I wanted to bring it up today, one, to remind people that Guantanamo is still open, and also because we have at least three events in the last week or so that are interesting with Guantanamo but not necessarily significant unless we actually get that place closed. I mean, obviously, Obama came into office, signed an order, said he would close it. Five years later, he hasn’t closed it yet. But we have had a couple of pieces of movement on some other issues. The first was this week Congress actually had a vote, or the Senate had a vote on loosening the restrictions that have been imposed on the president with regard to sending people to the United States or to other countries from Guantanamo.
“President Obama, stop the tortuuurrre,” bellowed Andrés Thomas Conteris, as a plastic tube snaked through his nose, down his throat, and into his stomach to deliver a bottle of Ensure nutrients to his starved body. Conteris, months into a grueling fast, voluntarily submitted to the nasogastric feeding in front of the US Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. on October 18, 2013 to underscore the brutality of the continued forced-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay. Throughout the feeding, which simulated what some in Guantánamo endure twice daily, Conteris gagged and wailed. Cameras snapped. Observers winced. The spectacle inside the courthouse, concluded minutes before, had been in its own way grave. There, the Circuit Court of Appeals had considered oral arguments in a lawsuit contending that forced-feeding at Guantánamo was a violation of human rights and therefore should be stopped. Known as the Aamer Appeal, the case was brought on behalf of Shaker Aamer and others of his Guantánamo brethren. Aamer is the last UK resident held at the prison. Detained since 2002 . . . .
A U.S. appeals court showed a potential willingness on Friday to allow Guantanamo Bay hunger strikers to sue over being force-fed, a practice the Obama administration says is necessary to keep order but that critics call inhumane. At a hearing of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, two judges on a three-judge panel asked skeptical questions of a government lawyer who argued that the courts have no jurisdiction over conditions at a military prison such as the U.S. Navy base in Cuba. While the judges stopped short of agreeing that forced feeding is inhumane, they suggested that Guantanamo detainees might be able to get around a 2006 law that bars them from suing over living conditions in extreme cases that might include forced feeding. A decision is likely to be weeks or months away, but the skepticism appeared to be a fresh challenge to the administration’s control over how it treats Guantanamo detainees.
Andy Worthington: First of all, let me say that there are currently 164 prisoners, although 84 of them were approved for transfer out of the prison by a task force that President Obama established when he took office. This was high-level, involving officials in all the government departments and the intelligence agencies. They spent 2009 meeting every week, and they went through the files of all the prisoners. They made decisions about whether they were recommended for trial, recommended for release, or for ongoing detention without charge or trial in some cases. So President Obama has released 70 of the 156 prisoners cleared for release by the task force, but for the last three years he has released very few prisoners, mainly because Congress passed new laws making it very difficult for him to do that, but also because he couldn’t be bothered to spend the political capital to do something that could make him unpopular in Congress. Earlier this year, there were 86 men still held about whom the US government said, “we don’t want to hold these guys forever, we don’t want to put them on trial,” but they are still stuck in Guantánamo.
Andrés Thomas Conteris — on day 103 of a water-only fast — will undergoed a nasal tube feeding in solidarity with the men at Guantánamo and to dramatize the cruelty of force-feeding. Conteris, who has lost 57 pounds, has undergone nasogastric feedings at the White House, in Oakland, California, and at US embassies in Uruguay and Argentina. Conteris, age 52, began his fast at the height of the Guantánamo hunger strike July 8, when thousands of US prisoners began hunger striking to protest the use of extended solitary confinement at Pelican Bay and other prisons.
Andrés Thomas Conteris — on day 103 of a water-only fast — will undergo the nasal tube feeding. “Forced-feeding is torture,” says Conteris, who has lost 57 pounds. “I wish to make visible what the U.S. government is perpetrating against prisoners in Guantánamo and to remind the world that indefinite detention continues.” Conteris, age 52, has held nasogastric feedings at the White House, in Oakland,California, and at US embassies in Uruguay and Argentina. “The nasal tube feeding feels like endless agony,” says Conteris. “It feels like I’m drowning.” Beginning last February, more than 100 men at Guantánamo engaged in a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention. To try to break the protest, the US military subjected dozens of the hunger strikers to nasogastric force-feeding. “The case before the appeals court goes to the heart of the evil of Guantánamo,” says Witness Against Torture organizer Jeremy Varon, “as it argues that the purpose of force-feeding is to sustain an illegal and immoral policy of indefinite detention.”
Lawyers for Shaker Aamer , the last British resident in Guantanamo Bay have filed an appeal in the case of Shaker Aamer vs. Barack Obama, a case that was first filed in June 2013 to halt the force-feedings of hunger strikers Aamer, Ahmed Belbacha, and Nabil Hadjarab. This is one of four consolidated appeals, one for each of four detainees, with Aamer’s being the lead case, which, if won, could end all force-feeding in the prison, a rare victory in the twelve years that Shaker Aamer has already lost. Shaker Aamer is one of 164 detainees currently in Guantanamo Bay, and one of 84 detainees cleared for release. He has been cleared since 2007 by a military review board and again by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantanamo Review Task Force in 2010.
