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Sunday, October 23, 2016

by Cora Currier, ProPublica

It’s been 11 years since the first detainees were brought to Guantánamo Bay. But the future of the prison, and the fate of the men inside it, is far from certain.  With 59 detainees at Gitmo currently on hunger strike, by the military’s count, here’s a primer on what’s going at the island prison.

What started the hunger strike?

It began after guards allegedly mishandled detainees’ Korans in a cell search in early February — but it’s certainly become about more than the holy books.

The military says detainees have previously hidden “improvised weapons, unauthorized food and medicine” in the spines of the Korans, and that the February searches were standard, conducted by Muslim translators. (Koran searches had set off hunger strikes before, in 2005.)

Attorneys for the hunger strikers say the detainees have offered to relinquish their Korans rather than have them searched. The military initially would not accept that option, but now says, “if they choose not to have one, they choose not to have one.”

In any case, just about everyone — from the International Committee of the Red Cross to the general in charge of U.S. Southern Command — agrees the strike comes out of growing frustration and hopelessness among detainees. As we detail below, there are few indications that Gitmo will be shuttered or detainees transferred in the near future. The last detainee to leave Gitmo, last fall, was dead.

General Kelly, of U.S. Southern Command, said last month that detainees had watched President Obama’s State of the Union address, and heard no mention of Guantánamo. “That has caused them to become frustrated and they want to … turn the heat up, get it back in the media,” Kelly said.

In an account published in The New York Times last weekend, a Yemeni hunger striker named Samir Moqbel said he hoped “that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.” (Moqbel had recounted his story by phone to his lawyers.)

Another detainee, a Saudi Arabian named Shaker Aamer, also recently wrote an op-ed. Calling himself “a bit of a professional hunger striker,” Aamer said “this one is a whole lot different.” Lawyers say the strike is far more widespread than the military’s count.

According to the military, two detainees have attempted suicide since the strike began.

Have there been clashes between guards and the prisoners?

Yes, most recently last weekend. In an early-morning raid on Saturday, soldiers in riot gear moved about 60 of the detainees from their communal living camp into individual cells. Guards fired four “less-than-lethal” rounds; they say some prisoners wielded makeshift weapons, constructed from broken broomsticks and plastic water bottles filled with rocks.

Military commanders told the Miami Herald that the once-“compliant” detainees had been ignoring orders for months, “covering cameras, poking guards with sticks through fences, spraying U.S. forces with urine and refusing to lock themselves inside their cells for nightly sweeps.”

In January, there was an altercation on the facility’s new soccer field, which ended with guards shooting “one non-lethal round” at a group of detainees.

In a statement earlier this week, the military said the detainees were being placed on lockdown to allow for “round-the-clock monitoring.” In recent years, the communal living arrangement had been redone to “feel more like a dorm.” Now, the Miami Herald reports, those men are confined to their cells, without TV, legal documents, and the other things they were previously allowed.

In turn, detainees’ lawyers have said that prison guards became stricter in recent months, and that mail and personal items have been confiscated in cell searches.

An attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Omar Farah, told ProPublica that he and other lawyers feared that the move to individual cells would cut off information about the strike. “The primary way we’ve been getting information is through prisoners’ accounts of one another.”

Are the strikers being mistreated?

At least one detainee has alleged that the hunger strikers are being punished, by being forced to drink potentially unsafe tap water and cold temperatures in their cells. The military disputes that, saying the tap water is safe and bottled water is available. On Monday, a federal judge ruled he did not have jurisdiction to weigh in on the prisoners’ treatment.

What about force-feeding?

As of Wednesday, 15 detainees are being force-fed nutritional supplements through tubes inserted into their noses. The military says strikers “present” themselves for the procedure, though it also says passing out counts as consent.

Others have been tied down for feedings. Moqbel, in his account in The New York Times, said he was once tied to a bed for 26 hours last month. Now, he wrote, “Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come.”

