Detainees Release Open Letter from Gitmo North
Situation Continues to Deteriorate as Hunger Strike Enters Day 45 for Mahjoub, Day 34 for Jaballah and Almrei
Detainees Call on Canadians to Contact Stockwell Day to Negotiate an End to the Hunger Strike
Groups from coast-to-coast planning demonstrations in support of detainees
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JANUARY 8, 2007 -- In an open letter released today from the detainees at Canada's Guantanamo Bay -- the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, located on the grounds of Millhaven Penitentiary outside of Kingston, ON -- Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub, and Hassan Almrei have asked the people of Canada to speak up for their rights.
The three men have been held indefinitely, without charge or bail, for as long as 6.5 years, on secret evidence neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see.
"Many times before, people across this country have spoken up for our rights, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts," part of the letter reads. "Right now, we face a very difficult situation, and if the government will not speak with us, we hope they will listen to you."
The open letter, dictated by phone with editorial assistance from a supporter, comes on the heels of declining health for at least two of the men. Last Thursday, Mr. Mahjoub, who suffers from high blood pressure and Hepatitis C, was in such intense pain that he hit the emergency button in his cell, and while a nurse responded, he was offered no medical assistance unless he walked to the next building. He has not been given Hepatitis medication since September 2, 2006.
(A key demand of the hunger strike is that the men be given a supervisor when moving anywhere through the Millhaven facility, necessary to prevent false accusations being made against them by guards. Despite the facility being top-heavy with supervisors, the institution has refused the request.)
"I normally hear from Mr. Mahjoub every day or so, but he was so weak that he did not call for two days, and when he finally was able to use the phone, he reported a fever, awful headaches, chest pains, pains in his left arm, and overall weakness," says family friend and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, Matthew Behrens. "Mr. Jaballah is experiencing the kind of difficulties consistent with a lengthy hunger strike as well, in addition to ongoing pain from a double hernia which, despite being diagnosed last April, has yet to be scheduled for surgery."
The men note that during hunger strikes at Metro West Detention Centre in Toronto, where they were held until April of last year, they were attended to on a daily basis by medical staff to check blood pressure and pulse, weigh them, do blood tests, and even offer electro-cardiograms to monitor heart activity. At KIHC, there has not been a daily check, despite requests.
"Essentially, it appears that the nursing staff are acting in the role of jail guards, saying that the men must come to the next building if they want medical care, even though such basic care is easily transportable and was offered in the living unit before September," says Behrens. "These guys have serious health problems, and the lack of effort to provide it to the men raises serious ethical issues."
It appears increasingly that the denial of medical care is part of an overall pattern of arbitrary decisionmaking that contributes to a punitive atmosphere against men who have not been charged with anything and who have never behaved in a manner requiring discipline or punishment within the prison system. For example, during Eid celebrations last week, the family of Mr. Jaballah came to visit, and he was allowed to walk to the next building unescorted. However, when he asked to see a doctor in the very same building, he was told he could NOT walk to the same building unescorted. When Mr. Jaballah asked that a supervisor be present if he was escorted by a guard, the request was declined. Mr. Jaballah was forced to stay in the living unit.
Calls to close the Guantanamo North facility continue to grow, and demonstrations will be taking place from British Columbia to Nova Scotia between January 11-15. Demands of the demonstrations include:
1. Immediately close Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (Guantanamo Bay North)
2. Immediately release Canada's secret trial "security certificate" detainees or provide them with a fair, transparent, open trial.
3. End all proceedings to deport the Secret Trial Five (Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub, Hassan Almrei, Mohamed Harkat, Adil Charkaoui)
4. Abolish security certificates and end deportation to torture.
5. Immediately condemn the illegal Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
On January 15, Martin Luther King Day, demonstrations will occur at the Toronto offices of Canadian Border Services Agency (which runs Gitmo North) as well as at the entrance to Millhaven, where a four-hour vigil will include individuals such as Belleville resident David Milne, who has also stood vigil outside of the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and a retired United Church minister who walked with Martin Luther King during the civil rights trek from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.
For further information, to arrange an interview with family members of the detainees, and more: Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, (416) 651-5800.
TEXT OF THE OPEN LETTER
Monday, January 8, 2007
Open Letter to the People of Canada from the Detainees at Canada's Guantanamo Bay
We are writing to you because the government of Canada will not speak with us. We are three Muslim men who have been detained under a security certificate, without charge or bail, for between 5 and 6 and a half years. We are not allowed to know the evidence against us.
Many groups such as Amnesty International have called security certificates fundamentally flawed and unfair. The United Nations has criticized Canada for this practice. Right now, the Supreme Court is deciding what Canada should do about them.
We are held at a place called the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (KIHC), located on the grounds of Millhaven Penitentiary. Some people have called this place Guantanamo Bay North. Like the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, we are held indefinitely. This is a kind of psychological torture that is almost unimaginable. We do not know when, or if, we will be released from jail.
