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.”
More than six years after President Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed within 12 months, the White House said Wednesday it is “in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly close” the controversial military prison. And not a moment too soon.
Omar Khadr’s story used to always bring me to tears. Every single time without fail. He used to pop up in my mind every now and then and a wave of sadness would crash into me. I never thought I’d shed tears of happiness for him. I never thought I’d live to see this day. May the innocent in Guantanamo find justice. Alhamdulillah.
I’ve been working with our graphic designer at Young Americans for Liberty to make some new graphics for Facebook lately (I do the text; he makes it pretty). These are some of my favorites from the first few batches!
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.
We found really ominous parallels between how he policed Chicago streets and what he did in Guantánamo Bay torture centers.
Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian, appears on Democracy Now! to discuss his report on how former Guantánamo Bay interrogator, Richard Zuley, was also a longtime Chicago police officer known for abusing people of color.
“Artists sketch through three layers of soundproof glass. There’s a monitor for sound, but it runs on a forty-second delay. The delay is to allow for any classified information to be cut. The world in front of you does not sync with the censored world on the screen.”
And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.