Hunger Strikes Continue At Guantanamo

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There is a complete and almost total media blackout at the illegal extra-territorial prison being maintained by the US at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Prisoners who have been there for more than a decade being held in conditions amounting to torture without charge and without trial have lost all hope and for over a year have been on a hunger strike attempting to end the torture they are being forced to live through day after day and year after year. The torture of having no recourse, no rights and no hope. Rather than letting these men end their own misery and starve themselves to death to end their misery, the US is force feeding them using a procedure that can only be described as torture. Famous Peace Activist Medea Benjamin spoke to the Voice of Russia and revealed that the hunger strikes continue.

Hello, this is John Robles. I’m speaking with Medea Benjamin, the cofounder and manager of Code Pink. This is part 2 of an interview in progress published earlier.

Benjamin: So Obama has less of an excuse than he had before to keep these prisoners in indefinite detention.

So I think it is a question of will he… (every excuse is starting to be peeled away) … will he really do something about this?

And I think the prisoners are sick and tired of hearing Obama say he is going to close Guantanamo, certainly what they need after all these years now is action, not words.

Robles: Yeah right! Your personal opinion, do you think he is going to do something or..?

Benjamin: I think he does want to start releasing more of these prisoners, I think he has boxed himself in, in the case of the Yemenis, the 56 Yemenis, because he had previously declared self-imposed moratorium on sending people back to Yemen. He lifted that himself.

But he has now shone of spotlight that the Republicans and others can really focus on to say Yemen is unstable, they need a rehabilitation center and it is going to take time to get that running and all kinds of things that will get in the way of a release. So I think that is a situation that he himself created it is going to be difficult to get out of.

But then there are over 20 other prisoners from other countries that could easily be released. We talked about the case of Shaker Aamer, but he is not the only one.

And then there are the countries that said that they would take other prisoners. Kuwait has its own rehabilitation center, Saudi Arabia has its rehabilitation center, there are plenty of places to send people.

So the excuses are quite threadbare at this point. I unfortunately think Obama will not be quick in doing the right thing in the year to come.

Robles: I see. There were demonstrations, I don’t know if we discussed this, on the news wires a couple hours ago that there were huge demonstrations in Yemen outside the US embassy. So people there are aware, apparently there was no violence or anything. I guess that was good. And also..

Benjamin: Yes we… I’m sorry.

Robles: Go ahead, please.

Benjamin: We have been in touch with the families in Yemen, in fact we went and visited with some of them in June of last year and heard the agonizing stories of these families and the way that they would get their hopes up when their lawyers would give them news of things like they have been put on a list of cleared for release. But then their hopes have constantly been dashed.

And just like we talked about Shaker Aamer having a child that he has never met, so we met with a 12-year old girl who had never seen her father. She has been born while her father was in prison and she said that her father at that time was on a hunger strike and that he was so weak when he had a chance through the Red Cross to have a video conference with him, he could not even pick up his head.

So we heard these very agonizing stories, we continue to be in touch with the organizations in Yemen that work with these prisoners’ families as well as the Human Rights Ministry in Yemen, the Minister herself is very outraged that these prisoners have not been released. And we knew they were having a demonstration today as we were having ours here in Washington DC and there were other demonstrations in the US. So it was good to be in solidarity together.

Robles: That is wonderful. Do you have anything big coming up that we should be looking out for?

Benjamin: Well, we have a lot of things that we are doing as Code Pink we are on our way to Geneva next week when the peace talks around Syria are supposed to happen.

We are there with women that are coming from different parts of the world, mostly from war-torn countries to be calling for a cease-fire and end to all from all sides being sent to the warring parties and to be calling for women to have a voice at the peace table.

We are also planning in March to have a trip to Gaza for International Women’s Day, that is March, 8 to have women from different countries around the world saying:’ It’s time to break the siege of Gaza, the conditions there are so terrible’.

