic advisor (he gave me the name, but I do not include it here as I have no desire to get the man in trouble by naming him in a public document) who has been telling the JTF-GTMO authorities how best to manipulate the prisoners’ beliefs (about whom, more below).
Prisoners like Chekkouri have tried to avoid confrontation with guards. They offered to give up their Qurans, but the guard force has preferred to essentially ransack prisoners’ cells in searches for “contraband”:
Younus came back to his cell after a search to find that it “looked like Hurricane Katrina had just been through.” The soldiers had taken most of Younus’ ‘comfort items’, including his books, as well a large number of his legal papers. They had been silly as well: they took only one of his shoes, leaving him just one. He had nothing that he had not been legally given, and taking it away seemed very wrong and very unfair.
Chekkouri estimated that well over 100 prisoners are still engaged in the strike. He is one of the hunger strikers and has lost thirty pounds. Smith reports that he has “pain everywhere since he is starving the whole time.” He told Smith, “Really, now it is just pain everywhere. I don’t want to die in Guantánamo.”
The following message was offered by Chekkouri to President Barack Obama:
The nightmare has started again. For some time, things had got a bit better here, some of the guards were acting like human beings. Even if we were treated like sheep, at least we were not always mistreated. But now it has changed again. And now 86 of us have been cleared for release and we are still here. Let us leave Guantánamo with clear hearts, and without hatred. Hatred is evil, and it harms the person who is hating as well as the person who is hated.”
A “supposed Islamic expert” is apparently behind the change in treatment of prisoners. He is offering advice on “how to break Muslims,” according to Chekkouri.
“There is one man who is giving Islamic advice, who pretends he is a Muslim, and thinks he understands our minds, our diverse culture, our souls, everything,” Chekkouri stated. To which, Smith added, “Apparently the leadership in Guantánamo is back to trying to break them, as they might break an animal or abuse a child, thinking that this is the way to treat prisoners, even people who have long since been cleared for release.”
Hillary Stauffer, Reprieve deputy director, reports (in a series of tweets) on an unnamed prisoner participating in the hunger strike, who says, “I’m being punished for speaking out. After my call with my lawyer, they took everything.”
When I got back to my cell, everything had been tossed around, like garbage…They had taken everything, my legal materials, my kids’ drawings were ripped off the wall…I am being FCE’d (subjected to a Forcible Cell Extraction) for almost everything now…For three days now if I say I want more water – they FCE me just to give me water…Yesterday, they FCE’d me to bring lunch, even though I am on hunger strike & won’t eat…I have had almost no water for 24 hours as they would not bring bottled water…I have not showered for more than 9 days. They say they are busy….I will have to [bathe] from the toilet as I was forced to one time before…I am not able to get medical attention without being beaten up [FCE'd]…My legs & arms are bruised from where they carry me.I bruise easily b/c I am not eating….I can’t read. I am dizzy & fall down all the time. I don’t call them, it is humiliating.When they call Code Yellow, they step on your fingers, your hands, they scratch you….You live in fear when they say they are treating you….Yesterday they tied me on a board & threw me in a cell b/c the medical people were busy….Code Yellows (when a prisoner collapses) in Camp V are now happening 10 – 15 times a day…In the night people are dying from cold…In the day they are dying from the heat…It’s hard to keep calm. They are killing us, so it is hard to keep calm.
Just over a week ago, British prisoner Shaker Aamer reported on the Emergency Reaction Force that has been carrying out brutal “Forced Cell Extractions” (FCE) on prisoners in their cells. A night shift has also grown increasingly obnoxious and oppressive, as they make loud noises while prisoners are trying to sleep.
Guantanamo defense attorneys and British prisoner Shaker Aamer have both contended 130 prisoners have been on strike. The Pentagon, however, has maintained the number of prisoners striking is much lower. First it was 14 prisoners. Then, it was somewhere around 30 or so prisoners. Now, the number is 40 prisoners. (It was not until mid-March the Pentagon acknowledged publicly that a strike was even being carried out by prisoners.)
