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The Cruelty of Obama’s Gulag at Guantanamo Bay

(Illustration: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)

“Today, even George Orwell would have been pressed to conceive the plight of the 86: cleared for release, but denied freedom, using a hunger strike as their last weapon, only to be kept alive by the very people who will not let them go.” —Rupert Cornwell, The Independent

Over the weekend, US forces raided a part of the Guantanamo Bay prison and moved some of the prisoners from communal areas to “single-cells.” The Pentagon reported the action was in response to “efforts by detainees to limit the guard force’s ability to observe the detainees by covering surveillance cameras, windows, and glass partitions.”

The Pentagon also stated, according to coverage by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, “Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons and, in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired.”  Army Col. Gregory Julian at US Southern Command, “which has oversight of the prison camps operation,” apparently claimed that captives had “resisted the assault with broom and mop handles as well as plastic water bottles that had been wrapped and modified into clubs.”

These statements were effectively a part of the Pentagon’s continued information operation or propaganda around the hunger strike at Guantanamo. In the sense that none of the defense attorneys for prisoners being moved could be contacted to hear the prisoners’ side of the story, Americans and others in the world were expected to believe that dangerous men at America’s foremost and notorious prison for terrorists were out of control. There had been a riot and force had to be used to regain control. However, what is more likely is that this was about breaking a three-month-old protest, a hunger strike, which many have been engaged in because a gulag. A gulag that continues to hold people in detention today, which President Barack Obama promised to close.

Cindy Panuco, a lawyer representing Afghan prisoner Obaidullah, considered the action by forces in the prison to be another step to “make it more difficult to endure continuing to starve themselves and continuing to protest.”

“If they’re together, if they’re in communal living space, they can communicate and at least support each other,” Panuco said. “And now that they’re being isolated, it’s another form of torment. To be taken away from your other friends and comrades who are there with you, it makes it much more difficult to endure what is already a very difficult situation.”

The New York Times published an op-ed that shows just how much torment the prisoners are going through. Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, like a number of prisoners who continue to be held in detention, has been at Guantanamo for over 11 years. He has never been charged with a crime. He has never received a trial.

“Years ago the military said I was a ‘guard’ for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch,” Moqbel writes.” Now, he says, “They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.”

Nobody in the prison seems to care how long these men continue to be held away from their families. So, Moqbel has been on hunger strike since February 10.

In that time, his dignity has been violated by prison staff:

Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

I am still being force-fed. 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. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping. [emphasis added]

Moqbel also describes another forced-feeding where the nurse “pushed” the feeding tube “about 18 inches” into his stomach,” and hurt him because it was done “hastily.” He called an interpreter to see if the procedure was “done correctly or not.”

“It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me,” Moqbel recounts. “The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the ‘food’ spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.”

*

From Moqbel’s descriptions of force-feeding, it is clear the prison is not doing this for the safety of prisoners, who could die if they do not receive proper nutrients. The tying in chairs or strapping on to boards, the forcefulness with which medical staff are inserting feeding tubes, the refusal to let prisoners use the bathroom like human beings and the irregular times for feeding is all intended to break prisoners and convince them to give up their show of resistance.

Physicians engaged in this conduct are not only subjecting humans to what amounts to torture but are also likely violating medical ethics by not allowing prisoners to not eat if that is what they wish. Yet, Rosenberg highlights the different explanations the Pentagon has given for force-feeding: it is “not humane;” “first, do no harm”; “it’s un-American”; “it looks bad” and “it’s policy.”

Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, who is apparently the Pentagon spokesman for “detention and legal issues,” according to Rosenberg, said, “Allowing a detainee to harm himself is not only counter to our responsibilities under the laws of war, but is anathema to our values as Americans,” and, “Allowing a peacefully protesting detainee to harm himself by choosing to sit by while he starves himself to the point of endangering his life is not only a violation of the very code followed by civilized peoples everywhere, but it is the worst kind of victor’s justice: repugnant and wholly unacceptable.” So, instead, the prison authorities engage in “repugnant and wholly unacceptable” conduct to break the prisoner’s will to engage in hunger strike in the prison.

