A GROWING number of Guantanamo inmates are going on hunger strike, protesting against their indefinite detention and the diminishing prospects that the infamous prison will be closed.
“It is unprecedented in its scope, in its duration, in its determination,” David Remes, an attorney representing 15 Guantanamo detainees, said as the growing strike at the US prison facility enters its seventh week.
As of Friday 26 detainees were on hunger strike — nearly double the number from a week earlier — with feeding tubes administered to eight, according to military authorities at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Captain Robert Durand, a prison spokesman, said two detainees were at the hospital “for re-hydration and observation, on enteral feed.”
The strike was launched at Camp 6 on Feb. 6, when a “routine” inmate search took place, according to Durand. Camp 6, built on the hills around Guantanamo, houses inmates who pose no particular threat and have no special value in the eyes of US authorities.
“Two-thirds of the population are detainees cleared for transfer,” Remes said. “They were caught by accident, their life has been ruined, everything has been taken from them.”
These inmates include 56 Yemenis who cannot return home because of a moratorium imposed by President Barack Obama in the wake of attacks plotted in recent years by Al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate, which has counted former Guantanamo inmates among its ranks.
Remes said the Yemenis live at Guantanamo in “absolute frustration in their 12th year without being charged and with the increasing prospect of never getting out. “The camps are a tomb,” the lawyer added.
Obama — who has long seen the prison set up in the early months of the so-called war on terror as a lightning rod for anti-Americanism and a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda — moved to close the facility in 2009, but his plans to try suspects in US civilian courts were stymied by Congress.
Omar Farah, from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), said the US government has no plan to close Guantanamo and no idea how to solve the problem. “Their solution is just to do nothing,” he said. As proof, he cites a request submitted to the US Congress asking for funds to renovate the military base.
General John Kelly, head of the Southern Command, which runs Guantanamo, has requested $170 million to improve facilities for the troops stationed there and spoken of the need to replace the camp for so-called “special” inmates. This undoubtedly refers to Camp 7, which houses 15 “high value” detainees, including five accused of masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
“There are no excuses for it,” said Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director of Amnesty International US. “We do believe one way to realize the closure of Guantanamo is by first … reducing the population there,” starting with those who have been cleared for release.
He said Amnesty International was worried indefinite detention was becoming a new norm. “It flies in the face of international law,” he added. Farah said the hunger strike can be explained by the fact that prisoners see no light at the end of the tunnel.
“They are desperate. They’re looking at getting old and dying in an harsh prison without having ever been charged with a crime or having had a trial,” he said.
An inmate hunger strike at Guantanamo prison has entered its 40th day, with more than 100 reportedly taking part. Experts warn of health risks over a strike prompted by the confiscation of prisoners’ belongings and rough handling of Korans.
The prisoners’ lawyers, along with other experts and former detainees, are sounding the alarm over the inmates’ critical condition. “They are indeed threatening their own lives, putting their lives on the line in this heroic effort to express a sense of autonomy, outrage at being imprisoned in what can be characterized as nothing less than the American sort of medieval torture chamber,” anthropologist Mark Mason, who studies the cultural factors behind human suffering, told RT.
“We have here conditions where 166 people are imprisoned, more of half of them cleared, they should be out to the streets, free today,” Mason added. “I frankly cannot describe some of the horrific conditions and treatment and humiliation that many detainees have reported. They have been stripped and required to stand around in cold rooms for hours naked. This is itself a physical stressor, but it is almost unspeakable psychological torture.”
“We are humans, we are not eagles in a bag of skin, we relate to each other, we need human contact and relationships to be healthy psychologically and physically,” he said.
Mason claimed that the US lives in a “distortion zone,” where “people imprisoned in Guantanamo should be free while the president, our former president, vice president and bankers in the US and Wall Street should be in jail.”
US President Barack Obama began his first term by announcing his intention to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Now, just two months into his second term, the prison has entered its 12th year of operation with 166 detainees still languishing behind bars and a reported 130 on a life-threatening hunger strike.
9- to 12-year-old kids detained and tortured in Guantanamo?
Former Guantanamo detainee Murat Kurnaz described to RT the horrible conditions he faced while being detained there, and explained the reasons behind the hunger strike.
“I have been tortured in different kinds of ways. There are no human rights over there. That means they could do whatever they wanted to with us,” Kurnaz said. “They tortured me to force me to sign papers and every time I’ve refused, they kept on torturing me in different kind of ways.”
“They really tried everything to break us including psychological and physical torture. I myself got tortured by electroshocks and waterboarding. I have seen also kids 9 years and 12 years old inside the camp. It was very difficult to watch how those kids getting beaten up in front of me,” he added.
Kurnaz argued that detainees have “many justified reasons” to go on a hunger strike:“It is a bad situation, prisoners want to go to court and want their rights back. They don’t have the opportunity to go to the court or see their families. They do not have the right to write or receive letters.”
The state of legal limbo was also frustrating for Kurnaz, who was determined to be innocent by the US but had to spend an extra five years in detention because Germany refused to take him back.
“Their hunger strikes are the only way they have of making themselves heard. Years and years without any hope of release. Without any real charges,” political writer and activist Sara Flounders told RT.
Lawyers for the Guantanamo prisoners said the men began the hunger strike on February 6 in protest against the alleged confiscation of personal items such as photographs and personal mail, as well as the alleged sacrilegious handling of their Korans during searches of their cells.
The Center for Constitutional Rights said that they have received reports of detainees coughing up blood, losing consciousness, losing more than twenty pounds of weight and being hospitalized. Medical experts have predicted that by the 45th day of a hunger strike, participants can experience hearing loss and potential blindness – on top of the psychological suffering they have endured for more than a decade.
The UN issued a statement this week that the US is violating international human rights law by holding detainees indefinitely and without charge.