It depends on how you define success. Hunger strikers sometimes win clear victories. Scholars credit suffragette Marion Wallace-Dunlop with the first political hunger strike of modern times—and it was a smashing success. After her 1909 arrest for stenciling a portion of the British Bill of Rights on an outer wall of the House of Commons, Wallace insisted that she be treated as a political prisoner rather than an ordinary criminal. She refused food for nearly four days. Fearing for her life, the authorities released her from prison altogether, going well beyond her demands. There are, in contrast, plenty of failed hunger strikes, such as Dan Choi and James Pietrangelo’s 2010 fast to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The pair abandoned the hunger strike after a week, and the rule remained in place for more than a year after that. While such cases of clear winners and losers are salient, the outcome of many—perhaps most—hunger strikes is more difficult to call.
In March 1981, Irish nationalist prisoners in Northern Ireland embarked on a hunger strike for the same reason that Wallace-Dunlop did in 1909: to be treated as political prisoners. That would mean the right to wear civilian clothes, the right to education and recreational opportunities, freedom from work obligations, and a set of other benefits not afforded to other inmates. The hunger strikers gained so much renown that Bobby Sands, the most famous of them, was elected to Parliament during the protest. By Oct. 3, when the protest ended, 10 of the strikers were dead, including Sands. The British government eventually granted most of the prisoners’ requests, and public opinion shifted massively in favor of the protesters.
Muddled endings are more common than deaths. Hundreds of Kurdish prisoners embarked on a hunger strike late last year and demanded, among other things, that high-profile inmate Abdullah Öcalan be released from solitary confinement. Öcalan called the fast to an end after 68 days, when the government finally agreed to allow Kurdish people the right to speak Kurdish in Turkish courts. Öcalan himself, however, remained in solitary confinement. (A recent deal between the Turkish government and Kurdish separatists may soon change Öcalan’s imprisonment status.)
It’s hard to calculate a winning strategy for hunger strikers, but a few themes emerge. The first rule of hunger striking is to have a demand that is reasonably achievable within the time frame of a hunger strike. That means around 60 days if the hunger striker is refusing all nutrition. Those who allow themselves sweetened coffee or energy drinks can go significantly longer, building up publicity and pressure on the opposition. That tactic recently paid off for William Lecuyer, a New Jersey inmate who was placed in solitary confinement for refusing to submit a urine sample. Lecuyer insisted that the failure was the guard’s fault—he allegedly made Lecuyer wait so long that he had to empty his bladder before the test—and Lecuyer consumed only liquids for more than a year. The Department of Corrections finally caved in March and promised a new hearing for Lecuyer, who has lost nearly one-half of his body weight.
Choi and Pietrangelo’s failed protest against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy illustrates the second rule of hunger striking: It works best as a last resort. A hunger strike is an appeal to the public. If people perceive a hunger strike as frivolous, possibly because less-risky alternatives were available, they’re unlikely to blame the government. That’s why inmates are among the few people who can launch a successful hunger strike.
These rules don’t apply to the famous and powerful. If you’re Gandhi, the world is so worried about your health that any threat of self-harm is taken seriously from the beginning.
Aamer has been cleared for release twice, but is still behind bars after 11 years. He has never been charged or faced trial but the US refuses to allow him to return to the UK, despite official protests by the British government.
A 40-strong medical back-up team has arrived at Guantánamo Bay, as the number of inmates taking part in a hunger strike continues to rise, the US military has confirmed. By Monday, 100 detainees were refusing food, with 21 having been approved for force-feeding.
Authorities said that the “influx” of medical reinforcements had been weeks in the planning. But the news will fuel speculation that the condition of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay is deteriorating. Shaker Aamer, the last British resident being kept at the centre, told his lawyer earlier this month that authorities will soon see fatalities as a result of the current action.
“I cannot give you numbers and names, but people are dying here,” said Aamer, who is refusing food.
The action is a protest against conditions at the centre, as well as the indefinite nature of the remaining prisoners’ confinement. Aamer has been cleared for release twice, but is still behind bars after 11 years. He has never been charged or faced trial but the US refuses to allow him to return to the UK, despite official protests by the British government.
