Fri, Sep 02, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Guantanamo prisoners begin another hunger strike

PROTEST Human rights lawyers say detainees are rebelling because the US failed to bring the camp into compliance with the Geneva Conventions, as was promised


Scores of detainees have started a new hunger strike at the US prison for terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and some are threatening to starve to death unless they are put on trial or released, human rights lawyers said on Wednesday.

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights said prisoners rebelled because the US Department of Defense reneged on promises to bring the detention camp into compliance with Geneva Conventions if prisoners ended a June-July hunger strike that involved up to 200 of the 500-plus men from some 40 countries detained at the remote base.

The military said only 52 prisoners were involved in the first strike, after a released prisoner and lawyers who spoke to detained clients published the news.

"The DOD is practicing dangerous deception," an attorney with the center, Gitanjali Gutierrez, said in a statement. "It hid evidence of the hunger strike and prisoner abuse from visiting senators and the public."

Spokesmen for the detention mission at Guantanamo could not immediately be reached for comment. Several telephones in the public affairs office there rang without response. There was no immediate response to e-mail messages. A Pentagon spokesman referred a reporter to the military's Miami-based Southern Command, which said comment could come only directly from Guantanamo.

"Prisoners are now prepared to die in an effort to receive a fair hearing and humane treatment," Gutierrez said of detainees, who committed dozens of suicide attempts last year.

One detainee wrote a will before embarking on the latest hunger strike, Gutierrez said.

Detainee Binyam "Benjamin" Mohammed al-Habashi said in a statement to his lawyer that "I will begin tomorrow -- Friday, Aug. 12, 2005. I do not plan to stop until I either die or we are respected. People will definitely die."

Mohammed referred to Bobby Sands, who went on a hunger strike to try to persuade the British government to stop the illegitimate internment of Irishmen without trial.

His British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, also referred to the Sands' tragedy, saying the death of detainee on a hunger strike would be "terrible for the prisoners but catastrophic for the United States. Remember what happened to Britain with Bobby Sands ..."

Detainees want to be charged and brought to trial, or freed. Many have been held more than 3 1/2 years without charge or access to lawyers. Most were captured in the Afghanistan war, suspected of ties to al-Qaeda or the ousted Taliban regime that sheltered the terrorist network.

Defense officials promised to negotiate with prisoners when "the strike became so widespread that medics could not manage the need" and strikers spent 26 days without food, the statement said.

It quoted imprisoned British resident Shaker Aamer as telling a lawyer that when some of the men refused even water, "the conditions of some prisoners became so critical that the detainee hospital had no more beds and they had to take prisoners into the Navy hospital."

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