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Three-Fifths of an Attorney General Declares POWs “Non-Persons” July 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: Congratulations.  Barak Obama and Eric Holder, with the essential contribution of George Bush, have managed to score a trifecta: a policy and implementation at Guantanamo Bay that is all three, Orwellian, Kafkaesque and Lewis Carroll at the same time.  Torture, indefinite detention, and people who are not persons.  “Execution first, then the trial” shouted the Queen.

And by the way, the three fifths of a person of African slaves that was in the original constitution is even worse than it appears at face value.  Slaves would have been better off if not considered as persons at all.  The southern states lobbied for three fifths so that their slaves would be counted in the census, which in turn determined their level of representation in the House of Representative.  More slaves on the roll via the three fifths gave the southern state more political clout with which to defend slavery.  Thus, being counted as less than fully human was a double whammy against the slaves.  Kafka would have loved it.

 

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Protestors gathered in New York City’s Time Square in April of 2013 to raise awareness of detainee hunger strikes and indefinite imprisonment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. (Photo: flickr / cc /Jordan P)

 

Hand it to President Obama for appointing Eric Holder the first African American Attorney General in US history. Then try to fathom that after generations of civil and human rights work by African Americans — whom the US Constitution once called “3/5 of a person” — it is Holder who declared some brown skinned prisoners of war to be “non-persons.” The men are held outside the law by the US at Guantánamo Bay.

Attorneys for the POWs have asked for an order that would allow group prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, but Holder’s Justice Dept. has formally replied that the men aren’t entitled to relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because the Supreme Court has not found that Guantánamo’s prisoners “are ‘persons’ to whom RFRA applies.”

Holder calls the men “unprivileged enemy belligerents detained overseas during a period of ongoing hostilities.” Calling them prisoners of war would require respecting their human rights.

Cori Crider, an attorney with the legal charity Reprieve who represents some of the men, said in a statement, “I fail to see how the President can stand up and claim Guantánamo is a scandal while his lawyers call detainees non-persons in court. If the President is serious about closing this prison, he could start by recognizing that its inmates are people — most of whom have been cleared by his own Government.”

According to AG Holder, US Appeals Court rulings mean Guantánamo’s POWs — whom he calls “nonresident aliens outside the US sovereign territory” — are “not protected ‘person[s].’” In the infamous Hobby Lobby case Holder argues, the Supreme Court refused to say that the word “‘person’ as used in RFRA includes a nonresident alien outside sovereign United States territory.”

Even if RFRA applied to the POWs, Holder claims, the law “cannot overcome the judicial presumption against extraterritorial application of statutes.” Translation: US Law doesn’t apply at Gitmo, or, the reason the US isolates non-persons at an off-shore military penal colony in the first place is so we can ignore or violate “statutes” with impunity. And if we convince ourselves that “unprivileged enemy belligerents” are not people, we should be able to sleep even if we violate the US torture statute (18 USC, Sec. 1, Ch. 113C), the Convention Against Torture and the US War Crimes Act (18 USC, Sec. 2441) ¾ for years on end.

America’s indefinite imprisonment without charges, hunger strikers and force-feeding

My own jail and prison time, all for political protests, has always come with a clear sentence: six days, 90 days, 180 days; 54 months in all. Anybody who’s been on the inside knows that a release date gives you something fast to hold on to, even if you’re called by a number, fed through a slot, handcuffed for court. But imagine 156 months in a nihilistic “extraterritorial” military prison, with no charges, no trial, no sentence, no visits, phone calls or mail, and no hope.

This is what the USA imposes at Guantánamo, a torturous psychological vice of legal oblivion and manufactured futurelessness. Add to this appalling construction the fact that 72 of 149 remaining inmates were approved for release more than four years ago — but are chained up anyway. Scores of Gitmo’s inmates have looked into this man-made oblivion and decided to die. They are using the only power they have left, the dreadful hunger-strike, both as a protest against their endless detention without trial and their only means of eventually ending it.

The US military has chosen to force-feed hunger strikers, gruesomely plunging plastic tubes up the non-persons’ noses. This abuse violates laws against torture, and the force-feeding schedule is the original basis for the religious rights petition so vigorously opposed by Obama and Holder. The ghastly traumatic stress resulting from enduring force-feeding and the regime of its application make Ramadan’s prayerful group reflection impossible. US District Judge Gladys Kessler has, according to Charlie Savage in the New York Times, publicly condemned the abuse for causing “agony.” For PR purposes the Pentagon and Justice Department call the abuse “enteral feeding.”

Mr. Holder has called “not credible” the prisoners’ complaints about “alleged aspects of enteral feeding” and “allegations that detainees who were being enterally fed were not permitted to pray communally during Ramadan in 2013.” But after the number of hunger strikers reached 106 last year, the military halted its public reporting of the strike.

Significantly, a Navy medical officer at Guantánamo has become the first prison official known to refuse force-feeding duty. The unidentified nurse’s refusal was acknowledged by the Pentagon July 15.

If Holder wins his frightening argument denying the humanity of the men at Guantánamo, even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could object. The ASPCA says its vision is that “the US is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.”

Nurse Refuses Navy’s Force-Feeding of Gitmo Prisoners July 16, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Human Rights.
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Roger’s note: The principle that states that one has the right to refuse an illegal order becomes null and void when, as is the case here, war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed at the highest level of government, i.e. the presidency.  It takes a brave individual to resist under these conditions.  Severest example: Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning is condemned to 35 years in prison for exposing Bush/Obama war crimes in Iraq.

 

“This is a historic stand by this nurse, who recognized the basic humanity of the detainees and the inhumanity of what he was being asked to do.”

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Guantanamo force feeding paraphernalia. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

force-feeding

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A nurse in the U.S. Navy has refused to participate in the force-feeding of hunger striking detainees in what is the first widely-reported act of defiance on ethical grounds by a U.S. military service member at this offshore prison.

“This is a historic stand by this nurse, who recognized the basic humanity of the detainees and the inhumanity of what he was being asked to do,” said Cori Crider, a lawyer for UK-based charity Reprieve—which refers to the refusal as ‘conscientious objection.’ Crider learned of the act of refusal in a July 10 phone call with Abu Wa’el Dhiab—a Syrian man currently detained in Guantánamo Bay—and the news broke to the media on Tuesday.

The unidentified nurse told Dhiab, “I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act,” according to a press statement from Reprieve. “Before we came here, we were told a different story,” the nurse added. “The story we were told was completely the opposite of what I saw.”

Journalist Carol Rosenberg received confirmation from Navy Capt. Tom Gresback that “there was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry out the enteral feeding of a detainee.”

It is not clear what repurcussions await the nurse, who is described by Dhiab as an approximately 40 year-old Latino man who may be a captain, according to Rosenberg. Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for the command that oversees Guantánamo, also confirmed the refusal to the Guardian, stating, “It’s being handled administratively.” Dhiab says he has not seen the nurse since the act of refusal.

According to Dhiab, the Navy nurse is not alone: numerous other medical professionals have stated their ethical objections to the force feedings but express fear of retaliation and punishment if they refuse.

Maggie Martin, an organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War, told Common Dreams, “People have been standing up as conscientious objectors throughout history including the current conflicts, but unfortunately I never heard those stories while I was in the military.”

She added, “It is heartening to see a service member refuse immoral orders.”

Mass hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay have been met with force-feedings, which have been condemned as torture and a violation of international law by the United Nations human rights office and denounced as unethical by medical ethicists. The painful insertion of tubes and pumping of food, as well as threat of stomach damage and asphyxiation, has been comparedto water-boarding, itself a form of torture.

Mr. Dhiab, who remains detained despite being cleared for release in 2010, is currently challenging the practice of force-feedings in the courts and recently won the disclosure of videotapes recording the practice.

Currently 149 men remain detained at Guantánamo Bay, despite the fact that the vast majority of them have been cleared for release. It is not known how many of them are currently on hunger strike or face force feedings after the U.S. imposed a media blackout on reports of the peaceful protests late last year.

_____________________

Obama Did Not End Torture May 26, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
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Roger’s note: If you have ever voluntarily had a tube pushed through your nose and down your throat into your stomach, as I have had as a diagnostic procedure, you will know that having it done daily and non-voluntarily, clearly constitutes torture. As for Obama outsourcing his torture to the Afghani authorities at Bagram, “see no evil, hear no evil …”  And for Obama, who has just announced that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan will continue beyond this year, “speak no evil” does not apply.

On January 9, 2009, then President-elect Barack Obama announced, in what was to be a departure from Bush administration era “war-on-terror” tactics: “I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture.” In April 2014, Senator Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Bush administration era torture programs “a stain on our history that must never be allowed to happen again.” Attorney General Eric Holder also weighed in, arguing that declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee report would ensure that “no administration contemplates such a program in the future.”