Of the 166 detainees left at Guantánamo, almost two-thirds are on hunger-strike. Five of those approved by guards to be subjected to force-feeding are in hospital.
Increased media attention to the plight of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay has led to renewed calls for President Barack Obama to close the camp. In the face of pressure from Congress, Obama dropped a 2008 campaign pledge to close the camp.
The current hunger strike is believed to have begun on 6 February and initially involved a minority of detainees. But the number taking part has steadily increased. Two weeks ago, guards attempted to break the resolve of those refusing food by moving detainees from communal areas and placing them in single cells, where they could be monitored more closely. That action led to violent clashes in which US troops fired four “less-than-lethal” rounds on inmates.
US authorities said on Monday that the decision to bring in a back-up medical team was made as increasing numbers of inmates began to refuse food. “We will not allow a detainee to stave themselves to death and we will continue to treat each person humanely,” a Guantánamo Bay spokesman, Lt Col Samuel House, said.
He added: “Detainees have the right to peacefully protest, but we have the responsibility to ensure that they conduct their protest safely and humanely.”
Detainees Frequently Fainting as Health Worsens
“Code yellow,” an emergency where a prisoner has lost consciousness, is now a regular event in the cellblocks, forcing medics to rush in and see if the detainee is still alive, or just passed out from hunger. So far, it has been the later, but as the strike continues it will eventually lead to deaths.
Over 100 prisoners are now believed to be involved in the hunger strike, which began in February to protest the confiscation of detainees’ Qurans during a security sweep. The Pentagon initially claimed only nine strikers, but now admit to over 50. They claim the rest aren’t “official” hunger strikers, and accused them of “cheating” and sneaking snacks.
Lawyers and human rights groups have urged reforms at the prison to end the strike, as well as releasing people already exonerated instead of just keeping them forever. The military seems to be taking the opposite approach, punishing strikers and putting everyone in solitary cells in the hopes of scaring them into abandoning the strike. With many detainees already cleared for release and apparently going nowhere, they remain convinced they have nothing to lose.
NEW YORK – Why add to something that is not supposed to exist?
The something in question is the Unites States’ prison in Guantánamo Bay, for which the Pentagon recently requested $49 million in extra funding. Despite Barack Obama’s promise in 2009 – one of his first as President – to shut down “Gitmo,” the US evidently has no intention of doing so anytime soon. In fact, the only thing concerning Gitmo that the Obama administration has shut down is the office of the special envoy, Daniel Fried, who had been tasked with its closure. The US State Department reassigned Fried in late January, and he will not be replaced.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphHow better to memorialize that decision than with a building boom at the prison? The new facility for which the money is to be earmarked will house 106 prisoners (the precise number is uncertain) who have been neither tried nor charged.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphEight of the prisoners are now entering the second month of a hunger strike. According to the spokesman for the US Southern Command, which oversees Gitmo, the hunger strikers are disillusioned, because they believed Obama’s pledge to close Gitmo. Indeed, they are cleared to leave, and it is only Obama’s failure to keep his promise – and the US Congress’s failure to legislate their transfer – that is keeping them there. So now they feel that the only way they can get the world’s attention is to “do something drastic.”
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphOne reason why the Pentagon needs to build a costly new facility has to do with the role of private contractors in driving detention policy. At Gitmo, corporate contractors run the show. They share signage with military units; enjoy better housing than military personnel; run the food services; and import Southeast Asian workers to build the gigantic infrastructure, which was new when I visited in 2009 (calling into question the “deterioration” cited to justify the latest cash infusion).
