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A Fast for Guantanamo: From Winter to Winter

By       Message Palina Prasasouk     Permalink
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Since Obama's second promise, the ban on releasing Yemeni prisoners was lifted, a State Department envoy and Pentagon envoy were appointed, and the Periodic Review Board (PRB) started closed meetings in November 2013. On January 10, 2014, Mahmoud Mujahid, a Yemeni national and "forever prisoner," was the first to be re-evaluated. He was an alleged former bodyguard of Osama and has been held without charge or evidence since 2002. He was unanimously cleared for release. There is no indication that Mujahid will be be going home soon.

Two Algerians, Nabil Hadjarab and Mutia Sadiq Ahmad Sayyab, were the first to be released from GTMO in September 2013. Two more Algerians, Djamel Ameziane and Belkacem Bensayah, were involuntarily sent back to Algeria. Djamel is a citizen of Algeria and fled the country during the Algerian Civil War where he became a chef in Canada. His family lives in Canada and wishes to return to them.

Summer 2013

By summer, the hunger strike surpassed 100 days. Activists across the country continued to bare hot summer days inside orange jumpsuits and black hoods. A small group of activists went on their own hunger strikes lasting upwards of 100 days. In one case, Andres Thomas Conteris has undergone live tube-feedings in both the U.S. and Latin America.

On June 26, 2013, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of The White House. Diane Wilson, a solidarity hunger striker on her 57th day of hunger strike, scaled the White House fence in an attempt to deliver a message to the President. She was arrested and charged with unlawful entry and given 90 days' suspended prison and a $200 fine.

The first Senate Hearing on Guantanamo since 2009 was held on July 24, 2013. In the hearing, ranking member Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) suggested that President Obama thinks the United States should take a "holiday" from the war on terror. Cruz and others brought up the perceived threat of detainee recidivism several times during the hearing, which lasted one hour and 45 minutes.

Witnesses at the hearing repeatedly mentioned that the federal court system has effectively tried over 500 terrorism-related cases. Though the figure is technically correct, journalist Trevor Aaronson has shown in his book The Terror Factory that many of those cases were in fact created and managed by the FBI through stings, and that the actual number of legitimate terrorist threats has been far lower.

House Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington) also testified before the committee about the need to close Guantanamo. While Smith stated that the Constitution applies fully at the prison because of the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which determined detainees had habeas-corpus rights, this is not entirely accurate.

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Winter 2014 

Eleven men have been released from Guantanamo, 8 of those in the past month, December 2013. And so 155 men remain languishing behind prison walls, 77 of whom have been cleared for release since January 2010 by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama. The hunger strike continues despite a media blackout. The last official report of hunger strikers released from the Department of Defense was 15 on December 2, 2013. It has been reported from detainees to attorneys that there are at least 35 men on hunger strike with the numbers increasing daily.

It is now one year since Witness Against Torture last gathered in Washington, DC. Every year we come together to fast and bring attention to the torture inside the prison camp.  According to Guantanamo Bay defense attorney Todd Pierce, the worst form of torture is sleep deprivation. I averaged three hours of sleep per night during the fast and could not tell whether or not I was hungry. I started hallucinating and thinking people were making expressions that weren't on their faces. I am often asked why I fast and ask myself that question as well--the only answer I can give is that while fasting won't directly close Guantanamo, it gives me motivation to work harder. The work that we all do might actually close the prison.

What the Obama administration has done in 2013 to close Guantanamo Bay:

- Lifted the ban on releasing Yemeni prisoners

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- Appointed Department of Defense and Pentagon envoys

- Released 11 prisoners

What the Obama administration still needs to do to close Guantanamo Bay:

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Palina Prasasouk is a New York City based Fellow at Witness Against Torture and independent filmmaker and writer on issues of civil liberties, national security and Guantanamo. You can follow her on Twitter at visiitor

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