ACTION ALERT: Demand Justice for Hunger Strikers: NY Times, UN Call for Closing Guantanamo Bay Prison
April 8, 2013
Editorial / New York Times & John Knefel / Rolling Stone Magazine
The hunger strike that has spread since early February among 130 of the 166 detainees still at Guantánamo Bay is again exposing the lawlessness of the system that marooned them there. In one of the strongest statements issued by the UN in recent memory, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the prison camps must be shuttered and that they are in a "clear breach of international law."
Hunger Strike at Guantánamo
Editorial / New York Times
(April 5, 2013) -- The hunger strike that has spread since early February among the 166 detainees still at Guantánamo Bay is again exposing the lawlessness of the system that marooned them there. The government claims that around 40 detainees are taking part. Lawyers for detainees report that their clients say around 130 detainees in one part of the prison have taken part.
The number matters less than the nature of the protest, however: this is a collective act of despair. Prisoners on the hunger strike say that they would rather die than remain in the purgatory of indefinite detention. Only three prisoners now at Guantánamo have been found guilty of any crime, yet the others also are locked away, with dwindling hope of ever being released.
Detainees there have gone on hunger strikes many times since the facility opened in 2002. A major strike in 2005 involved more than 200 detainees. But those earlier actions were largely about the brutality of treatment the detainees received. The protest this time seems more fundamental.
Gen. John Kelly of the Marines, whose Southern Command oversees Guantánamo Bay, explained the motivation of the detainees at a Congressional hearing last month by saying, “They had great optimism that Guantánamo would be closed” based on President Obama's pledge in his first campaign, but they are now “devastated” that nothing has changed.
For 86 detainees, this is a particular outrage. They were approved for release three years ago by a government task force, which included civilian and military agencies responsible for national security. But Congress outrageously has limited the president's options in releasing them, through a statute that makes it very difficult to use federal money to transfer Guantánamo prisoners anywhere.
Fifty-six of those approved for release are Yemenis. The government, however, has said it will not release them to Yemen for the “foreseeable future,” apparently because they might fall under the influence of people antagonistic to the United States. That false logic would mean that no Yemenis could ever travel to this country, but that is not the case.
The other 30 detainees approved for release are from different countries, though the government will not say where they are from. Over the past decade, the government has sent detainees to at least 52 countries, The Times and NPR have determined, so it surely can find countries to take detainees who cannot be returned home.
As for the remaining 80 prisoners, the three who have been convicted and the 30 or so who are subjects of active cases or investigations can be transferred to a military or civilian prison. The rest are in indefinite detention -- a legal limbo in which they are considered by the government to be too dangerous to release and too difficult to prosecute.
Such detention is the essence of what has been wrong with Guantánamo from the start. The cases of these detainees must be reviewed and resolved according to the rule of law.
The government is force-feeding at least 10 of the hunger strikers. International agreements among doctors say doctors must respect a striker's decision if he makes “an informed and voluntary refusal” to eat.
But under American policy, Guantánamo doctors cannot adhere to those principles. The Obama administration justifies the force-feeding of detainees as protecting their safety and welfare. But the truly humane response to this crisis is to free prisoners who have been approved for release, end indefinite detention and close the prison at Guantánamo.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says the US Is in "Clear Breach of International Law"
John Knefel / Rolling Stone Magazine
(April 5, 2013) -- A high-ranking United Nations official called for the closing of Guantanamo Bay today in one of the strongest statements issued by the UN in recent memory. Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the prison camps must be shuttered and that they are in a "clear breach of international law."
The statement comes amid mounting pressure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, due in part to an increasingly dire two-month hunger strike. As many as 130 of the 166 detainees are currently on hunger strike, according to defense attorneys, though the Pentagon puts the number at closer to 40. Eleven detainees are being fed through a tube that's snaked through their nostrils. Of those 11, at least three have been hospitalized for dehydration.
Symbols of Bush-Era Lawlessness Flourish Under Obama
Pillay excoriated the Obama administration and Congress, saying, "The continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention." Of the 166 men still held at Guantanamo, 86 have been cleared for release by the Obama administration and relevant agencies. Some of those men had also previously been cleared by the Bush administration.
That means, in no uncertain terms, that they have been detained unjustly, that they never posed a threat to the U.S., and they are extremely unlikely to pose a threat to the U.S. if released. Nine men have died at Guantanamo -- four on Obama's watch -- including most recently Adnan Latif, a Yemeni who had been repeatedly cleared for transfer.
"We must be clear about this," Pillay said in the statement. "The United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold." Pillay called for the immediate release of every detainee who has been cleared, and also said that if and when detainees are charged they should be tried in civilian court, not the alternate military commission system now in place at Guantanamo.
Around 50 of the cleared men are Yemeni, but after the failed "underwear bomber" plot in 2009, the Obama administration issued a moratorium on transferring prisoners to that country. The administration cited the tumultuous political climate, though critics have seen the move as a cynical ploy to score political points by appearing tough on terror.
Now, the State Department office responsible for determining how to close Guantanamo Bay has itself been closed, and according to Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the administration can't "offer a single measure that is currently underway to draw down the prison's population and finally shutter Guantanamo."
Many of the defense attorneys representing the hunger strikers fear for their clients' lives. On Thursday evening, Carlos Warner, who represents 11 detainees, read a letter from one of his clients on Al Jazeera English. (I also appeared on the broadcast.)
The letter described a lantern several of the men had made -- "for those in the world who remember and pray for us during this time of suffering." Warner said reading it made him emotional because he thought it might be a goodbye letter.
Though liberals are quick to blame Republicans for their intransigence, there are measures the president could take without Congress' approval if he were serious about closing Guantanamo.
Though the defense appropriations bill for 2013 bars using funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees, there is a way around that restriction. The Secretary of Defense can personally sign off on a detainee's release or transfer -- which is exactly what groups like Human Rights Watch are calling for.
"After more than 10 years, the U.S. needs to either prosecute those detainees against whom it has any credible evidence or release them," Laura Pitter, counterterrorism advisor at Human Rights Watch, tells Rolling Stone.
Similarly, Chris Hayes on his MSNBC program Thursday night called for the immediate release of cleared detainees, saying they should be paid restitution and be granted legal residence within the United States.
"President Obama must reaffirm his promise to close Guantanamo by charging someone in his administration with this important task," says Warner, the defense attorney whose client made the lantern. "The world can no longer sit idly by while innocent men languish, wither and die in a prison that's devoid of all process and hope."
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