Life under lockdown at Gitmo

A detainee defense lawyer says 100 hunger strikers are trying to kill themselves in plain view

THE MIAMI HERALDApril 29, 2013 

Guantanamo Hunger Strike

In this image reviewed by the U.S. military, Navy Capt. Robert Durand stands next to some of the makeshift weapons that were confiscated from prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison after an April 13 clash between prisoners and guards that led to the lockdown.


GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba-Dozens of brand-new DVD players for the prisoners are stashed in a closet, a perk the military has now put on hold. The $744,000 soccer field is empty. The halal kitchen still cooks three meals a day for each prisoner, but guards throw most of the food away.

With nearly every one of the 166 Guantanamo prisoners now under lockdown, the military has reverted to a battle rhythm reminiscent of the Bush administration.

Pre-cleared captives awaiting political change are confined for long stretches to 8-by-12-foot cells, each man praying behind his own steel door, deciding for himself whether to eat a solitary meal.

Meanwhile, troops are back to managing the most intimate aspects of a detainee's daily life - when he will be shackled and taken to a shower, when he'll be shackled and taken to a recreation yard, when he'll get to hear the call to prayer through a slot in the door rather than muffled through the prison's walls.

And, for 100 hunger strikers, the military decides when to shackle each man into a restraint chair for tube feedings - an austere, exacting control of the lives of these men that the prison's Muslim adviser warns will not stop the next suicide.

"They are not done yet, and they will not be done until there is more than one death," said the Pentagon-paid adviser, who goes by Zak.

Zak has worked at the prison since 2005 and blames a dozen hard-core prisoners for manipulating the others to join the hunger strike that has engulfed most of the prison - and is still growing.

The military acknowledges two prisoners have attempted suicide since the strike began. Zak predicts the hard-liners will incite a vulnerable captive to die.

Defense lawyer Carlos Warner disagrees. "Suicide will happen because the men are hopeless, not because of influence by other detainees."

They've lost hope, he said, because "President Obama has no intention to close Guantanamo."

The Pentagon introduced communal, POW-style detention while George W. Bush was president. Once Barack Obama was elected president, communal became the norm. Prison camp managers would boast that by letting captives pray together, eat together, study together, the Pentagon was both complying with the Geneva Conventions on how to treat war prisoners and reducing friction between men held for years and their guards.

Whatever detente existed ended on Jan. 2, around the date soldiers relieved sailors guarding the communal camp. Then on Feb. 6, guards undertook the most aggressive shakedown of the communal cells in years. The captives responded with protest: They launched the hunger strike, refused to shut themselves in their cells for two hours of nightly lockdown, and one by one obscured more than 100 cameras.

On April 13, troops stormed Camp 6 to lock each captive alone inside a cell. Troops with shotguns fired rubber pellets and rubber bullets. Detainees wielded broom handles and other improvised weapons. Somebody whacked two guards' helmeted heads and a detainee bled on two other guards during a five-hour operation that put all but a few of Guantanamo captives on lockdown.

The commander of the guard force, Army Col. John Bogdan, described the February shakedown as tightening what is now seen as an era of permissiveness in the prison before Navy sailors turned over their cellblocks to Army guards.

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