We will continue to do our efforts around the prisoners in Guantanamo as well as people who have been whistleblowers in the US giving support to Chelsea Manning, to Edward Snowden. We are doing work to try to counter the NSA spying. And then Iran and the terrible legislation that Congress is trying to pass in the Senate that would increase the sanctions against Iran just as negotiations that are taking place. So we are trying to stop that from happening. So we have a full plate in a coming month.

Robles: I see. Can I ask you about your Geneva protest?

Benjamin: We really are not doing a protest, we are actually in favor of the peace talks. But we are there to be a voice and a presence, we don’t want to take any sides. We are just saying that the fighting is hurting the civilian population, that there is no military solution to this.

This is coming from a position, the reason that Code Pink is going there, is that we were very active in trying to stop the US government from getting involved militarily in Syria. And we felt very proud that we were able to stop our government from doing that, yet on the other hand to see the agony that the Syrian people are going through it doesn’t seem enough to say:’ We are glad, we didn’t get involved militarily’.

We have to do more than that. And I think certainly we want to be calling for more humanitarian aid, for open corridors for that aid to get through. But the main thing is to say, the world has to stand up and say: ‘Let’s put an end in the fighting’.

Robles: Definitely. I don’t know if you are aware, right now, currently as we speak, right now Al Qaeda affiliated groups are battling each other there. I mean, it is complete insanity.

Benjamin: Well, yes. I mean, the level of..I’ve read that there is over 1,000 armed groups in Syria right now. I mean, this is just insane.

So anybody who thinks that there is a military solution is just not watching how much splintering has gone on and how much suffering for the civilian population, the millions of refugees, the people who are internally displaced.

There has really got to be a cease-fire.

Robles: Really, really. Most of the world I think agrees 100% on that. I want to ask you regarding Guantanamo. Have you seen any movement, or whispers, or anything, amongst the lawyers or anyone regarding a possible boycott of all proceedings at that location?

Benjamin: I’m not close enough to the lawyers to know that. But I can say that there were several lawyers out on the streets with us today in the pouring rain and the cold in Washington DC in front of the White House and then the march that we had and they were just unbelievably angry.

They just could not believe what Obama has been doing, the lies they have been said in terms of things supposedly changing, the violations. And it is very interesting to see these lawyers, some of whom come from prestigious law firms that were very supportive of the Obama Administration, and to see how angry they have become.

One thing we did today which was quite profound is that we had a march that went from the White House to the National Museum of American History. And inside we set up displays of people in orange jumpsuits with hoods over their heads and signs attesting to the violation of the US Constitution.

And at first the security in the museum wanted to arrest people, throw them out and then decided no, that they were going to let this exhibit stand and so for hours we were inside the museum giving all of the visitors not only a visual but an oral discussion of how the US is violating its own constitution.

And yes, President Obama, “the constitutional lawyer” and of course “the Nobel Peace Prize winner” should have a hard time sleeping at night knowing that thanks to him these men remain in indefinite detention in the US GULAG.

Robles: I don’t think he does. I mean, when I saw him laughing… laughing it up, at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, any humanistic ideas I had about Obama were completely out the window, but anyway…

Benjamin: Politics is dirty and he has gotten down in the dogs and you are right probably he doesn’t think very much about it when he goes to bed at night.

Robles: So, Medea, how do you do that? I mean, you put that display up there in the museum and it seems… I’ve got to hand it you sometimes you pull off some things that nobody else can. What is your secret?

Benjamin: Well, this was a coalition of groups led by a group called Witness Against Torture that is namely people from a faith-based background and there were about 60 people who are willing to get arrested in the museum if that was the way things were going to evolve.

But luckily they didn’t and I think it was very beautiful to be in there and to be singing and chanting with the message ‘Make Guantanamo history’, so in the Museum of American History to be saying: ‘Let’s not just look at these rooms full of, depictions of the US Revolutionary War, the Civil War, other things throughout the history. Let’s look at what we are doing right now. And how this is going to go down in history as such a shameful mark on the US.

