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‘Gitmo prisoners feel they are in a living tomb’

There is a palpable sense of despair amongst the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, both those who years ago had been told they would be released and those who were designated for indefinite detention, investigative journalist Andy Worthington told RT.

RT:Some inmates are said to be so sick, they're coughing up blood. Others are being hospitalized and force-fed. How bad is this hunger strike getting do you think?

Andy Worthington: Well, it sound very bad and the problem that we have is that on one hand we have the lawyers for the men talking about how over 100 out of remaining 166 men are on a hunger strike and this strike started last month. And on the other hand we have the Obama administration apparently claiming that there is not very much going on. So, that is not helping us to get any clarity, but of course that has always been the problem with Guantanamo, that this is a very opaque facility. However much the administration, first of all Bush and now Obama has tried to pretend that they are open about what is happening there. And that isn’t true.

And really, there’s an enormous sense of despair amongst the Guantanamo prisoners. We’ve got over half the men who were told years ago that they were going to be released, who are still held. We’ve got other men who were designated for indefinite detention, which is a terrible thing anyway. But Obama issued an executive order authorizing that, but promising that their cases to be reviewed. And they haven’t had their cases reviewed. The men there must feel like they’re just in a living tomb.

RT:What will this hunger strike achieve?

AW: Well it is already achieving, I imagine part of what the purpose is, is to let the outside world know, that it is not acceptable for these men to be held forever with nobody making any moves to release them, even though, as I say, more than half of them have been cleared for release, but they have been forgotten. And they have primarily been forgotten by the United States government, by the United States media, and by the American people. And that it is really not acceptable.

So we are talking about it here, but I’ve noticed that it is filtering out gradually into the mainstream media and is getting the issue discussed. Because clearly the situation that we had for some time now is that President Obama can’t really be bothered to overcome the opposition in Congress, can’t really be bothered to try and secure a decent legacy for himself by revisiting his failed promise to close the prison. Everyone has forgotten about it.

US President Barack Obama. (AFP Photo / Mandel Ngan)

RT:But what about the issue of human rights? Isn’t that a concern for President Obama?

AW: Well it should be of concern. The President claims that the legislation passed under Bush, just after the 9/11 attacks authorizes the detention of prisoners and that therefore it is acceptable for these men to be held. But it isn’t acceptable.

These are still men who aren’t held either as prisoners of war according to the Geneva Convention or as criminal suspects who are going to face a trial. Nearly all of them there in Guantanamo are effectively still held as enemy combatants. The Bush administration’s plan was to hold people forever without ever being to justify objectively why they were being held.

RT:The US maintains that intelligence gathered at Guantanamo saved American lives. Isn't that a strong case for keeping the prison open?

AW: No. I think this is nonsense. The United States authorities have never officially claimed that any more than a few dozen of the people that they held were people with any connection to terrorism. There has been no evidence provided that the torture of prisoners led to any information that actually foiled terrorist attacks.

An Iraqi man detained by US forces for alleged links to al-Qaeda. (AFP Photo / David Furst)

What they are left here with is a problem of mostly of detaining people either who have been horribly abused throughout their eleven years in custody. Primarily it is the opposition within Congress and inactivity in the administration to clear up this terrible, terrible mess that was left by the Bush administration.

And it is now Obama’s prison. It is very much a place where he is not doing anything about it. The people held there, as I say, the majority of them who are supposed to be released who are still being held. That is a terrible indictment the way President Obama is behaving. And it seems it is down to the prisoners to make the world aware of this situation.

RT:Will media coverage of this case spur President’s Obama’s decision?

AW: I hope so. What it needs is to be backed up by sustained reporting about this. And then I would hope for representatives of other governments to try and put pressure on the US. Maybe the home countries of the people who are being held at Guantanamo need to start putting more pressure on him. 

As it stands, lawyers for the prisoners have been trying and go to the American Commission on Human Rights which does not have power in the United States, but at least it is a venue where they can raise these issues, because sadly the US is not answerable to anybody about its behavior. And I think what we’re seeing with Guantanamo is a problem that this is not an American problem that they did not want to have to deal with, because there isn’t internally in the United States enough political capital in it.

Demonstrators dressed as a Guantanamo Bay prisoners attend a "No War on Iran" protest in Los Angeles, California, on February 4, 2012. (AFP Photo / Frederic J. Brown)