(Photo: Stephen Melkesithian/ Creative Commons)

While it is essential that the truth be revealed regarding the systematic torture of detainees under the Bush administration, it is equally essential that we recognize the claim that President Obama ended torture as the myth that it is. Under President Obama, the United States continued to imprison individuals in Afghan detention facilities fully aware of the systematic torture that takes place. The continued practice of transferring detainees to Afghan detention facilities despite full knowledge of the systematic torture being perpetrated therein is an unequivocal violation of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Obama has also directly authorized and publicly defended the force-feeding of Guantanamo Bay hunger strikers. Despite Obama’s claim that force-feeding is “performed in a humane fashion, with concern for petitioners’ well-being,” his administration is doing everything in its power to hide or destroy evidence that documents what we already know—that the force-feeding of Guantanamo detainees, many of whom have been cleared for years to be transferred out of the prison, is a clear violation of U.S. obligations under the Torture Convention.

On May 16, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a temporary order that required the Obama administration to abstain from forcibly removing Abu Wa’el Dhiab from his cell and from force-feeding him until yesterday’s hearing. Kessler also ordered the Obama administration to “preserve and maintain all relevant videotapes” of Dhiab’s forcible removal from his cell and enteral feeding. According to Kessler, “Videotapes of Petitioner’s FCEs and/or force-feedings are likely to demonstrate that Petitioner’s detention is unlawful to the extent they amount to unlawful conditions of confinement.” The Court continued, “Petitioner’s full medical records are likely to support his allegations of abuse.” During yesterday’s hearing, Kessler ordered the Obama administration to produce 34 videotapes and Dhiab’s medical records.

In July 2013, in response to a previous emergency motion aimed at stopping the force-feeding, Judge Kessler stated, “It is perfectly clear from the statements of detainees, as well as the statements from the organizations just cited, that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process.” And at a Senate Judiciary hearing, also in July, retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, M.D., testified that force-feeding amounted to “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” and violated “medical ethics and international and U.S. law.”

The number of detainees being force-fed peaked at 45 detainees during Ramadan in 2013. At the moment, it is unclear how many detainees remain on hunger strike and how many continue to be force-fed, because the U.S. military will “no longer publicly issue the number of detainees who choose not to eat as a matter of protest.”  However, in a letter published by Al Jazeera on March 13th, Guantanamo Bay detainee Moath al-Alwi describes himself as one of sixteen prisoners who are still being force-fed:

“I, too, am strapped down and force-fed for over an hour every single day. During the session, I am constantly vomiting the feeding solution into my lap. As I am carried back to my cell, I cannot help but vomit on the guards carrying me. They put a Plexiglas face mask on my head to protect their clothes from my vomit. They tighten the facemask and press down on it, pushing it into my face. I almost suffocate because I am vomiting inside the facemask and am unable to breathe.”

In an earlier piece written by Mr. al-Alwi for Al-Jazeera, he describes the chairs used to restrain prisoners as they are being force-fed as “torture chairs.” I guess no one has clued him in yet that President Obama ended torture.

CIA made doctors torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, taskforce finds November 4, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Torture.
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Roger’s note: there are parallels here, certainly not anyway near the same scope, but parallels nonetheless with Nazi concentration camp doctors.

 

Doctors were asked to torture detainees for intelligence gathering, and unethical practices continue, review concludes

 

CIA made doctors torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, taskforce finds

An al-Qaida detainee at Guantanamo Bay in 2002: the DoD has taken steps to address concerns over practices at the prison in recent years. Photograph: Shane T Mccoy/PA

 

Doctors and psychologists working for the US military violated the ethical codes of their profession under instruction from the defence department and the CIA to become involved in the torture and degrading treatment of suspected terrorists, an investigation has concluded.

The report of the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres concludes that after 9/11, health professionals working with the military and intelligence services “designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees”.

Medical professionals were in effect told that their ethical mantra “first do no harm” did not apply, because they were not treating people who were ill.

The report lays blame primarily on the defence department (DoD) and the CIA, which required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.

The two-year review by the 19-member taskforce, Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Open Society Foundations, says that the DoD termed those involved in interrogation “safety officers” rather than doctors. Doctors and nurses were required to participate in the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, against the rules of the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association. Doctors and psychologists working for the DoD were required to breach patient confidentiality and share what they knew of the prisoner’s physical and psychological condition with interrogators and were used as interrogators themselves. They also failed to comply with recommendations from the army surgeon general on reporting abuse of detainees.

The CIA’s office of medical services played a critical role in advising the justice department that “enhanced interrogation” methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding, which are recognised as forms of torture, were medically acceptable. CIA medical personnel were present when waterboarding was taking place, the taskforce says.

Although the DoD has taken steps to address concerns over practices at Guantánamo Bay in recent years, and the CIA has said it no longer has suspects in detention, the taskforce says that these “changed roles for health professionals and anaemic ethical standards” remain.

“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve,” said Dr Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University and member of the taskforce.

He added: “It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.”The taskforce says that unethical practices by medical personnel, required by the military, continue today. The DoD “continues to follow policies that undermine standards of professional conduct” for interrogation, hunger strikes, and reporting abuse. Protocols have been issued requiring doctors and nurses to participate in the force-feeding of detainees, including forced extensive bodily restraints for up to two hours twice a day.

Doctors are still required to give interrogators access to medical and psychological information about detainees which they can use to exert pressure on them. Detainees are not permitted to receive treatment for the distress caused by their torture.

“Putting on a uniform does not and should not abrogate the fundamental principles of medical professionalism,” said IMAP president David Rothman. “‘Do no harm’ and ‘put patient interest first’ must apply to all physicians regardless of where they practise.”The taskforce wants a full investigation into the involvement of the medical profession in detention centres. It is also calling for publication of the Senate intelligence committee’s inquiry into CIA practices and wants rules to ensure doctors and psychiatrists working for the military are allowed to abide by the ethical obligations of their profession; they should be prohibited from taking part in interrogation, sharing information from detainees’ medical records with interrogators, or participating in force-feeding, and they should be required to report abuse of detainees.

After Guantánamo, Another Injustice August 12, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Roger’s note: I am an unrepentant Grisham addict.  In addition to being a page-turning novelist, he writes about and combats injustice.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A restraint chair used to force-feed detainees at the military hospital at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

ABOUT two months ago I learned that some of my books had been banned at Guantánamo Bay. Apparently detainees were requesting them, and their lawyers were delivering them to the prison, but they were not being allowed in because of “impermissible content.”

I became curious and tracked down a detainee who enjoys my books. His name is Nabil Hadjarab, and he is a 34-year-old Algerian who grew up in France. He learned to speak French before he learned to speak Arabic. He has close family and friends in France, but not in Algeria. As a kid growing up near Lyon, he was a gifted soccer player and dreamed of playing for Paris St.-Germain, or another top French club.

Tragically for Nabil, he has spent the past 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo, much of the time in solitary confinement. Starting in February, he participated in a hunger strike, which led to his being force-fed.

For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behavior, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the United States invasion, word spread among the Arab communities that the Afghan Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing foreign Arabs. Nabil and many others headed for Pakistan in a desperate effort to escape the danger. En route, he said, he was wounded in a bombing raid and woke up in a hospital in Jalalabad.

At that time, the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time. To house the prisoners of its war on terror, the United States military put up a makeshift prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued.

Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber. Several United States interrogators told him his was a case of mistaken identity. Nonetheless, the United States had adopted strict rules for Arabs in custody — all were to be sent to Guantánamo. On Feb. 15, 2002, Nabil was flown to Cuba; shackled, bound and hooded.

Since then, Nabil has been subjected to all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member. For reasons known only to the men who run the prison, Nabil has never been waterboarded. His lawyer believes this is because he knows nothing and has nothing to give.

The United States government says otherwise. In documents, military prosecutors say that Nabil was staying at a guesthouse run by people with ties to Al Qaeda and that he was named by others as someone affiliated with terrorists. But Nabil has never been charged with a crime. Indeed, on two occasions he has been cleared for a “transfer,” or release. In 2007, a review board established by President George W. Bush recommended his release. Nothing happened. In 2009, another review board established by President Obama recommended his transfer. Nothing happened.

According to his guards, Nabil is a model prisoner. He keeps his head down and avoids trouble. He has perfected his English and insists on speaking the language with his British lawyers. He writes in flawless English. As much as possible, under rather dire circumstances, he has fought to preserve his physical health and mental stability.

In the past seven years, I have met a number of innocent men who were sent to death row, as part of my work with the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted people. Without exception they have told me that the harshness of isolated confinement is brutal for a coldblooded murderer who freely admits to his crimes. For an innocent man, though, death row will shove him dangerously close to insanity. You reach a point where it feels impossible to survive another day.

DEPRESSED and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it gained momentum, and as Nabil and his fellow prisoners got sicker, the Obama administration was backed into a corner. The president has taken justified heat as his bold and eloquent campaign promises to close Gitmo have been forgotten. Suddenly, he was faced with the gruesome prospect of prisoners dropping like flies as they starved themselves to death while the world watched. Instead of releasing Nabil and the other prisoners who have been classified as no threat to the United States, the administration decided to prevent suicides by force-feeding the strikers.

