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200 days of Guantanamo hunger strike

Published time: August 24, 2013 17:28
Edited time: August 25, 2013 19:05

U.S. Army Military Police escort a detainee to his cell during in-processing to the temporary detention facility at Camp X-Ray in Naval Base Guantanamo Bay (Reuters)

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As hungers strike at the Guantanamo prison enters its 200th day, the military reports of a decrease in the number of detainees refusing food. But the prisoners say conditions haven’t improved and their fate hasn’t become clearer.

RT's GITMO hunger strike timeline

37 detainees currently remain on hunger strike after nearly seven months without food, with 33 of them being force fed, the prison authorities said on Saturday.  

But lawyer for several Guantanamo detainees, Carlos Warner, said that the data coming from the military, who even refused to acknowledge the strike when it began, can’t be considered reliable.

“We don’t know what the military use as their metric to say that somebody isn’t hunger striking,” he told RT. “They make different claims, but they never attach names to the people, who are or aren’t hunger striking. We don’t know if it’s the same 37. We don’t know if it’s a different 37.”

“The bottom line is that we believe the hunger strike is grand in duration and in size,” Warner added.

The attorney said that, according to his phone conversations with his clients, conditions in the camp “are just as bad as they’ve always been – suffering, tube feeding, people not getting along, no communication with the military.”

“Although the military is telling us that the numbers have gone down. That’s not the story that we’re hearing. We’re hearing again, that this horrible suffering is going on and this is the 200th day of it,”
Warner stressed.

The hunger strike started early February after several inmates accused the guards of interfering with their personnel belongings, which included mishandling of Korans.

But the action rapidly transformed into a protest by the prisoners against their indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay prison, opened in Cuba in 2002 to detain captives in the Global War on Terror, which the US started after the 9/11 attacks.  

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)

Out of the 166 Gitmo detainees, 86 have been cleared for release, while 47 others are considered too dangerous for release, but are not facing prosecution as evidence against them was obtained through torture and other illegal means.

24 more are considered eligible for prosecution and just 9 have been charged with a crime or convicted.   

More than two-thirds of Guantanamo’s inmates refused food when the strike was at its peak, with many finding themselves in a life or death situation.

In order to avoid lethal cases, the prison authorities applied force feeding procedure to the prisoners, despite it being labeled as “torture” by the UN Human Rights Commission.

The once-a-day procedure required the detainees to be strapped into a chair, with a tube pushed into a nostril and a mainly protein-based solution pumped into the digestive tract.  

At some point over 40 prisoners were subject to force feeding, which they described as extremely painful or even unbearable.

The lawyer of Shaker Aamer, who is the last British resident remaining in Guantanamo Bay, has recently shared one of the dreams his client was experiencing during the hunger strike.

"The dream is about Obamacare, the president is strapped tightly into a force-feeding chair. He is vomiting on himself because they are forcing the liquid nutrient into him at very high speed,” attorney Clive Stafford Smith told the Guardian.

During the holy month of Ramadan when the Muslims are obliged to fast during daytime, the force feedings were rescheduled to take place after dark.

There were also alarming reports of sexual abuse coming from the prison, with inmates saying they were submitted to humiliating genital searches every time they exited the camps to speak with their lawyers. 

"We no longer have any respect in this prison,”
Bisheer al Marwalah, a Yemeni detainee, told his attorney. “They don't respect our life, our dignity, they don't respect our religious feelings... As for tomorrow, we have no idea what it will bring.”

In 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)

Last week, Pentagon defense attorney, James Connell, spent 12 hours inside Guantanamo’s Camp 7, promising to file a motion to the prison commander, challenging the conditions at the facility as they “don’t meet the standards for preventative detention under the laws of war.”

And it’s the American taxpayers, who are picking up the ever-increasing tab for keeping Gitmo operational. The facility costs nearly half a billion dollars per year with the tag for a single detainee at $2.7 million, which is over 35 times higher than similar costs at the most expensive domestic prison in the US.

The promise to close Guantanamo was one of the key points of Barack Obama’s election campaign back in 2008. Despite one of his first moves as the president being an order to do so, the facility still remains active.

Obama’s latest pledge regarding Gitmo inmates was voiced in a key security policy speech in May, which was a response to the concerns over the hunger strike voiced by some international bodies, including the UN, the EU and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Obama said that 86 inmates, who were cleared for release in January 2010 by the inter-agency Guantanamo Review Task Force, would be given freedom. The majority of those on the list – 56 – are the citizens of Yemen.

According to the ‘Gitmo Clock’, put online by activists calling for the prison’s closure, 91 days have passed since the announcement was made and only two prisoners, of Algerian origin, have left Guantanamo.  

The US president has repeatedly blamed Congress for interfering with his plan to close Guantanamo. However, critics say he simply lacks political will.