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What you need to know: Guantanamo

Guantanamo: what you need to know

Posted by Onnesha Roychoudhuri at 5:05 PM on February 9, 2006.

Over four years later, the prison is still full of innocent people -- many of whom are trying to kill themselves.

National Journal recently released its findings on who, exactly, is being held in Guantanamo. After combing through the government files of some 132 prisoners as well as the redacted transcripts of Combatant Status Review Tribunals of 314 prisoners, they find that,
Most, when captured, were innocent of any terrorist activity, were Taliban foot soldiers at worst, and were often far less than that. And some, perhaps many, are guilty only of being foreigners in Afghanistan or Pakistan at the wrong time. And much of the evidence -- even the classified evidence -- gathered by the Defense Department against these men is flimsy, second-, third-, fourth- or 12th-hand. It's based largely on admissions by the detainees themselves or on coerced, or worse, interrogations of their fellow inmates, some of whom have been proved to be liars.

The evidence against some of these prisoners?:

  • According to the Defense Department files, his [prisoner's] watch is similar to another Casio model that has a circuit board that Al Qaeda has used for making bombs. The United States is using the Qaeda-favored Casio wristwatch as evidence against at least nine other detainees. But the offending model is sold in sidewalk stands around the world and is worn by one National Journal reporter.
  • One man slammed his hands on the table during an especially long interrogation and yelled, "Fine, you got me; I'm a terrorist." The interrogators knew it was a sarcastic statement. But the government, sometime later, used it as evidence against him: "Detainee admitted he is a terrorist" reads his tribunal evidence. The interrogators were so outraged that they sought out the detainee's personal representative to explain it to him that the statement was not a confession.
  • A Yemeni, whom somebody fingered as a bin Laden bodyguard, finally said in exasperation during one long interrogation, "OK, I saw bin Laden five times: Three times on Al Jazeera and twice on Yemeni news." And now his "admission" appears in his enemy combatant's file: "Detainee admitted to knowing Osama bin Laden.

Seems many detainees have moved past the ability to use sarcasm or humor as a defense. This past September, 131 detainees participated in a hunger strike. While that was allegedly the peak, it is highly likely that many more of those participating, and slowly starving themselves to death, are not being reported. That's because many detainees are accepting one out of every nine meals that they are served in order to escape the technical definition of "hunger strike" -- and subsequently avoid the violent forced feeding that those who skip nine meals in a row endure.

Amnesty International reports,

  • Fawzi al-Odah is one of those who have been participating in the hunger strike since 8 August 2005. He has been force-fed but despite this, his weight dropped dramatically to the point at which in November 2005, independent doctors who had seen his medical records advised his lawyers that he was in imminent danger of death or at least permanent organ damage. He has described the method by which he was force-fed: "The nurse shoved a tube up my nose so quickly that I began choking, bleeding from the nose and spitting blood. They used no anaesthetic". He went on to describe the subsequent treatment,

    "Frequent loud noises are made during the night time while I am trying to sleep and harsh physical handling by guards and nurses. I am told all of these things are being done because I am on the hunger strike."

  • After two weeks of force-feeding, the detainees said that they were transferred from the hospital and placed in solitary cells. After five days they described being transferred to a different area with foam walls, and a hole in the floor for a toilet. Here they allege that the guards began inserting larger, thicker tubes into their noses again reportedly with no anaesthetic gel or sedative. According to Yousef al-Shehri, when the tube was removed, blood came gushing out of him and the detainees were reportedly told by the guards that these techniques were being used on purpose to make them stop the hunger strike. As of 23 January 2006, Yousef al-Shehri was still participating in the hunger strike.
  • In a written statement to his lawyer, Saudi Arabian national Shaker Aamer, who had been resident in the UK from 1996 until his detention in Afghanistan in January 2002, explained his reasons for participating in the hunger strike,

    "I am dying here every day, mentally and physically. This is happening to all of us. We have been ignored , locked up in the middle of the ocean for four years. Rather than humiliate myself…I would rather hurry up a process that is going to happen anyway…I would just like to die quietly by myself…I want to make it easy on everyone. I want no feeding, no forced tubes, no 'help', no 'intensive assisted feeding'. This is my legal right."

  • After nearly four years' of detention at Guantánamo, Fawzi al-Odah reached a point at which he felt he no longer wished to go on living. After he joined the hunger strike on 8 August 2005, Fawzi al-Odah formally requested his lawyer to file papers in US courts to seek removal of his feeding tube in order that he may be allowed to die. His family have refused to give consent for the tube to be removed, stating that "we utterly refuse…Fawzi would not have taken such a decision unless he has lost all hope and some of his ability to reason."

What to say. Stuart Taylor of the National Journal writes, "Bush has pledged that the Guantanamo detainees are treated 'humanely.' At the same time, he has stressed, 'I know for certain…that these are bad people' -- all of them, he has implied. If the president believes either of these assertions, he is a fool. If he does not, choose your own word for him."

The problem is, I just don't know a word dirty enough.

For more information on the detainees from their own personal letters, family letters, and lawyers' statements, read the incredible play Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.

Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an editorial fellow at AlterNet.

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