Cuba urges US to end economic blockade, return Guantanamo
Cuban leader Raul Castro has called on the US to end the economic embargo against the country and demanded that Guantanamo Bay be returned to Cuba as relations between the two nations undergo a historic thaw.

Castro reaffirmed Cuba’s willingness to normalize relations with the US, but stressed that the embargo must first be lifted.

"The main problem has not been resolved: the economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes huge human and economic damage and is a violation of international rights," Castro said at a Latin American summit in Costa Rica on Wednesday.


Rapper/actor Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) released a video in conjunction with a human rights organization this morning via The Guardian that shows him undergoing what he says is the standard process for force-feeding Guantanamo detainees. Or attempting to, anyway — after an excruciating attempt to submit to a nasogastric tube (up the nostrils, down to the stomach) he convulses in tears and begs to stop the experiment.

More than half of the 166 prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo are participating in a hunger strike that has been going on for months, military officials have said. Lawyers for the prisoners have asked the federal courts to stop the force-feeding, saying it’s akin to torture and prevents them from observing the religious fasting of Ramadan, which begins tonight. Justice Department lawyers responded last week that the process is a humane way to keep detainees from starving to death.

Bey, 39, has a background in activism, railing against the government response to Hurricane Katrina and the conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal. He made the film with the group Reprieve, which participated in the court filings.



Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman was on guard at the Cuban prison camp on the night they died, and calls the official version of events “impossible”.
“They would have had to all three tie their hands and feet together, shove rags down their throats, put a mask over their face, made a noose, hung it from the ceiling on the side of the cellblock, jumped into the noose and hung themselves simultaneously,” the ex-Marine told Vice News in an explosive video interview.
“In a cellblock where guards are ordered to check on detainees every four minutes.”
There had also been an inspection of the cellblock only a few hours earlier, Hickman said, and guards had found nothing detainees might use to make the nooses and rags.
Hickman tried for years to put the nightmare of his time at Guantanamo behind him, but eventually he was forced to confront his past.
He has now written a book, Murder at Camp Delta, which he hopes will be a step towards finding out the truth.
“I was trying to put Guantanamo behind me. I didn’t want to remember it. It was like a bad dream I was trying to put in the past,” he said.
“Then I saw in news that another detainee had hung themself. I had to face it and see what really happened.”
On the night of June 9, 2006, Hickman was on guard at Camp Delta when he says he saw a paddywagon return to high-security Alpha Block three separate times, each time picking up a prisoner and taking them out of the camp.
He claims he watched the paddywagon take a left outside the checkpoint ACP Roosevelt, which he said would only lead to one of two places — the beach or Camp No, which we now know was a secret CIA holding facility.
“Between 11pm and 11.30pm I witnessed the paddywagon come back to Camp Delta,” he said.
“Instead of Camp 1, it went to the medical detainee clinic. About 10 minutes later, all the lights come on, like a stadium, and sirens are going off — it’s chaos.”
The prisoners were dead.
The three men were Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, 37, from Yemen, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, 30, from Saudi Arabia, and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, 22, also from Saudi Arabia.
Al-Zahrani had been imprisoned at Guantanamo since he was captured at 17. None of the men had been charged with a crime.
After their deaths, Rear Admiral Harry Harris took the unusual step of attacking them in his announcement of their apparent suicide.
“They have no regard for life, either ours or their own,” he told Reuters. “I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”
But why would the authorities want to kill these men and make their deaths look like suicide?
Hickman says it’s because the three were regular hunger strikers, who incited others to do the same.
“They had a policy that if a detainee is hunger-striking, he cannot be interrogated,” said Hickman. “In 2006, they were doing roughly 200 interrogations a week, so any massive hunger-strike would, what they consider, cripple the intelligence value.
“I believe the number-one mission in JTF-GTMO (Joint Task Force Guantanamo) at the time was, stop the hunger strikes at all costs.
“I think you get rid of the people that provoked the hunger strikes and you get rid of the problem.
“After the deaths there were no hunger strikes for a long period of time.”
The ex-sergeant has spent the years since his time at the prison camp independently investigating what happened that night, and first approached the US Justice Department in 2009.
His claims, and that of others from his team, were first reported by Harper’s Magazine in 2010, provoking a major backlash, in which authorities said Hickman would have been outside the perimeter and not even able to see the entrance to Alpha Block.
There are many questions over what has gone on at the controversial facility, which still holds about 150 prisoners.
It is considered illegal under human rights law to detain people without charge, and many people say the reality of Guantanamo is the opposite of its motto: “Safe, humane, legal, transparent.”
Former inmates say the CIA regularly used torture techniques described in the recent Senate report when questioning them. They have alleged systematic abuse and former guard Brandon Neely said violence and degrading treatment was commonplace.
Hickman rejoined the army after September 11, believing it was his duty to help. “I thought Guantanamo was needed, warfare was changing and we needed a safe place to hold and interrogate them.”
The reality he discovered was very different.
“They scare you when you get there; they tell you you can never talk about this, it’s a classified facility. Everyone’s afraid they’re going to get in trouble.”
While Hickman has not named any alleged murderers in his book, he hopes that it will trigger a close investigation into what really went on.
“I can’t name names. I keep it vague at the end for that reason,” he says. “I say it was murder, this is the reason why.”