Nabil has not been the only “mistake” in our war on terror. Hundreds of other Arabs have been sent to Gitmo, chewed up by the system there, never charged and eventually transferred back to their home countries. (These transfers are carried out as secretly and as quietly as possible.) There have been no apologies, no official statements of regret, no compensation, nothing of the sort. The United States was dead wrong, but no one can admit it.

In Nabil’s case, the United States military and intelligence agents relied on corrupt informants who were raking in American cash, or even worse, jailhouse snitches who swapped false stories for candy bars, porn and sometimes just a break from their own beatings.

Last week, the Obama administration announced that it was transferring some more Arab prisoners back to Algeria. It is likely that Nabil will be one of them, and if that happens another tragic mistake will be made. His nightmare will only continue. He will be homeless. He will have no support to reintegrate him into a society where many will be hostile to a former Gitmo detainee, either on the assumption that he is an extremist or because he refuses to join the extremist opposition to the Algerian government. Instead of showing some guts and admitting they were wrong, the American authorities will whisk him away, dump him on the streets of Algiers and wash their hands.

What should they do? Or what should we do?

First, admit the mistake and make the apology. Second, provide compensation. United States taxpayers have spent $2 million a year for 11 years to keep Nabil at Gitmo; give the guy a few thousand bucks to get on his feet. Third, pressure the French to allow his re-entry.

This sounds simple, but it will never happen.

A lawyer and author of the forthcoming novel “Sycamore Row.”

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    • Earthling
    • A Small Blue Planet, Milky Way Galaxy

    Who would have thought we would ever hear a United States Attorney General justify and condone torture and the USA would become a torturing nation? And whatever happened to the concept of a speedy and public trial? What is wrong with the US Justice Department that it cannot get it together to try or release prisoners in over a decade?

    Police, guards, soldiers, interrogators promulgate injustice daily on black and brown and poor Americans and on those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the custody of the United States.

    I am ashamed of this nation, of its leadership and its people who allow this. But I do sense the truth of the laws of karma and the national karma that the USA is creating is horrific. When mad gunmen kill theaters full of people, when no place in the nation is safe from the gun nuts and their violence, this is just a small taste of the violence and evil that the USA has meted out to the world.

    It is truly time for a Second American Revolution, but the government has all the firepower and the bureaucrats and autocrats will murder its own people rather than allow freedom and justice to flourish.

    • BSC
    • Canada

    After he left office, Bush had brought horrors on couple of hundred suspects in order to make America safe. The constitution was shredded in the process and thousand or so terrorists have now multiplied into millions through his ill conceived policies and rule. Now we find a book could destroy America. Should we believe all that? For humane laws do not exist in here, the only law is a jungle law. Too tragic for one man rule in age of democracy.

    • Dotconnector
    • New York

    Gitmo is a national disgrace, a symbol of not only inhumanity, but rank hypocrisy.

    • Tom B
    • Lady Lake, Florida

    If we believe Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, it is likely that cops are sometimes wrong, but unable to stop themselves from doing what they do. Kind of like Pit bulls trained to attack. So, I think John Grisham might be right about this poor guy, and right about the Pit bulls, too. On the other hand, the world needs cops, as we also know, and the presumption of guilt does indeed get put ahead of the presumption of innocence.

    • Caspin
    • United States

    Thank you so much, John Grisham! When we say that “this isn’t the country I grew up in,” I believe reading an article like this, written by such a high profile author such as yourself, that this IS the country I believe in. I believe in brave acts such as this, speaking truth despite the hordes who will rally against you for writing it.

    So many are in absolute denial that the nation under the flag they were made to pledge allegiance to since 5 years old is not operating honorably. It seems to be a psychological identification process, whereby the individual has been so identified with the idea of “America” that all negative aspects MUST be denied in order to maintain a certain level of self-esteem to remain intact.

    Anyways, Mr. Grisham, thank you. Thank you for caring and sharing. And may we all help to see the vision through, and create a fund to compensate these falsely accused and detained brothers of ours.

    • Hakuna Matata
    • San Jose

    I remember when Guantanamo just opened, the CIA placed a mole (the young son of a terrorist; the son had a different agenda for his life) in the prison to get some information. There was a Frontline episode on the story. He came out saying what the administration did not want known, namely, that many if not most did not belong there. The CIA ended up dumping him in Canada. The Bush administration and Cheney kept on insisting that everyone in Guantanamo was the worst of the worst and drafted torture memos. And, so it continues with no end in sight. It is truly sad to see how, in the most sophisticated country in the world, mistakes cannot be undone. Do you remember the uproar among the citizenry (and some politicians who should know better) when it was suggested that terrorists be kept in mainland prisons and be tried under the judicial system?

    • Eugene
    • in Oregon
    NYT Pick

    Like several other commenters, I have my doubts that Mr. Hadjarab is as pure and innocent as Mr. Grisham describes him. That said, however, no one seems to have proved — or even alleged — that he committed any sort of crime or engaged in any sort of activity that justifies a the punishment that he has been given. The horror of Guantanamo and the other detention facilities was not simply that Americans engaged in torture (although that was certainly bad enough), but that hundreds have been held without any real justification. Some of those held probably are nasty characters, but absent some sort of trial or other adjudication we are holding these men without any real legal or moral right. If they are terrorists, try them. If they are POWs, follow the relevant international rules. If they are ‘mistakes’, let them go.

    • MAW
    • New Windsor, NY

    Thank you, Mr. Grisham, for parting the clouds on this disgraceful horror perpetrated by my government on what I believe is an innocent man. We are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave. I am sickened beyond comprehension at this kind of injustice. I hope you will write more, but most of all, I hope this man will be freed and compensated (happily by my tax dollars) for the terrible injustice he has been put through.

    • Richard
    • Camarillo, California

    Thank you, President Obama, for bringing “transparency” and “justice” to our handling of detainees in the “War on Terrorism”. Thanks, too, so much, for closing the illegal and immoral prison at Guantanamo Bay. Great work!

    • Jim O.
    • Charleston, SC

    I am a fan of Mr Grisham’s writing, but I am surprised that, as a lawyer, he apparently accepts Mr Hadjarab’s account of his recent life uncritically and with no substantiating evidence. Since Mr Grisham states that there is nothing to be done about Mr Hadjarab’s case, why in the world would he waste his time writing this article? He gives no motivation in the article.

    • johnaskins
    • San Jose, CA

    The unfulfilled promises of Barack Obama are almost as disheartening as the unrepentance of Dick Cheney. I’m from a generation old enough to remember when we had reason to think of ourselves as the good guys. Hard to believe America has reached this nadir.

    • pibis0
    • Sun City West, AZ

    God bless America, land of the free??????
    What goes around comes around.

    • Citizen
    • Texas

    It is against International law to force feed prisoners. It is considered a form of torture. The military medics and doctors doing this force feeding at Gitmo should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It should also be made perfectly clear that these criminals doing the force feeding are never allowed to practice medicine the rest of their lives. But, of course, none of this well ever happen; the good old boy system in the military will shield and protect these criminals. Their kangaroo courts need to be stopped also. But alas, the great and glorious military are going to do whatever they so choose. They have been given far too much power with no oversight. They’ll be patrolling the American streets any day now if they aren’t stopped. Of course, the excuse given will be that they are protecting us and saving our freedoms and democracy. Right.

    • Benny
    • san diego

    Because of these actions other countries in the world hate us and plans attacks against us. Then when something happens we complaint why there’s so much hate towards us. I’m embarrassed of our Government.

    • Marilynn
    • Las Cruces,NM

    We will be unwinding the judicial system put in place by the Bush Administration to justify the Iraq War for years to come, including closing of Gitmo. , which I believe can only be done with the approval of Congress, thanks to G.W.

    • GMGUERRERO
    • 94010

    Being a big fan of John Grisham does not make him innocent. I’m a big fan of John Grisham.

    • Mariano
    • Argentina

    These things always happen during war. They happen in every war, but the difference is, that years ago they werent so public because media wasn’t so massive like today, but horrible things happen in every conflict.

    USA is at war on terrorism. It’s naive to expect no innocent casualties. I’m very sorry for these innocents, and i hope they can recover. But that’s war. The worst side of humanity.

    • Joel Huizenga
    • San Diego California

    It is now possible to tell if someone is telling a lie or the truth with an fMRI and pattern recognition technology. All of the over 40 original scientific journal articles on this topic conclude this fMRI technology works. There are no original scientific articles that conclude it does not work since this technology has been invented and there has been a lot of desire and financing to do so. People should be allowed to verify their statements, presently they are not. We have started a non-profit to gain this right for individuals. See www.medforlaw.org for information on our organization. If this technology was available to this individual this would not have ever happened.