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphContractors also ran the military tribunal facility, and even set policy – deciding, for example, what could be told to the press. Based on some disputes that I witnessed, contractors appeared to outrank soldiers.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThe vast, often undocumentable profits that flow to these companies go a long way toward explaining why facilities like Gitmo – and privately owned and operated prisons in the US itself – never close. The transfer of public money to private corporations is far more attractive than old-fashioned market capitalism.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphBut then there is the brutality of the prison. I recently toured Alcatraz, the former US federal prison in San Francisco Bay. Like Gitmo, Alcatraz was created, in the 1930’s, to house what was then “the worst of the worst” – the Muslim terrorists (or accused terrorists) of their day. Mass murderers and gangsters – including, for example, Al Capone – were incarcerated there.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphAlcatraz was closed 50 years ago, in 1963, owing to its perceived inhumanity, and the prisoners were transferred elsewhere. Yet I was struck by how much more humane the facility and regime at Alcatraz were compared to Gitmo.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphFor starters, prisoners at Alcatraz who broke rules or were violent were punished by being put in “D Block,” where the cells had no windows; at Gitmo, all the cells that journalists are shown lack windows or natural light. Solitary confinement in D Block was seen as the harshest punishment, and it was never used for more than 48 hours at a time. At Guantánamo – and in other US facilities – prisoners are placed in solitary confinement for days or weeks at a time, which can lead to psychosis.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphLikewise, in Alcatraz, prisoners had access to a fully stocked library, monthly visits from loved ones, and mail delivery. At Gitmo, contrary to Red Cross rules, prisoners may not receive visits or mail from family, their reading is dramatically curtailed, and news is censored. They are not even notified of the deaths of parents and children.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphPrisoners at Alcatraz also had basic privacy. They were stripped naked on entry, but then wore clothing and showered in single-sex groups with male guards. By contrast, prisoners in Guantánamo must shower in individual shower stalls that are placed in main hallways and fronted by glass, leaving them naked in full view of female guards.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphAnd, of course, the prisoners in Alcatraz had been tried in a court of law, defended by lawyers whose communications with them were privileged, and duly convicted of their crimes. The men in Guantánamo have never been tried; their lawyers’ communications are monitored; and their lawyers may not even report to journalists or tribunals what was done to their clients to extract confessions, because – in a twist worthy of Franz Kafka – investigators’ methods, which detainees claim include torture, are classified.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThe eight hunger strikers are being fed through tubes inserted into their stomachs. This is a brutal process – the men are strapped onto restraint chairs twice a day and force-fed, in a facility that I witnessed. During my visit in 2009, a Yemeni hunger striker, Mohammad Saleh, died. As with all hunger strikers who have died at Gitmo, the US military ruled his death a suicide.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphPerhaps, someday, tourists will travel to Guantánamo and look in horror and amazement at what America built. Until then, Americans need to ask themselves what has coarsened in the national conscience between 1963 and today. How is it that a prison too brutal for gangsters, too un-American to house the worst of the worst, was more humane than a place that Americans are spending millions to enlarge?
Hunger strikes among an estimated 100 detainees have continued to worsen, with the military now conceding that as many as 28 are “officially” hunger striking, and three of the detainees have been hospitalized as their conditions deteriorate. 10 others are also being force-fed.
The deteriorating health is largely what was expected, as hunger strikers have been taking water, but no food for months, and medical experts have warned that permanent consequences could happen soon, with deaths possible in a matter of weeks.
The hunger strikes began after the confiscation of several detainees’ Qu’rans, and is continuing with many detainees resenting being held without charges more or less forever.
The military has been very slow in recognizing strikers, and even today continues to insist that it believes many of the detainees are “cheating” and sneaking snacks when they aren’t looking.
The “not looking” factor has been the Pentagon’s go-to excuse for not recognizing the strikers as real, insisting that they deliver communal meals and don’t really keep an eye on who is eating and who isn’t, and insisting that the numbers cited by human rights lawyers are “exaggerated.” Yet with Pentagon recognitions jumping several-fold in the past week, they are rapidly coming to admit the problem.
With many of the detainees already approved for release, it would be a particular embarrassment if some of them began dying in hunger strikes simply because the Obama Administration hasn’t gotten around to letting them go for so long. This was a driving factor behind not admitting the problem was real in the first place, but with it clearly not going away, there will hopefully be some move to give in to detainee demands.
If this developing story ends in deaths I thing we can expect severe repercussions from the Muslim countries.
What are the chances of another oil embargo
A mass hunger strike has been unfolding in the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison for nearly six weeks. RT has been badgering the UN, prison officials, detainees’ attorneys and activists to get a full account of the situation.
