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1 Apr, 2013 01:52

‘Prison officials essentially retaliating against Gitmo inmates’

‘Prison officials essentially retaliating against Gitmo inmates’

While the White House has said it’s keeping a close eye on the situation in Guantanamo, Cindy Panuco, a lawyer who represents one of the prisoners, told RT the guards are now actively trying to force inmates to end their protest.

RT:When was the last time you spoke with your client and how bad does he say the situation is?

Cindy Panuco: I was with him last week. I met with him from Tuesday through Thursday, every day. And when I first met with him on Tuesday, I was shocked to see that he had lost about 40 pounds from the last time I saw him and he was in a terribly weak state. He was bending over from stomach pains and said that he had not eaten since February 6 so he was one of the initial hunger strikers and he was in a terribly bad state when I saw him.

RT:So you can confirm it’s not media hype when we talk about these guys being close to death? You’ve seen this with your own eyes?

CP: I’ve seen it with my own eyes. He’s supposed to have another meeting with his military council the following week and told me to let them know that he may not be in a state to meet with them. By the time they come see him, he may be in isolation or in medical watch or he may be being force fed by the time they come to meet with him, and he wanted me to take that message to them.

RT:Some of our sources are saying it’s up to 100 hunger strikers but the military claims only 37 detainees are on hunger strike - why the number discrepancy?

The US Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards)

CP: When I first got there last Monday, the government was only reporting about 31 hunger strikers. By the time I left Guantanamo on Friday, they were actually reporting a number of up to 37. But when I spoke to my client directly who is housed in camp 6 – where the majority of the men are – he said that pretty much every single one of the about 120-130 men in camp 6 were hunger striking with the exception of the older, more weak individuals.

And I think the discrepancies are due to what the Department of Defense classifies as a hunger strike and when they begin to count the missed meals that can now qualify someone to be a hunger striker. It’s semantics, it’s down to when does the government decides it wants to start counting someone as a striker.

RT:How long do you estimate it’s going to take until maybe someone dies? Who’s going to blink first – are the hunger strikes going to back off? Is the government going to do anything? What’s going to happen next?

CP: Well I know from my meetings with my client last week and his conversations with other detainees and prisoners who are also on strike, they are prepared to stand up for the principles of not having their religious practices respected, not having the Koran desecrated, and now it’s become an even bigger message that they want to deliver, which is that they have been now detained since 2002, many of them. My client for 11 years now, since 2002.

Some of them are cleared for release and have been declared innocent by the US. However, the US refuses to transfer them and Congress refuses to provide funds for that. The Obama administration has closed the office it had set up in the State Department to study the closure of Guantanamo and carry that out and it hasn’t happened. So this has gone beyond the desecration of the Koran and the disrespect of their religion. And they’re now also protesting the worsening conditions as these prison officials are essentially retaliating against them and trying to end the strike by making conditions harsher. And the detainees have been enduring all of this and plan to continue to do so.

RT:We’re talking about it, but who is listening?

CP: I’m hoping your viewers are listening, I’m hoping the world is listening. Many human rights groups are starting to become active. When I was meeting with my client, I let him know that at least now we’ve heard from the press secretary for the Obama administration who said that President Obama is listening now and closely monitoring the situation. So we’re hopeful that this hunger strike will end soon and that the US authorities will see that the requests of the detainees are very simple.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.