We still have many months, and possibly years, of jail before us while our cases go through different court proceedings.
We have been very patient and done our best to deal with a process where it is impossible to defend yourself. And we will remain patient, because we know that ultimately, we will be let out, because we are innocent men.
But sometimes there is only so much human beings should be required to accept before they raise their voice in peaceful protest.
Right now we are on a liquid-only hunger strike protesting the conditions of our detention. For Mohammad Mahjoub, it is day 45, for Mahmoud Jaballah and Hassan Almrei, it is day 34. We do not want to be on hunger strike. It is hard on us and our families. But it is the only voice we have.
When we were detained in Toronto, there were many hunger strikes protesting our conditions of detention. Because of this, the new facility at Millhaven was built, and now we are three hours away from our loved ones. Many of the things promised to us, such as educational programs and a library, have not happened. We do not have the same rights as convicted criminals to trailer visits with our families. And now we are faced with the denial of medical care. In one case, shots for Hepatitis C have not been given since September 2, 2006. Surgery for a knee injury and a double hernia have not been scheduled, even though we have been here since April, 2006.
Our demands are very simple.
There must be a supervisor to be present with us when we move anywhere within the facility. In particular, this is important if we move from the living unit to the next building or to the Millhaven building for health care. Without a supervisor present, the possibility remains of a guard making a false accusation against us. As we have seen too often here, when it comes down to our word against a guard's, the staff will side with the guards.
Medical care must be delivered to us in the living unit if we are not accompanied by a supervisor to the administration building. We have not refused the offer of medical care. We want medical care. Medical care was given to us in this area before September 10, 2006, and now our refusal to go to the administration building without a supervisor -- a choice we have made for our own safety -- is being used as an excuse to deny us medical care.
We would like to have access to the media without guards present during an interview. We had private access to the media at Metro West, without needing approval from the jail.
We want an end to daily head counts, since there are only three of us, and they are humiliating and unnecessary.
We would like to use phone cards to call family overseas. The KIHC makes us use the most expensive plan available, which our families can't afford because they are on social assistance. Since calls are monitored, it makes no sense why a cheaper calling card cannot be used.
We want the same rights as other federal inmates: access to a library, educational programs, and trailer visits with our families where we can stay together for three days every month.
Our "yard" is a small concrete area. Just three metres from this is a huge grassy area, but we are not allowed to enjoy it. It is surrounded by two huge fences, but nobody currently uses it. We see no reason why we cannot enjoy the outdoors.
Because problems keep happening here, we need to get at the root of the issue: there is no independent body or neutral mediator and there is no translator for meetings with staff (English is not our first language). All our complaints about staff are dealt with by staff. They are not objective, so the complaints are always dismissed, with no appeal. This is not fair. There is no ombudsperson that we can speak with. We have been told we can send complaints to the Red Cross, but we are not allowed to phone them. Besides, the Red Cross has no authority here.
Ultimately, we wish to be treated as human beings, and all human beings have rights. We wish to be reunited with our loved ones, but until that time comes, we want to live with as much dignity as is possible while we are at Guantanamo North. There is no security-related reason why this is not possible.
Our hearts cry from the suffering we see in the world, and we ourselves try to cope day to day with lives that have been stolen from us based on secrets. Our families are in prison, too. The children long for us to be home with them to play, to help with the schoolwork, to be there as they grow up. And we know that day will hopefully come soon.
Many times before, people across this country have spoken up for our rights, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Right now, we face a very difficult situation, and if the government will not speak with us, we hope they will listen to you.
Please contact your Member of Parliament, write a letter to the newspaper, and call Stockwell Day, and ask him that he fix the problems at KIHC. The pain we feel from a lengthy hunger strike is also felt by our families and friends, who worry so much about us. Secret trials are a wound to Canadian democracy. Justice for our situation can help heal that wound.
Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub, Hassan Almrei
1. Write and Call Stockwell Day, Minister responsible for the Canadian Border Services Agency (which runs the KIHC). Demand that he meet immediately or appoint a neutral party to immediately resolve the crisis at KIHC.
Stockwell Day, MP
House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Phone: (613) 995-1702
Fax: (613) 995.1154
2. Contact the new immigration minister, Diane Finley, at (866) 496-3400. This is her Simcoe constituency office. Ask that she meet with the families of the detainees (who have requested a meeting) and that she also take action to meet the reasonable demands of the detainees.
3. Write a support card to the detainees (let us know at email@example.com if you have so we can monitor if mail is getting through): Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, and Hassan Almrei can be reached:
Kingston Immigration Holding
c/o CSC RHQ Ontario Region
440 King Street West
PO Box 1174
Kingston, Ontario K7L 4Y8
4. Join the National Days to Close Guantanamo North and South, January 11-15, 2007. Consider organizing a vigil in your community at the office of an MP, CSIS, RCMP, or federal building. Events are already being planned coast-to-coast, including at Millhaven. To join the national day of action with a vigil or public event in your community please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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