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More than Half of Guantánamo Detainees Now on Hunger Strike

GITMO hunger strike

More than half of the detainees at the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba are now on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention and alleged mistreatment of their Korans.

The Guardian reports that as of Sunday, 84 of the 166 remaining GITMO prisoners are refusing all food as a protest against their open-ended imprisonment and against conditions at the prison.

Of the 166 detainees, 87 have been cleared for release, some since as far back as George W. Bush’s first term in office. President Barack Obama vowed to close Guantánamo within a year of taking office, but later broke his promise. He also collectively punished all Yemeni detainees, including innocent men and prisoners cleared for immediate release, by declaring a moratorium on the release of Yemeni nationals due to increased terrorist activity in that country.

Among the hunger strikers is Shaker Aamer, a British resident who has been imprisoned at Guantánamo for 11 years without charge or trial, despite being cleared for release since 2007. It is very likely that the United States is preventing Aamer’s return to the United Kingdom, since he would probably become a key witness in Scotland Yard’s probe of alleged British complicity in US detainee torture.

Aamer and other GITMO hunger strikers have expressed their willingness to die. Some detainees have lost more than 20 kilograms (44 pounds) since the beginning of the strike.

“I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow,” Aamer told Britain’s Observer. “But if it is God’s will that I should die here, I want to die with dignity. I hope, if the worst comes to the worst, that my children will understand that I cared for the rights of those suffering around me almost as much as I care for them.”

The US military does not want any of the hunger striking detainees to die. Reuters reports that dozens of medical personnel have been dispatched to Guantánamo to help deal with the hunger strike.

The Guardian reports that 16 of the hunger strikers are being force-fed. This is done by inserting naso-gastric tubes into the detainees’ nostrils, down their throats and into their stomachs. Force-feeding is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. The World Medical Association Declaration of Malta advises doctors not to force-feed prisoners who choose to hunger strike and understand the consequences, stressing that “forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable.” Following the WMA Malta rules, Britain once permitted hunger striking Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners to starve themselves to death.

In the early days of the Obama administration, there were reports that force-feeding was even employed as a means of torturing Guantánamo detainees.

In a bid to end the detainee hunger strike, GITMO guards last week forcibly removed prisoners from communal areas and locked them in solitary cells. This caused a minor riot, with guards resorting to firing less-lethal rounds at detainees to quell the unrest.

The current hunger strike began in February after guards confiscated photos and other personal belongings during cell searches. Detainees also allege that Americans mistreated their Korans, accusations that the US military refutes.

“No… guard touches any detainee’s Koran at any time. The Koran is treated with the utmost respect,” GITMO spokesman Capt. Robert Durand insisted last month.

The hopelessness of their situation, coupled with perceived disrespect for their Korans, has spurred many desperate detainees to continue their hunger strike well into its third month.

“Hunger strikes are a desperate act by people who have lost hope in the prospect of ever being released,” Donna McKay, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, stated earlier this month.

“In addition, solitary confinement and indefinite detention compound the misery and sense of hopelessness among detainees, many of whom still suffer lasting effects from abusive interrogation and other harsh treatment.”

Indeed, last September, longtime GITMO detainee Adnan Latif, a Yemeni who’d been cleared for release three times– twice under Bush and once during Obama’s tenure, killed himself after being imprisoned and tortured, physically and psychologically, at Guantánamo for a decade without charge or trial.

“Everything is over. Life is going to hell in my situation,” Latif wrote after being cleared for release for the second time. “America, what happened to you?”

“It is unconscionable that we continue to imprison 86 men who have been determined to pose no threat to the United States,” McKay asserted. “President Obama should exercise his authority to safely transfer these people to be released in other countries without further delay.”

But that is extremely unlikely. Despite Boumediene v. Bush, the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that granted Guantánamo detainees the right to challenge their detention, the court later slammed the door on justice for GITMO’s remaining prisoners by refusing to hear any new appeals.

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