Source : The Guardian,by David Remes ,American lawyer representing 15 Yemen detainees, 28/06/2013
On 6 February, reacting to the military's attempt to search their Qur'ans, Guantánamo detainees began a general hunger strike. The strike has since broadened into a protest against indefinite detention. The strike is now in its fifth month and shows no sign of abating. The hunger strikers have vowed to strike until the US government stops searching Qur'ans and resumes transfers, even if that means they will strike until they die.
The military initially denied that there was a hunger strike. It now concedes that 104 of the 151 "low-value" detainees are hunger-striking, and that 44 of the 104 are being force-fed (although the military does not use the term "force-fed"). More than a dozen of my own clients are hunger-striking, including four who are being force-fed.
The Joint Detention Group (JDG) is responsible for detention operations, including handling the hunger strike. Previous JDG commanders approached detainee hunger strikes as management challenges. They sought to restore peace and order by finding solutions to the detainees' concerns. Under that approach, hunger strikes didn't last very long.
The current JDG commander, Colonel John V Bogdan, takes a different approach. Incredibly, Bogdan had never run a prison before his Guantánamo deployment. Even without such experience, he felt qualified to write the security SOP.
Bogdan won't reach out to the detainees to discuss anything until they end their hunger strike. The men, however, won't end their hunger strike until Bogdan starts addressing their concerns, particularly with respect to Qur'an searches. (Transfers must be addressed higher up.)
But Bogdan won't budge. He appears to view the hunger strike as an insurrection, not a protest, and is using every trick in the book, however brutal and cruel, to put it down. A modern-day Captain Bligh, Bogdan has eliminated communal living, moving almost all detainees into isolation cells. His guards have confiscated family letters and pictures and legal materials, and even toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels. The guards prevent the men from sleeping by keeping bright lights shining all night and removing the men's eye-shades. My clients report to me that guards also deliberately make enough noise to keep the detainees awake all night, and they are chilling the detainees by keeping their cells freezing cold.
In early May, when I was last at the base, Bogdan started using what amounts to religious humiliation to break the strike. Under a new search policy, if a detainee leaves his camp to meet with his lawyer, or have calls with a lawyer or his family, he must submit to a pat-down in which guards feel his genitals and buttocks. The detainee faces the same excruciatingly degrading search when he returns. Bogdan well knows how insulting this new invasion of personal space is to these devout Muslim men.
Predictably, such searches are inhibiting many men from making calls to their families and having contact with their lawyers. Two of my clients refused to meet with me, or take my calls, because of the searches. Many other lawyers have experienced similar refusals. In this way, predictably, these searches are preventing detainees from exercising their constitutional right to seek relief from the courts.
We have asked US District Court Judge Royce C Lamberth to order the government to stop placing detainees in this unacceptable position; the judge is due to rule any day. Whatever that decision, Bogdan will undoubtedly continue to find new ways to make the men suffer until they break their strike.
In a 20 May letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, military defense lawyers called for an examination of Col Bogdan's fitness for command, "based on the rapidly deteriorating detention conditions under his command and his heavy-handed response to the current hunger strike".
Bogdan should immediately be relieved of his command. But removing Bogdan would not go far enough. His practices are condoned by his superiors. When Marine General John Kelley, the Commander of Southcom, returned from a recent visit to the base, he dismissed the hunger strike as "hunger strike lite" and denied that any detainees are being force-fed.
To bring this human tragedy and military embarrassment to a close, the military should appoint a high-ranking officer with sound judgment and humane instincts to mediate an end to the hunger strike. Habeas defense counsel can make an important contribution to this process; we stand ready to assist.