Protesters surrounded the U.S. Embassy in Yemen on Monday demanding the release of 90 'indefinitely detained' Yemeni prisoners who remain locked up in Guantanamo Bay despite having never been charged with a crime.
As the Associated Press reports, roughly 250 activists and relatives of the detainees stood outside of the embassy holding images of the prisoners and signs calling for their release. Nearby state security forces stood ready in full riot gear.
Yemenis make up the largest group of the 166 detainees still held at the U.S. prison in Cuba.
Yemen's government has requested its nationals in Guantanamo Bay prison be sent [home], and has suggested rehabilitating the detainees if they disavow militancy — a policy used with dozens of Saudis who were repatriated to their country.
Washington argues that Yemen, where al-Qaida is active, is too unstable to prevent former prisoners from engaging in militant activities.
President Barack Obama had pledged to shutter the prison at Guantanamo soon after taking office but Congress opposed it, passing a law that prohibits the government from transferring Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. soil and requiring security guarantees before they can be sent elsewhere in the world.
Prisoners within the U.S. offshore prison have been engaged in a hunger strike for several weeks in protest of their harsh conditions and their legal status that prevents them from being released even though they are charged with no wrong doing.
While the U.S. military now admits 37 prisoners are engaged in hunger strike, lawyers representing the detainees maintain that the actual number is well over 100.
And as The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out, the conditions under which the men are held can only be fully understood by recognizing the flimsy legal arguments that keep them there.
Not only have most of those detainees never been charged, but dozens of them have been cleared for release by the US government, yet continue to languish in cages with no release possible. That inexcusable injustice is due in part to a moratorium imposed by Obama - that's imposed by Obama, not Congress - on the release of all Yemeni detainees, who compose the bulk of the remaining detainees (that includes Adnan Latif, who died at the age of 32 in the camp last November after having attempted suicide on multiple occasions, after having had his judicial victory ordering his release overturned on appeal). As former Gitmo guard Brandon Neely pointed out last September, after the death of a former hunger striker, more detainees have died at the camp (ten) than have been convicted of wrongdoing in what he called its "kangaroo courts", meaning its military commissions (six).
Several of the prisoner's attorneys filed an emergency motion in a federal court last week, saying guards are refusing to provide drinking water to the hunger strikers and have kept camp temperatures "extremely frigid" in an effort to "to thwart the protest."
Many of the detainees could be nearing death, their lawyers warned.
In an interview with RT on Monday, Cindy Panuco, a lawyer who represents one of the prisoners, stated:
I’ve seen it with my own eyes. He’s supposed to have another meeting with his military council the following week and told me to let them know that he may not be in a state to meet with them. By the time they come see him, he may be in isolation or in medical watch or he may be being force fed by the time they come to meet with him, and he wanted me to take that message to them. [...]
I know from my meetings with my client last week and his conversations with other detainees and prisoners who are also on strike, they are prepared to stand up for the principles of not having their religious practices respected, not having the Koran desecrated, and now it’s become an even bigger message that they want to deliver, which is that they have been now detained since 2002, many of them. My client for 11 years now, since 2002.
Many of the prisoners have been cleared for release and have been declared innocent, but the U.S. refuses to transfer or release them.
The Obama administration has closed the office it had set up in the State Department to study the closure of Guantanamo and carry that out and it hasn’t happened. So this has gone beyond the desecration of the Koran and the disrespect of their religion. And they’re now also protesting the worsening conditions as these prison officials are essentially retaliating against them and trying to end the strike by making conditions harsher. And the detainees have been enduring all of this and plan to continue to do so.