Monday, April 15, 2013

Violence at Guantanamo? Detainees Desperately Fight for their Humanity

The headlines were ablaze with stories regarding the outbreak of violence at Guantanamo, as on April 13 the military mounted raids in the dead of night to force hunger-striking prisoners from the communal living in the prison's Camp 6 into solitary confinement isolation cells in the hated confines of Camp 5.

Considering the way the military has handled the situation at Guantanamo -- forbidding reporters at the island, making nice to the ICRC only to conduct violent raids on detainees as soon as Red Cross officials leave, force-feeding hunger-striking detainees against all medical ethics and protocols -- you'd think the Pentagon thought they had another Koje-do prison camp rebellion on their hands.

Apparently the White House was notified in advance of the nighttime raids on the debilitated hunger strikers, who according to military accounts (which one must take with maximum suspicion), fought back with mop and broom handles and plastic water bottles.

Whatever military police met in terms of opposition, what they certainly encountered were emaciated prisoners, worn down by years of interrogation, isolation, brutality, and now hunger, as they wield the only real weapons they know, their very bodies, choosing death over the hopelessness and torture that is indefinite detention.

The claims of recent violence miss something that is greater than nuance, they miss the total reality of the situation.

Guantanamo is one ongoing violent governmental atrocity, from the ever-present raids of the Emergency Reaction Force (ERF), who forcibly remove detainees from their cells by beating them violently, to violence done to body and spirit by chaining men, submitting them to sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, forced drugging (detainees "chemically restrained"), and subjecting them to interrogations according to an Army Field Manual condemned for human rights abuse by nearly human rights group around the world.

Judge Denies Bid for Relief from Abuse

Meanwhile, according to an account in this morning's New Zealand Herald, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan denied an emergency motion for relief from Yemeni prisoner Musa'ab Al-Madhwani. Al Madhwani had said he was being denied safe drinking water by Guantanamo authorities, and being subjected to "extremely frigid" temperatures. A military psychiatrist who knows the situation at Guantanamo very well, retired Brigadier General Stephen Xenakis, told the court the treatment Madhwani was receiving at Guantanamo was threatening Al Madhwani's very life.
Xenakis wrote that after being treated with intravenous fluids following a collapse last week, the prisoner was placed in solitary confinement and has not received daily monitoring of his medical condition.

"Given the gravity of his condition, these failures constitute deliberate indifference to his obvious serious medical needs," Xenakis wrote.
But Hogan denied the motion for judicial relief, saying his hands were tied by the Military Commissions Act and he did not have jurisdiction in the case. You could almost hear Hogan's sneer as he maintained Al Madhwani's health problems were "self-manufactured."

According to the Herald story, "When one of al-Madhwani's lawyers, Darold Killmer, mentioned the alleged mistreatment of other detainees, Hogan responded, 'This is not a class-action.'"

At the hearing Obama's DOJ attorney maintained that no hunger striker had ever died at Guantanamo. He evidently forgot to mention that nearly all of those who have died at Guantanamo in the past seven years had been hunger strikers, all of them supposedly "suicides": Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani in 2006; Abdul Rahman Al Amri in 2007; Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi in 2009; and Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif in 2012. The government has yet to release details of the investigations into all but one of these deaths.

Meanwhile, in an eerie parallel to the struggle by the detainees, defense attorneys for accused 9/11 prisoners on trial at the military commissions have met an Orwellian barrage of double-talk and obstruction. Jason Leopold has a nice summary of the latest news on this front. But whether it is the unprecedented government access to hundreds of thousands of defense emails, monitoring of attorney-client communications, or the disappearance of defense files from government computers, the assault on basic norms of lawful procedure and democratic rights at Guantanamo continues.

What's perhaps worst is the fact that this all happens under the auspices not of the much-maligned Bush-Cheney administration, but under the leadership of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Eric Holder. They are able to do this in part because of the obscene silence emanating from the liberals and Democrats that had spoken out against the Bush regime's abuse of prisoners only a few years ago.

Ghaleb Al-Bihani on Retribution for Speaking Out

In closing, here is an April 15 statement from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei. Kebriaei has recently talked to her client Ghaleb Al-Bihani about the hunger strike and his experience of a forced move to solitary confinement:
Rather than deal with the reasons for the hunger strike – the immediate trigger of the searching of Qurans and the long-term desperation caused by more than 11 years of indefinite detention without charge or trial – the government responded over the weekend by escalating violence and retaliation. Rounding up the men in pre-dawn raids and forcing them into single cells is consistent with other tactics the government is using to pressure men to break the strike as well as to stem the flow of information out of the prison. If the men are kept from one another, they cannot report on the situation as a whole to their attorneys and the only means available to tell their side of the story is cut off.

I spoke with my client, Ghaleb Al-Bihani, one of the men on hunger strike, on Friday. When we met at Guantanamo last week, he had lost over 40 pounds and was visibly weak. On the phone, he sounded muted. He told me that he had been forcibly moved from Camp 6, the communal camp where he had been held for years, to Camp 5, a solitary confinement facility, a few days before. He said it was worse in Camp 5 “because of the MPs.” The “MPs” – military police – are the guards used to maintain “order” in the camps, including by forcibly, physically extracting hunger strikers from their cells for force-feeding.

When I asked Ghaleb why he had been forcibly moved, he said it was because he had spoken out about conditions in the camps. The week before, he had given me a declaration to use in the case of another man, Musa’ab Al Madhwani, who has filed an emergency motion about the withholding of clean drinking water from hunger strikers. A federal court in Washington is hearing arguments in that case today.

The forced move, my client said, was because “I spoke to you about Musa’ab’s problem.” He has stayed in his cell since to avoid confrontation with the MPs. He said he didn’t feel comfortable telling me more about the situation in the camps over the phone. He is worried about retaliation.

Instead of pre-dawn raids, violence, brutal force-feeding and withholding safe drinking water, the administration should direct its energy to closing the prison by appointing an official to lead the effort forward and releasing the men it never intends to charge, beginning with the 86 men the administration has itself approved for transfer. There is no more time to waste by pointing fingers and laying blame. President Obama can and should act on his promise to close the prison and finally turn the page on this dark chapter of history.
Cross-posted from The Dissenter/FDL

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