World Bulletin / News Desk
Military and civilian lawyers for prisoners at the Guantanamo naval base urged U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to improve conditions for detainees, putting more pressure on the Obama administration to make good its promise to close the camp.
The plea from 18 lawyers representing "high-value" prisoners came before a speech by President Barack Obama on Thursday when he will address counterterrorism measures such as drone strikes and closing Guantanamo.
Obama is struggling to emerge from a series of domestic scandals that critics say show his administration is secretive and bullies the media and political opponents.
Thursday's speech at the National Defense University in Washington is meant as an effort to show he is eager to protect civil liberties.
Calls on Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay camp have risen as a hunger strike at the U.S. naval base in Cuba lingers. Prisoners are in their fourth month of the strike to protest the failure to resolve their fate after 11 years of detention.
More than 100 people have joined the protest and 31 have lost so much weight that they are being force-fed liquid nutrients through tubes inserted into their noses and down to their stomachs to keep them alive.
It is the largest hunger strike at the camp in several years.
"While the hunger strike continues to increase in scope and severity, there is much you can do, right now, to improve the quality of life for all the prisoners," the lawyers said in their letter to Hagel, which was dated earlier this week and seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
They said that detention practices at Guantanamo violated the Geneva Conventions, the international treaties that govern the treatment of captives during armed conflict.
Camp officials spy on lawyers' supposedly private meetings with their clients, seize confidential legal documents and harass prisoners with daily cell shakedowns and degrading bodily searches, the lawyers said.
Obama has promised repeatedly to close Guantanamo, but opposition in Congress, which controls funding for transferring detainees out of the camp, has stopped him.
He will call again for Guantanamo to be emptied when he speaks on Thursday and will announce a number of specific steps to advance that goal, a White House official said.
As part of its push for transparency, the administration acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that it had killed four Americans, including militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who died in drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.
One effort that Obama might make on Guantanamo is to name an official to head the transfer of detainees. Of the 86 prisoners cleared for transfer or release, 56 are Yemenis.
"Keeping (Guantanamo) open is not efficient. It's not effective. And it's not in the interests of our national security. And I think senior members of the military have testified to that fact," White House spokesman Jay Carney told a briefing.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the Obama administration was set to restart transfers of detainees from Guantanamo in the coming weeks, starting the process of closing the camp down.
The lawyers who wrote to Hagel represent the captives previously held in secret CIA prisons, some of whom are facing death penalty trials by military commission for allegedly plotting the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks and the deadly 2000 bombing of a U.S. warship, the USS Cole, off Yemen.
Army Captain Jason Wright, a lawyer for alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, said that unlike other prisoners, the former CIA captives were held in isolation tantamount to solitary confinement and prevented from contacting their families.
The U.S. government maintains it has the right to hold them forever even if they are acquitted at trial and to keep holding other captives whom it does not intend to try.
"So now these men are facing the indefinite prospect of detention for the remainder of their lives," Wright said.
He said Mohammed "has been observing a religious fast for quite some time," but apparently was not among those being force-fed.
Nearly 800 men were rounded up after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and held at Guantanamo. More than half of the 166 remaining prisoners have been cleared for transfer or release, but efforts to repatriate them have stalled.
Camp officials say 103 detainees were taking part in the hunger strike. One detainee was in the hospital but did not have life-threatening conditions, a Guantanamo spokesman, Army Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House said on Wednesday.
An investigation ordered by the Obama administration in 2009 found that the Guantanamo prison complied with the humane treatment standards required by the Geneva Conventions.
But the lawyers said conditions had worsened during the past year and accused the current detention camp commanders of waging a campaign to dehumanize the prisoners through isolation, force-feedings and collective punishment of hunger strikers.
House said camp officials do not comment on detainee allegations made through their attorneys but provide safe, humane, legal and transparent care of those detained there.
Arrest came after they held news conference to protest continued incarceration of party leader Hakainde Hichilema
Protest leader ‘arrested, severely beaten’, two high-profile human rights groups assert
International investigation could uncover truth about horrific violence in the Kasai region, says Human Rights Watch
There is renewed hope in European project, European Council President Donald Tusk says
Government pledges unhindered access by foreign reporters after pressure from national dialogue committee, says journalist
When George W. Bush was president, Mueller and Comey worked together -- Mueller as FBI director and Comey as deputy attorney general.
A council resolution called on the UN rights office to dispatch a team of international experts to help Kinshasa investigate gross rights violations in the region, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and the use of child soldiers.
"My first impression is the UK offer is below our expectations and this risks worsening the situation of our citizens in the UK," EU President Donald Tusk told a news conference after the second day of a Brussels summit.
"This June 23, the United Nations mission in Colombia will announce that the FARC has handed over 100 percent of its weapons," Santos told an economic forum in Paris.
Macron is seeking to change a two-decade old EU rule aimed at allowing firms to hire workers with specialised skills from other member states on a temporary basis -- one Paris critics say price French workers out of jobs.
Merkel's deputy spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters Friday that the Berlin meeting would bring together British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron as well as the leaders of Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Norway.
Argentinian football star Lionel Messi agrees to pay €252,000 ($281,000) fine instead of serving 21-month prison sentence
Maarif Foundation officials reassures parents fearful of closures, saying the group will provide continuity of supervision
Foundation in memory of British lawmaker murdered by far-right extremist backs tech giant's campaign
Remarks by Quebec premier not helpful, Muslim council president says
Principles ‘indispensable’ to ‘promoting sustainable stability and security in our societies’, ambassador Koja says