President Obama, in a major defence policy speech, failed to provide any meaningful assistance to the hunger-striking detainees being held without charge at Guantanamo Bay, says legal charity Reprieve. The speech comes amid revelations that prisoners are being subjected to invasive and aggressive cavity searches as a matter of policy if they want to take phone calls or meetings with their lawyers.
In his speech, delivered 0n 23 May, President Obama:
- Failed to make clear how a new Department of State appointee will bring about transfers of detainees any better than the previous one did.
- Set no clear time frame for transferring cleared detainees.
- Called on Congress to lift restrictions on transferring detainees cleared for release, including British resident Shaker Aamer - despite the fact that he has the power to authorise these transfers immediately.
- Announced he will review transfers of detainees to Yemen on a case-by-case basis – while these men have already been reviewed and cleared for release multiple times over the last decade, including by the President’s own taskforce.
Obama’s policy speech came as conditions in Guantanamo Bay have worsened for the hunger-striking detainees. Numerous prisoners have written to their lawyers at Reprieve detailing the invasive cavity searches to which a prisoner must now consent whenever they want to take a phone call or in-person meeting with their lawyer or a phone call with their family.
Younous Chekkouri, detained without charge for eleven years and cleared for release, wrote in a letter to his lawyer how “eight guards with the watch commander surrounded me in a room, while two of them put their hands all over me – my thighs, my privates, everything.
“Finally, in Camp 6, comes the worst. I found a band waiting for me...I was forced to put my face to a wall, with all of them behind me. I tried to reason with the watch commander, but he ordered me to shut my mouth. First one guard repeated the ‘search’, as before. Then a man put his finger in my behind. Then another guard started repeating the whole process, groping me, moving to assault me again, and I cried out: ‘This is not a search, this is humiliation!’ They laughed, saying it was ‘SOP’ [Standard Operating Procedure].”
The practice is resulting in many detainees ‘refusing’ calls or meetings with their lawyers and the rare calls they are allowed with family members in order to avoid the searches. Such has been the case with last remaining British resident Shaker Aamer. Mr Aamer’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, wrote last week to William Hague alerting him to the policy, which has now been made public.
The hunger-strike at Guantanamo Bay has been going for more than 100 days. Authorities at the prison put the number of men striking at 102; lawyers estimate it to be closer to 140 of the 166 men still being held. The strike began after President Obama closed the office charged with closing Guantanamo Bay and as conditions at the prison took a turn for the worse. Many prisoners now describe their treatment in the camp as being worse than under President George W. Bush.
Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve and lawyer for the men, said: “President Obama could get Shaker Aamer home tomorrow if he wanted. The UK government want Shaker back and his family are desperate to see him. Instead, he – and so many other of my clients languishing in the US’ gulag – are being put through physical abuse just to speak with their lawyers. It is shameful. I have only one message for Obama: shut it down.”