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Life in Guantánamo for a Day

Yemen Times
by Nisreen Shadad
July 17, 2008

SANA’A, July 16 — “If you hear about torture, you might think about how much people are suffering. But if you see it, then it instantly becomes real for you.”

This is what David Remes, an American lawyer representing 15 Yemeni detainees in the United States’ military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, attempted to convey to a crowd of journalists and human rights activists assembled to meet him this past Monday.

He even went so far as to pull down his pants to show those assembled what type of humiliation and psychological torture prisoners at Guantánamo face.

“We’ll attempt to live ‘emotionally’ for a day in Guantánamo in order to experience the sufferings that they have,” explained Khalid Al-Ansi, executive director of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, also known as HOOD.

HOOD planned and hosted the conference, at which Al-Ansi also sent a message to President Ali Abdullah Saleh requesting permission to visit the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay. Yemenis are the largest group of detainees at Guantánamo, with approximately 100 men.

Remes illustrated the detainees’ lives through their eyes – from the time of their arrest throughout their stay at Guantánamo Bay. According to him, Yemenis suffer the most.

Mohammed Khusruf, one of his clients who is in his 60s, is a broken man, Remes says. Khusruf became an “enemy combatant” when he was captured in Afghanistan while working at a medical clinic.

“He’s a sad man, always asking me, ‘How long am I going to stay in jail [when I go back] in Yemen?’ and there are many like him,” Remes added.

Most Gitmo prisoners who were in Afghanistan did not participate in politics, according to Remes, although he concedes that some were Taliban supporters. “But is that justifiable to the American enemy? Does that make them terrorists?” he asked.

According to him, U.S. forces arrested only four percent of prisoners at Guantánamo, while the rest were captured and handed over by Afghan or Pakistani security for financial rewards.

“You know these detainees very well – they are your brothers and relatives,” Remes said, “Most were in the wrong place at wrong time. People ask if they’re innocent or guilty and I respond, ‘Innocent or guilty of what?’ There’s no clear evidence against these prisoners,” he pointed out.

Life inside the prison

“One of my clients told me his arm was chained 24 hours a day and only freed when he was taken to interrogation where light was directed into his eyes off and on until he was unable to see. Following such torture, he was taken to Guantánamo,” Remes recounted.

According to him, once apprehended, the prisoners are placed in very small windowless cells where light is directed into their faces 24 hours a day. Noise continues throughout the day while the prisoners are taken to and from interrogation. Their schedule constantly changes and is disturbed, during which they are allowed two hours of daily recreation.

Apart from the four walls, their cells at Guantánamo have iron doors and narrow windows. If a prisoner does something wrong in the guard’s point of view, he’s taken to a small room where his beard is shaved off.

Humiliations like these and others cause the men living in these conditions day after day and year after year eventually to become mentally ill, Remes claims. To show what Gitmo detainees go through during searches and how humiliating such treatment is, Remes then pulled down his pants, explaining that the guards search every part of a prisoner’s body – even their private parts. “You can’t imagine how humiliating this is [for them] unless you see it,” he explained as the reason for removing his own pants. He continued, “They punish them by taking them into a small room completely naked. Because this type of torture violates international law, they are given a piece of cloth to cover their waist, but the piece is so small that you can’t tie it. Even if one could tie it, there must be a gap, so the guards easily can see their private parts. If they can’t, they ask the prisoners to move their legs up and down.” Remes further observes, “I imagine Yemenis are even more humiliated because of the other citizens who are going home; however, if you’re a Yemeni, you’re not returned. Ninety percent of Saudis go home, all of the Europeans go home and many Afghanis go home, but 100 Yemenis still are at Guantánamo. Why?”

Remes visits Yemen several times a year to “make noise,” as he says. During these visits, he attempts to speak to officials to promote his clients’ cause, as well as meet with their families.

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