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'Denied access to justice': Moscow officials visit Gitmo trying to free Russian detainee

Published time: January 18, 2014 10:25
Edited time: January 18, 2014 18:04

John Moore/Getty Images/AFP

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​A delegation of Russia’s high-ranking diplomats and representatives of the judicial system has in an unprecedented move visited the Guantanamo Bay prison, as Moscow has stepped up efforts to secure release of the only Russian national there.

The Russian VIP visitors were toured around the facility, where they spent several hours Friday, speaking to senior representatives of the Department of Defense and the commanders of the detention center. The central part of their visit was an hour-long conversation with the Russian national, Ravil Mingazov, who has been detained for over a decade at Guantanamo without charge.

Russian Foreign Ministry's Commissioner for Human Rights, Konstantin Dolgov, said the delegation’s basic aim was to ensure Mingazov’s “speediest possible release.”

The US authorities might review Mingazov’s case “within weeks” and will decide whether he is to be taken to a military court, Dolgov told Russian media at a briefing following the visit.

His presence at the Guantanamo prison by itself is violation of his basic rights, because all of the detainees are kept there in the so-called legal vacuum,” Dolgov told RT by telephone. “There is no due process, no proper investigation. They are denied access to justice.

The human rights commissioner said he assumed the prospects for achieving Mingazov’s release were good.

He said the detainee asked for books and newspapers in Russian. Dolgov, however, would not go into detail about what Mingazov said, when asked to describe conditions at the center. The diplomat only said the delegation was analyzing the information it received.

The information on life inside Guantanamo keeps flowing in from the lawyers of the 155 detainees, still held at the facility. According to attorneys, the number of hunger strikers at the prison has gone up in the past month, and now stands at 33.

The US military who run the facility have refused to release any updates, as it did during the massive months-long hunger strike last year.

JTF-Guantanamo allows detainees to peacefully protest, but will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public,” RT was informed this week in an e-mail from John Filostrat, US Navy Commander and Director of Public Affairs. “The release of this information detracts from the more important issues, which are the welfare of detainees and the safety and security of our troops… We closely monitor any changes in detainee health status but we will not report statistics on individual protests.”

A US naval medic holds liquid food supplement force fed to hunger strikers at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on August 7, 2013. (AFP Photo)

Clive Stafford Smith, who advocates for several of the detainees, claims the US military is using some painful tactics to try and break up the hunger strike.

If a prisoner from Camp 6, which is the least bad camp, goes on hunger strike, they automatically get transferred not just to Camp 5, but to Camp 5 Echo, which really has been the most abusive place in all of Guantanamo Bay,” Stafford Smith told RT. "Prisoners are held in all-steel cells and denied the most basic human rights, just as a punishment for going on strike.”

He added that controversial force-feeding techniques were extensively employed by Guantanamo Bay personnel. The practice, condemned by the World Medical Association as “a form of inhuman and degrading treatment,” is according to the detainees’ attorney, purposefully applied in the most painful way.

They used to leave the tubes up the prisoners’ noses, so that it would not hurt so much. They are still pulling these tubes out every single time twice a day and forcing them back up each time. They are still forcing far too much food far too quickly into the prisoner, making prisoners sick. If they are sick, they just carry on doing it.”

It’s been 12 years in January since the first detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay prison. Out of 779 detainees held at the facility over that period of time, only seven have actually been convicted and sentenced. Out of 155 inmates currently remaining at the detention center, 77 have been cleared for release.

President Obama made a promise to close down Guantanamo when he was campaigning for his first term back in 2008. He has been explaining his further inability to fulfill the promise by having his hands tied by the Congress, which restricted transfers of Gitmo detainees. A defense bill, passed at the end of December 2013, might help facilitate an end to the deadlock, as among other things the bill eases up the process for prisoners’ transfers.

In April 2013, Obama expressed his wish to renew efforts to close the Guantanamo prison. Eleven detainees have been released since that time. In comparison, the previous three years saw just five transfers from the facility.

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