The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says there has been “systematic violation of human rights” at the notorious US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba.
“The information we have indicates that there was a general and systematic violation of human rights” at Guantanamo, said Rodrigo Escobar Gil, one of the seven commissioners at the Washington-based body.
The commission also called on the US government to explain the alleged abuses, especially the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike.
Protesting harsh conditions and indefinite detention without charge or trial, Guantanamo prisoners began a hunger strike in early February, which US authorities say ended in late September.
Images from the detention center published in June showed how prisoners were force fed by military guards, being strapped to a metal restraint chair and fed through the nose with plastic tubing.
In July, a federal judge ruled that the practice of force-feeding the Guantanamo hunger strikers amounted to torture, but said she did not have the jurisdiction to stop the practice.
Escobar Gil, who described force-feeding at Guantanamo as “cruel and inhumane treatment,” said the IACHR’s requests for visits to the prison complex without pre-conditions have all been rejected by US authorities.
“We have reports of torture and degrading treatment. But all our requests for visits without conditions have been denied. We want to know when they are going to allow visits without pre-conditions,” he said.
Shutting down Guantanamo was a central theme of Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 as he acknowledged that the detention camp was a symbol of the US government’s violation of human rights.
About 30,000 California prisoners have joined the hunger strike begun, on Monday, by inmates at the Secure Housing Units at Pelican Bay. That’s more than four times as many as joined Pelican Bay inmates in their first hunger strike, in July of 2011, and two and a half times the number that struck in October of that year. So far, two-thirds of the state’s prisons have been affected.
The Pelican Bay inmates carry a certain moral authority, in that they represent the most long-suffering, intensely persecuted group in the largest and most barbaric prison system in the world – the approximately 80,000 U.S. prison inmates held under solitary confinement. Pelican Bay is the site of more than 1,000 solitary confinement cells, where prisoners are isolated from other human contact for at least 22 and a half hours a day. Around the state, about 4,500 people are held in Special Housing Units, or SHUs, with 6,000 more enduring some other form of solitary. Some of the SHU inmates have not seen the natural light of day for more than 20 years.
The State calls the SHU inmates the “worst of the worst” in order to justify a punishment regime more barbaric, in many respects, than any in recorded history – a massive, multi-billion dollar enterprise whose mission is to destroy the minds of men and women. Inmates are locked away for years on end for possession of literature, or for mere suspicion of political militancy. By far the largest number of SHU inmates are accused of belonging to gangs, and can only be released from solitary by accusing other inmates of gang affiliation – a process that is euphemistically called “debriefing” – thus turning everyone into a potential snitch against everyone else.
Prison is the ultimate surveillance regime, a place where the sense of self, of human agency, and of privacy is systematically crushed, in the name of security. It is no coincidence that the world’s prison superpower, the United States, which accounts for one out of every four incarcerated persons on the planet, is also engaged in spying on every other nation and population on Earth. It is as if the United States is determined to surveil – with the implicit threat to crush – every expression of the human soul.
Both U.S. global surveillance and American prison policies violate international law. The Center for Constitutional Rights has sued on behalf of the Pelican Bay inmates, citing the finding by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture that any more than 15 days of solitary confinement violates international standards of human rights.
California’s inmates aren’t waiting for the UN or the courts to come to the rescue. They’ve issued five core demands, with elimination of long-term solitary confinement at the top, and insist that the hunger strike will not end until California signs a legally binding agreement. The very concept of negotiation with inmates is anathema to the Prison State, whose goal is to reduce human beings to objects, with no rights whatsoever. The Pelican Bay inmates have concluded that, if they are to have any chance to live, they must be prepared to die.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Another prison hunger strike is looming in California, where more than 200 inmates at the Pelican Bay supermax have been in solitary confinement for between five and ten years and nearly 100 have been shut off from most human contact for 20 years or more. Across the nation, on any given day, more than 100,000 inmates suffer in solitary – about 25,000 in the federal system and another 80,000 or so in state facilities. That’s the equivalent of locking up every man, woman and child in Charleston, South Carolina, in their own little 8 by 12 foot box – for an eternity. Nothing like this American form of mass human torment has ever existed on the face of the earth: systematic, industrial strength torture, multiplied 100,000 times per day. Solitary confinement as a form of routine, mass punishment is beyond barbarity. Nowhere in human history do we find barbarians who tortured hundreds of thousands of people every day for decades at a time. Only in America.
