The US military says guards have clashed with prisoners at Guantanamo as officers were moving detainees from communal to single cells in attempt to end a hunger strike that started in February.
The detainees used self-made weapons to resist the transfer, thus forcing guards to fire, the US military said in a statement.
“Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons, and in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired,” Navy Captain Robert Durand said in a news release.
Officials say no guards or detainees have been seriously injured.
But given the restricted nature of the prisoners’ lives, it is virtually impossible that they had the means to arm themselves with any sort of weapon, Cindy Panuco, a lawyer for one of the detainees, told RT.
“Well, it’s interesting to find out that they have makeshift weapons. Whenever we have gone down to visit our clients, the only things that they are allowed is small ballpoint inserts of a pen. They’re plastic, little, almost like straws with ink at the end of them. That’s pretty much all they’re allowed, so I don’t see, especially given the evasive searches that were conducted in February, what kind of makeshift weapons the government is referring to. That’s still to be determined, especially since there’s no way they could have any sort of weapons,” she argued.
Panuco believes the purpose of the transfer was in fact to break the prisoners will to continue carrying out the hunger strike.
“If they’re together, if they’re in communal living space, they can communicate and at least support each other. And now that they’re being isolated, it’s another form of torment.”
The reason for the move was explained because the detainees covered surveillance cameras, windows and partitions, preventing guards from observing them during a hunger strike that has been continuing for more than two months.
“Round-the-clock monitoring is necessary to ensure security, order, and safety as detainees continued a prolonged hunger strike by refusing regular camp-provided meals,” Durand said.
Over the years Guantanamo detainees participated in various forms of protests, Durand explained to RT, adding that this new coordinated effort has created an “unsafe situation.”
“We made the decision to move detainees into individual cells based on the detainees’ continued efforts to block observation,” Durand stressed. “We recently determined that the risk to the health and security of certain detainees had reached an unacceptable level due to non-compliant behavior.”
Each detainee’s physical and mental health has been evaluated after the sweep.
“Detainees may continue to hunger strike as a form of protest,” Durand said, also adding that moving them into individual cells has allowed JTF to “ensure that detainees are not being coerced by other detainees to participate in the hunger strike.”
Although Guantanamo authorities claim the detainees were resisting with “improvised weapons,” Cindy Panuco, a lawyer representing one of them told RT that the truth is still to be determined as “there is no way they could have any sort of weapons.”
“That is interesting to find out they have makeshift weapons,” Panuco said. “Whenever we have gone down to visit our clients the only thing they are allowed are small ball-point inserts of a pen… almost like straws. That is pretty much all they are allowed. So I don’t see, especially given the invasive searches that were conducted in February, what kind of makeshift weapons the government is referring to.”
She believes that isolation is just another effort to undermine solidarity among the prison population.
“If they are together, if they are in a communal living space they can communicate and at least support each other and now that they are being isolated, it is another form of torment. To be taken away from your friends and comrades, who were there with you, makes it much more difficult to endure what is already a very difficult situation.”
The detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba holds 166 men, most of them captured more than a decade ago in different counter-terrorism operations.
Saturday’s early-morning sweep took place in Camp 6, a medium-security building where 80 to 100 detainees lived in cells that open into communal bays where they could eat, pray and watch television together. As part of the hunger strike, prisoners have been refusing to let food carts enter some of the bays.
Lawyers say most of Gitmo inmates are currently participating in the hunger strike. The US administration, however, is only acknowledging 43 cases, including 11 people who are being force-fed liquid nutrients through tubes inserted into their noses and down to their stomachs.
The hunger strike began in February in protest to the seizure of personal items from detainees’ cells. Some prisoners told their lawyers that their Qurans had been mistreated during the cell searches, which the US military denied.
Lawyers say the hunger strike is caused by the fact that most detainees are held there without being charged, overwhelmed by the depressing feeling they may never leave the prison.
Obama pledged to close the facility at the start of his first term, but has failed to do it so far.