WASHINGTON – Guantanamo detainees have been holding daily peaceful protests against the jail’s continued existence, despite pledges from US President Barack Obama to shut it down, a lawyer said Friday.
Lawyer Ramzi Kassem said he had learned from a client held at the US naval base that the protests had been going on for the past 13 days to mark the ninth anniversary of the opening of the facility.
“Most of the remaining prisoners in Camps 5 and 6 at Guantanamo have joined together to peacefully protest their indefinite imprisonment with a sit-in and signs,” Kassem’s Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) said.
The prisoners are refusing to return to their cells for the mandatory nightly lockdown and have been sleeping in the recreation yard and in common areas, the center said.
A Pentagon spokeswoman said “peaceful protests are not uncommon” at Guantanamo, adding that in the past detainees had protested the frequency of phone calls, the meal plan variety and the size of recreation areas.
She said the latest protests were confined to Camp 6, reserved for the “most compliant” prisoners, and that detainees were protesting in different ways, with some returning to their cells but leaving the doors open.
The prisoner who told Kassem of the protests, Said Abdulhadi, has spent nearly nine years in the jail on the US naval base in Cuba.
“We hope that guards, military officials and visiting delegations of Red Cross representatives, congressional members and journalists hear our cry for freedom,” Abdulhadi reportedly told Kassem.
Kassem added the prisoners have made signs and posters in English, now plastered on their cell blocks, asking “Where are the Courts?”, “What About our Rights?”, and “Where is Democracy?”
Another Guantanamo detainee, who asked to remain anonymous, told the lawyer: “The construction work going on here is giving us the impression that we are going to be here forever.”
The prison was opened on January 11, 2002 to house suspects rounded up in the US “war on terror” launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Today a total of 173 men are still housed in the complex, which Obama has vowed to close. The administration has run into a series of legal hurdles and the timetable to shut the jail has been indefinitely pushed back.