While the White House has said it’s keeping a close eye on the situation in Guantanamo, Cindy Panuco, a lawyer who represents one of the prisoners, told RT the guards are now actively trying to force inmates to end their protest.
RT: When was the last time you spoke with your client and how bad does he say the situation is?
Cindy Panuco: I was with him last week. I met with him
from Tuesday through Thursday, every day. And when I first met with
him on Tuesday, I was shocked to see that he had lost about 40
pounds from the last time I saw him and he was in a terribly weak
state. He was bending over from stomach pains and said that he had
not eaten since February 6 so he was one of the initial hunger
strikers and he was in a terribly bad state when I saw him.
RT: So you can confirm it’s not media hype when we talk about these guys being close to death? You’ve seen this with your own eyes?
CP: I’ve seen it with my own eyes. He’s supposed to have
another meeting with his military council the following week and
told me to let them know that he may not be in a state to meet with
them. By the time they come see him, he may be in isolation or in
medical watch or he may be being force fed by the time they come to
meet with him, and he wanted me to take that message to
RT: Some of our sources are saying it’s up to 100 hunger strikers but the military claims only 37 detainees are on hunger strike - why the number discrepancy?
CP: When I first got there last Monday, the government
was only reporting about 31 hunger strikers. By the time I left
Guantanamo on Friday, they were actually reporting a number of up
to 37. But when I spoke to my client directly who is housed in camp
6 – where the majority of the men are – he said that pretty much
every single one of the about 120-130 men in camp 6 were hunger
striking with the exception of the older, more weak
And I think the discrepancies are due to what the Department of
Defense classifies as a hunger strike and when they begin to count
the missed meals that can now qualify someone to be a hunger
striker. It’s semantics, it’s down to when does the government
decides it wants to start counting someone as a striker.
RT: How long do you estimate it’s going to take until maybe someone dies? Who’s going to blink first – are the hunger strikes going to back off? Is the government going to do anything? What’s going to happen next?
CP: Well I know from my meetings with my client last week
and his conversations with other detainees and prisoners who are
also on strike, they are prepared to stand up for the principles of
not having their religious practices respected, not having the
Koran desecrated, and now it’s become an even bigger message that
they want to deliver, which is that they have been now detained
since 2002, many of them. My client for 11 years now, since
Some of them are cleared for release and have been declared
innocent by the US. However, the US refuses to transfer them and
Congress refuses to provide funds for that. The Obama
administration has closed the office it had set up in the State
Department to study the closure of Guantanamo and carry that out
and it hasn’t happened. So this has gone beyond the desecration of
the Koran and the disrespect of their religion. And they’re now
also protesting the worsening conditions as these prison officials
are essentially retaliating against them and trying to end the
strike by making conditions harsher. And the detainees have been
enduring all of this and plan to continue to do so.
RT: We’re talking about it, but who is listening?
CP: I’m hoping your viewers are listening, I’m hoping the
world is listening. Many human rights groups are starting to become
active. When I was meeting with my client, I let him know that at
least now we’ve heard from the press secretary for the Obama
administration who said that President Obama is listening now and
closely monitoring the situation. So we’re hopeful that this hunger
strike will end soon and that the US authorities will see that the
requests of the detainees are very simple.