Detainees at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay launched a hunger strike today marking the prison’s 10th anniversary, inspired in part by U.S. activists who have called for a national day of action. “They will be staging a series of peaceful protests that will involve sit-ins with signs and banners in the part of the prison that has communal areas, as well as hunger strikes,” says Ramzi Kassem, counsel to a number of Guantánamo prisoners. He notes his clients pay “particularly close attention to any gestures of protest in the United States… And they’re always very moved by the fact that Americans stand in solidarity with what they’re going through and what their families are experiencing.” On Wednesday, a major demonstration is planned in Washington, D.C., where organizers say they will form a human chain stretching from the White House to the Capitol, with participants wearing orange jumpsuits to represent the prisoners at Guantánamo and at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan who are still held without charge or trial. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of the first imprisonment of foreign detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay. To mark the date, activists have called for a national day of action centered around a major protest in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. Organizers say they’ll form a human chain stretching from the White House to the Capitol, with participants wearing orange jumpsuits to represent the prisoners at Guantánamo and at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan still held without charge or trial. Guantánamo still holds an estimated 171 prisoners, including 46 deemed to be “indefinite,” meaning they can still be imprisoned despite acknowledgment there’s no evidence to convict them in court.
Today we’ll take a look at the 10th anniversary of Guantánamo with a number of guests. First we go to Washington where we’re joined by Ramzi Kassem, counsel to a number of Guantánamo prisoners who have begun a hunger strike around the prison’s 10th anniversary.
Ramzi, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about this hunger strike. Has it begun already at Guantánamo?
RAMZI KASSEM: Well, thank you, Amy.
And it goes, actually, beyond a hunger strike. Based on what my clients have told me, as of today and until Thursday, for a three-day period, to mark the 10th anniversary, they will be staging a series of peaceful protests that will involve sit-ins with signs and banners in the part of the prison that has communal areas, as well as hunger strikes and refusals of food, all in a peaceful protest of the 10-year anniversary of this unjust prison and also in solidarity with the protest that will be held by Americans here in D.C. on Wednesday.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read a statement you sent us from your client, Shaker Aamer, in Camp Five. He says, quote, he’s “very grateful for this expression of solidarity by Americans with the prisoners at Guantanamo and their families. He hopes that, together with the protesters in Washington, the prisoners at Guantanamo can send out a powerful message through their peaceful protest on this occasion, reminding the world that, ten years into its existence, the Guantanamo prison remains unacceptable.” What is the knowledge that prisoners at Guantánamo have of what’s happening outside? And why haven’t the prisoners you represent been released? Talk about the conditions right now at Guantánamo. And what are their prospects, the prisoners?
RAMZI KASSEM: Well, in terms of the knowledge that they have of the outside, you know, they get information from the news. They have access to some media outlets, television and radio. They also get information from guards, from attorneys, from other prisoners. So they’re fairly well aware of the actions being organized, and they pay particularly close attention to any gestures of protest in the United States. They view those as particularly important, and they’re always very moved by the fact that Americans stand in solidarity with what they’re going through and what their families are experiencing.
In terms of my own clients, you know, unfortunately, they’re really pawns and victims of a partisan American politics at this stage. There’s no reason for them to be there. As you all know, of the 171 prisoners remaining in Guantánamo, around 89, according to public figures, have already been approved for release. And many of them have been approved for release for years, since the Bush administration, and they languish at Guantánamo. And so, that’s really the issue. It’s just politics—and the politics of fear, more specifically—that’s preventing my clients from returning home to their families.
AMY GOODMAN: The fact that President Obama, in his first days in office, promised to close Guantánamo, but it remains open, what effect has that had on the prisoners you represent, Ramzi?
RAMZI KASSEM: You know, I mean, I had a client who, in the middle of a military commission hearing, shortly before Obama’s inauguration, pulled out a copy of an ACLU ad in a newspaper that reproduced Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo and shut down the military commission. I think he got that from one of the guards. I don’t know exactly where he got it from. It was a complete surprise to me, and it was a complete surprise to the military judge and to everyone else in that courtroom. But to me, it’s indicative of the extent to which even the prisoners at Guantánamo, you know, not unlike the American public, believed that President Obama would make good on the promises delivered by candidate Obama.
Now, unfortunately, you know, President Obama has placed politics above sound policy. He hasn’t made good on that promise. And he hasn’t only adopted many questionable Bush-era national security policies, he’s expanded them and normalized them and made them a permanent part of the way that the United States will participate in the world.
And so, unfortunately, the impact on my clients has been disheartening to some extent. But I’m always inspired by their ability to not just retain and preserve their humanity and dignity in horrible, unspeakable conditions, but to the extent to which hope survives among my clients and the other prisoners at Guantánamo. And so, I think they’re very hopeful that their day will come and that justice will take place. But, you know, for now, I think, much like many people in the United States and much like many protesters who will be here in D.C. on Wednesday, they’ve lost hope in President Obama.
AMY GOODMAN: Ramzi Kassem, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of law at City University of New York, counsel to a number of Guantánamo prisoners.