The number of Guantanamo Bay detainees on hunger strike has increased to 26, up one from the previous day, Guantanamo Bay spokesman Capt. Robert Durand told RT via email on Friday following a written request.
“As of Friday, 22 March 2013, we have 26 hunger strikers, with 8 receiving enteral feeds. This an increase from Thursday, which was 25/8. Tuesday and Wednesday, it was the 24/8, Monday, 21/8, and Friday, 14/8.
We have two detainees in the detainee hospital for rehydration and observation, on enteral feed. We have two other detainee in the detainee hospital for non-hunger strike, non-life threatening treatment,” Durand said.
The Pentagon has been accused of underestimating the number of inmates on hunger strike. The New-York based Center for Constitutional Rights slammed the US government for “not admitting scale and scope” of the strike, saying they had received reports that 130 inmates were involved in the protest.
It’s going to take the American people to demand Guantanamo Bay prison facilities be closed, former Gitmo prison official Ret. Col. Morris Davis told RT. Until the issue catches the public’s attention, there is little hope for improvement, he says.
“A majority of the men at Guantanamo — 86 of the 106 who have been cleared for transfer — have been in confinement now for more than a decade in some cases,” Davis said. “So to them… the only way to potentially call attention to it is to do something drastic like a hunger strike.”
Meanwhile, US military officials are requesting funding for construction of a new building in Guantanamo Bay, as well as for maintenance on the existing facility. The new project could cost American taxpayers a sum approaching $49 million.
During a conversation with RT Dr. Terry Kupers, a California psychologist and author of Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It, tried to answer some of the same questions that have boggled Guantanamo Bay critics since the prison opened in early 2002. While a hunger strike may initially seem illogical, Kupers praised the inmates for exerting one of the few actions within their capabilities in trying to attract international attention. He also pointed to another less-discussed result of long period of time behind bars: prisoners read up on their rights, learning the legal ramifications of their dire situation.
Among the many prisoners of Camp Delta’s detention facility at Guantanamo Bay one British citizen remains, despite being cleared for release over five years ago. A national of a key US ally, RT recently sought an explanation from the UK government.
Shaker Aamer, the 44-year-old British resident, has been incarcerated at Guantanamo for 11 years without any charges ever brought against him.
A father of four, Saudi national Aamer is the last British citizen remaining in Guantanamo Bay prison, despite being cleared for release as early as 2007.
In his letters, prisoner Shaker Aamer appeals in desperation to his captors and the outside world:
“Please … torture me in the old way. Here they destroy people mentally and physically without leaving marks.”
Following the developments of the hunger strike at Guantanamo detainment facility, RT sent a formal enquiry to the British Foreign Office. In our letter we asked the Foreign Office to comment on the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where a British resident is being kept among detainees, and whether the British government plans to take any measures to resolve the situation.
In a statement answering RT’s inquiry, a spokesperson of Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated the following.
“The UK has long held that indefinite detention without review or fair trial is unacceptable and we welcome President Obama’s continuing commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and to maintain a lawful, sustainable and principled regime for the handling of detainees there.”
The answer contains no exact information neither on the British citizen being held captive in a US prison, nor on the hunger strike of several Guantanamo prisoners that continues for six weeks already.
As for the US President’s ‘continuing commitment’, it was Barack Obama who promised to close down Guantanamo Bay prison during his presidential campaign in 2008 and who has already returned to the White House for his second presidential term, without any change on the horizon. As such blame for alleged mistreatment at Guantanamo appears less easily labeled a President Bush era problem.
In December 2012 the lawyers of Shaker Aamer filed legal papers with both the UK’s home and foreign secretaries claiming that British secret services made “knowingly false statements” to the US authorities concerning their client. According to the filed documents, UK’s MI5 and MI6 claimed Shaker Aamer was recruiting people to fight for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after the 9/11 and that he was paid directly by Bin Laden – without producing any reliable evidence.
