President Obama announced his intention to resume cleared prisoner transfers out of Guantanamo Bay in May. However, according to Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, who represents several detainees, no efforts have been made so far that he can see.
Wingard, an Air Force officer with the Judge Advocate General
(JAG) office, recently met with one of his clients to mark his
37th birthday, and eleventh year at the prison without charge.
Speaking via phone from Guantanamo Bay to RT, Wingard says that
no effort has been made so far to end the hunger strike, and a
recent vote by Congress to block funds for the closure of
Guantanamo means the situation is as bleak as ever.
RT: This vote by the House of Representatives must be a
massive blow, not just to hunger strikers but to you and all
those who represent them. You might as well give up now?
Barry Wingard: No. We’re not going to give up, so long as
men are imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay we’re not going to stop
fighting on their behalf. On Tuesday, yesterday, we spent with my
client, Fayiz Al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti, we spent his 37th birthday
here at Guantanamo Bay. He’s been at Guantanamo Bay 11 and a half
years, a third of his life. We’re not giving up. Part of our
discussion focused on the House vote today, when we met. And he
asked me, “Hey, what kind of people vote to fund a prison that’s
95% full of men who haven’t been charged with a crime after
eleven and a half years?” And I have to tell you, I had no answer
for him. It is a mystery to me what kind of person says “We don’t
care if you’ve done anything, you’re staying in Guantanamo Bay.”
RT: So, although no plans declared to close the prison,
what’s happened recently doesn’t give you any optimism whatsoever
for those who are cleared for a release to be released?
BW: Well, you know, Guantanamo Bay stands for the
proposition that it doesn’t matter if you did anything or didn’t
do anything. In fact it’s the opposite. If you are in fact
accused of something you might get a trial, but in Guantanamo Bay
it is a world in reverse, whereby if you’ve done nothing you get
nothing but indefinite detention in a well-funded prison from
RT: Now, in his recent speech Obama made it very clear he
was determined to close down the prison. So, is he in a position
to do just that without Congress?
BW: Well, let me tell you, under the National Security Waiver
he can do that with the Secretary of Defense, he does have that
power. He continues to blame Congress, and Congress continues to
blame him. I mean, the words of May the 23rd are beginning to
fade, it’s time for this administration to either put up, or to
at least tell us what’s really going to happen. The President
does have the authority to release men from Guantanamo Bay, to
include men like Shaker Aamer back to London [England], an ally
of the United States.
RT: Lt. Col. you are there in Guantanamo right now,
after four months on hunger strike how are your clients and other
detainees holding up?
BW: Well, let me tell you, the hunger strike — there’s no
kind of negotiation going on to end the hunger strike. My client
reports that all of his personal possessions are still
confiscated, his toothbrush, his soap, his letters from home, his
client-attorney letters which are privileged, that the two of us
are using to communicate — has all been taken and not returned.
I mean, there’s just, on the ground here at Guantanamo Bay, there
appears to be no change whatsoever, and everyone is sort of
waiting for Washington to show some leadership.
RT: What about the force feeding issue, accusations
that it in fact entails torture? If people are in fact on hunger
strike the prisoners need to be kept alive, and the prison
authorities are doing just that — are they still force feeding
them, and if so, it is justified isn’t it?
BW: No, we disagree. We believe that a person who is alive
and can make a decision as to what to do with their own bodies
can make that decision. I mean these men began a hunger strike
over their hopeless situation of indefinite detention and instead
of responding to their peaceful demonstration what we’ve seen is
a lot of violence and retaliation, and solitary confinement and
confiscations. We’ve seen aggressive searching — my client
reported to me today that when he was coming out to visit with us
they went out of their way to aggressively search him, in a very
uncomfortable way. I mean, that’s not accidental, that’s
RT: But when it comes to the conditions of those hunger
strikers what is the military supposed to do? Congress has now
blocked the closure of the facility, the detainees are putting
their own lives at risk by refusing food, surely the officers are
simply doing their jobs. What are your thoughts on the way they
are handling this in the prison?
BW: Well, I think that these are grown men, who have a right
to make decisions about themselves. I mean just think about it in
the opposite, how obscene is it to say we need to keep you
healthy to keep you here for the rest of your life without ever
being charged with a crime. I mean this isn’t about soccer fields
or Arabic libraries, one thing we’ve noticed here on the ground
is that there’s been a lot of effort in the public relations
field, every week these media outlets come in and do surface
tours, which is come in here and look at the prisoners in their
cells — but, how can anything be resolved when the prisoners are
kept without charges or an opportunity to defend themselves.
RT: How is it going to be resolved? What are the next
steps you are going to take along with others who are
representing detainees, what’s the next step for you now after
what seems to be a fairly pessimistic result there from
BW: Well, I’m going to go back to the fact that the
President does have the ability to release these men. I represent
the men from Kuwait, where they’ve built a $40 million
rehabilitation center. This whole argument that there is nowhere
for them to go — we’re going to continue to fight, we’re going
to continue to demand justice. This isn’t about soccer fields or
Arabic libraries, we’re going to continue to fight in the media,
we’re going to continue to fight in the habeas corpus arena. The
military commissions are no solution, they’ve done seven cases in
eleven years. So we’re going to try and get these guys real
justice from the federal court system.
This article originally appeared on: RT