‘Gitmo hunger strike will continue until they see a plane to take them home’

‘Gitmo hunger strike will continue until they see a plane to take them home’
Although Obama has indicated that he is set to resume prisoner transfers from Guantanamo Bay, former detainee Moazzam Begg believes innocent people striking for their freedom will not stop unless they see some real action.

Begg, a British Pakistani citizen who was held at the prison at Guantanamo Bay for almost three years following his arrest in Pakistan in 2002. Though the Pentagon believed he was an enemy combatant and a member of al-Qaeda, he was eventually released by President Bush in 2005 without charge, and reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the British government in November of 2010 along with several other former British inmates.

Obama’s Thursday speech included statements that the administration is prepared to push forward the transfer of cleared detainees from Guantanamo to their home countries. Though, as Begg tells RT, this latest announcement is unlikely to dissuade the ongoing hunger strikers at the prison, now comprising the majority of the inmate population. Most importantly, the announcement will seem to ring hollow considering the president’s initial campaign pledge to shut down the detention center, which continues to operate into his second term.

RT:So, based on Obama’s words today, does that mean that the hunger strikers [in Guantanamo] were finally heard?

Moazzam Begg: They may have been heard, but I don’t think he’s going to be doing anything anytime soon about it. What was very interesting is that the heckler, Madea Benjamin from Code Pink, I picked up some very important words that she said. The first thing that she said was in relation to Shaker Aamer, the British resident who is still being held there, she mentioned him by name. And of course he’s been cleared for release, and is still part of a hunger strike. He has British children, four of whom are here in the UK, the youngest of whom he’s never seen.

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)

The other thing that she said that was very noteworthy was she mentioned Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, he’s the son of Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed a month after in a drone strike in Yemen, and he was at the age of 16 years old. Now Obama said that these drone strikes are justified, it’s a just war, it’s legal, he said, all of these things. But he never answered, never made any mention of this 16 year-old child who was ordered killed by a US drone strike, and I don’t think he ever will. He seems to be very open to addressing very tough issues, but this is one that I know he won’t be answering any time soon.

But in relation to the Guantanamo prisoners, I don’t think anybody is going to be singing the praises of Obama any time soon, because he’s already made a promise four years ago that he would close the place. One of the things the heckler, Madea Benjamin, was saying was that if they had been cleared for release then why don’t you release them now. Why not start the process that could well take a year or more.

RT:But he did say he would be starting a process for closure, also he said there’s no justification for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened. And that received a round of applause, surely this is something to be more positive about than you were, what, just a week ago?

MB: Well, you know, in the words of Malcolm X you don’t take a knife, stick it in his back 9 inches deep, pull it back five inches and say “we’re making progress.” That’s precisely why they were applauding him for something that he should have closed a long time ago. Even Bush said that he was going to close down Guantanamo Bay, and he wanted to close it. Obama said that he would do it, and he broke that promise. At least Bush never made that promise.

In this photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, and shot through glass, a guard watches over Guantanamo detainees inside the exercise yard at Camp 5 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba (Reuters / Brennan Linsley)

RT:So will the hunger strikers carry on then?

MB: I’m fairly certain that they will, because they’re not just - of course they’re primarily striking for their freedom, for being held for so long without charge or trial - but they’re also striking for being given these invasive cavity searches every time their lawyer visits, and every time he leaves, for the desecration of the Koran, for the strip searches, for the food and all of these things that they’ve had to bear over the past eleven years. And until they actually get to see the plane that is going to be taking them home, and even then they’ll be skeptical, I don’t think they’ll be stopping their protest any time soon.

RT:When you’re talking about the conditions and the treatment they’re receiving, Obama clearly condemned the issue of force-feeding those hunger strikers. So, do you not think that this will influence their conditions now, and they will improve?

MB: I’d like to think so, but it’s as though was Obama not aware of what was taking place in the world’s most notorious prison, which he spoke about in the first two days of his presidency? Saying that he was going to close it down? I mean he knows, he’s stated very clearly that he doesn’t want America to be remembered for Guantanamo, but it will be remembered for Guantanamo, people will never forget Guantanamo the way they will never forget Vietnam or the internment of the Japanese [in World War II] or anything else in relation to this. But the hunger strikes, if he really wanted to stop them he could do so clearly, he can’t pretend that all of a sudden he just knows about it now, and now he’s going to act. It’s something that should have happened a long time ago.

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)

RT:So if the prison is closed down, and the detainees released, many are saying they’re still a threat to society. How do you view that argument?

MB: Well it’s just a misnomer completely, that’s a nonstarter. There are 613 former prisoners, I am one of them, who were released. Now 613 that’s the overwhelming majority, because at the highest point there were 779 prisoners, leaving behind 166. Now, if he returns them, they will do what we did, which is try to get on with their lives that they had destroyed.

RT:Just briefly then, well then why were you a prisoner? The same question from many others, surely you must have done something wrong?

MB: Well, no, that’s not true, we didn’t do anything wrong and that’s now been proven true. Even the British government has made huge payouts to former Guantanamo Bay prisoners who have challenged them in court.  We weren’t the criminals, they were the criminals. The criminality was done against us, torture is criminality, kidnapping is criminality, rendition is criminality. All of these things were done to us, we didn’t do it to anybody.

We were interrogated by the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies, and after years of all of this they still had no charges against us, and after years of all this the prisoners, the overwhelming majority of them, have no charges against them. So it’s not even worth discussing anymore.