    • Larry
    • Brussels

    As a US citizen, I feel a patriotic duty to take responsibility for my government’s misdeeds. If it refuses to pay compensation to former GITMO detainees, then I would like to make a personal donation to a charitable fund to be established for that purpose, and I would invite others to do the same.

    • Gudrun
    • Independence, NY

    I read somewhere that the only book that every prisoner gets at Guantanamo is the Koran. Then we wonder why they turn out so extreme after reading nothing else for a decade– why just reading that book and nothing else would be a way to go nuts.

    Now they won’t let them read John Grisham ? People in prison should be able to read a whole lot of books that are deamed inspiring, creative, thoughtful etc etc. Start with Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Grisham, etc etc. the more the merrier.

    • gomez
    • bronx, ny

    There is no modern torture without torturers and psychiatrists to teach them about how the mind ‘ought’ to work under extreme conditions. Who benefits from the ‘knowledge’ acquired under torture? Take a guess.

    More interesting to me is: How do we train THE TORTURERS, what become of them once we released them back to ‘civilian’ life, and how do we live without remorse knowing that our ‘kids’ are now professionally practicing the torture they inflicted to that cat when they were kid. Because, I doubt that any soldier who was an animal lover as a child could have been trained to do this to humans.

    Those are the ones that end up committing suicide. For them, I have a place in my heart.

    https://thecitywidementalhealthproject.wordpress.com/

    • Athenian
    • Danville, CA

    As I read Grisham’s article, I kept wondering, how does he know this is true?

    A prisoner claimed to be innocent? Certainly possible, but where is the proof?

    • Ana
    • Kentucky

    It’s a sick feeling when you know your country has done and continues to do disgusting and immoral activities. It’s a sicker feeling when you realize you can’t do anything about it.

    I don’t understand how a man who made constitutional law his life’s work can allow this kind of thing to continue. With all our military budget, resources for anti-terrorism, and lawyers chomping at the bit to get these prisoners processed and out of our hair (and our headlines), you’d think Obama would have forced a solution by this point. What are we going to do? Continue to keep them there until they (and we) all die of old age?

    • Gudrun
    • Independence, NY

    We have more people in prison than any other country and we cannot afford it. I just read about Lynne F Stewart , lawyer for unpopular clients and she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for smuggling messages from an imprisoned sheik to his violent followers in Egypt. She wants out because she has metastasis of breast cancer– cannot the state take away her law license and let her out for two years served????

    I agree with John Grisham that we need to pay for prisoners who are trying to get back into society and who have not been proven to have done anything wrong in the first place– that payment might prevent these prisoners from becoming terrorists and they might be grateful for getting some kind of monthly stipend and US could follow them if they give a monthly check to them. – good insurance. .

    Let us please be creative in letting people out of jail. Bryant Manning served many years in isolation already and now they want to throw the book at him for hundreds of years– his main crime was that he recorded and passed around a video of US soldiers shooting civilians including Reuter reporters — now who was the criminals in that case?

    However, Mr Zimmerman got no jail at all and killed a person he did not need to kill.

    • Ted
    • Forest Hills

    This is what happens to a foreigner who had the grave misfortune of being labeled a suspected terrorist by the US government. Does anyone doubt what is going to start happening to Americans once someone in the government deems them an undesirable, labels them a terrorist, and has a few incriminating bits of digital evidence against them based on limitless surveillance authority?

    The full force and fury of American police and military powers is a really scary thing. Military and police organizational culture is one where there is very little interest in the protecting the rights of those suspected of crimes. We need to draw a line in the sand and stop these activities now, before they get turned on American citizens at the first chance the executive branch discovers a legal loophole to exploit and keep secret for years.

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Prisoners Stage Hunger Strikes Worldwide July 12, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Friday, 12 July 2013 13:03 By Jaisal Noor, The Real News Network

  images  images2

 

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to this latest edition of The Ratner Report with Michael Ratner, who’s now joining us from New York.

Michael is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He’s also a board member for The Real News Network.

Thank you for joining us, Michael.

MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It’s good to be with you, Jaisal, and good to be with The Real News.

NOOR: So, Michael, what do you have for us this week?

RATNER: I’ve been very concerned for a long time about the situation both in Pelican Bay, which is the big prison in California where my office has a lawsuit around solitary confinement, obviously concerned by Guantanamo Bay and what’s happening there, as well as over time have spent some attention to Palestinians in Israeli jails, where they’re under administrative detention. In all three of these cases, we now have hunger strikes going on.

And the first thing I want to say about them that’s important is really hunger strikes are a last resort. I remember when I was back teaching and working on the Guantanamo one, which was the Haitian cases, the HIV people left at Guantanamo Bay, kept there by the United States. And after we’d lost all the lawsuits, the Haitians said, what can we do but go on a hunger strike? You hate to see your clients do it. It’s painful. Any of us who have fasted for one day or two days or three days–I know what it’s like. So it’s really a last resort. It’s when all else has failed, when the powers that be failed, when the litigation we do fails, when even a mass movement to some extent has failed, and prisoners and detainees and others say, we’re going to take our fate into our own hands, we’re going to decide our fate, and we’re going to do what’s necessary to change what’s going on; we’re going to become the actors in this drama that is unfolding.

And going back before that, and in my memory, in the early ’80s, there were the hunger strikes that took place by people from the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland in British jails. The one most people have heard of is of course Bobby Sands. Bobby Sands was a prisoner of the British. He went on a hunger strike and he died, actually, from that hunger strike. He died I think in 1981.

And what was interesting, what was established as result of Bobby Sands’s death was that you don’t have a medical right or a legal right to force-feed a person who’s making a conscious decision to go on a hunger strike. That’s the fundamental law. And that’s the law that really developed out of the Bobby Sands case. If we look at it, it’s like any medical decision. I have a right to forgo medical treatment if I want, and I have a right to forgo forced feeding.

Let’s jump forward to today. First, Pelican Bay. Pelican Bay, as I said, has some 29,000 people both at Pelican Bay and in prisons throughout California on hunger strike. There’s a history to that at Pelican Bay. In 2011, some 6,000 people at Pelican Bay in prisons in California went on a hunger strike. California agreed to make certain changes. The main change–and this is really important to understand why people are on hunger strike in California–is to solitary confinement. When you hear the statistic, you just can’t believe it. People have been in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay from 11 to 28 years. That’s right, 11 to 28 years. And they have no real way of getting out. And solitary confinement past something like 15 days is to be considered–is considered by most authorities and legal authorities to be cruel and unusual treatment, and here it is going on in hundreds of cases for 11 to 28 years. The state of California promised to remedy that three years ago after the last hunger strike or two years ago. They didn’t do anything. And just this week the hunger strikes again began. The demands are to end that solitary confinement contrary to the U.S. Constitution as well as international law.

Interestingly, in this whole package, that hunger strike is continuing. My office, the Center for Constitutional rights, has a major class-action going to try and end the practice of solitary confinement. Hopefully the combination of the hunger strike and the heavy pressure of the lawsuit will finally force California to do what any humane society should do, which is get the people out of solitary. That’s California. It should get all of our support. It needs support. The hunger strikers have finally said, we’ve had enough.

Let’s fast–not fast-forward. Let’s just go to Guantanamo, where a hunger strike is continuing right now. Some 100 people are on a hunger strike at Guantanamo. Forty of them are being force fed. Their demands are, one, to finally get them out of Guantanamo. This is only been 11 years that they’ve been at Guantanamo. In some cases many of those people have been cleared for release. They remain there. And what’s most interesting, the most interesting development–of course, they’re being force fed contrary to law. The most interesting development was a lawsuit that a judge ruled on this week in the case of one of the people at Guantanamo. It was someone who had been cleared for release who’s on a hunger strike who’s being force fed. His lawyers went into court and said, you’ve got to stop the force-feeding, it’s illegal, it’s contrary to medical ethics. The judge said, I can’t do that, I don’t have any jurisdiction to do it, there’s just no way the court can do it. So the first thing the court said: there’s no jurisdiction. And the reason the court said that is because our Congress, in it’s great wisdom, passed a law stripping all federal courts of dealing with any conditions at Guantanamo. So the judge had no jurisdiction. She could have ended the case right there, but she went on in two amazing respects, and it’s something–it’s a short opinion, but I’m going to read you a little bit of it, but everybody ought to look at. The first thing she said: she essentially agreed that there’s a consensus in medical and legal opinion that force-feeding violates article 7–article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that prohibits torture, cruel, and inhumane treatment. In other words, forced feeding–and, of course, the way they do it is you sit in a restrained chair like this, your head’s restrained, a tube is put down your nostril into your stomach. It’s a form of torture itself. And so what she’s saying the law is clear that the international covenant on civil and political rights is violated by force-feeding. And then she cited a letter that the American Medical Association wrote to the U.S. Department of Defense, secretary of defense. And here’s what it said. The core ethical values of the medical profession find that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process, so it can’t be done. So the U.S. is violating the law not just in keeping people at Guantanamo, but in forcing them to be fed. So she found first she couldn’t hear the case, but then she went on to say it’s essentially illegal and unethical. And then–and I think the greatest slap we’ve seen from a federal judge in recent times to a sitting president was this. She says, even though the court doesn’t–does–the court must dismiss this case. And she obviously as an individual judge felt very badly in doing so. She says this important thing about President Obama. There is an individual, she says, who does have the authority to address the issue. In a speech on May 23, 2013–it was the big Obama national security speech–she says President Obama stated, quote, look at the current situation where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that. Then she goes on to say, after quoting the speech, she then says the president of the United States is the commander-in-chief of the military. And she quotes the Constitution. And then she says–she ends her opinion. It seems to follow therefore that the president as commander-in-chief has the authority and the power to directly address the issue of the force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo. She places the blame squarely where it belongs, on the shoulders of Obama, who himself has condemned the force-feeding yet refuses to do anything about the force-feeding or releasing the Guantanamo detainees.