As this major hunger strike continues, Pentagon officials have been accused by a Guantanamo defense attorney of “mishandling” hundreds of thousands of defense lawyer emails and monitoring the Internet searches of attorneys preparing their cases.
The Associated Press‘s Ben Fox reports “500,000 defense lawyer emails” were affected in a major “Pentagon computer server failure”:
Richard Kammen, a member of the team representing an alleged senior al-Qaida figure facing a war crimes tribunal at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, also said officials mishandled more than 500,000 defense lawyer emails and appear to be monitoring their Internet searches as they prepare their cases.
As a result, according to the Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg, the hearing for Nashiri was postponed so “compute confidentiality” issues could be resolved, as Kammen had essentially urged.
Rosenberg also reported that the chief Guantanamo defense counsel, Air Force Colonel Karen Mayberry, “issued a cease and desist order” last night ordering ”defense lawyers to stop doing privileged work on Pentagon computers.”
It has become increasingly evident in recent months that the Pentagon is violating defense attorneys’ privileged communications with their clients.
In February, lawyers found the FBI had bugged facilities they use to meet with clients with listening devices that looked like smoke detectors. During a January 2012 “proffer session,” which involved the “prosecution and defense were meeting on a potential deal,” Captain Thomas J. Welsh saw a “law enforcement official on headphones listening” in to a meeting. The official was an FBI agent. An order was apparently issued in February to disconnect all eavesdropping equipment.
Also, in February, it was reported that the guard force at Guantanamo Bay was going through legal bins prisoners have of attorney-client privileged communications. They seized already stamped, cleared and approved documents relating to the defense from 9/11 defendants.
On January 28, an original classification authority (OCA)—most likely with the CIA—was found to have access to a button that could be used to censor military commission proceedings. Navy Commander Walter Ruiz, representing one of the 9/11 terror suspects, expressed concern, “Before we proceed any further, we can only assume that maybe they are monitoring additional communications, perhaps when we are at the counsel table. We know we have green lights that have the ability to record.” He urged the court to get defense lawyers answers on what the body monitoring proceedings was capable of doing. (Subsequently, Pohl ordered outside “censor buttons” to all be unplugged.)
There have been problems with attorney-client privilege between the Pentagon and Guantanamo Bay defense attorneys for years. In December 2011, Rear Admiral David Woods issued an order indicating privileged communications between lawyers and their clients in the prison were going to be subject to security inspections by Defense Department and law enforcement officials. It prompted outrage from the American Bar Association, which declared it was “deeply troubled to learn that a new policy at Guantanamo Bay appears to violate both the letter and spirit of the attorney-client privilege.”
A “day of action” is being held today in the United States. Organizers of the protests—which include the Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, Witness Against Torture and World Can’t Wait, declared, “The vast majority of the 166 men still trapped at Guantánamo have been held for more than 11 years without charge or fair trial. The Obama administration must take swift measures to humanely address the immediate causes of the hunger strike and fulfill its promise to close the Guantánamo detention facility.”
None of the men in the prison want to have to starve themselves to be freed, but only when prisoners have engaged in hunger strikes have they ever won anything like access to water or better treatment from prison authorities.
In order regain dignity, a life where he is treated respectfully and freedom from detention without charge or trial, prisoners like Chekkouri feel they must resist in one of the few ways prisoners can resist in the prison. If there is any hope that he will return to his family, it lies in striking at Guantanamo.
Chekkouri is one of 86 prisoners, who have been cleared by President Obama’s administration for release. They are completely innocent and have been found to pose no threat whatsoever. They have not been charged with committing crimes nor have they been put on trial. They are in indefinite detention and most are convinced they are never going to be set free. And, they know that without the support of the human rights community and others from around the world, they are likely to die from the “nightmare” that is being imprisoned at Guantanamo.