'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Renewed Resistance at Guantanamo 

UPDATE: The hunger strike at Guantanamo is growing:

More Guantanamo Bay detainees protesting their indefinite confinement joined a hunger strike, raising the number of those refusing food to 89 from 75, the U.S. military said Thursday. Six of the hunger strikers at the isolated U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba were being force-fed, said Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand.

"All are being closely monitored by the ... medical staff and being counseled on the health effects of long-term hunger striking," Durand said in a statement from Guantanamo Bay. The hunger strike is now the biggest of the year at the base, where about 460 men are being held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. It comes amid increasing displays of defiance from the prisoners, who have been held for up to 4 1/2 years with many claiming their innocence.

ORIGINAL POST: Through use of the restraint chair, otherwise known as "the Devil's Chair", it appeared that the US military had broken the hunger strikes that have plagued Guantanamo. Apparently, it was a false dawn.

First, there were violent disturbances about two weeks ago, with the factual circumstances still disputed:

Reports from within the controversial detention centre in Cuba claim the base's military commanders believe there were links between a series of suicide attempts, medical emergencies and the violent clashes between 20 inmates and guards on Thursday.

It was "probably the most violent outbreak" in the camp's four-year history, claimed Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the detention and interrogation centre's commander. "These are dangerous men and determined jihadists," he said.

The base's authorities suspect the incidents were co-ordinated and fed off each other, but one former inmate and two lawyers raised substantial doubts about the US military's account of the disturbances.

Moazzam Begg, the Birmingham bookshop owner released from the camp last year, said the detention cells were too closely monitored and controlled for inmates to organise a revolt so well. Clive Stafford Smith and Brent Mickum, defence lawyers who regularly visit clients in the base, said they suspected the official accounts were "rubbish".

Camp officers said the incidents began early on Thursday morning in Camp 1, when an unconscious inmate was discovered in his cell. Nearly seven hours later, another detainee was found unconscious, both from taking anti-depressants which they had not been prescribed.

During the same period, another two men became ill - one from an adverse reaction to his medication and a second who over-dosed, allegedly in solidarity with the two unconscious men.

Five hours later, 10 inmates in another facility, a normally peaceful communal compound for "compliant" prisoners called Camp 4, allegedly provoked a confrontation with the prison's notorious "quick reaction force". When the 10-man force arrived, the authorities claim they were confronted by detainees wielding improvised weapons made from a broken lighting tube, large fan blades, CCTV cameras which had been ripped down from walls, and metal sheeting from buildings.

The floor of their shared bunkhouse had allegedly been slickened with urine, excrement and soapy water, leading to two guards slipping. The guards then used pepper-spray and rubber pellet shotgun blasts to subdue the detainees - five of whom were treated for minor injuries.

About midnight, an elderly detainee was hit with pepper spray and treated for minor injuries after inmates in another nearby camp staged a further demonstration. Several guards suffered "cuts, scrapes and bruises, just like a good football game," said Colonel Mike Burngarner, the base's chief of detention operations.

The authorities claim the disruption was designed to create further controversy about the camp, because inmates know Guantanamo Bay is the subject of intense legal and political controversy. Next month, the US Supreme Court is due to deliver a critical ruling on whether President Bush's administration can legally refuse to block legal hearings for the 460 inmates now there.

Col Burngarner told the Miami Herald that inmates believed three detainees would need to die in order to provoke a worldwide backlash intense enough to close the camp. Yesterday, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, repeated his demand for closure.

Mr Begg, who was seized by the CIA in Pakistan in 2002, said he was sceptical that inmates would be able to avoid the round-the-clock surveillance by CCTV cameras, foot patrols and watchtowers to make and hide weapons. Medical staff were also scrupulous about ensuring detainees swallowed their medication.

He added that electrical equipment such as fans and cameras were normally out of reach. "It's not like a Second World War prisoner of war camp where you can dig tunnels. There's so much security, day in, day out. Everything is logged, everything is watched, everything is scheduled," he said.

Needless to say, the detainees were not available to give their side of the story during the news cycle, and it will probably only become known with the passage of time as they meet with their attorneys challenging their confinement.

Second, the incident has also reinvigorated the hunger strike, which, as we discover in this Reuters article, was never completely suppressed:

Seventy-five prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo were on a hunger strike on Monday, joining a few who have refused food and been force-fed since August, a military official said.

Cmdr. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the Guantanamo detention operation, called the hunger strike an attempt by the prisoners to gain media attention and pressure the United States to release about 460 men held there as enemy combatants.

Detainees are counted as hunger strikers if they miss nine consecutive meals, and most of the 75 hit that mark on Sunday, Durand said. Most are refusing food but continuing to drink liquids, he said.

One of the recent group is being force-fed through a tube inserted through the nose and into the stomach, as are three others who have been on a hunger strike since Aug. 8, Durand said.

One wonders, has the military turned to its old friend, the restraint chair, in yet another misguided attempt to restore order? Meanwhile, the European Union joined the calls of others, such as Lord Goldsmith, the British Attorney General, for the the closure of Guantanamo, because it is, as previously described in the antiseptic vocabulary of Tony Blair, an "anomaly":

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik urged the United States on Wednesday to close a prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay as soon as possible, saying the detention of suspects there creates a legal vacuum.

Plassnik, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the US naval base is seen as a "cause for concern" by EU member states, and called the prison an "anomaly."

"The US government must take the measures to close the camp as soon as possible," said Plassnik, whose country holds the six-month rotating EU presidency.

Some day, this grotesque chamber of horrors, where detainees must be administered psychotropic medications to be kept alive in cages in the hot tropical Cuban sun, prevented from committing suicide through the intervention of guards and force fed through tubes agonizingly inserted through their noses while strapped into restraint chairs as they urinate and defecate upon themselves, awaiting sham military adjudications that never occur, will be closed. And, some day, the people who perpetrated these atrocities will return from Guantanamo to walk among us.

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