So we have California, we have Guantanamo, and then as when I opened this segment, we have Palestinians in Israeli jails who are on hunger strike. And there’s, you know, at least two dozen of them, very long hunger strikes. Some have come very close to death and have been released as a result because Israel apparently, from what I read and hear, does not have a policy of force-feeding. And so what does that mean in the Israeli context? What it means is that the Israelis–what I understand: the attorney general’s office in Israel is currently examining the legality of a government bill that would enable prison authorities to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners. And they’re doing that because in the past they faced mounting challenges, this article said, to the fact that Palestinian security detainees, in other words, administrative detainees who are held in prison without any charges, are getting early release because the Israelis are so afraid of them dying in prisons. So hunger strikes are effective. And as long as the law is followed, which is to say you can’t force-feed them, they actually can result in change and release of some people. So what’s Israel considering? Complying with the U.S. law, the U.S. law, the U.S. nonlaw. And I’ll end on this little note. The Israeli–the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have issued a strong solidarity statement with the Pelican Bay prisoners, trying to make us understand that people in this situation, the oppressed, those made and weakened by the state, those abused by the state, can begin to take control in their own hands and their solidarity across these lines from Pelican Bay to Guantanamo to Israeli prisons.

I’ll end on this remarkable statement that I read in the paper that doctors from Israel are coming to the United States because the United States claims it needs help in dealing with hunger strikes, that they’re having trouble figuring out what to do, so they’re going to the Israeli doctors, no less. Now, in some way I don’t believe that headline, because if you accept what I just said, which the Israelis do not force-feed but the U.S. does, in fact what may be happening is the Israelis are coming here to learn how to force-feed prisoners so they don’t have a problem in dealing with the force-feeding of their prisoners. In the end what we’re seeing is people who are the oppressed taking their lives into their own hands, becoming actors in their own dramas. And basically that is the way–sadly, but that is the way that they will make change, whether it’s at Pelican Bay, Guantanamo, or in Israeli prisons where Palestine–where Palestinians are in prison.

NOOR: Michael Ratner, thank you so much for joining us.

RATNER: Thank you for having me on The Real News.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

Tens of Thousands of California Prisoners Launch Mass Hunger Strike July 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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The strikers are calling for an end to long-term solitary confinement and better prison conditions.

Pelican Bay State Prison. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, July 8, prisoners at the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison began a mass hunger strike to protest long-term solitary confinement. It is not the first time such an action has taken place. In 2011, prisoners staged two separate hunger strikes to protest their continued placement in long-term solitary confinement.

Hunger strikers issued five core demands:

1. Eliminate group punishments for individual rules violations.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.

3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.

4. Provide adequate food.

5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

During the first hunger strike, in July 2011, at least 1,035 of the SHU’s 1,111 inmates refused food. The strike spread to thirteen other state prisons and involved at least 6,600 people incarcerated throughout California. The second strike, in September 2011, spread to twelve prisons within California as well as to prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma that housed California prisoners. By the third day, nearly 12,000 people were participating. The strike ended after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) promised a comprehensive review of all SHU prisoners validated as gang members or associates.

Now prisoners are striking again. They charge that in the intervening two years the CDCR has not addressed any of these demands, and they have called for a mass hunger strike combined with a nonviolent work stoppage. “Once initiated, this protest will continue indefinitely—until all Five (5) Core Demands are fully met,” they declared. By the second day of the strike, almost 30,000 California prisoners were taking part.

The 2011 hunger strikes mobilized family members as well. For many, this is their first foray into political organizing, even though their loved ones have spent years locked in windowless cells nearly twenty-four hours a day.

Dolores Canales’s son Johnny has spent thirteen years in the SHU. Canales herself has had firsthand experience with solitary confinement. During her own imprisonment, she spent nine months in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) at the California Institute for Women, where she was confined to her cell twenty-two hours a day. “There, I had a window. The guards would take me out to the yard everyday. I’d get to go out to the yard with other people,” she recalled. But being in solitary confinement still took its toll: “There’s an anxiety that overcomes you in the middle of the night because you’re so locked in,” she described. Even after being moved from segregation, Canales was unable to shake that anxiety. She broke into a sweat and panicked each time she saw a group of officers even though she had broken no rules. “I just can’t forget.”

In contrast to his mother’s experience, Johnny spends nearly twenty-four hours a day in a windowless cell. Food is delivered twice a day through a slot in the cell door. The “yard” he is taken to for solitary exercise consists of a cement yard the length of three cells with a roof only partially open to the sky. Johnny never sees the sun.

Over 1,000 people are held in the SHU, and more than half have spent over a decade there. Prison administrators place people in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term because they have been accused of membership in a prison gang. Accusations often rely on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence, such as tattoos or possessing certain books. Prison administrators also place prisoners in the SHU on accusations of gang association, again relying on circumstantial evidence such as being seen speaking with an alleged gang member on the housing unit, associating with prisoners of similar background or racial group or possessing literatures associated with political ideologies (such as the Black Panther Party).

Until recently, alleged gang members are released from the SHU only if they “debrief” or provide information incriminating other prisoners. Debriefing can be dangerous to both the prisoner who debriefs and his family on the outside. In addition, prisoners can be falsely identified as gang members by others who debrief in order to escape the SHU. One does not necessarily need to be a gang member or associate to be sent to the SHU: jailhouse lawyers and others who challenge inhumane prison conditions are disproportionately sent to the SHU. Johnny was one of those jailhouse lawyers. “He’s assisted with legal work for alleged associates charged with being in gangs,” his mother stated.

In May 2011, Johnny began sending his mother letters that he asked her to forward to the governor. The letters declared that Johnny and others were going on hunger strike on July 1, 2011, to protest SHU conditions and their indefinite terms within the SHU.

The day the strike began, Canales attended a rally in Los Angeles. “I had no intention of getting involved in organizing,” she recalled. “I just wanted to find out what was going on. I was asked to speak, and I read a letter from Johnny.”

That was Canales’s entry into organizing. “We [family members] started meeting every other day. More and more family members were coming out, sharing stories of their loved ones in different prisons and jails who were on hunger strike.”

In Oakland, Marie Levin was also galvanized into action by the hunger strike. In 2011, Levin had not seen her brother, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, for over fifteen years. Shortly before the strike, Carol Strickman, an attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, visited her, bringing an audiotape in which Jamaa talked about his decision to go on hunger strike. Moved, Levin then attended a solidarity rally in San Francisco. “I was activated after going to that rally,” she recalled. Like Canales, this was her entry into political organizing. She joined Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS), a coalition of lawyers, advocates and family members. “It was overwhelming at first,” she remembered. “I found out so much information I didn’t know about. Not just about SHU conditions, they were talking about the Black Panthers and history that I didn’t know.” But Levin continued to attend.

Family members, advocates and supporters have held rallies and vigils in various cities to draw public attention. On July 18, 200 family members, lawyers and supporters from across California converged upon CDCR headquarters in Sacramento to deliver a petition with over 7,500 signatures in support of the hunger strikers. They then marched to Governor Brown’s office to demand answers.

The hunger strike lasted three weeks, ending after CDCR officials promised changes. Hunger strikers suspended the strike to allow CDCR a grace period to fulfill their promises. In the meantime, family members continued to speak out about SHU conditions. “We were going to churches, universities, anywhere,” Canales recollected. “I can be on line at the bank and I’ll talk to people. I’ll pull out a picture of the SHU cell and the closed-in yard.” When the California Assembly’s Public Safety Commission held a hearing on SHU conditions in August 2011, Levin and other family members attended and testified about the need for substantial changes to SHU policies and practices. Levin also helped build a mock SHU cell, which they brought to rallies, vigils and speaking events.