Robles: They will have to open up an exhibit ‘The Hall of Shame’ or something..

Benjamin: That is right, but I don’t think it is going to happen because even in the exhibit that I poked into today looking at the depiction of the War in Vietnam, it was not a very clear one talking about the use of Agent Orange, the killing of 2 million Vietnamese, the reall shame of that war.

So there is a lot of our history that is hidden from the American public.

Robles: I see. Medea, have you had… (I just want to ask you one last question if I could and anything you would like to say, please go ahead) …have you had any experience with media being more inaccessible than say it was a year ago in the US?

Have you seen anything like that going on? I mean stricter control on the media, more people being, basically shut up.

Benjamin: Are you talking about in relationship to Guantanamo?

Robles: In general, with the Snowden revelations, with Guantanamo, with government secrecy. I mean, are they winning are they losing? Are things getting out the way they were a year ago? What is the situation with media access, etc?

Benjamin: I really can’t answer that what I can say is from my own experience, in that, a lot of the times that we have had actions like the one we had today we used to get mainstream media that would cover them. We used to have CNN there, MSNBC would come there and these days we don’t get any mainstream US media.

The media that we get is Russia Today, maybe we would get Al Jazeera, maybe we would get TV from Europe, from Japan, but the US media tends to ignore what the activists are doing, tends to ignore a lot of these key issues that are so damming of US foreign policy.

So unfortunately I think we have a media that is obviously under corporate control and has also been cutting back on the funding of reporters and so we have fewer and fewer reporters especially on weekends.

And it means that there is not a lot of information through the mainstream channels that can educate the American people and just to circle back to the issue of Guantanamo I would think that if there would be a poll done that most Americans wouldn’t even know that we still have people in Guantanamo. They probably think everybody there was let go, it has been shut down or if they thought that anybody was left it is because they have been tried and convicted and happened to be the worst of the worst which is not true at all.

So, unfortunately I think that a lot of the reasons that the Administration can get away with policies like this is because the US mainstream media has not been doing its job.

Robles: Oh boy. And that is a problem, that is not going to be corrected any time soon as far as I know. What do you think?

Benjamin: No but thank goodness we do have alternative kinds of media from other countries and people who are anxious to get information from other sources, at least have that opportunity.

So let’s hope more and more people start searching for that and it perhaps will even shame the mainstream media to start covering more of these things.

Robles: Yeah, sure, right. Let’s hope they don’t take the Internet away from us. What do you think?

Benjamin: Yeah, I think we have a huge movement on our hands to try to stop that from happening but it is very scary to see not only the NSA spying but in general the government and corporate control of more and more of our lives.

But thank you for the work that you are doing and for this interview and I’m actually optimistic that in 2014 we can fight back against these policies and take back some of the freedoms that we’ve lost in the past years.

Robles: I hope so. I’ve gotten some rumblings that big changes are coming up, hopefully they will be for the best.

Listen, you’re going to be in Geneva, I’m sorry, what date?

Benjamin: We are going to be there from January 20 to January 24.

Robles: If people want to support you or take part or learn more about your activities where should they go?

Benjamin: They should go to our website which is codepink.org and the summit that we are having the Women’s Summit the day before the official talks start, we will be live-streaming and you can find all that information on our website.

Robles: Of course this is not only for women, you welcome men into your activities, right?

Benjamin: We welcome men into all of our activities, the summit I’m talking about is a summit for women to speak but everybody is invited to be part of it.

Robles: Ok, I’m just making sure so nobody is scared off or anything. One more time, that will be January..

Benjamin: January 20 – January 24.

Robles: January 20 – January 24 and one more time for the listeners your website..

Benjamin: codepink.org.

Robles: Ok. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.

Benjamin: Ok, bye bye.

Bye bye, take care.

This is the final installment of an interview with Medea Benjamin, the cofounder and manager of Code Pink. You can find the previous parts of this interview on our website at Voiceofrussia.com. Thank you very much for listening.