Nothing has changed in Guantanamo as detainees are still being subjected to humiliating invasive searches and painful force-feeding with the number of hunger strikers having doubled since December, attorney Clive Stafford Smith told RT.
RT: Your organization’s report suggests the number of hunger-striking detainees has doubled since December. Why is that?
Clive Smith: Well it is only up again because
nothing has changed in Guantanamo. And the prisoners who have
been on hunger strike then suspended it because they hoped
something would happen but of course most of them are still
RT: So what is the current state of play? How many are on hunger strike at the moment?
CS: There are 33 of them on strike at the moment. There is a very disturbing addition to what had been happening. They have changed the protocol in Guantanamo. The government is keeping secret those protocols, so we only learn about them from talking to the prisoners.
And probably the most disturbing things about it is that if the prisoner is from Camp 6, which is the least bad camp, goes on hunger strike, they automatically get transferred not to just to Camp 5 but to Camp 5 Echo, which really has been the most abusive place in all of Guantanamo Bay. Prisoners are held in all steel cells and are denied the most basic human rights, just as a punishment for going on strike.
RT: Are they still enforcing the force-feeding techniques?
CS: The force-feeding techniques are very much in action. Unfortunately again it is very abusive force-feeding techniques. Casting aside if it is ethical to force-feed at all, and the World Medical Association says it’s not, unfortunately the techniques they are using in Guantanamo are gratuitously painful.
So for example and I’ve witnessed some of this – they used to leave the tubes up prisoner’s noses so it did not hurt so much – they are still pulling those tubes out twice a day and forcing them up each time. They are still forcing far too much food too quickly into the prisoner, making prisoner sick. If you are sick, they just carry on doing it. It really is horrendous what is happening.
RT: One inmate – Shaker Aamer – tells his lawyers that invasive searches by prison guards continues. Is there any way to verify that? And, if true, is there a supervisory body that can be pressured to do something about it?
CS: There is no question that the invasive searches are continuing. The authorities themselves have referred to these as scrutiny searches. Shaker Aamer who is one of my clients has confirmed this to me and indeed he went to his last call with me – it is not just for the hunger strike, it is also for legal calls – he went in his underwear rather than give them excuse to search him.
But actually, I’ve got several other prisoners who are now having a very hard time coming even to legal meetings, because it is so humiliating to go through this search process.
RT: What reasons are authorities giving for doing that?
CS: Well they actually, officially in a court, gave a reason that they needed to search the prisoners’ trouser pockets. Now as Shaker points out, that is very laughable, because the trousers they wear there don’t have pockets. But it is very clear what is going on which is an attempt to humiliate the prisoners such that they realize that they shouldn’t either serve their legal rights, come to see their lawyers or go on hunger strike.
RT: At the end of the day, these searches, are they legal?
CS: Well it is a difficult question to say what’s legal when there’s no law being enforced. Unfortunately, the US military has argued in what is fairly arrogant, argued to the courts in United States, that the courts have no supervisory authority over the military.
Now, we contend differently, we contend that this is obviously a violation of the law and the courts have the right to forbid it. Well, the military says whether it is a violation of the law or not, the courts can’t stop this, we’re going to do what we want. So really if there is no remedy, how can you say what is a legal right? Well, there is a legal right, it is just not being enforced.
RT: With everything you’ve described, what does it make of President’s Obama promise to shut down the camp?
CS: I think we have to say that Obama has been making moves in the right direction and these are mainly prompted by the media coverage of the hunger strike. And I think you have to look at the courage of some of these prisoners with what they have gone through that it has actually achieved something. We have seen for example going back to Algeria, to Sudan, to Saudi Arabia, and most recently to Slovakia. So it is gradually going in the right direction, but we still have 155 prisoners and we still have half prisoners cleared for release, not released.
RT: What's life like for those former prisoners who were released, what do they go on to do?
CS: Well one of the great problems with Guantanamo, and indeed Shaker Aamer wrote a piece about this just the other day, is there is some debate going on where to send the prisoners but no discussion has been had about how to help the people who have spent 12 years being tortured and abused in US custody. We are trying at Reprieve to do something, trying to help prisoners after they get out, but the US government needs to step forward and do a whole lot more.
RT: What other problems to they face?
CS: Well, you imagine coming out after those series of abuses. Just to take one example, we’ve got a doctor there just before Christmas to see Shaker Aamer and she identified in Shaker the fact that he is suffering a post-traumatic stress disorder from what he has been through, that he is suffering from the psychotic results from being in secure housing unit by himself. That he is suffering from all sorts of other problems, all of which can be treated and made better once he gets out, if only he can get the help. And it is OK for Shaker if he comes back to Britain. We have a health service, but that is not true of every country. So we need to get prisoners out to a place where they can get rehabilitation and where we can get it to them.