When prisoners renewed their hunger strike in September 2011, Canales and other family members started California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement. “A lot of family members work full-time jobs, so the organizing is all in our spare time even though we have families, jobs, etc.” They continued to speak out about SHU conditions. In the Bay Area, Levin and other PHSS members have brought the mock SHU to the city’s parks, universities and vigils.

The second hunger strike ended on October 13, 2011, after the CDCR agreed to a comprehensive review of all SHU prisoners validated as gang members or associates. Family members continued to keep public attention on Pelican Bay. They held rallies in front of the Los Angeles County Jail. They have continued weekly candlelight vigils in cities throughout California. When Senator Dick Durbin held hearings on solitary confinement in June 2012, they traveled to Washington, DC, in a show of support.

They also began coordinating to enable loved ones to visit Pelican Bay. Canales applied five times for permission to visit her son, who was in the SHU at Corcoran State Prison. Each time, her application was denied because of her conviction record. When she was finally approved, Johnny had been transferred to Pelican Bay, thirteen miles from the California-Oregon border, making the trip more time-consuming and expensive for Canales, who, like many family members, lives in Southern California. Organizing with other family members, she learned that this distance prohibited others from seeing their loved ones. “I try to bring other family members up when I’m driving.”

Although Marie Levin lives in the Bay Area, 370 miles closer to Pelican Bay, the cost and distance have also prevented her from visiting her brother for years. Levin credits the hunger strike with bringing together various families who pool resources. “The support that I’ve gotten from the women who go up there has been a blessing. I can carpool with them, we share the [hotel] rooms together, and we share all the costs. We room as if we were family.” She adds, “In the past, we did not have that.”

California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement also organized larger group visits. On November 19, 2012, the group brought three vans of family members to the prison. Less than one month later, on December 7, 2012, they chartered a bus, half of which were children. The group has since organized several caravans that enable family members to visit their incarcerated loved ones, some for the first time in years.

Family members near the prison in Crescent City have also opened their homes to those traveling from further away. Canales credits this hospitality to the Pelican Bay prisoners’ call to end racial hostilities. “If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system…now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than twenty to thirty years of hostilities between our racial groups,” SHU prisoners announced in August 2012. “Beginning on October 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups…in SHU, Ad-Seg, General Population, and CountyJails, will officially cease.”

“It’s real,” stated Canales. “I’ve stayed in the homes of family members of every alleged organization when I’ve gone to visit. I wouldn’t be able to do that if the cease-fire wasn’t real.”

In Fall 2012, the CDCR unveiled its stepdown program. Under the program, even those who have spent years in the SHU may still be required to spend two to three additional years in solitary confinement. The debriefing program remains in place. Groups of three or more can be labeled as Security Threat Groups, warranting SHU placement. Prisoners, family members and concerned advocates have criticized the program, stating that the program does not address the five core demands and instead expands the criteria for people eligible for SHU placement.

On February 14, 2013, prisoners at Pelican Bay’s SHU announced a renewed hunger strike, combined with a work strike, to begin July 8. This time, they promise to go “all the way” if the CDCR does not meet their five core demands. They demand that the CDCR sign a consent decree spelling out the specific terms of the policies they will enact. In addition, they have issued an additional forty demands, which include prohibiting official sanctions for hunger strike participation as well as improving conditions in the SHU and in general population. On June 20, 2013, prisoners reaffirmed their decision to hunger strike after a court-ordered mediation session with CDCR officials.

In Oakland, Marie Levin and her husband Randy have organized monthly vigils. They bring the mock SHU and invite people to step inside. “A large part of it is ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ People don’t think about the conditions under which people [in prison] have to live. It’s up to me and others to educate them so they know what’s going on.” Levin notes that the public reaction when confronted with the mock SHU cell has generally been outrage and horror. “The majority of people realize this is wrong.”

In April, Levin also began fasting three days each week. “The purpose was to pray for change from the governor, CDCR officials, the Public Safety Commission, the Assembly, even the officials at Pelican Bay.” She ended her fast in June, but plans to fast again this July 4 and may participate in a rolling fast—in which outside supporters fast for one day in solidarity with the hunger strikers. Family members are also planning a caravan and solidarity rally to Corcoran State Prison, which has its own SHU, for Saturday, July 13.

Both Canales and Levin hope that meaningful change will occur before the hunger strike begins. “As a mother, I don’t want them to put their bodies through this,” Canales said. “But these men have come to a point where there’s no turning back.”

Guantánamo Is Not an Anomaly — Prisoners in the US Are Force-Fed Every Day May 6, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: I am not one of those who believe that American “democracy” only began to crumble with George Bush.  The problem goes back a long way; 1492 is an important date.  The genocide of the First Nations peoples and the regime of the enslavement of Africans did not occur under the Bush presidency (although I have no doubt he would have been a champion of both disgraces).  From the Philippines to all of Latin America to the Middle East, to Africa, to Vietnam, well … to the entire globe, American economic and military hegemony has left unspeakable misery in it wake.  Having said all that, and having been aware of these realities all my adult life, I continue to be shocked by the impunity in which today’s American state and federal jurisdictions openly and proudly engage in torture.  The United States a Christian nation?  The United States a civilized nation?  Don’t make me laugh.

 

Guards from Camp 5 at Joint Task Force Guantanamo escort a detainee from his cell to a recreational facility within the camp. (Flickr/Kilho Park)

I know a hunger-striking prisoner who hasn’t eaten solid food in more than five years. He is being force-fed by the medical staff where he’s incarcerated. Starving himself, he told me during one of our biweekly phone calls last year, is the only way he has to exercise his first amendment rights and to protest his conviction. Not eating is his only available free speech act.

The prisoner has lost half his body weight and four teeth to malnutrition. He and his lawyer have gone to court to stop the force-feedings, but a judge ruled against him in March. If I asked you to guess where Coleman is being held, you’d likely say Guantánamo — “America’s offshore war-on-terror camp” — where a mass hunger strike of 100 prisoners has brought the ethics of force-feeding to American newspapers, if not American consciences. Twenty-five of those prisoners are now being manually fed with tubes.

But William Coleman is not at Guantánamo. He’s in Connecticut. The prison medical staff force-feeding him are on contract from the University of Connecticut, not the U.S. Navy. Guantánamo is not an anomaly. Prisoners — who are on U.S. soil and not an inaccessible island military base — are routinely and systematically force-fed every day.

The accounts of force-feeding coming out of Guantánamo, including Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel’s “Gitmo is Killing Me” in The New York Times two weeks ago, are consistent with how Coleman has described the process to me — and to the Supreme Court of Connecticut.

On Oct. 23, 2008, medical staff and corrections officers first strapped Coleman at four points to a vinyl medical table and snaked a rubber tube up his nose, down his throat and into his stomach. When the tube kinked, they thought his reaction to the pain was resistance and tied him across the chest with mesh straps. They reinserted the tube and Coleman gagged as they drained Ensure, a nutrient drink, into it. He continued to gag. He bled. He vomited. He felt violated, not medically treated. Coleman is still being force-fed; sometimes the staff put a semi-permanent tube up his nose, sometimes they don’t. They no longer strap him down. He knows the staff. They are, he says, following orders.

The fact that force feedings are being discussed in the context of Guantánamo is dangerously misleading; it obscures the routine use of feeding tubes in American prisons. Other recent feeding tube cases have taken place in Washington state, Utah, Illinois and Wisconsin — all prisoners who had the resources to contest their treatment in court. No sweeping study of force-feeding has been done, so statistics on usage don’t exist. Only three states have laws against force-feeding prisoners: Florida, Georgia and California, where a hunger strike in 2011 at a facility in Pelican Bay effectively caused a court examination of prison conditions. Just this week Leroy Dorsey, who sued New York state to have his force-feedings stopped, lost his case. “Force-feeding order did not violate inmate’s rights,” the Reuters headline reads.

No matter where force-feedings take place, whether in Guantánamo or Connecticut, they are considered torture by most of the world’s medical and governing bodies. As U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Coville said this week about tube usage, “If it’s perceived as torture or inhuman treatment — and it’s the case, it’s painful — then it is prohibited by international law.” At The Daily Beast, Kent Sepkowitz, a doctor, writes, “Without question, [force-feeding] is the most painful procedure doctors routinely inflict on conscious patients,” and calls it “barbaric.”

In 2005, when 142 Guantánamo detainees stopped eating, their subsequent force-feedings caused 263 international doctors to write an open letter in the medical journal The Lancet that denounced the practice and called on doctors to stop participating. They wrote, “Physicians do not have to agree with the prisoner, but they must respect their informed decision.”

To little effect, the American Medical Association condemned the force feedings in 2005, 2009 and again last week, saying that “every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions.”

Yet most media outlets continue to portray feeding tube use as a “complex ethical debate.” It’s not. Competent prisoners go on hunger strike because they have something to say and no other way to say it. Prison officials choose not to hear — and silence them with tubes. In court documents, wardens cite two primary concerns: the health of the prisoner, whose well-being they are responsible for (and for whose “suicide” they could be blamed); and prison order, including disruption of facility routine, copycat hunger strikers, and low morale among corrections officers and staff.

