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‘Military data unreliable, hunger strike grand in duration and size’ – Gitmo lawyer

‘Military data unreliable, hunger strike grand in duration and size’ – Gitmo lawyer
Despite military claims that the number of hunger strikers in Guantanamo has decreased, the signals from inside the detention camp indicate that the inmates haven’t lost the will to fight against their indefinite detention, lawyer Carlos Warner, told RT.

The prison authorities said that 37 detainees remained on hunger strike, with 33 of them being force fed as the action entered its 200th day on Saturday.

The protest hasn’t so far led to improvement in detention conditions or persuaded president Obama to fulfil his 2008 campaign promise to shut Gitmo down, US public defender, Warner said.

“Although we know the numbers – according to the military – are dropping, the words I hear from the camp are just as bad as they’ve always been – suffering, tube feeding, people not getting along, no communication with the military,”
he said.  “Although the military is telling us that the numbers have gone down. That’s not the story that we’re hearing. We’re hearing that again, that this horrible suffering is going on and this is the 200th day of it.”

“Even looking at the military’s numbers, to think that even 37 or 40 men haven’t eaten for 200 days it’s just pretty incredible to think about it,” the public defender, who works with several Guantanamo inmates, added.

Warner believes that the data, which is coming from the prison authorities doesn’t correspond with reality as the military aren’t interested in accurate media coverage of the strike.

(AFP Photo / Peter Muhly

“We don’t know what the military uses as their metric to say that somebody isn’t hunger striking,” the attorney stressed. “They make different claims, but again they never attach names to the people, who are or aren’t hunger striking. We don’t know if it’s the same 37. We don’t know if it’s a different 37. We don’t know that because maybe somebody ate a meal – now they’re not counted. The bottom line is we believe the hunger strike is grand in duration and in size.”

“The thing with the military is, remember, when in February when this started we said a 130 men were on hunger strike, they said – six. It took them a few months to, I think, get to 102 and when we knew it was 130 or more hunger striking. The numbers that you get from the military, you just can’t rely on them. All we can rely on is what we hear from the camp. And what we hear is that the same suffering is going on. There’s no negotiation going on. The men aren’t getting along with the military. And certainly we’re not getting any movement, any real spirit coming from the White House,” he added. 

According to Warner, the practice of sexual abuse at Gitmo was implemented by the authorities to prevent the detainees from communicating with the outside world and sharing information on the strike.   

“The sexual abuse goes around these searches, these groin searches that they began. And they did these searches, obviously, to keep my clients from talking to me,” he said. “During this time of our budget crisis, the only way I could communicate with my clients was over the phone. And the military began searching the groin areas of my clients, we believe, for no other reason than to keep them from talking to me, so I can’t talk to you about it.”

“This started a few months ago. In terms of investigation, I don’t think anybody is investigating that. The camp says that we’re doing this for security purposes, but that’s preposterous when you consider that the client isn’t even seeing a lawyer – the client is with soldiers talking on the phone the entire time,”
the attorney added.

AFP Photo / Pool / Michelle Shephard

But the public defender acknowledged that the media focus has recently switched from Gitmo to other topics, which hampers the efforts of those demanding Guantanamo’s closure.

“When the strike began I was giving three, four interviews a week on this," he said. "People were paying attention. But after 200 days the press cycle changes. People stop paying attention. And it’s clear that the President is a political animal. He pays attention to the problems that are getting attention. And this isn’t necessarily getting the attention that it was a few months ago. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to quit. We’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep pushing in Washington to have the President do what he should do."

Warner has urged Barack Obama to show political will and keep his promise to close the facility or, at least, his more recent pledge of setting free 86 inmates, who have been cleared for release for years now.

“Remember, the President has the authority to transfer these individuals now,”
the lawyer said. “He can do it under the current law. But no exceptions. And he’s choosing not to do so. And he’s even said that there were several countries that were ready, willing, and able to take those individuals. We know there’s 86 of them that are cleared for release. The President has done nothing on that yet – In spite of his words.”

The attorney stressed that the state of things at Guantanamo was against the Geneva Convention and that must be changed.

“Guantanamo is an animal in of itself. If you pick somebody up on the battlefield, certainly you can hold him as a prisoner of war,” Waren explained. “I mean we’re going to have something interesting happen next year when hostilities allegedly are going to end in Afghanistan. And we’ll see how the president deals with that. People at Department of Defense have said that, you know, we would have no legal authority to hold these individuals after that. But they don’t have the authority to hold them now, yet they’re not transferring them. So Guantanamo is a political animal. It’s run by xenophobia here in the US. And it’s just going to take a lot of hard work from not only people like me, but from people in Washington in order to close it. But right now you don’t see that.”