The Red Cross and other groups oppose force-feeding; they say prisoners have a right to choose whether they eat. The U.S. military position is that it would be inhumane to let prisoners starve. A spokesman told the Miami Herald allowing a detainee to harm himself “is anathema to our values as Americans.”

How many prisoners are left at Gitmo?

There are 166. Since 2002, a total of 779 people have been held there.

No one has been brought to Gitmo under President Obama. The last people to leave were two Uighur Muslims from China, who were resettled in El Salvador last spring. Adnan Latif, a Yemeni, died in an apparent suicide in September. He was the ninth detainee to die.

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  • There will be two more down there soon.

    • Sand_Cat

      Which two would that be?
      This camp is a permanent stain on the United States and everything it claims to stand for. The refusal of Congress to fund its closing represents a cowardly rejection of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and denies what has been the most effective means of opposing terrorism: TREATING IT AS A LAW ENFORCEMENT PROBLEM RATHER THAN DECLARING A PHONY “WAR” WHICH ENDS UP BEING A WAR ON OUR RIGHTS AS WELL AS THOSE OF THE “DETAINEES.”

      • Duh…you can read can’t you? IF the two Muslim terrorist that were running around Boston for a week were sitting it GitMo there wouldn’t be the chaos of today would there.
        The US is at war with the Muslim religion, got that yet?
        So it would seem that folks (like you) that believe these animals have ‘rights’ might need to stop sniffing glue & accept the reality of what is going on.
        And another thing, get ready for a major backlash by the US against any & all of these animals & state sponsored terrorists.
        They want a war, guess what…they just got one. And if anyone defends these animals (like you) then they need to have their head examined.
        Seek help baby, you really need it.

        • Sand_Cat

          There’s only one (well, actually, quite a few) little problem with your claim: there’s no evidence the people who committed this crime are Muslims.

          I get that you’re an ignorant bigot who needs help, and I probably read a great deal better than you.

          If you want to criticize Islam, by all means, do so. I’d likely agree with you and add more. But what you’re talking about is simply more war crimes.
          Believing stupid or evil things is not a capital crime; if it were, you and a host of others would be on death row. Deliberately killing noncombatants and torturing prisoners of war or otherwise mistreating them are both capital crimes. Japanese soldiers were executed by the U.S. for waterboarding prisoners.

          Are you one of those hypocrites who whines when our enemies mistreat Americans they capture?

          • To answer your last question YES I was, not any more though.
            We’re at war with these (dare I call them) people & they have one rule about warfare, there aren’t any rules.
            So we need to play by their rules…and we will too.

          • Sand_Cat

            If you are prepared to defend your position, there’s no need to call those who disagree “stupid.” I happen to think your position is indefensible, and guarantees that things will only get worse, but – at least here – I did not insult you or call you stupid, though I think your position on the issue and your response to my post speak for themselves.

          • You want to disagree that we are in a war?
            They’re murdering our people in the name gawd knows what & it really doesn’t matter now does it.
            He’s an enemy combatant & should be treated as one.
            There’s a nice cage waiting for him in sunny Cuba.
            He has as many rights as the people whose lives he took, the families whose lives have been forever altered.
            Now they have him, now we will find out just what tis was all about.
            Massachusetts is the bastion of liberty & freedom in the world. They picked there because it was considered a soft target, they murdered & maimed with no other objective than to murder & maim.
            Now we’re going to find out just WHO put him up to this & rect accordingly.
            Sorry I called you stupid, I owe an apology to the stupids around the world for denigrating them.

  • tax payer

    I don’t care, if they starve themselves to death because once they die that place can become History. They have chosen to meet their maker, so why should we care? They are there for a reason and who would want them in their country, if all of them were to be released. Our Mayor would gladly accept them because he has a Sanctuary city and wants nobody to mess with his illegals. He is a friend of our President even though the President forgot to include him in a Cabinet Position. What a Dunce.