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Guantanamo at a boiling point

April 29th, 2013
06:14 PM ET

By Samuel Burke & Ken Olshansky, CNN

For the first time in recent memory, the forgotten detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay are getting the world's attention.

The U.S. government acknowledges that 100 prisoners are on hunger strikes, though defense attorneys think that number is considerably higher. Just last month, officials said the number was only 31 prisoners.

Officials say medical staff are force feeding 21 prisoners who are at the greatest risk of starving themselves to death – an invasive process that involves running a tube through the nasal passage into the stomach and then feeding the patient a nutritional supplement. Attorneys for the prisoners describe the process as excruciating. 

United States Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has asked the Obama administration to release 86 of the prisoners who were approved for transfer in 2010.

Guantanamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel wrote a New York Times column, earlier this month, under the headline, "Gitmo is killing me."

"The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply and there's no end in sight to our imprisonment," Moqbel wrote. "Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice that we have made."

But, on Monday, Colonel Greg Julian told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that he does not anticipate any deaths.

Col. Julian is the public affairs chief for the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo.

"We have a good medical staff on board," he told Amanpour. "And there are no life-threatening circumstances at this point." Though this is likely because of the forced feeding.

Col. Julian disagrees about the pain involved in the force feeding procedure, saying, "This is the same procedure that used in civilian hospitals for people that are in a condition where they're unable to eat normally."

A defense attorney for some of the prisoners, Carlos Warner, has repeatedly said President Obama is ignoring the situation.

"They've been accused of nothing," Warner previously told Amanpour. "They are not only innocent, but the government has agreed they're not dangerous to release."

Col. Julian said there's a misunderstanding of the term, "approved for transfer."

"That means that they've been approved for transfer to another country's detention facility. It doesn't mean that they're innocent and it doesn't mean that they're cleared to be released into the public."

Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is also calling for the transfer of the 56 Yemenis on the "'approved for transfer" list – calling the U.S. Policy of unlimited detention "clear-cut tyranny."

The Office of Military Commissions conducts the legal process, according to Col. Julian. And then U.S. political leaders "will determine the transferability of the detainees."

Some members of Congress have said this is merely a stalling tactic, and that the Pentagon doesn't want to move on this issue.

There have also been a number of suicide attempts at Guantanamo.

"By inspecting their cells and monitoring them closely, we're better able to prevent that from happening," Col. Julian said. "There is no 100 percent solution to keep somebody that's determined to cause themselves harm. But we're doing our best."

But if one of the prisoners were to die, what will that say about America?

"We have the means to keep them alive and well," Col. Julian assured.

READ MORE: Why has Obama abandoned his Guantanamo pledge?

Filed under:  Guantanamo • Latest Episode
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. amigocabal

    Sadustic love of torture is all that keeps these people tortured in Guantanamo

    April 29, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Reply
  2. Parlin

    "We have the means to keep them alive and well," Col. Julian assured. Yeah, right. It is a torture chamber any way you look at it, just like the prisons, here in the USA.

    April 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  3. The Thinker1958

    how many times can Greg Julian can wash his hands in a single interview? what did he mean by some prisoners could be transfer to their own country but not be free? a jail to jail transfer? for what? I thought the US couldn't find any valid charges against them? what about the journalist in Yemen, kept in prison because Obama called the Yemeni President and ask him to put him back in jail, without valid charges?

    April 29, 2013 at 10:50 pm | Reply
    • Digger

      Based on this article, how do you conclude "the US couldn't find any valid charges against them"? Do you have an additional source that is so weak you've chosen not to disclose it? Or are you just making it up as you go?

      May 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Reply
  4. Alessandra

    This is such a disgusting, appalling situation! How can these men be tortured on daily basis for sooo long without proof of committing any crimes?? The world again just watches dormant numb apathetic to these tortures! Until when???

    April 30, 2013 at 3:22 am | Reply
    • Digger

      You stated "How can these men be tortured on daily basis." What daily torture are you referring to? The only discomfort (call it torture if you will) they appear to be suffering is a result of their "Denying [themselves] food and risking death every day is the choice that [they] have made."

      May 1, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  5. Abajuba

    Just cut off all of their heads and be done with it. No more whining then!!!

    April 30, 2013 at 3:58 am | Reply
    • Jane

      you are no different in your thoughts than those Taliban's in Afghanistan who chopped off American heads... how disgusting even to think that way.

      May 2, 2013 at 7:20 am | Reply
  6. M.A.P. (Mothers against poo)

    That horrible place should've been shut down long ago. Why the hell is the American military occupying a part of Cuba!?? This is insane and needs to be closed once and for all. There are enough good high security prisons on US soil that could hold these suspected terrorists. We don't need to occupy a part of Cuba for that.

    April 30, 2013 at 5:05 am | Reply
    • Digger

      We're not occupying part of Cuba for the purpose of this detention center. I suggest you look up some history on Gitmo and separate the base from this one activity taking place there (your confusion is understandable given how the news media has handled it date).

      You state "There are enough good high security prisons on US soil that could hold these suspected terrorists." It seems there are many who'd rather not have these folks near them. It's good to see you're not like that. I strongly suggest you contact your state and Federal representatives so that you may communicate your willingness to have these fine folks relocated to your state, preferably near where you live.

