‘How can Obama close Gitmo without sending detainees home?’
It will be years before all of the Gitmo detainees are released, judging by how none of the Yemeni detainees approved for transfer have been sent back to Yemen, David H. Remes, a lawyer working for Appeal for Justice, told RT.
It is a year since the American president again promised to close the detention facility at Guantanamo. Some detainees have been released, but many more are still being kept at the prison, subjected to abuse. President Obama had been woefully slow at solving the issue before his pledge last year, but now he cannot blame Congress anymore, he has the funds and the flexibility to send the detainees home, he simply does not have the courage, Remes, who defends one of the Gitmo prisoners, said.
RT: Obama first pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay prison about 5 years ago, but it is still open for business. How has Obama's rhetoric concerning the prison camp changed throughout this time?
David H. Remes: He's been really inactive until last May, when he re-pledged to close Guantanamo, and since then he has released additional detainees and set up new review boards to approve new detainees for transfer. But he was woefully slow beforehand, and in my estimation it was a result of the lack of political courage.
RT: You have a client at Guantanamo. Can you describe his current status. Is he being abused, what are the conditions he is being held in?
DR: The conditions are not as good as they have been at times, but they are better than they could be. The greatest problem at the moment is the regime of genital searches that the commander of the Joint Detention Group has instituted, whereby if you want to go from camp to camp you are searched extremely thoroughly if I may say. That is the main complaint. It really bars communication with lawyers and families, because the men are unwilling to leave their camps in order to speak or meet with them. Beyond that it's the psychological condition of being held in indefinite detention. The men are desperate. Now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the men are pleading to get home to their families. It has been twelve years.
RT: Guantanamo officials now have been granted the right not to report the number of hunger strikers inside the facility. What do you know about the situation?
DR: The jail is being run by a very strict disciplinarian, who regards the men still as terrorists. He still engages in force-feeding, and a federal judge has ordered the government to stop the force-feeding of a particular detainee because the force-feeding in his case amounted to torture. Two other detainees joined the lawsuit on Thursday, and a couple more will join it later. The way the prison discourages the hunger strikes is by administering a tube feed, in a way that causes a man pain, besides the genital search, that's another ongoing abuse that affects about 15 detainees.
RT: Are other abuses being carried out there now?
DR: The administration does not want its
mistreatment of detainees made public. The last hunger strike it
kept the public informed, and it suffered a great PR and
political disaster. As a result it is simply cutting out the flow
of information in the hope that people will simply not know how
badly the administration is treating the men.
‘It will be years before the release’
RT: Do the detainees have a real chance of being released some day?
DR: That is a very difficult question to answer. I think that many detainees will be released, but it will be years before most, or all of them, are released. And the main reason is that President Obama refuses to transfer detainees to Yemen. He said that he is willing to, but he still has not returned a Yemeni detainee to Yemen since he made his pledge last May. He just cannot go on like this if he hopes to close Guantanamo. Two thirds of the detainees already approved for transfer are Yemenis. How can he close Guantanamo until he starts sending them home?
RT: The Obama administration says it is Congress that is forbidding the White House from transferring detainees and spending money to do so. What is the situation really like in your opinion?
DR: Obama did blame Congress last year when Congress changed the law in a way that gives the president more flexibility to transfer detainees. He cannot blame Congress anymore. He has the funds, there is no question about that, to send the detainees home. He has the flexibility to do that. He simply does not yet have the courage.
RT: The US has recently advanced funding for a new prison at Guantanamo to hold suspects of the 9\11 attacks. What can you tell us about this new facility?
DR: The authorisation of the money is comical in view of the fact that the Defense Department never asked for the money, this is simply a gift from the Republican majority. The issue is not should you house detainees in better housing, but should you transfer them or deal with them in a right way from the standpoint of the system of justice. It really does not matter how indefinitely you are detained, what matters is being indefinitely detained.
RT: Speaking about the US federal judge's order to the government to temporally halt the force-feeding of one prisoner. Is it a positive sign or just a separate case?
DR: It will affect other detainees who are force-fed. This is the immediate specific impact of this order, the general impact of the order is that the federal judge for the first time is intervening to require the government to stop abusing the detainees. Now maybe we will see some more activity by federal courts to protect the men in this area. It is a one-off case in a sense that it affects the force-feeding of this particular individual, but it also sets a general principle that will be applied to force-feeding of other individuals. And more broadly it establishes a precedent for the federal courts to intervene to prevent the government from abusing the men. I think this is the most important aspect of that.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.