KHARTOUM, SUDAN — One of two Sudanese Guantanamo detainees who arrived home Thursday after release from the U.S.-run facility in Cuba said his jailers had “systematically tortured” him, with punishment “doubled” for those who attempted hunger strikes.
Ibrahim Idris made his remarks in a news conference in Khartoum, hours after arriving in a U.S. military plane along with Noor Othman Mohammed.
Mohammed pleaded guilty in February 2011 to terrorism offenses in a plea deal that spared him the possibility of a life sentence. He was sentenced to 14 years, and all but 34 months were suspended.
Idris is mentally ill and has spent much of his 11 years at Guantanamo in psychiatric treatment. A federal judge ordered his release after the U.S. dropped its opposition in October.
Frail and speaking weakly, Idris said, “we have been subjected to meticulous, daily torture,” adding that those who tried to hold a hunger strike were “double tortured … on an isolated island, surrounded by weapons.”
“We were helpless,” he said. The second freed inmate, Mohammed, was unable to attend the conference because he was convalescing in the hospital, Idris said.
He commended the Sudanese government and civil society organizations for working to secure the two’s release.
The head of rights group Sudanese Civil Aid, Mustafa Abdul-Mukaram, vowed that his group will continue to press for “due rights” of Sudanese detained in Guantanamo, and demand a U.S. apology for the imprisonment. He accused the United States of holding the prisoners for years based on false information.
He added that some of the ex-detainees had pleaded guilty through unfair settlements to secure their release.
Hunger strikes have been employed by men held at Guantanamo since shortly after the prison opened in January 2002. The U.S. has long disclosed how many are refusing to eat and whether they meet military guidelines to be force fed.
Spokesman at the facility said earlier this month that the U.S. military will no longer disclose to the media and public whether prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are on hunger strike, eliminating what had long been an unofficial barometer of conditions at the secretive military outpost.
Human rights groups, lawyers and the media had long used the number of hunger strikers as a measure of discontent in the prison. A mass protest over conditions this year peaked in July at 106 prisoners.
Of those still held in the facility, only a handful of prisoners are currently facing charges, including five men accused of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Obama had vowed to close the detention center upon taking office but was thwarted by Congress, which placed restrictions on transfers and releases amid security concerns.
However the release of the Sudanese detainees came one day after Obama won a bipartisan deal in Congress that would lift the most rigid restrictions Congress previously imposed on detainee transfers, part of a broad compromise defense bill awaiting final passage in the Senate this week. The House approved the measure last Thursday.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the compromise could have a dramatic impact on the 160 detainees still being held at Guantanamo Bay.