A Navy lieutenant commander told Rosenberg: “We’re obligated to protect life. I signed on as a nurse not to carry a rifle but to keep people alive, render medical care. I’m here to deliver therapeutic care as a mental health professional.” None of the prisoners consider having a tube shoved up their nose and down into their throat to be “therapeutic” at all.

Rosenberg notes the prison has an Orwellian motto, “Safe, Humane, Legal, Transparent.” So, an Army captain believes prisoners can “choose not to eat but we’re not going to let them starve.”

The prison guards are there to keep them alive in this Kafkaeseque nightmare where the overwhelming majority of prisoners are not guilty of doing anything and many of them—86 prisoners—have been cleared for release but none of them can go free any time soon because the prison is not any closer to shutting down. None have avenues for due process that will effectively help them challenge their detention so they can be free this year. If anything, its staff are preparing for many more years of operations because President Barack Obama and Congress have collectively decided to continue to hold prisoners in detention.

In recent weeks, horrible tales of what prisoners are experiencing have surfaced. Forceable cell extraction (FCE) teams are storming into prison cells and roughly manhandling prisoners on hunger strike, who are placed on to boards and carried out for medical assessment. A “dog leash,” according to British prisoner Shaker Aamer (also detained without charge or trial for eleven years and on hunger strike), has been introduced and “clipped” to the “waist chains” of prisoners as if they are animals. The night shift makes loud noises, slamming things loudly and singing to keep prisoners awake. One prisoner reported being denied the ability to do proper hygiene and bathing with water in the toilet. Cells are being ransacked with books, legal papers and other personal items being seized. An “Islamic expert” is allegedly advising the prison staff on “how to break Muslims, according to Younus Chekkouri, who is also on hunger strike.

Chekkouri declares, “The nightmare has started again. For some time, things had got a bit better here, some of the guards were acting like human beings. Even if we were treated like sheep, at least we were not always mistreated. But now it has changed again. And now 86 of us have been cleared for release and we are still here. Let us leave Guantánamo with clear hearts, and without hatred. Hatred is evil, and it harms the person who is hating as well as the person who is hated.”

How much does President Barack Obama care that Guantanamo is once again a horrid nightmare for those confined, some whom the president’s own review task force has found to be completely innocent?

On April 11:

…First of all, what I can tell you is that you know our commitment to close Gitmo.  It is a commitment shared by the former President, by military leaders, and other Republicans, including Senator McCain.  And we continue to be committed to closing that facility in our national security interests.  I don’t have any specific response to what’s happening now, except to say that the President remains committed to closing Gitmo for national security reasons.

Q    But is he aware of this hunger strike?  Is he following it?

MR. CARNEY:  The President obviously is updated on a number of issues.  I haven’t had a specific conversation with him about this

Deputy press secretary Joshua Earnest said on March 27, “The White House and the president’s team is closely monitoring the hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay.”

The White House and president’s team are following it closely, but the press secretary does not consider it an important enough issue to ask Obama what should be said publicly or President Obama does not have any remarks he wishes to provide to the press secretary so it appears he is slightly concerned or interested in what is happening.

The combined indifference and calculated silence shows Obama does not care about what is happening at Guantanamo; only how its operations reflect poorly on America. Therefore, the prison authorities have one job and one job only: contain and suppress the protest. Make attention to the prison go away because Obama himself has failed to make it possible to close the prison and he does not have the desire or political will to try and close it now. There are other more important things to do, like cut Social Security in service to the rich and wealthy. So, commanders at the prison are to do what is necessary under whatever cloud of secrecy to make the prisoners submit to the will of guards.

“The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.”

He is part of one of the largest groups of prisoners in the camps: Yemenis. But, President Obama has escalated “counterterrorism” operations in Yemen and engaged in a covert drone war that has only served to further inflame groups in the country. The Obama administration and Congress does not want to release any Yemenis because they have a baseless fear that they will rejoin groups in Yemen and fight the United States. The government’s commitment to waging endless war in Yemen thus ensures that people like Moqbel remain in detention indefinitely. [Note: The Yemen government has requested they be released but that request has thus far been denied.]

