Sunday, June 28, 2015

26 June: Torture Victims Have a Right to Rehabilitation

Solidarity Vigil

As we have done every year since 2010, the London Guantánamo Campaign held a vigil in solidarity with victims and survivors of torture everywhere on Friday 26 June to mark UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The silent vigil, held in Trafalgar Square on a busy Friday evening was attended by around 40 people and supported by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign.

Noel Hamel (centre) with the banner he made for this event)

One of dozens of events held worldwide to mark this important date, the theme this year is the right to rehabilitation. This involves a number of factors to help restore survivors to the situation they were in – physically, mentally, psychologically, materially – prior to being tortured as best as is possible. It covers a variety of means such as compensation, physical rehabilitation, therapy, justice and guarantees it will not happen again. Although a human right, many victims do not receive any such treatment or facilities.

The right to rehabilitation was highlighted at the vigil with placards, leaflets handed out with information on the issue and banners mentioning the relevant UN articles on rehabilitation for torture victims. Although usually very well received and supported by the general public, increasing misinformation and propaganda in the mainstream media over various issues has left quite a few people confused about what torture is and who torture victims are.

Right to Rehabilitation and Guantánamo Prisoners*
The right to rehabilitation is a major issue for both former and the remaining 112 Guantánamo prisoners. All are survivors of torture both at the prison camp and in other US military and CIA-run facilities. The release at the end of 2014 of a redacted version of the US Senate report into CIA torture under the so-called War on Terror has shed further light on the abuses and inhumane practices prisoners – the vast majority of whom have never been charged or tried – have been subjected to.

Earlier this month, gruesome details were published of the torture faced by Majid Khan who after being kidnapped in Pakistan in 2003 was held at secret CIA torture prisons between 2003 and 2006 until being taken to Guantánamo Bay. Earlier this year, lawyers for one of the defendants facing trial for alleged involvement in the September 11 2001 attacks revealed details of the torture their client suffered through CIA torture and from which he still suffers due to inadequate medical care, including the inability to sit down comfortably due to rape.
Few prisoners have ever received adequate medical care at Guantánamo Bay. It was only in 2014 that Omar Khadr, held at Guantánamo Bay for over a decade, and released to his native Canada in 2012 finally received treatment for a shoulder injury he sustained in 2002. A former Russian prisoner, released in 2004, still has a bullet lodged in his thigh from an injury in an Afghan prison in 2001 due to inadequate care at Guantánamo and in Russia. 

In addition, the response to prisoners protesting their indefinite detention through hunger strikes has been met with more torture through force-feeding. The long-term effects of such action on the body are not dealt with and can lead to further health complications later on. The US must provide the prisoners it is currently holding with adequate medical care and also expedite periodic reviews of prisoners held without charge or trial, deemed “forever prisoners”, as a means of rehabilitation.

For prisoners who are released, rehabilitation can remain a challenge. With the current drive to empty Guantánamo by the Obama administration, over the past year, many of those released have been sent to third countries due to insecurity and war in their own countries of origin. As the US washes its hands of prisoners as soon as they are released, some can find themselves facing almost-complete isolation and poverty in their new surroundings. In May 2015, a former prisoner released to Kazakhstan at the end of 2014 died of kidney failure due to inadequate medical care at Guantánamo and after his release. 
While the US is applauded for prisoner releases, not much emphasis is put on the often precarious situations former prisoners find themselves in post-release. The US must ensure that all prisoners are released to countries where they are safe and their physical and moral integrity is not compromised. They must be guaranteed the right to rehabilitation, including legal, medical and financial assistance.
The London Guantánamo Campaign remains committed to ensuring justice for all Guantánamo prisoners. While we emphasised how this issue affects Guantánamo prisoners, it relates closely as well to all prisoners who have been and are the subject of extraordinary rendition, an ongoing programme by the CIA.

Media of the event:

* These issues were raised at a meeting held in the UK parliament on Tuesday 23 June 2015 on the case of British resident and Guantánamo prisoner Shaker Aamer by Aisha Maniar, organiser of the London Guantánamo Campaign

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