Hail the struggle of the Guantanamo hunger strikers!
When Obama covered himself in glory by promising to close down the Guantanamo concentration camp [Gitmo] by the end of 2009, many on the petty-bourgeois left crowed loudly. The Neo Cons were dead, long live the new age! Yet four years on, the camp not only maintains its illegal squat on Cuban soil, but on 7 March the president issued an executive order, at a stroke “legalising” indefinite incarceration without trial within its walls. Now it was the turn of the Republican chair of the House Homeland Security Committee to crow, saying “I commend the Obama Administration for issuing this Executive Order. The bottom line is that it affirms the Bush Administration policy that our government has the right to detain dangerous terrorists until the cessation of hostilities.” Quite so. Let all who hailed the rise of Obama the peace prize winner now take heed.
The majority of the men illegally detained in the camp have been thrust into the limbo aptly described by Granma 11 April (‘Guantanamo: Endurance and Shame’): “They have not been accused of any crime which would require a trial, but neither have they been acknowledged as belonging to an enemy force, which would have guaranteed them recognition and rights reserved for prisoners of war.”
Of the 166 inmates held captive within ‘Gitmo’, under conditions which UN human rights chief Navi Piallay felt obliged to denounce as in “clear breach of international law”, only 9 have been convicted or even charged with any crime. According to Justice Department lawyers, 48 of the men “could not be prosecuted in military commissions or in federal court because evidentiary problems would hamper a trial”, or to put it in plain English: there’s no proof they did anything “wrong” other than “confessions” extorted through torture. Sooner than follow the principle of innocent till proven guilty, however, these kidnap victims of US imperialism have been summarily branded as a threat and told they can’t go home. As one of the defence team, Lt. Col Barry Wingard, summed it up: “Forty-eight men will be condemned to die never being given a trial or given an opportunity to defend themselves. They are essentially dead men who just happen to breathe” (‘Men live in Guantanamo animal cages, will never get trial’, Russia Today, 24March). Half the inmates have in theory been cleared for transfer or resettlement, but wait in vain for this to translate into reality.
The ‘lucky few’ who have the dubious privilege of actually facing prosecution by a kangaroo court are in reality faring no better. Cases are getting bogged down as numerous documents arguing the defence case are snooped on or deleted in an obvious sabotage of even this travesty of legal process. As Russia Today reported on 11 April, “Pre-trial hearings in the Guantanamo Bay war crimes tribunals have been delayed to address the disappearance of defence legal documents from Pentagon computers, military officials said … Defence lawyers representing inmates at the prison camp were ordered Wednesday to halt all computer transmission of sensitive material because of a security risk. The problem reportedly stems from a Pentagon-provided computer server that was supposed to transmit information from Washington to Guantanamo. Instead of transmitting files effectively, however, the system has been deleting documents since January of this year.” The lawyer for one defendant noted that officials had mishandled over half a million defence emails and were even trawling through the defence team’s internet searches.
Stripped of even the hope of a trial, let alone repatriation or justice, a growing number of the men have resorted to their sole remaining avenue of protest. In a last ditch attempt to force their plight before the world’s attention, as many as a hundred of them have joined a hunger strike initiated in the first week of February. The response has been brutal, including an assault with rubber bullets, ‘justified’ by the pretence that inmates had equipped themselves with improvised weapons. A lawyer for one of the defendants pointed out the extreme improbability of this assertion, given that the sharpest object prisoners are permitted are the refills from ballpoint pens, stripped of their plastic casing.
The rubber bullet assault occurred as prison authorities moved to separate the men from one another. In a vain effort to break the hunger strike, the men have now been cruelly separated into isolation cells. But these victims of imperialist brutality are made of sterner stuff, as is clear from the words of one such, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel. This brave man was able to tell his story via a phone call to the legal charity Reprieve. His account, which was printed in the New York Times on 15 April under the headline “Gitmo Is Killing Me“. is in its essentials common to that of many of his fellow prisoners.
“ONE man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago. I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity. 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. I could have been home years ago – no one seriously thinks I am a threat – but still I am here. 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. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.
“When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try. I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.”
After he joined the hunger strike, he was force fed, a supposedly humanitarian procedure which in reality is a particularly nasty form of torture.
“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. There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up. During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not. It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me.”
He concludes: “The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood. And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made. 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.”
These hunger strikers are resisting against imperialism with the only means they possess. Even as their religious faith is abused, even as they are locked away in isolation cells, beaten up and subjected to all the horrors of force feeding, even as they are routinely exposed to the thuggery of their captors and the chicanery of their prosecutors, they continue to resist and stand tall in the ranks of all those who struggle against imperialist oppression. In their resolute stand they will serve as an inspiration to all who resist oppression, broadening the axis of resistance ever wider. In particular their dignity and courage should inspire all workers in Britain who are struggling within the belly of the beast itself. Let us take courage from their example and sever the social democratic ties which cripple our unions and drag the workers’ movement along behind the imperialist war chariot.
No cooperation with imperialist oppression!
Shut down Guantanamo!
Free the captives!
Return Guantanamo to Cuban sovereignty!
Yankees go home!