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.
John Grisham, "After Guananmo, Another Injustice"
I just don’t understand how they can keep someone for 3 years after they are cleared for release?!
In all of the mainstream media analysis of WikiLeaks’ recent release of Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) from Guantánamo, relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners who have been held at the prison over the last nine years and four months, one group of prisoners has so far been overlooked: the Yemenis.
The most unfortunate group of men in Guantánamo, the Yemenis — 89 in total — make up over half of the 172 prisoners still held. In 2006 and 2007, when the majority of the Saudi prisoners were released, as part of a political settlement between the Bush administration and the Saudi government, which introduced an expensive rehabilitation program to secure the return of its nationals, no such deal took place between the US and President Saleh of Yemen.
Just 23 Yemenis have been released from Guantánamo throughout its history, and those who remain have found themselves used as political pawns. When President Obama established the Guantanamo Review Task Force to examine the cases of all the remaining prisoners in 2009, the Task Force — a collection of sober officials and lawyers from various government departments and the intelligence agencies — recommended that 36 Yemenis should be released immediately, and that 30 others should be held in a new category of imprisonment — “conditional detention” — until the security situation in Yemen was assessed to have improved.
The Task Force also recommended that five others should be put forward for trial, and 26 others held indefinitely without charge or trial.
The designation of this latter group for indefinite detention — as part of a group of 48 prisoners in total — dismayed human rights activists and supporters, in general, of the principle that preventive detention is only authorized if the prisoners in question are enemy prisoners of war, removed from the battlefield until the end of hostilities.
This should not have been a contentious viewpoint, but it was a sign of the paranoia regarding Guantánamo — which was deliberately engendered by the prison’s supporters, and bought into by Obama administration officials — that few voices of dissent were raised when the President attempted to justify holding 48 men indefinitely because they were regarded as too dangerous to release, even though there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial.
In the real world, rather than the permanently spooked world of Guantánamo and terrorism, this would mean that there was no evidence, and that what the government had instead was multiple levels of hearsay and information extracted through torture. And this, indeed, is what has become apparent in the Detainee Assessment Briefsreleased by WikiLeaks, which have demonstrated that much of the government’s supposed evidence — against prisoners who, presumably, include some of these 48 men — was either extracted from “high-value detainees” likeAbu Zubaydah, who were tortured in secret CIA prisons, or from informants within Guantánamo, who were bribed or coerced to tell lies about their fellow prisoners.
The 28 Yemenis “approved for transfer” from Guantánamo, and the poor reasons for their ongoing detention
Beyond these 48 men, however, and the 26 Yemenis included in the total, the Yemenis cleared for release (or “approved for transfer,” in the careful words of the Task Force) have fared no better. Although President Obama released one Yemeni who had won his habeas corpus petition in the fall of 2009, and six others the week before Christmas, the capture, on Christmas Day 2009, of a would-be plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who had apparently been recruited in Yemen, caused a sudden backlash against releasing any more Yemenis from Guantánamo, which President Obama accepted without criticism, imposing a moratorium on releasing any Yemenis that is still in place 16 months later. (This moratorium lasted from 2009 to May 2013 when he lifted the ban because of the ongoing hunger strike. So no prisoners who were cleared for release were able to leave during this time.)
Since January 2010, just one Yemeni has been freed — a patently innocent man who also won his habeas corpus petition — while, in general, a terrible injustice has been allowed to prevail. On the one hand, this involves the US government endorsing guilt by nationality, and being content to tar the whole of Yemen as a terrorist nation that cannot be trusted with looking after prisoners released from Guantánamo, and on the other it involves supporters of Guantánamo telling deliberate lies about the Yemenis, by claiming that released Yemenis have “returned to the battlefield” in significant numbers, when only two examples have been reported — one who was subsequently killed in an airstrike, and another who surrendered to the Yemeni authorities.
In fact, the majority of the alleged recidivists in the Gulf — around a dozen ex-prisoners — are Saudis, released by President Bush against the advice of his own intelligence agencies, who identified them as a threat. These men passed through the rehabilitation program but then some of them crossed the border into Yemen to join Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a small terrorist cell inspired by Osama bin Laden’s example.