I write this after my return from the morning’s force-feeding session here at Guantanamo Bay. I write in between bouts of violent vomiting and the sharp pains in my stomach and intestines caused by the force-feeding. I have been on hunger strike for almost nine months, since February. The guards dragged me out of my cell at around 8:20 a.m. As they took me, shackled, past the other cells and toward the restraint chairs — my brothers and I call them torture chairs — I could barely breathe because of the smell. Some of my brothers are now tainting the walls of their cells and blocking the air-conditioning vents with their own feces in protest. The U.S. military prison staff’s intent is to break our peaceful hunger strike. No form of pressure is too cruel or petty for our captors. It may be hard to believe, but one of my fellow prisoners now weighs only 75 pounds. Another weighed in at 67 pounds before they isolated him in another area of the prison facility.
The US military secretly used a variety of tactics to break the resolve of the Guantánamo Bay hunger strikers, including placing them in solitary confinement if they continued to refuse food, newly declassified interviews with detainees reveal. One prisoner also said that the last British resident held inside the camp,Shaker Aamer, had been targeted and humiliated by the authorities to the point where it became impossible for the 44-year-old to continue his protest. The US military recently announced the end of the six-month mass hunger strike among detainees at Guantánamo Bay. But human rights groups argue that such proclamations are disingenuous as at least 16 inmates are still force-fed daily, and two are in hospital. One detainee, 42-year-old Syrian national Abu Wa’el Dhiab, reported that the Extreme Reaction Force team, the camp’s military riot squad, would “storm” Aamer’s cell five times a day in an attempt to crush his resolve during the strike.
The Pentagon has appointed a new envoy for the arduous and controversial task of finally closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, five months after the position was announced. Paul Lewis, a lawyer on the Democratic staff of the House armed services committee, will be the special envoy for Guantánamo closure, the Defense Department announced Tuesday. The job is a new one for the Pentagon, complementing a similar position at the State Department. President Obama announced its creation in May during a major national security speech in which he recommitted himself to his thwarted goal of shuttering Guántanamo. Unlike the State Department position, however, Lewis will have the additional challenge of finding third countries to take custody of the US military’s several dozen non-Afghan detainees in Afghanistan.
Over the past few months, an amazing number of people have been fasting or on hunger strike for peace and justice all over the world, earning relatively sparse media coverage, and winning few demands. But this current wave of hunger strikes has expanded the traditional approach to these tactics and offers a look at some new techniques — as well as challenges for those who are currently fasting or thinking about using their hunger as a path to justice. At its zenith this summer, 30,000 hunger-strikers in the California prison system fasted for adequate and nutritious food, constructive programming and an end to torturous solitary confinement. In July, approximately 100 detainees in Guantánamo were on hunger strike demanding due process and release from illegal imprisonment.
As the days begin to draw in, I hope you have had a good summer. I managed to take two weeks off, when I was completely offline for the first time in seven years. However, both before and after the break, my time has been, and continues to be taken up by the campaign for justice for the Guantánamo prisoners — documenting their stories, documenting those involved in the ongoing hunger strike, seeking release for the 84 men cleared for release since January 2010, and seeking adequate reviews, trials or release for the other prisoners still held.
Oblivious to the aftershocks of the Sept 11 attacks that left the world reeling from it, Fawzia, the 14-year-old bride of Mohammed Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, was leading a blissful marital life. Little did she know it was soon going to end when on the night of Sept 10, 2002, just a month into their marriage, her husband was whisked away from their home in Bahadurabad by authorities. This Sept 10, he will have gone 11 years. It was six years later that she found that he was among the 779 incarcerated in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay detention camp. “I had no idea what or where Cuba was; I had never even heard of it,” says Fawzia, whose life has since been on hold.
I first came to Gitmo to cover the military commissions. During my second trip, I was the third artist granted permission to draw the prisons. The Joint Task Force offers journalists a carefully choreographed tour—the point of which is to show that the Bad Old Gitmo of public perception is not Gitmo Now. Bad Old Gitmo existed from approximately 2002-2007. Its orange jumpsuits, water-boarding, detainees sleeping in what Granger, who served at Guantanamo in 2002, gleefully described as “dog kennels.” Its guards pummeling prisoners in revenge for September 11. Bad Old Gitmo, like so many icons of the Bush era, is Not Humane. And “humane” is the catchword of Gitmo now.
A Guantanamo protester had a tube snaked through his nose and down his throat, with liquid nutrient pumped into his stomach just steps from the White House on Friday. The protester, Andrés Thomas Conteris, had been fasting for 61 days and dropped over 50 lbs. since July 8. Conteris, 52, squirmed in his wheelchair as the tube was inserted through his nose by a doctor identified as Terry Fitzgerald. “It felt like endless agony,” Conteris said of the procedure. “They’re not intentionally trying to harm me and it feels horrible, it feels insanely painful.” Conteris said it was painful to speak or swallow and that he had the urge to vomit.