Don't forget the men of Guantanamo

November 13, 2009

When United States President Barack Obama issued an executive order in January to close down the military-run prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, a collective sigh of relief spread across the world.

However, the camps' gates are still open and the latest statements suggest that it will not be closed by the January 22, 2010 deadline. In fact, numerous reports, including letters released by those currently held in the facility, indicate that treatment has not improved, but worsened since Obama took office.

Former detainee Binyam Mohammed said after his release in February that the guards wanted to "take their last revenge" before the facility closed. A letter released this week by Mr Shabali, who is currently detained in Guantanamo, echoes this sentiment.

When Obama signed the executive order to close Guantanamo, he also initiated for an internal Defense Department review to investigate conditions within the prison. The findings were handed down in February. Not surprisingly, all allegations of abuse, torture and ill-treatment were dismissed.

Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh concluded that Guantanamo was a "well run facility" that went beyond complying with common article three of the Geneva Conventions.

A separate report was released the same day by the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR). It told a very different story.
A series of serious allegations are made by the report, which are confirmed by the testimony of recently-released detainees and by lawyers of those still detained in the camp.

Such allegations include the continued practice of forced feeding.

Hunger strikes have been a common way the illegally held prisoners have protested their treatment. Forced feeding is an extremely painful procedure in which a tube is pushed through the nose, down the throat and into the stomach — without analgesics or sedatives.
The detainees are strapped to a chair during the procedure, described by its manufacturers as a "Padded Cell on Wheels". The head, arms, legs, shoulders and torso are strapped down, preventing any movement.

It has been reported the same tubes have been used on numerous detainees, passing on the blood and bile of other men.

Some 1.5 litres of formula is then pumped into the detainees' stomachs in a process supposed to take place over the period of about an hour. However, reports indicate this has been done in just minutes, causing ruptured stomachs, nausea, bloating, diarrhoea and shortness of breath.

In September, Mr Shabali described the experience: "They continued force feeding me and I felt that my intestines will explode as a result of those pains."

In an attempt to encourage detainees to start eating again, they are placed in nappies and given laxatives

Still strapped to the chair, they are left to sit in urine and faeces for days at a time. When a rash spreads all over the body, they are moved to the hospital where they are chained to the bed until the rash disappears.

If they still refuse to eat, they are taken back to the chair and the whole process begins again.

Refusal to eat has led to "IRF'ings", also known as Emergency or Immediate Reaction Force.

IRF'ings take place when a team of military guards are sent into the cell of a detainee classed as non-compliant. They have been known to break bones, smear faeces over the men's faces, dump their heads into toilets, urinate on them, beat them so as to dislocate limbs and countless other appalling atrocities.

It is reported such attacks have increased since Obama took office — up to 15 a day. Earlier this year, one detainee was beaten so badly that he awoke the following morning to find a bloodstain on his pillow. The IRF team also urinated on his head and blocked his nose and mouth so he was unable to breathe.

In 2004, military police guard Sean Baker suffered an accidental IRF'ing after being mistaken for a detainee. He was dressed in an orange jumpsuit as part of a training exercise.

Baker has since been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and has 10-12 seizures a day due to the beating sustained from fellow officers.

Prolonged solitary confinement is still of great concern. The impact of solitary confinement includes severe anxiety, hallucinations, muscular atrophy, impaired vision, hostility and confusion.

Most detainees are in solitary cells, which officials call "single occupancy cells". The men have virtually no human contact and can go for months at a time without seeing sunlight.

They are punished if they try to communicate with each other through the concrete walls.

This prolonged solitary confinement in conjunction with cruel treatment, including torture, has led some of the men to develop serious mental health issues. One example is Khan Tumani, who was detained as a child.

In an incident earlier this year, he smeared his own excrement on his cell. In response, an IRF team was sent in to punish him for his illness. The IRF team sprayed so much pepper spray into this young man's face that even one of the guards vomited.

In the past, the excessive use of pepper spray led to one detainee, Omar Deghayes, losing sight in his right eye.

Sleep deprivation also remains a problem. Sleep deprivation causes many psychological and physical problems. It is also extremely cruel.

Lights are kept on 24 hours a day in some camps and detainees are punished for attempting to cover their eyes. Guards have been depriving men of sleep as a matter of policy. Operation Sandman was one policy, involving moving a detainee from one cell to another every hour for weeks at a time.

Another way the guards keep detainees awake is through sensory bombardment. Many former and current detainees have reported "noise machines" being left out the front of the cells, such as chainsaw engines.

There are reports of the continued sexual humiliation of detainees. Detainees must be strip searched every time that they want to leave their cells, including seeing a lawyer. Reports of detainees being stripped with "scissors or shears" have also come to light.

Unfortunately the list goes on, and these descriptions cannot begin to capture the cruelty and sadness of Guantanamo. The walls of Guantanamo were never designed to be comfortable. Torture has never been about the individual body. It is an act that serves a political purpose.

We must not forget the men of Guantanamo.

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