'Guantanamo lawless and was designed that way'

Pressure is mounting to reach a realistic and concrete deadline for President Obama to shut down the Cuban-based US naval prison, which is in the grips of a 150 day long hunger strike which shows no sign of abating.

Follow RT’s day-by-day timeline of the Gitmo hunger strike 

Though Obama has decreased the number of prisoners to 166 from the camp’s peak occupancy of 680, he has still failed to close a facility which critics say is antithetical to the core American value of democracy.

RT sat down with experts Morris Davis, the former Chief prosecutor for terrorism trials at Guantanamo and Carlos Warner, a lawyer who represents 11 clients at Guantanamo, to discuss the hypocrisy, hunger, and closing date of the controversial detention facility.

“It was ironic when President Obama took his daughters to visit the cell where Nelson Mandela was held in South Africa and to think he’s showing them that cell where [he] spent 18 years on an island prison when he has his own island prison in Cuba where we’ve kept people for 11.5 years it’s a bit hypocritical to lament one and operate the other,” said Davis.

“Gitmo is a lawless place, it was designed that way by Dick Cheney,” Carlos Warner, an attorney for 11 hunger strike participants on the island, told RT.

“Our justification has been that we’re at war and the law of war permits you to detain the enemy for the duration of the conflict. By the end of 2014, we end combat operations in Afghanistan, so whether it’s a legitimate justification or not, it vanishes,” said Davis.

In this photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, a Guantanamo detainee speaks with guards inside the Camp 6 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba (Reuters / Brennan Linsley)

“I think during my tenure most of the worst practices had stopped, but certainly throughout Guantanamo’s history, particularly early days when we had the Bush admin telling the military to ‘take the gloves off’ and that the Geneva conventions were ‘quaint’ and we needed to force more information out of these men in that 2002-2004 there were clearly things that took place at Guantanamo that we should be ashamed of.”

“We tend to be better at preaching than practicing. We claim to be the champion of the rule of law, but when it’s inconvenient for us we just ignore it,” said Davis.

The prisoners are not receiving proper trials, and haven’t yet ‘had their day’ in court, as legal proceedings are moving at a tortoise pace, with little conclusion or resolve.

The camp has 166 detainees, most of who never have been formally charged with a crime, and 86 who have been cleared for release but still live day to day in America’s 21st century purgatory.

20 more have been prosecuted and 60 remain in an indefinite category, a sort of limbo.

“I think if the detainees saw some forward progress that they haven’t been forgotten, that the administration is going to keep its word, the hunger strike would be over,” Davis told RT.

In June Obama announced the US was ‘redoubling’ its efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo, yet recently Commander General Kelly went to Congress asking for $200 million dollars to renovate the facilities, begging the question why the US would continue to invest in facilities that are meant to be ‘temporary’ and not permanent.

“There isn’t anyone in the White House who has grabbed this problem by the throat and said that we’re going to close Guantanamo,”
Warner told RT.

According to Davis, the 86 detainees cleared for release are essentially ‘lower hanging-fruit’ for the Obama administration, an easy way to make good on their 2008 campaign promise to close down the facility.

“This should have been over and done long ago, that fact it continues to go on is disappointing,”
Davis told RT.

Of the 86 detainees cleared, 56 are Yemeni, some who have been on the island for years without any official criminal charges.

In this photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, a guard stands in a cell block at Camp 5 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba (Reuters / Brennan Linsley)

“The detainees are looking for real concrete signs their needs are being met and not ignored. An easy way to do that is to begin to send the cleared Yemenis back home to Yemen where their government wants them,” Davis said.

Davis added it’s impossible to reduce the risk of terrorism to zero, and doesn’t justify keeping the prison open.  

“I think the solution is to keep their word- put them on the plane and take them home,” Davis told RT.

Mr. Sloan has only been on the job for a week, but Davis isn’t holding any illusions about a speedy closure.   

“I’ve been hopeful before and disappointed. I’m cautiously optimistic,” Davis said, adding there has been “a lot of rhetoric but not a lot of reality. We need a leader, not a lecturer.” 

Video: /files/opinionpost/1f/ac/b0/00/original_636304_carlos_warner.mxf.mp4 

 “Someone is going to die” 

Warner could see the hunger strike debacle running another 6 or 8 months if the White House remains dormant on releasing the ‘free’ detainees.

“Someone eventually is going to die, the military itself has said it is not a sustainable situation, we are at 150 days, we don’t know how long it will go on,” Warner told RT.

“It doesn’t have to be that way, the President can use the authority he has from Congress to transfer these individuals within a month,” said Warner.

“The president has the power to bring the hunger strike to an end,” Davis said.

Detainees participate in an early morning prayer session at Camp IV at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base (Reuters / Deborah Gembara)

The hunger strike continues to swell, with 106 people now refusing food and 44 of them being force fed, according to Gitmo official figures and human rights advocates. The upcoming Ramadan holiday will complicate the force feeding practice.

“The Obama administration is caught between two bad choices: one is to force feed, which some call torture or medical maltreatment, on the other hand if they don’t, then you sit there and watch people starve themselves to death- neither one is a good choice,” Davis told RT.

“A voluntary person has the right to choose treatment, and if they choose today, they should be allowed to die,”
said Carlos Warner, who has 11 clients at the camp who he believes are in ‘terrible condition’ and sees ‘no end in sight’.

“It’s a sad commentary about America that it takes people putting their lives at risk- they are out of sight and out of mind, and the only way the American public will pay any attention is for them to put their lives at risk,” said Davis.

“The fact that these doctors who are tube feeding clients need to know when they come back to the United States there is going to be ethical charges against them,” said Warner.