It is worse than being held in confinement by a totalitarian state. As journalist Andy Worthington, who has done extensive work on the prisoners at Guantanamo, said on the eleven-year anniversary of the prison:

The difference between the United States and a brutal dictatorship is that when a brutal dictatorship puts somebody in prison and throws away a key and says you’re not having a trial. You’re going to be held without charge or trial for the whole of your life. You’re going to be detained indefinitely for the rest of your life—They just throw away the key. What they don’t do is say, hey we’ve got a review process. We cleared you for release, but, hey, we’re not actually going to release you. That makes the United States worse than the brutal dictatorships that don’t pretend that there’s any form of justice.

It makes President Obama worse than former President Bush. Bush never pretended that he cared about how the world perceived what was happening with prisoners at Guantanamo. Obama did, but there is no political cost for this inhumanity. The prisoners at Guantanamo have been successfully dehumanized by the policies, propaganda and operations of both the Obama administration and administration of President George W. Bush. None responsible for the cruelty face the threat of accountability or punishment for their actions. So, prisoners live in a state of purgatory that no human would ever want to experience that prisoners know all too well is not going to end any time soon.

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

The Cruelty of Obama’s Gulag at Guantanamo Bay

(Illustration: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)

“Today, even George Orwell would have been pressed to conceive the plight of the 86: cleared for release, but denied freedom, using a hunger strike as their last weapon, only to be kept alive by the very people who will not let them go.” —Rupert Cornwell, The Independent

Over the weekend, US forces raided a part of the Guantanamo Bay prison and moved some of the prisoners from communal areas to “single-cells.” The Pentagon reported the action was in response to “efforts by detainees to limit the guard force’s ability to observe the detainees by covering surveillance cameras, windows, and glass partitions.”

The Pentagon also stated, according to coverage by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, “Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons and, in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired.”  Army Col. Gregory Julian at US Southern Command, “which has oversight of the prison camps operation,” apparently claimed that captives had “resisted the assault with broom and mop handles as well as plastic water bottles that had been wrapped and modified into clubs.”

These statements were effectively a part of the Pentagon’s continued information operation or propaganda around the hunger strike at Guantanamo. In the sense that none of the defense attorneys for prisoners being moved could be contacted to hear the prisoners’ side of the story, Americans and others in the world were expected to believe that dangerous men at America’s foremost and notorious prison for terrorists were out of control. There had been a riot and force had to be used to regain control. However, what is more likely is that this was about breaking a three-month-old protest, a hunger strike, which many have been engaged in because a gulag. A gulag that President Barack Obama promised to close continues to hold people in detention today.

Cindy Panuco, a lawyer representing Afghan prisoner Obaidullah, considered the action by forces in the prison to be another step to “make it more difficult to endure continuing to starve themselves and continuing to protest.”

“If they’re together, if they’re in communal living space, they can communicate and at least support each other,” Panuco said. “And now that they’re being isolated, it’s another form of torment. To be taken away from your other friends and comrades who are there with you, it makes it much more difficult to endure what is already a very difficult situation.”

The New York Times published an op-ed that shows just how much torment the prisoners are going through. Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, like a number of prisoners who continue to be held in detention, has been at Guantanamo for over 11 years. He has never been charged with a crime. He has never received a trial.

“Years ago the military said I was a ‘guard’ for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch,” Moqbel writes.” Now, he says, “They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.”

Nobody in the prison seems to care how long these men continue to be held away from their families. So, Moqbel has been on hunger strike since February 10.

In that time, his dignity has been violated by prison staff:

Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

I am still being force-fed. 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. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping. [emphasis added]

Moqbel also describes another forced-feeding where the nurse “pushed” the feeding tube “about 18 inches” into his stomach,” and hurt him because it was done “hastily.” He called an interpreter to see if the procedure was “done correctly or not.”

“It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me,” Moqbel recounts. “The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the ‘food’ spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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