Thursday, June 04, 2009
As visiting journalists walked by, two of the inmates held up sketch pads on which they had scribbled "We need freedom." One of them shouted: "Is Obama communist or democrat?"
The protesters were Uighurs, Chinese Muslims swept up in the Bush administration's Afghanistan war, and their brief protest was indicative of the frustration building up in the Guantanamo Bay prison over the likelihood that freedom will take longer than they expected after Barack Obama became president and ordered the prison closed by January.
In Obama's less than five months in office, the U.S. military has opened communal spaces and started building a new classroom in the prison, and some cell blocks now have satellite television, DVDs and wireless headphones. But nearly half the detainees are still locked up alone for most of the day, and one of every eight prisoners is on hunger strike.
Shane Kadidal, who meets with detainees as an attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, said expectations for dramatic change have ebbed. He said prisoners know that only two prisoners have been released since Obama took office, compared with more than 500 under the administration of former President George W. Bush.
"They're saying, 'At least Bush sent some people home,'" he said.
Some inmates report an increase in hostilities as guards clash with inmates counting down the months to the January deadline.
"Oppression has increased," wrote Adnan Latif, a Yemeni detainee, in an April letter shortly before he slashed his wrist while meeting his attorney. "The best thing that I can hope for is death."
On Monday night a Yemeni detainee was found dead in his cell, an "apparent suicide," the military said.