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25 Mar, 2013 14:00

‘Nobody else talking about this’: Gitmo inmate hunger strike goes on

The mass hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay has gathered momentum, entering Day 48 with reportedly over 100 inmates refusing food. While human rights groups worry about their failing health, the US mainstream media continues to turn a blind eye.

Prison officials have been downplaying the protest for weeks. The unpopular Gitmo topic has remained off the radar of mainstream news, hidden from the American public even after the Pentagon’s acknowledgement of the growing number of Gitmo detainees on hunger strike.

Reports first begin to emerge about a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay around February 23, about two weeks after it began.

Inmates’ lawyers said over a hundred people have been taking part in it, while according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, 130 inmates began their life-threatening hunger strike to protest treatment and conditions at the prison. Many of them had lost a substantial amount of weight. The desperate move was triggered by their frustration with the US government's failure to shut down the controversial facility.

US officials initially denied that a strike was taking place at all.

"As you recall, they started off by saying, ‘no one is on hunger strike, just five or six people who have been on the hunger strike for many years’. Then that figure was revised up to 14 and now we are seeing the figure steadily increasing, but to nowhere near the extent that the prisoners' lawyers are talking about,” investigative journalist and author of ‘The Guantanamo Files’ Andy Worthington told RT.

Currently the officially-acknowledged number of Gitmo detainees on hunger strike has reached 26 people, according to the US Defense Department. Eight of them are being force-fed, which means they are administered food in the form of a nutritional supplement through a hose snaked into their nose while they are restrained in a chair.

Attorneys representing the prisoners are saying that the situation there is far worse than military officials are ready to admit. 

“Hearing about how the lawyers are not being allowed to visit, plus this big gulf between what the lawyers are saying and the administration is saying is indicative of the administration still trying to clamp down on it. They don’t want this story out. And I think that that there’s a big story going on," Worthington stated.

The nature of the mass protest at the Guantanamo Bay has been summed up with a statement sent to military officials by the Center for Constitutional Rights. 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.”

"Nobody else is talking about this subject. If this were happening in Russia, if people disappeared into an illegal black hole in Russia and were facing indefinite incarceration, without trial, without charge and without access of attorneys, we'd never hear the end of it. The Western media would be full of it. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, they'd be screaming from the rooftops of Westminster,” British MP George Galloway told RT.

“But because this is an American crime, they're allowed to get away with it. Because the people that control the so-called mainstream media are fully on side with the agenda of the Obama administration,” he added.

RT asked people on the streets of New York whether they actually knew that more than half of the detainees at Guantanamo have been cleared for release. Nearly all replied that they had no idea, noting that because the Gitmo inmates are being kept in prison by the US, it's only fair that they get their views expressed on local media. 

The detention camp in eastern Cuba reportedly holds 166 men seized in counterterrorism operations, most of whom have been held without charge for a decade. Although Barack Obama promised to shut down the facility at the beginning of his first term as president, the facility remains open.