Marine Corps General John Kelly, who spoke at the House Armed Services Committee in Washington on Wednesday, gave the reasons behind the prisoners’ hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay. He explained that the prisoners
“had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed. They were devastated apparently … when the president backed off, at least (that’s) their perception, of closing the facility.” He also re-iterated the prison administration’s earlier statement about the desecration of the Koran – a topic of contention and one of the main contributing factors to the ongoing hunger strike – saying that any claims of desecration are “nonsense” . He went on to say that in “no way has the Koran in any way, shape or form been abused or mistreated” and that he had been presented with copies of the “Sacred Koran” by senior Muslim clerics while he was on duty in Iraq. Finally, he added that while it is known that non-believers are allowed to touch the book, the only personnel who had been doing so at Guantanamo were Muslim translators.
Kelly heads the US military’s Southern Command for the Latin America region in Miami. The body also oversees the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba.
Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich tells RT the situation in Guantanamo represents the US as a country “abandoning its constitutional principles, because when prisoners are under US control and discretion they should have the same rights that any other prisoner would have. They should have the right to be told the charges against them, the right to a speedy trial, [the] right to habeas corpus, which would enable them to be released if charges against them can’t be levied.”
Stephen Soldz, clinical psychologist, who was a consultant when previous hunger strikes happened at Guantanamo prison, explains in an interview to RT, that Guantanamo inmates are frustrated to the point they are reluctant to communicate with the only people who are allowed to visit them – their lawyers.
“Those men would tell their attorneys, ‘I don’t want to talk with you. What’s the point of talking with you? I only want to know the date I’m going out of here.’ But there is no date. People can’t accept being completely powerless and hopeless,” Soldz says.
RT received a letter from the US Department of Justice saying it was not authorized to comment upon the Guantanamo hunger strike and suggesting RT to address the Defense Department for any interview regarding the status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
“The Defense Department oversees the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and is responsible for its operations – not the Justice Department,” said the letter written by Dean Boyd, Spokesman for the US Department of Justice.
However earlier, on March 4, prison spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, pointed at the Department of Justice as the body to respond to attorneys’ letters.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Konstantin Dolgov, spoke of the need to close Guantanamo in an interview to RT .
“I don’t think there’s lack of reaction from the international community. What’s obviously lacking is political will on behalf of the US government to bring the solution of the problem to its logical end. And the only logical end can be liquidation of this, let’s put it straight, shameful facility,” he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry is concerned with the destiny of a Russian citizen among the Guantanamo detainees.
Famous American human rights activist, Angela Davis calls for closure of Guantanamo in a French daily L’Humanité, AFP reports.
“This tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War makes us, finally, question the further existence of Guantanamo. On this sad date we must come up with a stronger and more resolute call for closure of the Guantanamo prison,” Davis wrote.
Front gate of “Camp Six” detention facility of the Joint Detention Group at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 19, 2012 (AFP Photo / Jim Watson)
The UN Human Rights body responds to mounting media coverage of the Guantanamo crisis. In a letter answering RT’s inquiry, spokesman for the High Commissioner says the office is looking into the details of the mass hunger strike.
“While aware of some of the allegations of mistreatment of inmates said to have provoked the hunger strike – which include undue interference with the inmates’ personal effects – we are still trying to confirm the details,” the letter says.
The statement from the office of the High Commissioner goes on to say UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has “repeatedly regretted that the US Government has not closed Guantanamo Bay.”
She is concerned with fact that the National Defense Authorization Act has created obstacles for the closure of Guantanamo and also trial of detainees in civilian courts, as well as failure to release those cleared of allegations.
Guantanamo Communications director Captain Robert Durand says the
number of detainees on hunger strike reached 24.
Still, he rejects claims by the detainees’ attorneys that the majority of inmates are involved in the protest.
Navy Capt. Robert Durand says 21 Guantanamo Bay prisoners are now on a hunger strike. Eight men are being fed with a liquid nutrient mix to prevent dangerous weight loss from occurring, while two others are at the prison hospital being treated with dehydration.
In a letter to RT, Durand said “the reports of hunger-strike related deteriorating health and detainees losing massive amounts of weight are simply untrue.”
However, lawyers for Guantanamo inmates maintain the strike is more widespread than the military acknowledges – and a former Gitmo prisoner agrees.