Solitary confinement, by its very nature, is designed to ensure that no one but the torturers hears the cries of the tormented. However, knowledge of such monstrous evil compels decent men and women to action, in solidarity with those who have been wronged. The prisoners of Pelican Bay, who went on hunger strike in 2011, have sent word that they will do so again, on July 8, if the state of California does not meet their core demands. One demand is fundamental: that inmates not be confined to solitary unless they have been charged, “and found guilty of, committing a serious offense… a felony!” Instead, inmates are consigned to a life of oblivion based on anonymous allegations that they are affiliated with a gang, or for exhibiting the slightest hint of political thought – or for no discernable reason, at all. Not only is lengthy solitary confinement unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment, and a form of torture under international law, it is totally arbitrary and capricious.
In California, alone, more than 14,000 prisoners are held in isolation. The Pelican Bay inmates anticipate many of them will join the hunger strike, as thousands did in 2011, when 13 prisons were involved in the protest, and three inmates committed suicide. This time around, prison organizers have invited the participation of “all male and female prisoners across the U.S. prison systems,” both state and federal. Inmates in Georgia went on hunger strike in 2011 and again last year, pressing a range of demands.
If the California prisoners are forced to put their lives on the line again, on July 8, support networks need to be in place, beforehand. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network is putting out the call, so that the inmates at Pelican Bay and throughout the vast U.S. prison gulag will know that folks on the outside have their back. June 21, 22 and 23 have been designated as Days of Solidarity With the Struggle to End Prison Torture, and to immediately disband the torture chambers. You can sign up by going to StopMassIncarceration.org.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
In a gesture of solidarity with Guantanamo Bay prisoners, who are continuing their month-long hunger strike, activists across the world have launched a week-long fast. The campaign will also include protest rallies and vigils.
The action, organized by the Guantanamo prisoners support group Witness Against Torture (WAT), began on Sunday and is to last through March 30. Some activists plan to continue fasting every Friday until the prison is closed, the group says.
The fast will be accompanied by public gatherings to protest against the existence of Guantanamo prison and the condition of people held there.
“We will gather for action in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities domestically and internationally next week to denounce the barbaric practice of torture and indefinite detention and to demand justice for the men at Guantanamo,” WAT says.
The activists also released a list of 166 names of Gitmo detainees, calling on supporters to flood the prison with letters of solidarity and remind the management “that the world has not forgotten the hunger strikers.”
Human rights advocate Andy Worthington believes demonstrations like the recent one are crucial for changing the situation in Guantanamo, stating inactivity “would be a victory” for those whose aim is to keep the prison open.
“Those of us working to close Guantanamo are up against powerful forces of indifference or hostility to our cause, despite the obvious justice of our position. People should not – must not – be put off by this indifference or hostility,” Andy Worthington told RT.
WAT organized similar fasts of solidarity annually since 2010. The group itself was formed back in 2005 and has since been trying to make the US government close the notorious prison through vigils, marches, nonviolent direct action and other measures.
Lawyers of the detainees say more than a hundred of Guantanamo prisoners have been on a hunger strike since early February, with some putting their health at considerable risk. The protest was reportedly caused by mistreatment on the part of the guards, including searches, confiscation of personal items and desecration of Korans.
Guantanamo Bay management has been downplaying the scale of the protest, saying that it considers only a handful of detainees to be genuine hunger strikers.
- Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
RAMALLAH — The Israeli Magistrate Court in occupied Jerusalem extended on Sunday the remand of Shadi Issawi, the brother of hunger striker Samer Issawi, and did not allow him to see his lawyer.
Shireen Issawi, the sister of Shadi and a lawyer, said that the arrest of Shadi and extending his remand fell in line with pressures on Samer to end his seven months hunger strike.
She charged the Israeli occupation authorities (IOA) with targeting all members of Samer’s family, recalling that the IOA razed the home of her third brother Rafat at the start of the year and cut water supplies to her family home in addition to detaining her and her fourth brother Firas for a period of time.
- Shireen Al-Issawi: PA did not take prisoners’ issue to the UN (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Samer Issawi sentenced to 8 months in prison (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Issawi has been on hunger strike for 204 days.
The magistrates court in Jerusalem sentenced Issawi for leaving Jerusalem, in violation of the terms of his amnesty granted in an Oct. 2011 prisoner exchange deal.
The sentence includes time served since Issawi’s re-arrest in July 2012, and will conclude on March 6, but Issawi also faces a possible sentence under an Israeli military order which allows a special military committee to cancel prisoners’ amnesty.
