The United States transferred the first prisoners to a US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, twelve years ago today.
There are 155 captives remaining at the prison. Seventy-six of those captives are cleared for release, and 45 of them have been designated as what can be referred to as “forever prisoners.” President Barack Obama’s administration considers them too dangerous to release but there is not enough evidence to bring a case against them and convict of them of committing any crimes.
Eleven prisoners have been transferred from Guantanamo in the past year. Two Algerians were transferred back to their country, even though they feared returning home. Two Sudanese returned home after courts ruled they could be released. Two Saudis were released to their country for “rehab.” Three Uighurs were resettled in Slovakia, bringing the number of Uighurs remaining in the prison to zero.
Resumed transfers of prisoners back to their home countries or for resettlement in third-countries would not have happened without a massive hunger strike, which took place. Well over a hundred prisoners, the vast majority being held without charge, joined in resisting their indefinite detention.
Without this action, President Obama would not have highlighted Guantanamo in a speech at the National Defense University in May. There almost certainly would not have been movement, which led to a special envoy being appointed to work on closing Guantanamo.
Yet, despite the fact that there appeared to be new signs the Obama administration was going to do something to end the inhumanity at Guantanamo, there were brutal stories about what was happening in the prison.
One prisoner, Younus Chekkouri, imprisoned for over eleven years, said, “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.”
Another prisoner, Samir Moqbel, in detail described in a New York Times op-ed, “I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose.”
“I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone,” he added.
According to Dr. Gerald Thomson, a professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University and former president of the American College of Physicians, the World Medical Association and international officials consider this cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Depending on how brutal, it can be torture.
If you can imagine being a detainee and using refusal to eat as a form of protest, and then you are forced to eat, forced physically to eat by being strapped into a specially made chair, and restrained—having restraints put on your limbs, your arms, your legs, your body, your head, so that you cannot move, having a tube inserted into your throat that extends into your stomach, and you’re trying to resist that with the only muscles that are free in your throat—pain, discomfort, obviously. But in addition to that, food is then forced, in a liquid form, into your stomach. You’re kept in the chair for at least two hours, usually more than two hours, to prevent you from vomiting and undermining the force-feeding. You can’t go to the bathroom during that time. Your dignity is taken away.
This is not merely done for the well-being of prisoners, as Obama and military officials would like the world to believe. A report co-written by a group of medical professionals found forced feedings are used to break political protests.
Furthermore, the Obama administration has continued to defend genital searches of Guantanamo prisoners in courts, despite the fact that a federal judge found the searches of pirosners “up to four times for every phone call or attorney–client meeting” to be “excessive.”
“Searching detainees up to four times in this manner for every movement, meeting, or phone call belies any legitimate interest in security given the clear and predictable effects of the new searches,” Judge Royce Lamberth stated in his ruling. “Nothing in the record indicates that detainees have received any contraband from their attorneys or that detainees have attempted to pass contraband to each other during phone calls or meetings with attorneys. The motivation for the searches is not to enhance security but to deter counsel access.”
Given this treatment, is it any wonder that there is resistance from Guantanamo prisoners to their continued confinement?
Prisoners have very, very, very limited avenues for due process. The dysfunctional and often-Kafkaesque military commissions continue to be employed, even though there are routine reports of subversion of attorney-client privilege by the government.
Attorneys for prisoners continue to fight for the right of prisoners to control their thoughts and memories of torture they experienced at the hands of CIA interrogators. The US government has maintained such information is classified, making it essentially impossible to challenge how they have been treated.
The US military under President Obama has now chosen to keep secret figures on how many prisoners are engaged in hunger strike. They want to disappear protest in the prison altogether and further insulate themselves from pressure to speed up the closure of the prison, which Obama promised to close nearly five years ago.
As the year came to an end, British prisoner Shaker Aamer, who has been imprisoned for nearly twelve years, told Al Arabiya English in an interview:
The eyes of the world are the only thing that will ever get me home to my family, I think, so thank you for your attention to this issue. You can see from the fact that the US military is now suppressing the hunger strike’s figures that they want everyone to forget us and move along.
If I had been sent back to London in 2007, I would “only” have missed the first five years of my youngest child’s life. I mention Faris because I have never met him; ironically he was born on the day I got to this ghastly place.
I should say that I miss my wife and my other three children with the same deep love as I miss Faris. Can you imagine not being able to touch your wife or your children for – as of today [the date of the phone call in December 2013] – four thousand three hundred and twenty days and nights?
Aamer has been cleared for release since June 2007. Remarkably, as he longs to be reunited with his family, one thing he has to keep himself going is his favorite book, which the US military surprisingly has not banned: George Orwell’s 1984.