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Reprieve: When will White House transfer cleared Gitmo prisoners?

By Cori Crider, Special to CNN
updated 11:24 AM EDT, Thu July 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Reprieve Director calls on White House to transfer cleared Gitmo detainees
  • Charity released video of rapper Mos Def (now called Yasiin Bey) being force-fed this week
  • 106 of the 166 detainees still at Guantanamo Bay are reportedly on hunger strike
  • White House says Congress has banned administration from transferring cleared prisoners

Editor's note: Cori Crider is Strategic Director at Reprieve and counsel to a number of Guantánamo's hunger-strikers. On Monday, July 8, Reprieve released a video showing rapper Yasiin Bey being force-fed according to the Standard Operating Procedure at Guantánamo Bay.

(CNN) -- If you were disturbed yesterday by the video we released of Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) being force-fed like a Guantánamo prisoner, please consider: right now this is happening 90 times a day at Guantánamo Bay. (If you haven't seen it yet, the video is here. You may find the images distressing.)

In fact, what you saw slightly understates what Reprieve's clients and many others go through twice daily. After all, Bey volunteered for the procedure and could stop it anytime. Yet still it hurt him. The reason for this is that when you are nervous, as he naturally was, your throat tends to tense and catches the tube. Our doctors tried to intubate him twice but just couldn't get the tube through. And you see for yourself how violated he felt by the end.

Cori Crider
Cori Crider

This is the process Guantánamo's PR staff try to whitewash with the bland term "enteral feeding." In the real thing, a team of soldiers in riot gear come for my hunger-striking clients, like Nabil Hadjarab or Samir Moqbel. After weeks of starvation the men are shrivelled, weak, and 10 times as afraid as Bey was. When the military straps them into the chair, not a word they can say will stop the procedure. And if they feel ill and throw up, as force-fed prisoners sometimes do, the military will just repeat the grim business all over again.

The overwhelming reaction from Twitter and the web yesterday was disgust that this could happen in America. Yet it is, and the most worrying part is: it doesn't need to. President Obama could end the strike tomorrow with one decisive step -- he could start to transfer cleared prisoners. Eighty-six of the men (a majority of those left) have been cleared by the U.S. government, and it has the power to issue waivers so that these men can be transferred.

Gitmo detainee has Match.com profile
Letters describe Guantanamo hunger strike

My clients have consistently stated they will consider eating again when they see a cleared man go home. This is much more achievable than the Obama administration would have us believe. This week, White House press secretary Jay Carney pointed to a Congressional moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, and said Obama "calls on Congress to work with him to ensure we can lift the ban." However, Carney -- and Obama -- conveniently ignore those cases for which there is no obstruction to release beyond the White House's lack of political will.

This is especially true where cleared men are slated to go to close U.S. allies. One of my clients, Shaker Aamer, a cleared hunger-striker, could be on a plane to London within a week -- the UK Prime Minister David Cameron has asked for him back. Another cleared client, Nabil Hadjarab, has family in France waiting to welcome him. And there are more like him. The best way for Obama to stop the strike is to show that he's serious about closing Guantanamo -- and the best way to do that is to release one of these men, a move for which he does not need Congressional approval.

This week, a federal judge had to give the president an elementary lesson on Article II of the Constitution to remind Obama that, yes, he is Commander-in-Chief and therefore, yes, he has the power to deal with the ongoing crisis at Gitmo.

Judge Kessler was responding to attempts by Reprieve and our co-counsel Jon Eisenberg to stop force-feeding for four of our clients, especially during the daytime in Ramadan. Muslims traditionally fast during those hours, and we told the court force-feeding during the holy month would be a further slap in the face.

Although Judge Kessler denied our motion, her opinion also issued a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration, finding that despite Justice Department protestations to the contrary, "it is perfectly clear...that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process."

While Judge Kessler felt she had no power to halt the feeding, she said she knew of one person who could:

Even though this Court...lacks any authority to rule on Petitioner's request, there is an individual who does have the authority to address the issue. In a speech on May 23, 013, President Barack Obama stated "Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. . . Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that."

The President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority—and power—to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The White House has been silent since Obama's speech at the National Defense University. It has been over six weeks since the president asked the American people whether force-feeding was "who we are." Yet his military continues to do it. And there is no sign of any of the cleared 86 men being sent home.

There is now an overwhelming consensus that the current state of affairs in Guantánamo -- a situation for which Barack Obama is directly responsible -- is unacceptable. The American Medical Association has spoken. The clergy have spoken. Federal judges have spoken. What will it take to get the White House to wake up, treat this like the crisis that it is, and do the right thing to stop the strike: send the cleared prisoners home?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cori Crider.

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