The committee could use secret evidence to sentence Issawi to serve 20 years, the remainder of his previous sentence.
Issawi was freed in an Oct. 2011 prisoner swap for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Israel has subsequently re-arrested at least 14 prisoners since the deal.
Ahead of Thursday’s verdict, Israeli forces clashed with hundreds of Palestinians protesting near Ramallah on Thursday in solidarity with long-term hunger strikers like Issawi.
A Ma’an reporter said 29 protesters were injured by rubber-coated bullets and dozens more suffered tear gas inhalation.
Prisoners minister Issa Qaraqe and Fatah central committee member Mahmoud al-Aloul joined the rally, near Israel’s Ofer prison in the central West Bank.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said soldiers used “riot dispersal means” against Palestinians who hurled rocks at forces.
Protests have been held across the West Bank and in Gaza in support of Issawi, who has been on hunger strike for 204 days, and Tareq Qaadan and Jaafar Azzidine who have refused food for 86 days.
Also Thursday, the Ahmed Abu Rish Brigades on Thursday threatened to fire rockets at Israel if any jailed hunger striker is harmed.
“We will continue to work with rockets and we will not stand by idly. Military operations will be implemented to achieve the rights of prisoners and to free them,” brigades member Abu Ali al-Qawkabi said in a statement.
Al-Qawkabi called on Palestinian leaders in Ramallah to reject any negotiations with Israel and urged the Gaza government to refuse a truce until the detainees’ demands are met.
Islamic Jihad meanwhile has said a truce with Israel could unravel if any hunger striker dies.
On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority called on the international community to step up efforts to protect and release prisoner like Issawi in Israeli detention facilities.
The cabinet also called on the World Health Organization to move forward on plans made last year to form a fact-finding committee to investigate the conditions in Israeli jails, specifically negligence.
Guards from the Alnhacon unit beat al-Issawi when he tried to greet his family in the Jerusalem court, said Jawad Boulos, adding that the prisoner’s hands and feet were cuffed.
Al-Issawi has been on hunger strike for 140 days in Israel’s Ramle prison and was briefly hospitalized when his heart dropped to 36 beats per minute.
Boulos said he asked the judge to adjourn the hearing as al-Issawi needed urgent medical treatment for chest pains but the judge refused and continued the hearing for 30 minutes.
The session was postponed to Dec. 27 and the judge ordered guards to take al-Issawi for medical treatment.
The Ministry of Prisoner Affairs said Tuesday that al-Issawi and Ayman Sharawneh, who has been on hunger strike for 171 days, refused Israeli proposals to release them to exile.
Sharawneh, 36, is suffering muscle spasms, memory loss and severe kidney and abdominal pains, the ministry’s lawyer Fadi Abedat said.
Israeli prison services spokeswoman Siwan Weizman said both men were still on hunger strike but that they were “both fine.” Weizman told Ma’an that al-Issawi had been returned from hospital to Ramle jail.
Sharawneh and al-Issawi were rearrested after being freed in the Oct. 2011 prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas. They are on hunger strike to demand their release.
A Palestinian hunger striker in Israel’s Ramleh prison was knocked unconscious by prison guards earlier this week in the most recent abuse of prisoners, a coalition of human rights groups said on Thursday.
Hassan Safadi, who has gone 57 days without food, had his head slammed against the steel door of his prison cell during an assault on him and another hunger striker, Samer al-Barq.
The assault occurred after they refused to be transferred to a new cell, Addameer, al-Haq and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said in a joint statement.
“During the attack, Mr Safadi’s head was slammed against the iron door of the cell two times, causing him to fall to the ground, unconscious. Prison guards then dragged him through the hall to be seen by all the other prisoners,” it said.
Safadi announced after the beating that he would no longer be drinking water.
The two prisoners are refusing food to protest their detention without trial under a system Israel calls administrative detention.
Over 2,000 Palestinian prisoners ended a mass hunger strike in May after reaching a deal with Israel.
The deal specifically stipulated that Safadi would be released following the expiration of his detention order, but the agreement was not upheld.
Two other Palestinian prisoners, Ayman Sharawna and Samer al-Issawi, have also been refusing food for 47 and 16 days, respectively.
Israel’s draconian administrative detention allows for the imprisonment of Palestinians without charge or trial for renewable six month periods.
- Detained Palestinian hunger strikers beaten: NGOs (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Human rights groups in Israel released a statement on Wednesday condemning the “outrageous mistreatment” of hunger striking Palestinian prisoners by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), including physical beatings.
