Obama made Guantanamo worse

Obama made Guantanamo worseBy Murtaza Hussain

Friday, March 08, 2013 – In his letters, Guantánamo Bay prisoner Shaker Aamer appeals in desperation to his captors and the outside world: “Please … torture me in the old way. Here they destroy people mentally and physically without leaving marks.”

The 44-year-old British resident and father of four has spent over 11 years incarcerated at Guantánamo despite being cleared for release as early as 2007. To this day never charged with a crime, Aamer is just one of hundreds of detainees who remain imprisoned in Guantánamo. Despite running on an explicit campaign promise to shut down the island prison which has become a symbol of the abuses of the “war on terror”, President Obama has continued to preside over its operation. And by recent accounts, under his tenure, the conditions for prisoners there – from both a physical and legal standpoint – have become markedly worse.

This past month, the majority of prisoners at Guantánamo began a hunger strike in protest of alleged mistreatment at the hands of guards at the facility. According to lawyers for over a dozen men involved in the protest, after weeks of refusing food, their clients are “coughing blood, losing consciousness and becoming weak and fatigued”. At least five men are reportedly being strapped down by guards and force-fed through their nostrils – an excruciatingly painful procedure that the UN Human Rights Commission has said it considers to be torture.

For the prisoners, the overwhelming majority of whom have never been charged with a crime and over 50 of whom have been cleared for release for years, this represents their last desperate avenue to protest their fate. Under President Obama’s tenure, the Kafkaesque legal nightmare of detainees such as these has become even more entrenched.

The deterioration in detainees’ living conditions is believed to be tied to a recent change in the military command of the prison. It has been reported that under the new command regime, mistreatment of prisoners has increased, exacerbating a situation already desperate after over a decade of torture, solitary confinement, and detainee deaths at the camp.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that a detainee was shot in the neck by a guard, the first incident of gunfire known to have occurred in the camp’s history. In addition to a pervasive atmosphere of violence at the facility – characterized by beatings and other forms of abuse by camp guards – detainees have increasingly had their meager personal effects confiscated or damaged, without cause or explanation. Mundane items such as family photos, letters and CDs have recently been taken away by camp guards and prisoners copies of the Qur’an have been desecrated under the guise of searching for contraband.

That the hunger strike is, in large part, a reflection of the increasing hopelessness of the detainees’ situation is obvious to all parties, as well as a direct consequence of the policies of the Obama administration. The passage into law earlier this year of the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) – which contained language and provisions intended to prevent the closure of Guantánamo and make the transfer of detainees from there impossible – has effectively doomed prisoners prospects of freedom.

Even those already cleared for release now face the prospect of indefinite incarceration at the facility – without even the pretence of legal recourse. Despite being publicly petitioned by human rights groups to veto the bill, the NDAA was signed by President Obama – a direct contradiction of his campaign promise to close the prison. For the men who have spent years trapped in Guantánamo and now stare into the legal abyss of permanent detention there, the policies of this administration have meant a worsening of their already fraught conditions. Those who have experienced and borne witness to beatings, torture, and even death at Guantánamo Bay over the past decade, Barack Obama has ensured that the prospect of freedom will remain as remote as ever.

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