      May 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Reply
  7. Ngoc Tran

    By the look of it, I believe Guantanamo has an important role to play in tackling terrorism problem and will not be shut down as for this purpose. The hunger strike also does not seem to be the desire to die of the prisoners there but rather a call for the attention from the outside world regarding their conditions and justice. I believe in no justice system, imprisoning, intensive and extensive interrogating people is considered to be fair at all which means the burden is on the US government, the interrogation and investigation teams to reach the final decisions and letting the prisoners know whether they are guilty or not and what would happen to them as a consequencies instead of feeling imprisoned and interrogated everyday for the rest of their lives with no end to it, no knowing what would happen to them next. I think the hunger strike is not just affecting the prisoners themselves, creating negative images for the US government but also putting a lot of pressure on the military and medical staffs to deal with this issue, with the prisoners, the press and the public opinions.

    April 30, 2013 at 6:07 am | Reply
    • john seavers

      "Guantanamo has an important role to play"? it is a torture chamber and nothing else. the US should be ashamed every day the concentration camp is open. bush should be held for war crimes. end of story. 10 years with no trial. what if this happened to an american in another country? everyone would be crying 3rd world country.. the united states should be embarrassed.

      May 1, 2013 at 11:09 am | Reply
  8. roamingrock

    Collateral damage, just like the dead on 9/11. If they die on their hunger strike too bad. Beats jumping out a 100 story building. I don't really care if they are guilty or not. They are collateral damage. They are luckier than the one's that died on 9/11. They have some chance of being freed.

    April 30, 2013 at 10:04 am | Reply
  9. joe

    Let them rot

    April 30, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  10. Kennedy

    "That means that they've been approved for transfer to another country's detention facility. It doesn't mean that they're innocent and it doesn't mean that they're cleared to be released into the public."

    Actually only 7 people at Guantanamo have been convicted of a crime making EVERY OTHER INMATE INNOCENT. In the USA you are innocent until proven guilty. Or so at least one might believe.

    April 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Reply
    • roamingrock

      Kennedy: "In the USA you are innocent until proven guilty." That's why they are not in the USA. I agree with joe, let em rot.

      April 30, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Reply
      • Digger

        Exactly. I agree.

        May 1, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  11. cranky john

    Let them starve themselves they are used to it unless the USA provided their food which the ungrateful anti American terrorists took and chanted Yankee go home just leave the food and money Let them kill each other and save American bullets

    April 30, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  12. gdutra

    First of all, we are not "occupying" any part of Cuba. The American base there predates the detention facility by decades. Secondly the prisoners there are not being tortured daily by being incarcerated there and if they just ate then the feeding tubes would not be needed. Parlin, US prisons are not exactly torture chambers either. Lastly since these detainees were captured on the battlefield in a time of conflict, out of uniform then they are not considered soldiers by the Geneva Convention but spys and could have been summarily executed at the time of capture. So they should eat thier free food and enjoy the beautiful tropical weather and just be thankful they are not in any of those Mideast pest holes

    April 30, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  13. aroth

    Disgusting. Obama is commander in chief of the armed forces, and Guantanamo is operated by the military. He needs to order them to close it. It shouldn't matter what any idiots in Congress or the Pentagon think. Congress doesn't have a place in the military chain-of-command, and the Pentagon is obligated to follow legal orders from above.

    Order it closed, Mr. Obama.

    April 30, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  14. CaptAm

    Reminder: These people are prisoners of war! Our normal judicial process does not apply. Historically if an enemy cook was captured, being guilty of nothing more than being captured, he/she would become a POW for an undetermined period of time, without a trial. In addition, this is an unconventional war where our enemy does not wear uniforms or abide by the rules of war, pushing the whole process into uncharted waters. When the war is over, as has always been the case, both sides would exchange prisoners, until then they can enjoy free room and board, or in the case of being captured by our enemy, not so much. Take Care!

    May 1, 2013 at 3:34 am | Reply
  15. Rupesh charl

    O i am very shocked to hear about this shocking news, I wa at my
    Turnkey Home

    May 1, 2013 at 10:24 am | Reply
  16. sherman

    its wrong.

    May 1, 2013 at 10:31 am | Reply
  17. UsGotRights

    Will the President pardon all the terrorists in Guantanamo Bay at the end of his presidency?

    Let me be clear we heard “I don't want these individuals to die,”

    Did he really mean? I don't want these terrorists to die, even though when they're released they go back to terrorism to kill Americans.

    Why is it that American terrorists are put to death and jihad terrorists are released so they can continue to kill Americans?

    May 1, 2013 at 11:19 am | Reply
    • Jane

      Lest not forget, they are still "suspected terrorists" and their crime is yet to be proved. The name and shame on US is due to the very fact that they cannot determine what to do with them. Tell you what, the US is trying to find an escape route to to transfer them to their native country jails where they can be killed, hence no blood on American hands.

      May 2, 2013 at 7:26 am | Reply
    • Jane

      The president cannot pardon them, Americans would not approve this. Also, their crime is not proven yet, its a sticky situation that GWBush got us into....

      May 2, 2013 at 7:31 am | Reply
  18. rob

    Where does it say that enemy combatants deserve the same rights as an American? If they don't want to eat let them die.

    May 1, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  19. john norris

    Thank you for trying to bring this sordid affair to the forefront. Oh that you may succeed!!! I am English; I have American friends and contacts. I am now launching a campaign. Each time I speak to, write to, or communicate with an American citizen, after saying hallo ,how are you, I will say please, as a world citizen, stop the American horror of Guantanamo. It is degrading to all humanity. You are part of the human race: protest to your government. Only you can stop it. John. PS. thanks for the programme. Keep on informing us.

    May 4, 2013 at 8:06 pm | Reply
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    May 6, 2013 at 7:06 am | Reply
  21. Albert Leo

    We keep them alive because it would be embarrassing for them to die. No other reason.

    May 18, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Reply
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