According to Mara Silver, who wrote about prison hunger strikes for Stanford Law Review in 2005, there is scant evidence that hunger strikers disrupt prison order. In fact, she notes, wardens often aren’t required to show proof when challenged. Consistently, routinely, wardens are deferred to in these cases.

Last week The Chicago Tribune reported that President Obama, who has not yet fulfilled a campaign promise to close Guantánamo, had courts on his side:

Most U.S. judges who have examined forced feeding in prisons have concluded that the measure may violate the rights of inmates to control their own bodies and to privacy — rights rooted in the U.S. Constitution and in common law. But they have found that the needs of operating a prison are more important.

Prisoners’ rights activists have long acknowledged courts’ reluctance to reconsider application of common law and constitutional rights to those inside. This status quo works so long as it is supported by public opinion — or public ignorance of the practice.

Hunger strikes have the power to change public opinion. This might be why the warden of Coleman’s prison has refused my request for a visit — and that of any other journalist. As the warden put it in a brief letter, they think my presence might “exacerbate” the inmate’s condition or “contribute to his detriment.” Or, perhaps, bring attention to Coleman’s case. So long as force-feeding is considered an exceptional practice, applied to less than two dozen men from foreign countries, and on foreign soil, the public and the medical community can remain ignorant of the torture within our growing domestic prison industry.

For an article on William Coleman that appeared in Guernica magazine in January, I spoke with American bioethicist Jacob Appel, who has written extensively about Coleman and feeding-tube usage in U.S. prisons. The public discourse about Guantánamo, Appel told me, had falsely assumed that torture and abuse are an exception rather than the general rule. Guantánamo, he said, “was presented as … an extraordinary set of circumstances, not an outflow of American law.”

Ann Neumann is editor of The Revealer, a publication of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University. She has written for Guernica magazine, The Nation and the New York Law Review, and has appeared on Voice of America, NY-1 News and WBAI. She teaches journalism at Drew University. Neumann blogs about religion and dying at otherspoon.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter at @otherspoon.

Gitmo Groups Call Out Obama Over Political Cowardice April 30, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Health, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: On the first day of his presidency, Obama promised to close Guantánamo within a year.  That was over five years ago.  Guantánamo is a national disgrace and only one example of the president’s abominable lack of ethics, courage, and  of his broken promises.

‘Congress has very little to do with it': Following press conference, groups say Obama has only himself to blame for Guantanamo

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

U.S. President Barack Obama stated at a press conference on Tuesday that he would like to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison but said that Congress was to blame for blockading any such action.

However, rights groups are calling Obama’s bluff, saying he actually does have the power to transfer detainees and put an end to the indefinite detention, solitary confinement, and torture inherent within the military prison—without the approval of Congress—and that he simply lacks the political courage to do so.

Obama stated Tuesday:

Now Congress determined that they would not let us close it and despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country. . . . And so I’m going to — as I’ve said before, we’re — examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue. But ultimately, we’re also going to need some help from Congress.

In response, lawyers for Guantanamo detainees at the Center for Constitutional Rights stated, “We praise the president for re-affirming his commitment to closing the base but take issue with the impression he strives to give that it is largely up to Congress.”

Rather than waiting for Congress to make a move on Guantanamo, CCR reports Tuesday that Obama has the autonomy to take a number of actions:

  • Congress is certainly responsible for imposing unprecedented restrictions on detainee transfers, but President Obama still has the power to transfer men right now. He should use the certification/waiver process created by Congress to transfer detainees, starting with the 86 men who have been cleared for release, including our client Djamel Ameziane.
  • Congress may have tied one hand behind his back, but he has tied the other: he should lift his self-imposed moratorium on transfers to Yemen regardless of a detainee’s status. It’s collective punishment based on citizenship, and needs to be reevaluated now.
  • President Obama should appoint a senior government official to shepherd the process of closure, and should give that person sufficient authority to resolve inter-agency disputes.
  • The President must demonstrate immediate, tangible progress toward the closure of Guantanamo or the men who are on hunger strike will die, and he will be ultimately responsible for their deaths.

Likewise, the ACLU affirmed Tuesday that Obama holds certain powers to release at least half of the Guantanamo detainees:

There are two things the president should do. One is to appoint a senior point person so that the administration’s Guantánamo closure policy is directed by the White House and not by Pentagon bureaucrats. The president can also order the secretary of defense to start certifying for transfer detainees who have been cleared, which is more than half the Guantánamo population.

Carlos Warner, an attorney representing 11 Guantanamo prisoners, said today:

I applaud President Obama’s remarks — he hasn’t mentioned Guantanamo in years — but the fact is that Congress has very little to do with it. NDAA as written allows the President to transfer individuals if it’s in the national security of the United States. The President’s statement made clear that Guantanamo negatively impacts our national security. The question is not whether the administration has the authority to transfer innocent men, but whether it has the political courage to do so.

And writing at the Lawfare Tuesday, Benjamin Wittes adds that Obama’s comments on Tuesday are a direct contradiction of his own self imposed policies. Wittes states:

The President’s comments are bewildering because his own policies give rise to the vast majority of the concerns about which he so earnestly delivered himself in these remarks.

Remember that Obama himself has imposed a moratorium on repatriating people to Yemen. And Obama himself has insisted that nearly 50 detainees cannot either be tried or transferred.

‘Torture Reinforcements’ Not ‘Medical Personnel’ Arrive to Combat Gitmo Hunger Strike

US Military Calls in ‘Force-Feeding Teams’ as Guantanamo Hunger Strike Continues

- Jon Queally, staff writer

A US military guard carries shackles at the US detention center in Guantánamo Bay. (Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images)

The US military has confirmed that at least 40 “medical personnel” have arrived at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in order to expand a force-feeding operation designed to counter an ongoing hunger strike by more than 100 prisoners protesting their indefinite detention and ill treatment.

But because the procedure of “force-feeding” is widely held as a form of torture, critics of the practice may well view the medical teams as nothing more than ‘torture reinforcements’ as the number of those approved for the painful process continues to grow and their conditions deteriorate.

Military authorities repeatedly claim that force-feedings are somehow necessary, but experts are unequivocal when they declare that the procedure is torture.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission considers the practice of force-feeding—in which detainees are strapped to a restraining chair, have tubes pushed up their nostrils and liquids pumped down their throats—a clear form of torture. In addition, the World Medical Association prohibits its physicians from participating in force-feeding and the American Medical Association has just sent a letter to the Pentagon calling the practice an affront to accepted medical ethics.

One detainee, speaking recently through his lawyer David Remes, described the process by saying it felt a “razor blade [going] down through your nose and into your throat.”

In an interview with the Guardian, Remes discussed the treatment of those at Guantanamo as he pushed back against the US military’s claims that it is safeguarding the prisoners by torturing them. “It’s like the way you would treat an animal,” he said. Watch:

Despite testimony like this and the many objections by human rights advocates, reports indicate that at least 21 men have been approved for force feeding at the US prison.

As The Guardian reports:

Authorities said that the “influx” of medical reinforcements had been weeks in the planning. But the news will fuel speculation that the condition of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay is deteriorating. Shaker Aamer, the last British resident being kept at the centre, told his lawyer earlier this month that authorities will soon see fatalities as a result of the current action.

“I cannot give you numbers and names, but people are dying here,” said Aamer, who is refusing food.

The action is a protest against conditions at the centre, as well as the indefinite nature of the remaining prisoners’ confinement. Aamer has been cleared for release twice, but is still behind bars after 11 years. He has never been charged or faced trial but the US refuses to allow him to return to the UK, despite official protests by the British government.

Late last week, president of the American Medical Association, Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, sent a letter to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in order to remind the Pentagon that the AMA’s long-held view is that force feeding is both an unethical and inhumane practic practice.

As Reuters report:

[The AMA letter] urged the defense secretary “to address any situation in which a physician may be asked to violate the ethical standards of his or her profession.”

Hagel had just returned from a trip to the Middle East and it was unclear whether he had seen the letter, said Pentagon spokesman Army Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale.

Asked if military doctors had raised ethical concerns about being asked to perform force-feedings, Breasseale said, “I can tell you there have been no organized efforts, but I cannot speak for individual physicians.

Vince Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights which represents many of the detainees, welcomed the AMA’s letter.

“In reaffirming its long-standing opposition to force feeding Guantanamo prisoners, the country’s most prominent medical association has delivered a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration’s wholly inadequate response to the hunger strik,” Warren said. “The administration cannot force feed its way out of this growing medical emergency.”

He added, “The only true solution is to resume transfers of prisoners and close Guantanamo.”

________________________________________________

 

Beatings, Attempted Suicides and Deliberate Starvation: The Dystopic Hell of Guantanamo Bay April 14, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Roger’s note: Guantánamo ordered to be closed: Obama’s first day as president.  Remember?  The Mendacity of Hope.  Capture an alleged enemy, torture him so that he cannot be brought to trial, keep him in chains forever.  The American Way.