Omar Deghayes was held at Guantanamo Bay for five years before being released without charge. While participating in hunger strikes at the prison, Deghayes recalls hearing the same “rhetoric” from the US military.
“The rhetoric that [Durand] is describing is something that we went through many times when we were inside Guantanamo on hunger strikes. They used to say the same false things that I’m hearing now. They’d say ‘the number is small’ or ‘there is no hunger strike,’ or ‘we treat people with dignity,’” he told RT.
The London Guantanamo Campaign holds a demonstration outside the US embassy in London to “raise awareness about the hunger strike, which has more or less – at least in Britain – been ignored by the mainstream media,” the campaign’s coordinator, Aisha Maniar, tells RT.
“We’ve been in contact with some of the lawyers who have been [to Guantanamo] over the last week and they’ve been reporting that when they have met their clients, that their health has been pretty poor,” Maniar says.
Attorneys for at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, say that a general hunger strike involving many of the 166 detainees who remain incarcerated there has entered its second month.
However, the US military strongly denies that claim, calling it “a fabrication,” and instead says only 14 detainees are actively engaged in hunger strikes detrimental to their health.
“Our understanding is that based on previous standards, the determination of who is a hunger striker is a discretionary determination that Guantanamo makes. What those standards are, what the criteria are, are questions that they need to be asked. How are they defining hunger striker and when are they determining that someone needs to be tube fed? And if the definition of hunger striker is entirely in their control and it is a matter of their discretion, then I think that explains how they are able to say that there are no more than a handful of men on hunger strike,” Pardiss Kebriaei, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo, tells RT.
Guantanamo detention center spokesperson, Navy Capt. Robert Durand said in a letter to RT that the number of protesting inmates reached 14 people, five more than they had previously reported. He however stressed “the reports of hunger-strike related deteriorating health and detainees losing massive amounts of weight are simply untrue.”
Durand also stated one of the strikers was taken to the prison hospital, five others were being fed through tubes put through their noses into their stomachs, while eight others are not yet sufficiently malnourished to merit such treatment.
Durand denied that the hunger strike is “a widespread phenomenon, as alleged,” by the captives’ lawyers, and accused them of spreading “outright falsehoods and gross exaggerations.” He downplayed the reports of a mass hunger strike at Gitmo, saying that most of the alleged strikers are skipping regular meals, but substituting them with snacks.
“Refusing prepared meals and choosing to subsist for a time on snack foods does not constitute a hunger strike,” Durand said.
Durand confirmed the reports that some of the detainees had their Korans taken from them, but called it an attempt at manipulation: “If we accept their Koran, it would be portrayed as either an admission that it required protection and safekeeping, or as a confiscation by the guard force, depriving them of the religious articles needed to practice their faith.”
He also insisted that all searches are conducted in a regular way, and that no mistreatment of Muslim holy books has taking place at Gitmo.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which visited the island prison from February 18 to 23, gave an interview to RT, saying that the “ICRC believes past and current tensions at Guantanamo to be the direct result of the uncertainty faced by detainees.”
The secrecy maintained by the prison and the communication barriers in place have been an obstacle for human rights organizations for years, Rob Freer of Amnesty International told in an interview to RT.
“We have to wait until a detainee is released, before we can speak to them. This leads to underreporting on individual detainee cases and at least to a time lag. The lawyers themselves are not there the whole time and it requires declassification of certain information when they do get to,” he said.
The health of prisoners held in Kafkaesque limbo at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp has deteriorated alarmingly after over 100 inmates went on a protest hunger strike five weeks ago.
The detainees have claimed that most of them are involved in the do-or-die hunger strike, and their attorneys have become concerned about the prisoners’ worsening health.
“By Day 45 we understand from medical experts there are serious health repercussions that start happening. Loss of hearing, potential blindness,” Pardiss Kebriaei, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo, tells RT. “The potential there is for death as well if the hunger strike continues for weeks.”
Her client has allegedly lost 20lbs (9kg) since the beginning of the strike. The collective protest was reportedly triggered by the prison staff’s seizure of the inmates’ personal belongings. The hunger strike began on February 6, with the prisoners protesting against the confiscation of their personal letters, photographs and legal mail, as well as the allegedly sacrilegious handling of their Korans during searches of their cells.
