“A growing feeling here that death is the road out of Guantanamo”
So says the question prominently posted at a Facebook site (“Free Fayiz and Fawzi”) dedicated to the two remaining Kuwaiti prisoners at Guantanamo, 36-year-old Fayiz Al-Kandari and 35-year-old Fawzi Al-Odah. Both men have been in Guantanamo for over ten years. Neither of them have ever been charged in any court with any wrongdoing. Both men were doing charitable work in Afghanistan when they were caught up in the chaos after 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. attack there.
Both men are on a hunger strike, reportedly along with many others at Guantanamo. Both have endured harsh interrogation and torture during their years in U.S. custody.
Air Force JAG, Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, military attorney for Fayiz, has been in Guantanamo for the past week or so, and has seen first hand the effects of the hunger strike on his client. Wingard, who understandably is quite concerned for his clients, told The Dissenter al Kandari has lost “substantial weight,” over 23 pounds in the last three to four weeks, or since the hunger strike began. He said Fayiz is now down to 120 pounds, and Fawzi weighs 123.
March 4, Kevin Gosztola explained in The Dissenter the details surrounding the current hunger strike at Guantanamo, the biggest in years.
The news of the hunger strike has hit the mainstream media, as exemplified by this report in The Atlantic. According to a story by Carol Rosenberg in the Miami Herald, military authorities state six of 166 prisoners are on hunger strike currently. Five are being force-fed. DoD spokespeople deny any widespread strike.
According to a March 5 article by Reuters, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez reports “the Obama administration showed no sign of reversing its position and allowing him access to terrorism suspects in long-term detention at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.” In this, the Obama administration follows the policy of its predecessor, George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, Rosenberg in a new story yesterday describes a previously unreported incident of a non-lethal shooting of a detainee last January.
As a March 4 letter from Center for Constitutional Rights and numerous Guantanamo detainee attorneys to Rear Admiral John W. Smith, Jr., Commander, Joint Task Force Guantánamo and Gitmo’s Staff Judge Advocate Captain Thomas J. Welsh states, the hunger strike began after prison authorities began confiscating detainees’ personal items, restricting exercise, and “searching the men’s Qur’ans in ways that constitute desecration according to their religious beliefs.” The letter also charges “guards have been disrespectful during prayer times.”
DoD denies any Qur’ans have been treated disrespectfully, or for that matter, any differently than they have been for years.
“Stress, Fear, and Despair”
Besides the alleged search of Qur’ans by guards, according to one entry at the Facebook page for Al-Kandari and Al-Odah, guards — whether under orders or not — were up to other shenanigans as well: “In response to the hunger strike, soldiers opened containers of food so the smell could fill the prison. The prisoners were then asked if they wanted one or two servings of food. The response with a big smile: ‘Do you really think the smell of your food is stronger than our religion?'”
The CCR letter noted, “The practices occurring today threaten to turn back the clock to the worst moments of Guantánamo’s history, and return the prison to conditions that caused great suffering to our clients and were condemned by the public at large. If prior experience serves as any guide, the current practices risk dire consequences and will only invite outside scrutiny.”
The letter detailed “reports of men coughing up blood, being hospitalized, losing consciousness, becoming weak and fatigued, and being moved to Camp V for observation. Detainees have also expressed feeling increased stress, fear, and despair.”
Wingard told The Dissenter, “A larger issue is that there is a growing feeling here that death is the road out of GTMO.”
Certainly Wingard is cognizant of the fate of another hunger striking detainee, Adnan Latif, who was found dead in his cell last September. Latif’s death was quite mysterious, and the government has ruled it a “suicide” by drug overdose, complicated by pneumonia. However, Latif was “medically cleared” and returned to his cell less than 48 hours before he died. No authority has yet explained how he could have hidden drugs in a facility under constant surveillance and as a prisoner privy to numerous searches.
The last releases of any size occurred under the Bush administration. I think the prisoners correctly note that less than 20 will ever get trials. For those without evidence, President Obama in March of 2011 announced many will be indefinitely detained without ever having stepped into a courtroom.
For my Kuwaitis its especially bitter since the Kuwait has demanded the return of its sons, built a rehabilitation center at the behest of the Bush administration, currently hosts 13k US troops in Kuwait and purchases billions in military from the US. Certainly if Kuwait is not getting it two remaining sons Fayiz al Kandari and Fawzi al Ohda, then what country will?
Another pointed entry at the Free Fayiz and Fawzi Facebook page quotes Wingard: “Fayiz and Fawzi are on a hunger strike with other prisoners. I request a Kuwaiti delegation to immediately visit Guantánamo Bay. It is not enough to have secret delegations between two allies.”
Another attorney for Fayiz, Adel Abdul Hadi said, “I blame the Government of Kuwait for not taking genuine steps to have the boys released. The unanimous recommendations of the Kuwait parliament ratified in 2012, condemning GTMO and demanding the return of the boys have been ignored by the government.”
The “last Egyptian detained” at Guantanamo
The hunger strikers are not the only detainees whose lives are reportedly in danger. Fifty-five year old Tariq al-Sawah, “the last Egyptian detained in the US Guantanamo Bay facility,” is in very poor and “deteriorating” health, “morbidly obese.”