 

 

The mass hunger strike at the notorious prison camp is shining a light on the festering issue of indefinite detention.

 

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Photo Credit: Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons

 Colonel John Bogdan’s arrival at Guantanamo Bay meant trouble for the prisoners who had been locked up there for over a decade, many of them without ever being charged with a crime. His punitive actions sparked the first mass hunger strike at Guantanamo since 2006. In turn, the strike is shining a light on the festering issue of indefinite detention without charge, and the Obama administration’s failure to close the prison that has become a symbol of the lawlessness of America’s “war on terr

Bogdan, who served in Iraq and took over operations at the prison camp in June 2012, embarked on a campaign of harassment directed at the prisoners, according to published accounts by attorneys for Guantanamo prisoners.

He had members of the Joint Detention Group, the military unit that runs the prison, storm Camp 6, the name given for the prison area where most of the detainees live. (In response to the hunger strike, some detainees have reportedly been moved to Camp 5, an area of the camp for “non-compliant” detainees that has been criticized for small cells, bright lights and foul smells. Camp 6 is the most permissive area of the camps, where prisoners live communally.) Temperatures in the prison cells were lowered to 62 degrees.

“Bogdan brought a tough-guy approach to detention operations and has ruled the camps with an iron fist,” one attorney who works with Guantanamo prisoners said in a statement published by the Huffington Post. “Marked by displays of power for power’s sake, his approach has led to mayhem in the camps.” One Yemeni detainee recently stated that “we are in danger. One of the soldiers fired on one of the brothers a month ago.”

On February 6, Bogdan ordered a search that led directly to the ongoing hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay that’s making headlines around the world.

Military guards searched prison cells and confiscated personal letters, photos and mail prisoners had received from their lawyers. But the biggest indignity for the prisoners was a search of their Qu’rans, the Muslim holy book. The U.S. military says that they suspected contraband or weapons might be hidden in the Qu’rans, a claim that has not been substantiated and that lawyers for Guantanamo detainees strongly deny. The government says its interpreters–many of whom are Muslim and don’t make up the prison guard force–carried out the Qu’ran searches, but the prisoners don’t care; they say the searches constitute religious desecration.

The Qu’ran searches were the last straw for the 166 detainees, and most of them have now joined the hunger strike, according to their attorneys. The U.S. military admits that there are 42 participants under what they define as a hunger strike. Their definition states that a prisoner is hunger-striking when he deliberately misses nine consecutive meals. The military has taken to force-feeding the prisoners in response to their deliberate act of starvation.

The protest, which seeks to end the Qu’ran searches, started in February and has also morphed beyond just focusing on the perceived desecration of their holy books. Some detainees have now taken to protesting against their indefinite detention. Lawyers for Guantanamo prisoners state that Bogdan’s punitive policies hearken back to the dark days of Gitmo, when those at the camp were routinely tortured.

“The hunger strike has escalated to a broader crisis that is, at this point, all but irreversible,” said Wells Dixon, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents five detainees. “The men are not starving themselves so they can become martyrs…They’re doing this because they’re desperate. They’re desperate to be free from Guantanamo. They don’t see any alternative to leaving in a coffin. That’s the bottom line.”

The U.S. government has tried to downplay the growing hunger strike and denigrated the act as a media stunt. The hunger strike was “specifically designed” to “attract media attention,” a Guantanamo prison spokesman told Truthout.

But while this is no “stunt,” the fact that the media is finally paying attention is a victory for the prisoners, though the camp still receives relatively little attention in general from the public at large.

Human rights groups are also now mobilizing as a result of the hunger strike. April 11 was a day of action against Guantanamo, with protests taking place in a handful of cities, all with a unified demand: shut down the prison camp now.

And it comes at a moment when it appears that the Obama administration has given up on shuttering the prison. While the administration likely hopes that Guantanamo as an issue goes away, the hunger strike has shown just how awful the situation has become. Detainees are bitterly disappointed in Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo. “They had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed,” General John Kelly said in congressional testimony last month. “They were devastated, apparently, when the president backed off.” Indeed, in January, the State Department office tasked with closing the prison was itself closed.

Lawyers for the Guantanamo detainees have sounded the alarm on their clients’ deteriorating condition. On March 14, a group of attorneys representing men at Guantanamo sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “We have…received alarming reports of detainees’ deteriorating health, including that men have lost over 20 and 30 pounds, and that at least two dozen men have lost consciousness due to low blood glucose levels, which have dropped to life-threatening levels among some,” they wrote. They went on to urge the Defense Secretary to “address the immediate situation at hand as well as the long-term fate of all the remaining men at Guantánamo.”

One of the most detailed accounts of the ongoing hunger strike comes from Shaker Aamer, a resident of Britain originally from Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration admitted it had no evidence to hold Aamer, who has been at Guantanamo since February 2002 after being sold inAfghanistan by bounty hunters. He gave his account of current conditions at the camp to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, a prominent British human rights lawyer, who wrote an affidavit.

The Qu’ran searches are not the only indignities the prisoners are livid about, as Aamer details. On February 15, they entered Aamer’s cell and brutalized him, as well as two others, during prayer time. One of the men beaten by what’s called the Emergency Reaction Force (ERF) was unconscious for four days. The ERF, as investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill detailed for AlterNet in 2009, is known for being particularly abusive. Shaker Aamer has been abused by guards a number of times since then, according to Smith’s affidavit.

Aamer says that the use of sleep deprivation has intensified since the hunger strike began and that a Tunisian prisoner has attempted suicide. A “new practice…has been brought in which involves using a dog leash on the detainees,” Aamer related to Smith. And Aamer has “been badly punished for joining the strike”–the military has withheld medical treatment for Aamer’s health problems.

The American response has fallen far short of what detainees are demanding. Truthout reporter Jason Leopold wrote earlier this month that “prisoners said they would immediately end their hunger strike if they were allowed to ‘surrender’ their Korans…instead of having them searched by translators. That demand was shot down because it could be interpreted that Guantanamo officials are denying prisoners their right to religious materials.” Guantanamo spokesman Robert Durand told Truthout that the prisoners “have presented no demands that we can meet.”

Instead of addressing the root causes of the hunger strike, the U.S. has taken to force-feeding the detainees to keep them alive. The Associated Press reports that lawyers are being informed when their detainees are being force-fed. While officials at the prison camp say that force-feeding is not painful, the detainees tell a different story. The United Nations Human Rights Commission has said that force-feeding at Guantanamo amounts to torture. Asked about the process, the Center for Constitutional Right’s Dixon said: “The process of death, death by starvation, is not easy. It’s not painless. In the case of men who are force-fed, it’s an even more excruciating experience. The military may keep these individuals alive by pumping food up their noses into their stomach. But eventually they’re going to die. You can only force-feed someone for so long before their body gives out.”

The ongoing hunger-strike is the latest example of how bizarre, cruel and dystopic the situation at Guantanamo has become. Eighty-six men have been cleared for release from Guantanamo by the U.S., but they still remain at the camp. Fifty-six of those cleared are from Yemen, a country and close ally of the U.S. that has expressed willingness to take them back—though human rights groups have also criticized the Yemeni government’s abusive treatment of returned prisoners. One of the Yemeni prisoners was Adnan Latif, who was cleared for release by one court in a decision that was later overturned after the Obama administration appealed it. In September 2012, Latif died at Guantanamo due to what the U.S. government says was a suicide, though questions have been raised about the U.S. government explanation.

The Obama administration has halted repatriation to Yemen since the disruption of a 2009 terrorist plot originating from the country. Congress has meddled in the president’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo. Legislation signed by President Obama has imposed limits on releasing prisoners. But one mechanism that does exist is a national security waiver that the Secretary of Defense could sign off on the release of prisoners. There are also prisoners the Obama administration says are too dangerous to release but cannot be prosecuted because evidence related to their case comes from torture.

Lawyers for the select group of detainees who are being subjected to military prosecution have had to deal with their own problems. For one, the Guantanamo detainees are prohibited from detailing in court how they were brutally tortured. That information is considered classified by the U.S. government. Other problems include the fact that outside censors cut off a public feed to the courtroom, though a judge barred that practice early this year, and that U.S. officials have installed listening devices to eavesdrop on prisoner-attorney communications.

Attorneys for detainees emphasize that if current conditions at Guantanamo persist, the situation could become even more disastrous than it already is.

“If this crisis isn’t resolved soon, there will be more deaths. That is certain,” Dixon told AlterNet. “The administration is going to need to explain why these individuals were detained, particularly individuals who have been cleared for release for years, and allowed to die. They’ll be forced to answer the question: why in the world was this person detained to the point where he felt so utterly hopeless, that he starved himself to death in order to be free?”

 

Alex Kane is AlterNet’s New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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