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16 May, 2013 04:01

‘Worse than death row’: Gitmo hunger strike reaches Day 100

As the Guantanamo hunger strike enters its 100th day, the number of voices, both in the US and around the world, to close the facility are growing stronger and louder.

Lawyers acting for prisoners in Guantanamo say the real figures may be higher, but officially of the 166 inmates in Guantanamo, 102 are currently on hunger strike. Of these, 30 are being force-fed through a nasal tube and three are in hospital.

Follow RT’s day-by-day timeline of the Gitmo hunger strike.

The 166 prisoners have been there eleven and a half years and 90 per cent of them haven’t been charged with a crime.

The hunger strike began in February after an altercation between prisoners and guards, after guards allegedly interfered with the inmates personal belongings including the mishandling of Koran’s.

Original only a few dozen of the prisoners were refusing to eat but by the end of April the authorities in charge of Guantanamo were forced to admit that the number had jumped to 102.

On April 14th, Cindy Panuco, a lawyer for the Afghan detainee Obaidullah told RT that guards were moving prisoners from communal living into single cells under the pretext of stopping them from acquiring weapons, but almost certainly in an attempt to break their resolve and stop them hunger striking.

Feroz Abbasi, who was released from Guantanamo without charges, described how he was psychologically tortured by the Guantanamo guards.

For some reason on the same night Iraq was bombed in March 2003, I was moved into isolation, solitary confinement, and I was there for two years. Six months of which were without sunlight,” he said.

A view of a common area at the medium security prison inside Camp IV at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base (Reuters / Deborah Gembara)

Clive Stafford Smith a British human rights lawyer who is representing Sahker Aamer, the last British inmate in Guantanamo, told RT that the conditions his client experiences are worse than “death row ”.

When a prisoner doesn’t do exactly what they are told, six guys dressed up as if they are in Darth Vader outfits come in and basically beat him up. If [Aamer] wants a bottle of water, they send them, if he wants his medicines, they send them. Now he just doesn’t ask for his medication.” Hunger strikers who have been force-fed describe it as the final humiliation. There are three stages to the pain, firstly there is the sensation of a tube being forced past their sinuses into their throat, which causes their eyes to water, then an intense burning and gagging sensation as it goes down the throat and finally when the tube enters the stomach there is a strong urge to vomit. When the tube has delivered the ‘food’, it triggers the most painful sensation of all: the return of hunger.

Disturbing accounts by lawyers for Guantanamo inmates emerged Monday, that prisoners who wish to talk to their legal representatives are being subjected to humiliating new body searches.

David Remes, a lawyer for a Guantanamo inmate, told AFP that under the new search policy, “a detainee who leaves his camp is subject to a search including his private parts and holding his private parts.” Remes said that the searches were deliberately intended to deter detainees from meeting with their lawyers.

President Obama declared earlier this month that the “Pentagon is trying to manage the situation [in Guantanamo] as best in can”.

In this photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, a Guantanamo detainee speaks with guards inside the Camp 6 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba (Reuters / Brennan Linsley)

But on March 29th, well over a month since the hunger strike began, RT reported that a Pentagon briefing by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made no reference to the strike.

Also in March the Department for Defense requested almost $200 million to renovate the prison camp, while at the beginning of 2013 the state department wound up the office that was in charge of closing down the prison.

As the strike enters its 100th day, it now commands interest from the mainstream western media, but as the British MP George Galloway told RT in March, initially only RT and a handful of other outlets such as the British newspaper the Guardian, gave it significant coverage.

Human Right’s plea

A consortium of 20 human right’s organizations, pressure groups and law bodies including Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, issued a plea Monday to the US defense secretary Chuck Hagel to end the practice of force-feeding in Guantanamo.

The letter noted that the practice of force-feeding at Guantanamo amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and is in violation of the Geneva conventions to which the US is a signatory.

There is also a growing level of discomfort about what is happening in Guantanamo among the medical community. An editorial published in the medical journal the Lancet earlier this month said that in this case force-feeding prisoners who had chosen not to eat as a form of protest “infringes the principle of patient autonomy.”

The hacktivist group Anonymous has also announced it will mark the 100th day of the hunger strike by calling for 3 days of protests.

We stand in solidarity with the Guantanamo hunger strikers. We will shut down Guantanamo,” an online statement from Anonymous reads.

The group didn’t specify how it would achieve its goal but promised “Twitter storms, email bombs and fax bombs.”

Detainees participate in an early morning prayer session at Camp IV at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base (Reuters / Deborah Gembara)


While the Pentagon drags its heels on Guantanamo, a number of high profile figures from the US establishment have come forward to actively campaign for its closure.

A petition, which was started by Morris Davis, the former Chief Prosecutor for terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay, was filed earlier this month and includes a letter to President Obama to bring about the closure of the prison.

Hosted by the Change.org website it has already received 204,642 signatures well over the goal of 200,000. It calls on the president to “Direct Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel to use his authority to issue the certifications or national security waivers required by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA 2013) to affect transfers from Guantanamo.”

Davis served for 25 years in the US air force and was a Guantanamo prosecutor for two years, personally charging Bin Laden’s driver Salim Hamdan.  Davis notes in the introduction to why he started the petition, “There is something fundamentally wrong with a system where not being charged with a war crime keeps you locked away indefinitely and a war crime conviction is your ticket home.”

n this photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, and shot through glass, a guard watches over Guantanamo detainees inside the exercise yard at Camp 5 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba (Reuters / Brennan Linsley)

The Supreme Court here in the US, every decision they’ve come out with involving Guantanamo has been adverse to the government. So there is no good reason to keep it open other than political talking points for the far right,” Davis told RT earlier this month.

He also said that it is “extraordinarily expensive” to operate.

It is over a $100 million a year just to operate the facility, not counting the $200 million that General Kelly said he needs to rehabilitate these warn-out facilities,” he said.

Cleared to leave

86 of the 166 prisoners still in Guantanamo have been cleared to leave the facility but haven’t been allowed to leave because there is no arrangement as to where they can be sent.

On the 25th April, Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to the Obama administration requesting it re-examine the release of low-level Guantanamo detainees to Yemen.

Following an attempt by the Yemini branch of Al-Qaeda to blow up a Detroit-bound jet liner, the transfer of 56 Yemeni bound inmates was halted.

Detainees talk together inside the open-air yard at the Camp 4 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba (Reuters / Brennan Linsley)

But Feinstein, argues that in light of the unprecedented desperation among detainees, and in light of Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s strong resistance to Al-Qaeda, transfers to Yemen should resume.

'Problems in Guantanamo'

President Obama has repeatedly said he wants to close the detention center, but insists that he must persuade Congress that it is in America’s interests to shut it down.

He promised to “re-engage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interests of the American people.”

He went on to insist that justice has been served in a way that is “consistent with the rule of law” and the American constitution.

But he conceded that it was no surprise that there were “problems in Guantanamo” and that it isn’t necessary in keeping America safe.

It is expensive, it is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessons cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed,” he said.

In this photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, a guard stands in a cell block at Camp 5 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba (Reuters / Brennan Linsley)