The real challenge for the detainees is to make themselves heard by means of the hunger strike. Their lawyers have sent a letter to the US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging him to take action to end the protest.
“It’s really an abominable humanitarian situation where you’re depriving these people of life and liberty and for no really valid basis,” detainee lawyer Eric Montalvo told RT.
Prison officials have acknowledged that the hunger strike is taking place. However, they deny that it is a large-scale event: Nine detainees are refusing food, five of whom are being fed through tubes inserted into their stomachs, according to Robert Durand, director of public affairs for the Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
Durand also said that the claims of desecration of the Koran were unfounded.
“To be clear: there have been no incidents of desecration of the Koran by guards or translators, and nothing unusual happened during a routine search for contraband,” he told AFP.
Reuters started reporting on the Gitmo hunger strike.
The detainee hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay’s maximum-security prison is a last-resort cry for help from those who have spent years in custody without being charged, and who have no hope of release, anti-war activist Sara Flounders tells RT.
“What we did last week was send a letter on behalf of the attorneys who have received direct information, asking questions and reporting what we have heard from our clients to the authorities at Guantanamo, and copying the Department of Justice. Asking for their side of the story and to respond, seeking a quick resolution to what’s going on. We’ve received no response from that letter so far. At this point, the strike is more than 30 days old and by Day 45, we understand from medical experts there are serious health repercussions that start happening,” Pardiss Kebriaei, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo, tells RT.
Meanwhile, geopolitical analyst Ryan Dawson tells RT that the prisoners were left with little recourse other than a hunger strike. The prisoners had a previous hunger strike in 2005, which led to the hospitalization of 18 people.
“What I find disgusting in this one is the US is denying the strike is as large as it is and downplaying it, saying its only a few inmates but they’ve had to admit that at least five are being force-fed through tubes in their stomachs, so this is obviously real…Its hard to get lower than Guantanamo Bay. A lot of these men are detained without trial, some without even charges. That doesn’t mean they’re innocent, but it doesn’t mean they’re guilty either. And the problem is secrecy. When you have this level of secrecy, you’re just creating an environment for abuse because they are basically human beings with no rights,” Dawson said.
“My client and other men have reported that most of the detainees in Camp 6 are on strike, except for a small few who are elderly or sick,” Pardiss Kebriaei, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo, Pardiss Kebriaei tells RT. Men have reported coughed up blood, lost consciousness and were forced to move to other wings of the facility for observation.
“We have to understand that all the inmates at Guantanamo bay are devout Muslims so desecrating a Koran for them is the last blow to their dignity. It is of extreme importance to them and according to them they are imprisoned because they are Muslim and that’s kind of proving their point. Unfortunately that’s something that was quite common under [President George W.] Bush. We thought [President] Obama would be more thoughtful to Muslim beliefs but we are seeing that’s not the case…for people who have been incarcerated for 11 years, been away from their families for 11 years, have not been charged for for 11 years, its understandable that taking what is a small item to us is nothing, but to them it is basically their life… the main question is not why they are being treated like that in prison, but why are they in prison, because they have been cleared for release,” Arnaud Mafille, an activist with Cageprisoners Human Rights group, tells RT.
“The current tensions in Guantanamo, as far as we can see and as far as we understand, are really the result of the uncertainty faced by the detainees in Guantanamo – the uncertainty linked to their fate, what is going to happen to them. There is a lack of clear, legal framework for their dentition. Most of them don’t know what is going to happen to them. So it has always been our position that there needs to be a clear, legal framework and a transparent process in terms of procedural safeguards for the detainees. It needs to be transparent and fair to alleviate the emotional and mental strain that the uncertainty triggers for the detainees,” Simon Schorno, spokesperson for the International Red Cross in North America, tells RT
Washington-based attorney David Remes tells CBS News that as of March 8, six detainees he represents had refused food for 36 days, skipping 102 meals, and each man said he had lost at least 30lbs (13.6kg).
“It was quite noticeable,” Remes says. “The men I saw were weak, tired, chilled, and had lost a substantial amount of weight.”