According to a June 3 story in the Egyptian Independent, Sawah’s “military-appointed lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Gleason, has said three former Guantanamo commanders have provided letters indicating that he ‘is not a threat and recommending he should be released’…. Beset with respiratory and heart complications, he is ‘at significant risk’ of death, according to a doctor. Authorities have refused him appropriate treatment, according to his doctor and lawyers, and continue to withhold his medical records.”
In May 2011, another middle-aged obese detainee, Awal Gul, collapsed and died of a heart attack at Guantanamo. Questions have arisen about his death recently, as Jason Leopold at Truthout reports.
One could also ask how it is in such a controlled environment as Guantanamo that a prisoner could become “morbidly obese,” having reportedly doubled his weight while imprisoned.
ICRC Rebukes Obama on Detainee Review
Along with Obama’s March 2011 announcement of holding detainees indefinitely, the President also issued and executive order regarding a new review process for detainees held at Guantanamo. Obama said, referring to detainees that he indicated “in effect, remain at war with the United States,” “We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.”
But according to an article late last year at the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration has failed in the past two years to institute any “process of periodic review.” Article authors Julian E. Barnes and Evan Perez wrote, “The Obama administration has failed to re-evaluate the threat posed by dozens of prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, putting it at increasing odds with political allies who are angry with the president’s lack of action on the US terrorism-detention system.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recently raised the issue of the lack of a review process “senior US officials at recent meetings in the US and in Geneva.” According to Barnes and Perez, the ICRC “also has acknowledged its concerns publicly, a rare rebuke from an agency that usually works under strict neutrality and in confidence.”
As Andy Worthington pointed out in an article on February 28, “an unnamed senior official added, ‘The detainees likely to be held long-term without trial pose a significant risk, and the threat they pose isn’t likely to have diminished since the initial review by the administration, meaning the delay in beginning the reviews hasn’t been consequential.'”
Worthington commented, “That is particularly disgraceful, because it indicates an acceptance, within the administration, of information that is fundamentally unreliable.”
In fact, the Obama administration has shown that it has zero interest in administering justice for detainees at Guantanamo. It has publicly justified the indefinite detention of prisoners on hearsay evidence. It retired its Guantanamo special envoy, Daniel Fried, and then announced it had no intention to replace him. It continues to pursue deeply flawed military commissions trials, the laughing stock of the world, where even the judge in charge doesn’t know who is in control of his courtroom, as the sudden suspension of audio feed to the press proved some weeks ago.
Disturbingly, last month, according to a report by Josh Wirtshafter at The Public Record, “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and two of his co-defendants, had returned to their cells after yesterday’s session to find their attorney-client mail ransacked— and much of it seized.”
Detainee’s Father: “this is illegal and against human rights”
A few months before the crackdown on prisoners at Guantanamo and the subsequent hunger strike, Fayiz told Al Jazeera what it was like for him at the U.S.-based Cuban prison camp: “I pray, I read the Qur’an, I work out two hours every day, and I socialize with other prisoners. Because of the insignificant medical care in Guantanamo Bay, I cannot afford being ill. I am already plagued with serious medical conditions such as permanent damage in my cervical spine. Therefore, I regularly practice physical exercise to boost my immune system and to prevent the onset of any disease. The International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] has done a poor job in effectively helping the prisoners. For example, the ICRC provides each prisoner with a phone call to their parents once every six to eight weeks instead of once every four weeks.”
Fawzi’s father, Khalid Al-Odah, is the head of the Kuwaiti Family Committee, an organization formed by relatives of the detainees to advocate for their just treatment under the U.S. judicial system. The elder Al-Odah is a former member of the Kuwaiti Air Force, who trained with American servicemen in the United States and flew missions with them as an ally in the Persian Gulf War of 1991.
Last April, Khalid spoke about his son and Fayiz to Kuwati Times:
“We want the detainees back to be judged here. We fulfilled all the conditions and demands set by the US administration. We prepared the rehabilitation center for them to stay in when they return. We also agreed to apply security measures and observation on them, like the travel ban and other conditions, yet we didn’t notice any positive act from the US government… In fact, during Bush’s regime most detainees were released, but now only a few were released and they were even sent to a third nation and not their home country. Obama only talks much, but he is not practically helpful….
“Our lawyer there is still working on the case, but there is no result yet. The American government won’t allow a fair trial for them, and this is illegal and against human rights. We are also dealing and meeting with different NGOs and international organizations to help us in this injustice. We need support from the public, as the Kuwaiti government is not active.”
It’s been nearly a year since Fawzi’s father spoke out. How long must this man wait to see his son?
Fawsi wrote to his father in 2002, while held by the Americans, “I will be established as innocent soon, and then I will return back to you…”
Meanwhile, Fayiz’s attorney posted the following in a February 2013 Facebook entry: “We promised Fayiz we would not forget his brother, [British resident interned without charge at Guantanamo] Shaker Aamer. Fayiz would say, ‘Shaker has four children, get him home first.’ Then with humor he would add, ‘don’t think I don’t want to go home’ with a big smile.”
Photo by Richard Hawley released under Creative Commons License