‘CIA killed prisoners, made it look like suicide’ – Guantanamo guard

A former Guantanamo Bay prison guard and Marine has spoken to the press for the first time about what he claims were the CIA murders of three problematic detainees, covered up as a triple suicide.

They would have had to all three tie their hands and feet together, shove rags down their throats, put a mask over their face, made a noose, hung it from the ceiling on the side of the cellblock, jumped into the noose and hung themselves simultaneously,” he told Vice News.

My Time as a Guard at Guantánamo

Illustrations by ​James Burgess

"ERF team assemble, Tango Block." I paid no attention to it, as I had no idea what an "ERF" was. Brief training had been provided when I first arrived, but since I hadn’t used that knowledge in the first months, I’d forgotten all about it.

"Holdbrooks! Get your ass off this block and get over to Tango Block! There is an ERF!" my block sergeant yelled at me. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran out of the block into the sally port. A group of people were putting on riot gear and it was then that I remembered what an ERF was. ERF stands for “Emergency Extraction Force,” which the Guantánamo detainees themselves morphed into the verb “to ERF.” It basically involves a team of guards in riot gear entering the cell and forcibly restraining the prisoners, often so that they can be dragged off to be force fed. It looks a bit like this. I didn’t want to participate in this brutal activity, but then the signs that the army might not welcome my worldview had been there from the start.


The idea to enlist into the armed forces came to me in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, but it wasn’t about those attacks. I believed that the Army training would give me a purpose in life and possibly pull my family legacy out of the Arizona dust. My upbringing had not instilled a sense of structure or order, but I did have a sense of duty to my country and a desire to make it a better place. In search of guidance and personal development, the idea of enlisting resonated. I decided to sign up in an attempt to “ be-all-I-could-be.”

I joined the Military Police and was deployed as a guard at Guantánamo Bay. As part of our two-week training course, we were taken to the Ground Zero site. There, on a wall, someone had scrawled, “This is the greatest tragedy to happen to all mankind.” I chuckled and suggested to those around me that this might be going a little far. Blank, angry stares, admonishment and a question about my allegiance all followed my futile attempt to follow this throwaway remark up with a little reasoning. “Remember, these are not people! These are hate-filled, evil, terrorist dirt farmers, and they will stop at nothing to kill you! NEVER FORGET THIS! NEVER FORGET 9/11!” came thundering back at me.

I realized then and there that my career in the military was not going to center around being a better American or improving the lives of my fellow citizens. Instead we were going to war with strangers from across the sea. Our job would be to get revenge for 9/11.

Revenge was the consistent message to us at GTMO. At breakfast, I remember the hard-hitting, pivotal part of the soundtrack from Terminator 2 played as we ate. The first time I heard it, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and my pulse raced. I felt a rush of adrenaline as though I were in the middle of watching some epic movie preview. As the next song came on soldiers looked around, smiling at each other while a blood-lusting yell blasted through the speakers in the ceiling corners of the room. It was the beginning of "Bodies," a song by the nu-metal band Drowning Pool. Played loudly, it accompanied a military video of F-14 fly-bys, explosions, images of captives with bags over their heads and aircraft carriers full of planes flaunting their power.

All while we were digging into our eggs.



"His eyes well up and a tear slides down his cheek when Feroz Abbasi, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, is asked what he would say to the other Guantanamo Bay detainees he was incarcerated with and “left behind” when he was released as a result of diplomatic arrangements between the US and the UK and after accusations that he was an “enemy combatant” could not be proven due to insufficient evidence.

“Uhibbuka fillah,” he mumbles, his voice trembling, his lip quivering as he tries to hold back tears, “means I love you for the sake of Allah. That’s when you love someone you tell them, tell them that. It’s very hard to see your friends in that situation, you know, still there after all these years, it’s not easy.”

A Gitmo Prisoner Alleges He Has Been Tortured Under Obama

The torture began under President George W. Bush, Gitmo prisoner Imad Abdullah Hassan alleges. It left him broken. And the torture continues under President Obama. The 34-year-old Yemeni has been a prisoner for 12 years. No charges have ever been filed against him. Though cleared for release five years ago, he remains captive. And in his telling, he is tortured daily by American medical staff and guards.

His lawsuit is Imad Abdullah Hassan v. Barack Obama. Be forewarned that his declaration, which comes via the sworn statement of his attorney, is extremely graphic. 

Decide for yourself whether his treatment constitutes torture.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]