One of those detainees, Yasin Qassem Muhammad Ismail, from Yemen, who followed up with a phone call to Remes on Wednesday, told the attorney that he now weighed 109lbs (49kg), down from 150lbs (68kg).
After meeting their client, Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers report that al-Kandari said that the hunger strike “certainly hurts physically,” but he felt “very sorry for his parents whose psychological pain is 10 times greater than his physical discomfort.”
Attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a Yemeni detained at Guantanamo, says attorney reports of the hunger strike are consistent.
“What we understand for our clients – and this is coming from every attorney that has either been down to Guantanamo since February or has communicated with their client in some form through letters or phone calls – is that there has been a hunger strike going on at among almost all of the men in Camp 6 at Guantanamo, which is the largest facility at Guantanamo. They have been refusing all food, only drinking water, tea, and coffee, since early February,” Pardiss Kebriaei tells RT.
America’s infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba has reportedly become the scene of a widespread hunger strike – now in its third week – yet on Monday a prison spokesman denied that any such activity was taking place.
The lawyers for the prisoners said in a letter to the prison commander, that “all but a few men” are on hunger strike and that their condition “appears to be rapidly deteriorating and reaching a potentially critical level.”
The protest can best be summed up with a statement that the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sent to military officials. They wrote that “since approximately February 6, 2013, camp authorities have been confiscating detainees’ personal items, including blankets, sheets, towels, mats, razors, toothbrushes, books, family photos, religious CDs, and letters, including legal mail; and restricting their exercise, seemingly without provocation or cause.” Moreover, “Arabic interpreters employed by the prison have been searching the men’s Korans in ways that constitute desecration according to their religious beliefs, and that guards have been disrespectful during prayer times.”
A prison spokesman said that the Department of Justice will address the lawyers’ letter of complaint, he also claimed that there had only been six people on strike for a year now. Other detainees simply didn’t skip enough meals to be considered on strike at all, according to military rules. The spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, said that “some detainees have attempted to coordinate a hunger strike and have refused meal deliveries. Most detainees are not participating.” He tried to describe the reasons the inmates had for going on strike as blown out of proportion, claiming that they “have chosen one routine search in early February as the rallying point for their grievances.”
Colonel Barry Waingard, who was assigned by the Pentagon to defend the Kuwaiti detainee at Guantanamo prison Fayez Al-Kandari, reveals that the Kuwaiti detainees Fayez Al-Kandari and Fawzi Al-Awda went on a hunger strike with other prisoners and lost nearly 10kg each, Al-Watan Arabic daily reported.
Waingard said in a statement that the detainees went on a hunger strike because they are being ill-treated inside the prison, indicating at the same time that the detainees have now realized death is the only way out of the prison.
The lawyers confirm that Fayiz al-Kandari’s weight loss over the previous three-and-a-half weeks had reached 26lbs (12kg).
The team of lawyers reports, “Today, we had a communication with the Kuwait legal team concerning Fayiz and Fawzi’s physical condition in GTMO. It is difficult meeting with a man who has not eaten in almost three weeks, but we are scheduled for an all-day session tomorrow which we are sure Fayiz will not be able to complete due his failing physical condition. Additionally, we learned that our other client Abdul Ghani, [an Afghan] who has been cleared for release since 2010, is also on a hunger strike. Eleven years without an opportunity to defend themselves.”
Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers announces, “Fayiz has lost more than 20lbs (9kg) and lacks the ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time due to a camp-wide hunger strike. Apparently there is a dispute over searches and the confiscations. We believe there is a desperation setting amongst the prisoners whereby GTMO is forgotten and its condemned men will never get an opportunity to prove their innocence or be free.”
Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers arrives at the prison.
Reports first begin to emerge about a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay.
The following message appeared on the “Free Fayiz and Fawzi” page on Facebook, run by lawyers for Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison: “Information is beginning to come out about a hunger strike, the size of which has not been seen since 2008. Preliminary word is that it’s due to unprecedented searches and a new guard force.”
The Guantanamo Bay hunger strike reportedly began on or around this date.