As a result of President Obama’s moratorium, the remaining 28 men cleared for immediate release by the Task Force but still held have been consigned to a fate that, in effect, is no different from the 48 men held indefinitely without charge or trial. The identities of these men have not been publicly announced, and it has not been possible to identify all of them, but 19 cleared Yemenis who are still held are identified in the WikiLeaks documents.
Officials said that detainees would have their cases dealt with on an individual basis, raising the prospect of a few prisoners being freed from Guantánamo one-by-one in the next few weeks rather than any wholesale transfer.
In a statement, the government of Yemen welcomed the move and pledged to “ensure the safe return of its detainees and … their gradual rehabilitation and integration back into society”.
Obama said that he would appoint a senior envoy at the State Department and the Defense Department whose sole responsibility would be to examine ways of transferring detainees to other countries. He had also asked Pentagon officials to come up with another site where military tribunals could take place to prosecute alleged terrorists.
Finally, he said that those detainees who had yet to be charged in those tribunals could be dealt with by the US civilian justice system – as several recent high-profile terrorism cases have been. “Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee,” he said.
*It’s also important to note that this moratorium on releasing innocent prisoners (???) was only lifted in an attempt to appease the majority of the prisoners at Guantanamo who were (& 106 still are) on a hunger strike & not because Obama has decided to keep his first term promise of closing the prison.
This is my call to the outside world from behind these rusty bars, in this monstrous cell. Does the world know what is happening in this prison?
Despite the long years we the prisoners have spent in this place from 2002 to 2013, the American government does not seem interested in solving the problem. The past few months have been among the harshest lived by the prisoners here. During the Bush years, solutions seemed possible. Under Obama, it seems like there is no will to solve the problem.
I once lived communally with the other prisoners in Camp Six. Now we are all in solitary confinement here, with only two hours of recreation a day. Some prisoners are too weak and sick to ever leave their cells as a result of the hunger strike and the U.S. military’s reaction to it.
The military here has used brute force against the hunger strikers. They have beaten us and used rubber-coated bullets and tear gas against us. They have confiscated everything from our cells, from toothbrushes to blankets and books. They have confined us to cold, windowless cells, beyond the reach of the sun’s rays or a fresh breeze. Sometimes, we don’t even know if it’s day or night out.
It isn’t unusual for prison guards here to search prisoners’ genital parts and their rectum ten times in a single day.
Daily, I am forced into a restraint chair, my arms, legs and chest tied down tight. Big guards grab my head with both hands. I feel like my skull is being crushed. Then, so-called nurses violently push a thick tube down my nostril. Blood rushes out of my nose and mouth. The nurses turn on the feeding solution full throttle. I cannot begin to describe the pain that causes.
Recently, a nurse brutally yanked out the force-feeding tube, threw it on my shoulder, and left the cell, leaving me tied down to the chair. Later, the nurse returned to the cell, took the tube off my shoulder and began to reinsert it into my nose. I asked him to cleanse and purify the tube first but he refused.
When I later tried to complain to another nurse about the incident, the other nurse threatened to force the feeding tube up my rear, not down my nose, if I didn’t suspend my hunger strike.
And when I tried taking the matter to a senior medical officer, he told me that they would strap me to a bed and make me urinate through a catheter forced into my penis if I kept up my peaceful protest.
I used to think I was the only one coping with severe joint pain, a weakened memory, having a hard time concentrating, and feeling constantly distracted as a result of all this. But I’ve since discovered that many hunger strikers struggle with the same symptoms. Without realizing it, some of the hunger strikers even speak to themselves out loud when they’re alone.
But we also know that there are peaceful protests in solidarity with our plight in many countries. Even in America itself, there are protests demanding that the U.S. government close this prison that has hurt America’s reputation. And international criticism mounts daily.
We the hunger strikers continue to demand our rights. President Obama can begin by releasing those of us who have been cleared for release years ago, followed by the prisoners who have not been charged with any crime after eleven years in captivity.
Despite the difficulties, the hard conditions, and the challenges created by the U.S. government, those of us on hunger strike will continue protesting until our demands for justice are met.
- Abdelhadi Faraj is a Syrian national who has been in U.S. custody since 2002. At Guantánamo, the U.S. military assigned him Internment Serial Number (ISN) 329. Faraj was cleared for release by a U.S. government interagency taskforce in 2010, yet he remains imprisoned at Guantánamo today. This article was translated from the Arabic by his attorney, Ramzi Kassem.