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Guantanamo prisoner speaks of despair, hunger strike

Yemenis protest to demand the release of inmates on hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay, on April 16, 2013, Sanaa, Yemen.
Yemenis protest to demand the release of inmates on hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay, on April 16, 2013 outside the US embassy in Sanaa. Guantanamo Bay prisoner Obaydullah says he is "losing all hope" after joining a widening hunger strike in February to p

Guantanamo Bay prisoner Obaydullah says he is "losing all hope" after joining a widening hunger strike in February to protest his indefinite detention at the US military jail.

In his declaration, signed on March 27 but made public Friday, the Afghan prisoner vowed that he and his fellow detainees "plan to remain on strike until we are treated with dignity" despite the difficulties and health consequences.

"Eleven years of my life have been taken from me, and now by the latest actions of the authorities, they have also taken my dignity and disrespected my religion," he wrote in the four-page statement declassified by the Justice Department and released by his lawyers.

He was referring to an "unexpected, sudden and disrespectful" cell search on February 6 in "Camp 6," which had been known for housing 130 prisoners without disciplinary incident.

The "war on terror" suspects held at Guantanamo claim that prison officials searched Korans in a way they considered blasphemous, according to their lawyers. Officials have denied any mishandling of Islam's holy book.

The strike, in its third month, has now turned into a larger protest by prisoners against their indefinite incarceration without charge or trial over the past 11 years.

Obaydullah, who is 32 or 33 years old, wrote of the "shake-down" in which prison officers took detainees' personal items, including, his blanket, sheet, towel, photos, medical necessities, legal documents, correspondence with his attorneys and "family photos, documents from my family."

"This has been especially distressing for me because I have done nothing to provoke the authorities to take my belongings and comfort items that gave me a small sense of humanity," he said.

Obaydullah, who has just filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court over the legality of his detention, said the "most disturbing" aspect of the "invasive search" was the way the soldiers treated detainees' Korans.

"I and other detainees saw US soldiers rifling through the pages of many Korans and handling them roughly. This constitutes desecration," he said.

The soldiers "started being very disrespectful during our prayer time by knocking on our doors while we prayed, laughing or talking loudly, and opening and closing doors," Obaydullah wrote.

They also restricted exercise time and moved prisoners around. And, as the strike continued and grew, they dropped the temperature to freezing, shut off water for hours at a time and kept prisoners from the recreation area.

The soldiers' behavior recalled "the way were were treated in the years under president (George W.) Bush," Obaydullah wrote, and prisoners have kept on refusing food "because conditions have gotten worse, not better, and there is no hope that we will ever leave here."

Some 86 inmates have been deemed eligible to be freed or transferred to their home countries, but, said Obaydullah, "they are also now living under these more harsh conditions just because the US does not know where to send them."

The statement was declassified at the request of his legal team, in order to use it "in a motion challenging the prison conditions," said lawyer Cindy Panuco.

More than a month after Obaydullah's declaration was signed, 100 out of 166 inmates held at the prison on the remote US naval base in southeastern Cuba are on hunger strike, prison spokesman Samuel House said.

Of those, 23 detainees are being fed through nasal tubes, and three are hospitalized but none face an "immediate health risk," he said.

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