x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Guantanamo Bay inmates clash with guards

Months of tensions boil over between guards and prisoners as military takes action to end protest by detainees. Taimur Khan reports from New York

NEW YORK // Clashes erupted at Guantanamo Bay prison when guards tried to end a two-month protest by detainees, many of whom were cleared for release years ago and are on a hunger strike.

The prisoners fought guards with "improvised weapons", including broomsticks and water bottles, as the guards arrived at the Camp 6 communal wing to move the prisoners to solitary cells, the military said. Guards fired on the inmates with "less-than-lethal rounds" and "there were no serious injuries," it added.

Further details about Saturday's violence and the nature of any injuries was not provided.

Camp 6 was for well-behaved prisoners, who lived there communally and with minimal interaction with guards. They were allowed to share meals and pray together, and had access to a open-air recreation yard, televisions, computers and classes.

It was raided, military officials said, because the inmates had covered security cameras and windows as part of a protest that began in February against their indefinite detention at the military base in Cuba.

About 130 of the facility's 166 prisoners were held there before the hunger strike began. The military said the number was fewer than 70 following the raid.

Eighty-six prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been cleared for release but have languished in captivity for years because the US congress has put restrictions on releases from the detention camp, and the US president, Barack Obama, has failed to implement his 2009 order to shut it down.

A further 30 prisoners are still facing trial, while 50 are in legal limbo, deemed too dangerous for release but against whom prosecutors say there is not enough evidence for a trial.

Only three detainees have ever been convicted of terrorism charges in military trials.

Against this backdrop, the residents of Camp 6 began to protest and went on hunger strike after guards conducted what they told lawyers was an aggressive search of cells for illegal contraband on February 6 that included the disrespectful handling of Qurans.

Military officials have dismissed these claims, saying the accusations and hunger strikes are simply an attempt by the detainees to gain media attention.

As of Friday, military officials said 43 of the prisoners were on hunger strike, with 13 being force-fed liquid meals.

Prisoners' lawyers, who have warned for months of the mounting tensions, disputed the military's figures, insisting that almost all of the detainees were refusing food.

Andrea Prasow, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, told the Miami Herald newspaper that many of the hunger strikers were from the group of detainees who had been cleared for release.

The raid took place soon after a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which opposes the force feeding of the prisoners, had left the base after a visit to assess conditions and meet the inmates.

A Red Cross spokesman said the team would, if necessary, "return to Guantanamo to assess the situation of the detainees on hunger strike in view of this latest development".

Reporters have not been allowed on the base for weeks because of the tensions.

After Saturday's raid, about 60 of the striking detainees were moved to solitary cells in a separate wing and examined by doctors. As a result, the military's figure for the number on hunger strike increased to 65.

The hunger strikers would be allowed back into the communal section of the camp if they followed the rules, said Navy Capt Robert Durand, a military spokesman.

"For now, housing detainees in individual cells will enable us to observe them more closely," he said. One of the concerns of military officials was that some of the prisoners might have been coerced into taking part in the hunger strike, he added.

"This is exactly the opposite of what they should be doing," Carlos Warner, a federal public defender who represents several of the detainees, said of the decision to move prisoners into single cells instead of negotiating an end to the strike. "The military is escalating the conflict."

tkhan@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press