“We are outraged by the mistreatment and violent attacks on Palestinian prisoners in general, and especially in the cases of these fragile hunger strikers,” said a joint press release from Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-IL).
“We urge the international community to intervene with Israel on behalf of these detainees before their conditions deteriorate even further.”
Doctors and lawyers from the groups who visited the prisoners in Ramleh prison medical center expressed particular concern for the lives two administrative detainees, Samer al-Barq and Hassan Safadi, who have been subject to consistent mistreatment by the IPS.
“There is reason to believe that in the future the health of the two strikers will deteriorate, and therefore their condition requires special attention and close monitoring,” said a doctor from PHR-IL following his visit to the prisoners.
The two detainees are now refusing vitamins and minerals in protest at “humiliating and violent treatment by IPS staff.” He called for the patients to be examined once a week by an impartial doctor without the need for a court order.
PHR-IL doctors also reported that the tiny 1.5 by 1.8 meter cell shared by the two prisoners has no space for the wheelchairs they require for every day activities such as going to the toilet and the shower.
According to the groups, Barq, who is currently on his 78th day of a renewed hunger strike, having already completed a 30-day hunger strike, was violently beaten during his transfer from Ramleh to Ofer military court on July 31.
IPS special forces are renowned for their particularly brutal treatment of prisoners during transfers.
Safadi, who is now on his 48th day of renewed hunger strike, following his previous 71-day hunger strike, recounted similar stories of abuse by IPS staff who regularly carry out violent searches of their cell.
In one such raid they insulted and beat him all over his body leaving him with an injured leg.
In June, Israel broke a deal reached with the Palestinian prisoners’ committee that ended a mass hunger strike by renewing the detention of Hassan Safadi for another six months.
Safadi has been held since 29 June 2011 and the renewal of his detention was a violation of the agreement between the prisoners’ hunger strike committee and Israeli officials.
The mass hunger strike of over 2,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails earlier this year was a protest against Israel’s draconian administrative detention policy, as well as harsh conditions imposed on them during imprisonment.
The strike aimed to put pressure on Israel to drop administrative detention, but the Jewish state has resisted calls to change the policy.
The law dates back to the British mandate era of historic Palestine and allows Israel to detain Palestinians without charge for renewable six month periods.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have previously condemned the policy as a violation of international humanitarian law.
Two other Palestinian political prisoners are also currently on hunger strike: Ayman Sharawna and Samer Al-Issawi, on 38 and 7 days respectively. Both were released in last October’s prisoner exchange deal and subsequently rearrested.
Israel has been accused by activists of implementing apartheid policies towards indigenous Palestinians.
- #PalHunger | Doctor and lawyer visits to hunger strikers reveal mistreatment by Israeli Prison Service (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
- #PalHunger | Hunger strikers Samer al-Barq and Hassan Safadi severely assaulted by Israeli prison authorities (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
- Outrage as Israel breaks prisoner agreement (altahrir.wordpress.com)
BETHLEHEM – A deal struck early Tuesday to end the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike will not halt administrative detention, prisoners groups said Wednesday.
The document signed by prisoners representatives states that prisoners will halt hunger strikes and “security activity” inside Israeli jails in exchange for Israeli “facilitation” on policies toward solitary confinement, family visits and living conditions.
Prisoners society official Qaddura Fares told Ma’an the document outlines the core issues, while further details will be agreed in talks between prisoners representatives and the Israeli authorities.
The agreement is a “successful victory,” he said, while warning that it is “not clear enough” on the issue of detention without charge.
Prisoners representatives have secured clear commitments that five administrative detainees on long-term hunger strike will be released at the end of their term, while Mahmoud Sirsik is still negotiating the date of his release, Fares said.
Meanwhile, Israel committed not to renew the administrative detention of all 322 Palestinians held without charge if there is no new information that requires their imprisonment, he noted.
However, Fares warned: “Who can check this new information … no one can be sure.”
Under Israel’s administrative detention policy, prisoners can be held without formal charges for renewable periods of six months. Defendants and their lawyers are not given access to the evidence used to imprison them.
Prisoners rights group Addameer said after the hunger strike deal it is “concerned that these provisions of the agreement will not explicitly solve Israel’s lenient and problematic application of administrative detention, which as it stands is in stark violation of international law.”
- Hunger-striking detainees sign deal with prison authority (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israeli occupation authority renews administrative detention of MP Rejoub for fourth time (alethonews.wordpress.com)