Guantanamo Lawyers’ Alarmingly High Cancer Rate Sparks Military Investigation

Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. (Wikimedia Commons / Kathleen T. Rhem)

Originally published at MintPress News.

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — Despite promises to close the detention center during Barack Obama’s presidential run, the prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base remains open. And now it appears those detained at the controversial site aren’t the only ones suffering and dying — their lawyers are also facing grave illness.

Carol Rosenberg, a Miami Herald reporter who covers Guantanamo, reported Monday that a Navy Reserves attorney, who had been previously assigned to work with a detainee, filed a complaint with the Inspector General’s Office on July 14. A spokeswoman for the naval base responded to the complaint on Monday, admitting the Navy was “aware of concerns about possible carcinogens around the Department of Defense Military Commissions site” and announcing that an investigation would be opened.

After learning of the complaint, the Herald began compiling a list of civilians and military lawyers with cancer from the hundreds of personnel that have worked at the detention center, eventually finding nine cases of personnel “who suffered from a range of cancers: lymphoma, brain, appendix or colon.”

Rosenberg reports: “Three of those stricken with cancer, aged 35 to 52, have died in the past 13 months.” The Herald identified one victim as Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, a 44-year-old attorney assigned to the case ofOmar Khadr, a Canadian citizen detained at Guantanamo for 13 years. Kuebler died on July 17. On Tuesday,The Washington Post published the names of two more of the lawyers who worked at Guantanamo at some point in their careers and died of cancer:

[A]nother cancer patient was Army Col. Robert J. Cottell, who died Jan. 6, just before his 53rd birthday. He was a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps and remained on active duty right up until his death after doctors diagnosed him with cancer, … He worked at one point for the Office of Military Commissions, which oversees cases at Guantanamo. …

A third lawyer, Marine Maj. Joshua Kirk, 35, died June 28, 2014. His cause of death was not listed in his obituary, but Rep. Tim Ryan (D.-Ohio) recognized him on the House floor after his death last summer for his work everywhere from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California to the Office of Military Commissions, which deployed him to Guantanamo on occasion.

Reuters reports that Guantanamo detainees do not appear to suffer from increased cancer rates. Rather, the cancers could have been caused by pollutants in the lawyers’ living quarters:

(more…)

Obama Administration Ordered to Prepare Release of Videos of Former Guantanamo Prisoner Being Force-Fed

Judge Gladys Kessler

President Barack Obama’s administration has been ordered by a federal judge to prepare videos of forced feedings of a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner for release on August 31.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a forty-six year-old Syrian, was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay from 2002 to December 2014. He remained in detention for five years after Obama’s own review task force cleared him for release. He was released with five other prisoners to Uruguay.

During his confinement, Dhiab protested by engaging in hunger strike. He endured torture and abuse as military personnel subjected him to forced feedings, and Dhiab filed a lawsuit prior to his release, which sought to put a stop to the forced feedings.

On October 3, 2014, Judge Gladys Kessler rejected several secrecy arguments, ruled against the government, and ordered the administration to review videos and prepare them for the release. The administration filed what Kessler has now referred to as a “frivolous” appeal.

On July 10, Kessler ordered the government to stop stalling and complete redaction of eight videos by August 31. The rest of the videos are to be redacted and prepared for release by September 30.

“There will be no extensions of time granted,” Kessler stated.

Cori Crider, an attorney for the human rights organization, Reprieve, which has represented Dhiab, called the order a “great win for the US press, and for the First Amendment.” (more…)

Guantanamo Prisoner, Who Weighs 75 Pounds and is Near Death, Mounts Legal Push for Release

Tariq Ba Odah
Tariq Ba Odah

A Guantanamo Bay prisoner, who has been on hunger strike for over eight years, has launched a legal push for his immediate release from the United States military prison because he now weighs around 75 pounds and is near death.

Tariq Ba Odah is a Yemeni prisoner and resident of Saudi Arabia, who has been confined in “solitary conditions” at Guantanamo for 13 years despite the fact that President Barack Obama’s own review task force—comprised of officials from the top US security agencies—cleared Odah for release in 2009. His body can no longer endure the effects of nasal tube feedings.

A motion [PDF] filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on Odah’s behalf argues under the “laws of war,” particularly the Third Geneva Convention, the US has an “obligation to release seriously wounded and sick prisoners.” It is part of US Army regulation and “binding domestic law.”

Odah meets the “standards of ill health” that should compel his release because he is at 56 percent of his normal body weight. He is suffering from “severe malnutrition.” He often complains to his lawyer, Omar Farah, that he cannot focus or concentrate during their meetings. He is losing his memory and forgot the current year when he was writing a letter to family.

Dr. Mohammed Rami Bailony, who wrote a brief [PDF] in support of Odah’s motion for release, describes Odah’s “diminished weight” as a “shocking medical fact that alone indicates the presence of a crisis-level medical condition presaging organ failure, neurological damage and, inevitably, death.”

Odah does not “wish to die,” the motion for relief declares. “He wishes to be reunited with his family in Saudi Arabia or to be freed to any other safe country where he can begin to recover. At the same time, he feels compelled by the injustice he is enduring at Guantanamo to continue his hunger strike, the only peaceful way for him to protest with self-control and with dignity.”

The motion describes how Odah believes the US military has subject him to abuse so he abandons his hunger strike. He has suffered “violent cell-extractions, force-feeding sessions that leave him wet with his own vomit, and unremitting confinement in solitary conditions in Guantánamo’s Camp 5, where now he says he does not see anyone and he does not see the sun.”

