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The Case for Guantánamo Bay

Guantanamo Protest

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“I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial” says Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, who told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call in April. Moqbel is just one of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detention center. One-hundred and six of them are on hunger strike, with at least 45 currently being force fed. What are they protesting? That they, like Moqbel, have not been tried, let alone proven guilty, since they have been brought to the detention center. Most of them have been there for over a decade.

The restraint chairs used to force-feed the detainees were introduced at Guantánamo in 2005, when detainees were kept seated in the chairs for hours after they had been fed, supposedly as a punitive process – to avoid the detainees assaulting U.S. personnel. But its hard to imagine someone who weighs less than a hundred pounds doing any harm, let alone assaulting, a military personnel.

In May, the Miami Herald printed a list (excerpt reproduced below) of some of the detainees that were identified by their attorneys as being force-fed:

  • Tariq Ba Awdah, 34, a Yemeni man whose lawyer says he’s been on an uninterrupted hunger strike since February 2007. “I haven’t tasted food for over six years,” he wrote his lawyer, Farah, this week. “The feeding tube has been introduced into my nose and snaked into my stomach thousands and thousands of times.” He has never been charged with a crime at Guantánamo’s war court, and his status is not known.
  • Ahmed Bel Bacha, 44, an Algerian man whom the Obama administration disclosed last year has been cleared for release.
  • Jihad Diyab, 41, a Syrian man whom the Obama administration disclosed last year has been cleared for release.
  • Nabil Hadjarab, 33, an Algerian man whom the Obama administration disclosed last year has been cleared for release.
  • Yasin Ismael, in his 30s, a Yemeni man who has never been charged with a crime and whose status is not known.
  • Fayez al Kandari, 35, a Kuwaiti, who at one point was considered for prosecution at the Guantánamo war court.
  • Samir Mukbel, a Yemeni is in his 30s whose attorney helped him tell his story recently in a column published in The New York Times. His name is not among those the Obama administration has disclosed as cleared for release, and his status is not known.
  • Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, 32, a Yemeni who won his habeas corpus lawsuit on Feb. 24, 2010 but lost after the U.S. government appealed to the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, which overturned the release order on March 29, 2011. His name is not among those the Obama administration has disclosed as cleared for release, and his status is not known.

American actor and hip hop recording artist Yasiin Bey, better known as Mos Def, recently volunteered to undergo the force-feeding process that detainees at Guantánamo Bay are made to suffer. A clearly traumatized Yasiin says, “I really couldn’t take it anymore.” They were unable to complete the procedure on him. Typically, the process takes about 30 minutes, after which the detainees are required to stay in the chair for an additional hour until it can be confirmed that the nutrient has reached their stomach.

Out of respect for Ramadan, which started yesterday, the U.S. government has announced that it will only conduct the force feeding at night. Regardless of the call from various Muslim communities to stop the act all together, the U.S. government is adamant to continue such force-feeding at night, barring “unforeseen emergency or operational issues.”

A new legal filing lodged with a federal court in Washington on behalf of some of the detainees, argues that “[t]he detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become a festering wound of human rights violations. Yet the Obama administration states, in opposition to petitioners’ motion to enjoin their force-feeding, that ‘the public interest lies with maintaining the status quo.’ The status quo, of course, is that the petitioners are being held indefinitely without any sort of trial or military commission proceedings, even though they were cleared for release years ago.”

“I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that,” said an enthusiastic Obama as he took office for his first term in 2008. In January of 2009, he signed an executive order stating that “[t]he detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” It is now more than four years from that order and there seems to be no reprieve.

Moqbel said “[t]he 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… I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.”

Ramadan is a month of humility, introspection and charity. It is in the spirit of this month that we plead with President Obama to fulfill the promise he made at the advent of his first term, and ensure the injustices carried out as the “status quo” at Guantanamo Bay be stopped immediately. I leave you with Yasiin Bey’s closing statement at the end of his force-feeding experiment: “[p]eace. Good morning.”



Sahar Said

Sahar, who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, has obtained her Master of Laws degree from The George Washington University Law School, and worked with a non-profit in New York. She currently writes from Germany.

Sahar can be followed on Twitter @sahar_said.

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