One of the two Guantanamo Bay detainees who returned to Sudan in December 2013 has claimed that he was “systematically tortured” at the US detention facility based in Cuba.
Ibrahim Idris, who arrived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on December 19 in a US military plane along with fellow detainee Noor Othman Muhammad, said, “We have been subjected to meticulous, daily torture,” and added that those on hunger strikes were “double tortured”.
“We were helpless,” he told the media hours after his arrival in a press conference organised by the Sudan News Agency (SUNA). Muhammad, who was recovering in hospital according to Idris, was not present at the conference.
Idris was diagnosed as mentally ill shortly after arriving at Guantanamo Bay when the prison facility was first opened in January 2002. For much of his 11 years spent at the prison without charge or trial, he received psychiatric treatment, while also suffering from other ailments including diabetes and obesity as well as schizophrenia. His lawyers argued that he was mentally and physically incapable of posing a threat.
At the press conference he praised the Sudanese Government and civil service organisations for helping to co-ordinate their release. “I want to thank everyone for supporting me,” he said.
Director of Amnesty International’s security and human rights programme, Zeke Johnson, has also commended the transfers but feels that progress on transferring detainees is too slow. She said the Obama “administration has the authority under current law to do it and half the people still held are cleared to leave.”
Though Idris had been cleared for transfer by the Guantanamo Review Task Force in 2009, his release was only ordered by a District Court judge in Washington in October 2013 after the US dropped its opposition to his case. Idris was suspected of working for Al-Qa’ida but has never been charged.
Muhammad, who arrived at Guantanamo Bay in May 2002, was held there for almost 9 years before he pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. Subsequently, all except 34 months of his 14 year long sentence were suspended. He completed his term on December 3, 2013.
Mustafa Abdul-Mukaram, head of rights group Sudanese Civil Aid, stated that some detainees pleaded guilty as part of unfair deals that resulted in procuring their release. He claimed that the US had held the Sudanese prisoners for years on the basis of false information.
Earlier in December two detainees were repatriated to Saudi Arabia and two to Algeria, leaving the remaining prisoner population at 158. Many of the 779 men held at Guantanamo Bay over the past 12 years were never charged for a crime, and according to retired Major General Michael Lehnert, the first commander of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, many “should never have been sent [there] in the first place” since “they had little intelligence value, and there was insufficient evidence linking them to war crimes.”
President Obama pledged to close the detention facility during his 2008 election campaign but has been unable to do so thus far due to legislation by the Congress which made it difficult for detainees to be sent abroad and prohibited their transfer to the US. Two days before Idris and Muhammad were released Obama won a bipartisan deal lifting some of the restrictions the Congress had placed on the transferring of detainees.
Idris’ remarks are not the first time that the treatment of inmates on hunger strikes has been brought to light. In October 2013 lawyers of 3 inmates petitioned to a federal court in Washington D.C. to end the practice of force feeding prisoners who were on hunger strikes. They claimed nasal tube feeding is unlawful “inhumane, degrading and a violation of medical ethics”. The painful procedure involves conveying liquid food down the nasal passage and into the stomach through a tube.
Hunger strikes have been common at the prison since its inception, and last year the number of inmates on hunger strikes reached a high of 106. According to lawyers of the detainees one of the methods guards had used to break the action was refusing the detainees the right to perform congregational prayers in Ramadan. This tactic was declared by the lawyers to be a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.