Dr. Sandra S. Crosby, the director and co-founder of the immigration and refugee health program at the Boston Medical Center, also wrote a brief [PDF] in support of Odah that highlights how Odah does not trust the medical staff. The mistrust only compounds the risk that he will die soon.

“Mr. Ba Odah believes—not unreasonably in my opinion—that physicians at Guantanamo have been utilized as instruments of the guard force to coerce prisoners to ‘break the strike,’” Crosby suggests. “When this loss of trust occurs, patients will often not accept appropriate medical recommendations.”

Crosby concludes Odah is at risk of “serious organ damage and/or death.” Odah’s injuries “may be permanent.”

Even if the government claims it could rehabilitate Odah with medical treatment, the motion argues that the circumstances of his detention will likely prevent him from ever recovering.

“Apparently unmoved by his crisis-level weight, the government steadfastly confines Mr. Ba Odah to Guantanamo’s Camp 5, the non-communal housing facility renowned for its punitive, isolative conditions,” the motion declares. “This is exactly the opposite of what Mr. Ba Odah needs. Solitary confinement compromises an individual’s mental and physical health and risks bringing about ‘multiple chronic medical illnesses, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and permanent neuropsychological damage.’ Moreover, solitary conditions are ‘a strong exacerbating factor to his already precarious condition.'”

Odah’s attorney visited Tariq on April 21, and he was “nearly unrecognizable” to him.

Farah shared, “He is now enduring more suffering at Guantánamo than he has ever known. All the bones in his midsection are visible through his skin, his jawline and teeth protrude, and he says he is losing sensation in his hands and feet and his memory is fading.”

It should not matter that there is war ongoing in Yemen that prevents him from being returned to the country where he was born. His family emigrated to Saudi Arabia when Odah was an infant. The government can pursue his transfer to Saudi Arabia. Plus, the government has recently transferred Yemeni prisoners to other countries and shown nationality does not have to be a barrier to release.

The US military’s treatment of Odah clearly amounts to torture, and it is unconscionable that he—as well as many others—remain in detention at Guantanamo.

Image from the Center for Constitutional Rights. Not a recent photo. 

Former Guantanamo Prisoner, Who Speaks Out Against Radicalization of Youth, Told He’s on US No Fly List

Screen shot 2015-06-11 at 4.43.34 PM
Mourad Benchellali (Screen shot from Witness to Guantanamo)

A former Guantanamo prisoner, who uses his experience to speak out regularly against the Islamic State and its recruitment campaigns for youth, was blocked from traveling from France to an anti-radicalization conference in Canada. He was told he could not board his flight because he is on the United States’ No Fly List.

The Associated Press reported Mourad Benchellali was not allowed to travel because the Air Transat flight from Lyon to Montreal went through US airspace.

“Our personnel had to, and duly applied the provisions of a US security program known as Secure Flight, as all airlines must,” the Canadian airline told the AP.

Benchellali, a French citizen, was released from the prison at Guantanamo in July 2004. He faced trial and was convicted of crimes in France in 2007, but the French Court of Appeals overturned his convictions in February 2009. A higher court ordered his retrial in 2010.

He had no idea he was on the watch list, however, this was his first “trans-Atlantic flight.”

The former Guantanamo prisoner planned to attend a conference organized by the Observatory on Radicalization and Violent Extremism. Organizers were shocked that their guest was “banned” from traveling and would not be speaking alongside police and university researchers scheduled to participate. He also was to attend another conference, “48 Hours for Peace.”

In February, President Barack Obama spoke at a “Countering Violent Extremism” summit where he argued that al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other groups were terrorists “desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like [the Islamic State] somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative.”

“We must acknowledge that groups like al Qaeda and [Islamic State] are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslim youth. And Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back.”

People like Benchellali are pushing back. When he was 19-years-old, according to a previous report from the AP, he “viewed the voyage to al Qaeda’s training camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as a romantic adventure.” (more…)

Some of Former CIA Detainee Majid Khan’s Memories of Torture Are Declassified

majidkhanThe Center for Constitutional Rights has released new details about the torture of Majid Khan, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay who was captured by the United States in March 2003. Khan was held in secret detention at CIA black sites until 2006 when he was transferred to Guantanamo.

According to declassified notes, his doctors were some of his “worst torturers.” Khan pleaded for a physician to help him. The physician responded by sending Khan back to an interrogation room to be hung from a metal bar, where he remained for 24 hours.

Khan had already experienced this torture. He was interrogated afterward and emasculated by guards as they “forced” him “to write his own ‘confession’ while being filmed naked if he wanted some rest.” Afterward, he was “numb” and unable to move for several days.

In May and July 2003, Khan was waterboarded.

“Guards and interrogators brought him into a bathroom with a tub,” according to CCR. “The tub was filled with water and ice.”

“Shackled and hooded, they placed Khan feet-first into the freezing water and ice. They lowered his entire body into the water and held him down, face-up in the water. An interrogator forced Khan’s head under the water until he thought he would drown.”

An interrogator then pulled Khan’s head out of the water and demanded he answer his questions. He forced his head back into the ice bath. Khan also had water and ice poured on his mouth and nose when his head was not being held under water.

Guards repeatedly beat and threatened to beat Khan with tools. In one instance, a hammer was pulled out and shown to Khan. The guard threatened to bash Khan’s head in with the hammer. Sometimes the men who threatened him smelled of alcohol.

Khan was sexually assaulted and had his “private parts” touched while he was hanging naked from the ceiling. He was subject to rectal feeding, which was included in the Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA torture.

While at a black site, Khan was hung by his hands “from a wooden beam for three days.” He was “naked and shackled” and given water but not food. This torture also sought to destroy his masculinity. (more…)