‘Close Guantanamo’ human rights groups tell Obama amid worsening hunger-strike

April 11, 2013

Reprieve today joins 25 international NGOs in signing an open letter to President Obama urging him to fulfill his 2009 promise to close Guantanamo Bay amid ever-worsening hunger-strikes at the US prison.

The letter, signed by organisations including Amnesty International, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, warns that ‘irreversible cognitive impairment and physiological damage may begin to occur by the fortieth day of a hunger strike, after which the possibility of death becomes an imminent risk.’

Lawyers for the men estimate that of the 166 still indefinitely detained at Guantanamo, nearly all are on hunger strike, including British resident Shaker Aamer. The strikes were prompted in large part by the fact that despite the majority of prisoners having been cleared for release, attempts to transfer men out have been abandoned by the Obama administration. The letter cites General John Kelly of the U.S. Southern Command as having recently testified in congress that the detainees were “devastated” by Obama’s decision to ”back off” from his promise to close the prison. In a declaration written following a recent call with his client Shaker Aamer, Clive Stafford Smith wrote that there are, ‘detainees who are “falling down” everyday…’ and that ‘His hand is shaking permanently because of the strike’.

Shaker estimates that he has lost around 30lbs since the strike began. Shaker has a British wife and four British children, the youngest of whom he has never met. Younus Chekkouri, a Moroccan citizen who has lost more than 30lb on his hunger strike, on a call with Clive Stafford Smith who is also his lawyer, asked Obama to end this “nightmare” and thanked people around the world for not forgetting him and the other prisoners and for their support for human rights” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, recently released a statement calling on the US to close Guantanamo Bay, saying that its existence remains “a clear breach of international law”.

Cori Crider, Legal Director of Reprieve and lawyer for several of the men, said: “Some of my clients have actually read Dreams From my Father, so excited were they by the election of President Obama after his campaign promises. But by refusing to go to bat for his policy and keep his pledge to close Guantánamo, Obama dashed the men’s hopes almost as soon as he built them. This wasn’t intentional – but it was cruel. Hunger strikes are about the only option these men have left to protest indefinite detention. It’s time for the President to show some spine, and appoint a White House official to get cleared men home.”

ENDS

1. For further information, please contact Clemency Wells in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8161 / +44 7739 188 097 or clemency.wells@reprieve.org.uk

2. Affidavits from Clive Stafford Smith from his calls with Shaker Aamer and Younus Chekkouri about the hunger strike are available to download.