Guantanamo Bay: Hunger and Violence

Famously, one of the first things President Obama said he would do when he became President was to close Guantanamo Bay. And yet, here we are, in the first year of his second term and the prison remains open and full of prisoners, many of whom have been there for over a decade without ever being charged or tried.

News out of Guantanamo over the few days (all emphasis is mine):

Clashes break out as Guantánamo guards seek to break hunger strike (April 13 from Reuters at The Guardian):

Guards clashed Saturday with prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay prison, as the military sought to move hunger strikers out of a communal section of the detention center on the US base in Cuba, officials said. The confrontation occurred after the commander decided to move prisoners into single, solid-walled cells so that prison authorities could monitor them more closely during the hunger strike, the military said.

When guards arrived in the communal to move the men, the prisoners fought back with makeshift weapons, prompting troops to fire four “less-than-lethal rounds” to quell the disturbance, according to a statement issued by Miami-based US Southern Command, which oversees the prison. There were no major injuries, military officials said.

“I know for sure that one detainee was hit but the injuries were minor, just some bruises,” said Army colonel Greg Julian, a Southern Command spokesman. Guards used a modified shotgun shell that fires small rubber pellets as well as type of bean-bag projectile, Julian said.

Mounting Tensions Escalate Into Violence During Raid at Guantánamo Prison (April 13 from Charlie Savage at NYT)

The raid came shortly after a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross completed a three-week visit to examine the prisoners and study the circumstances of a hunger strike that has been roiling the camp for weeks. The Red Cross visit concluded on Friday, and most of the delegation left that same day, though a few flew out Saturday morning, said Simon Schorno, a Red Cross spokesman.

Mr. Schorno declined to comment on the raid, saying that no one from the Red Cross delegation had witnessed it. But he did say that the Red Cross believed the hunger strike was the result of how legal uncertainty has affected their mental and emotional health. Most of the detainees have been held without trial for more than a decade, and the outward flow of detainees has essentially ceased amid Congressional restrictions on further transfers.

Guantánamo Bay’s last UK detainee: ‘people are dying here’ in hunger strike (April 14 from Matt Williams at The Guardian)

Shaker Aamer, the last UK resident still held at the camp, claims he is subjected to harsh treatment from guards and denied water, despite being in a weakened state due to severe weight loss, according to a written declaration filed by his lawyer.

He also alleges that the US base will soon be dealing with its first fatalities as a result of the current action: “I might die this time,” he is quoted by his lawyer as saying, adding: “I cannot give you numbers and names, but people are dying here.”

And finally, the op-ed at the NYT that is making a lot of news today. Here is how it made it to print: “Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call.”

**Content Note: It is VERY hard to read this account. It is graphic in detail about the painful forced feedings that the staff at Gitmo is doing to these prisoners.**

I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial. […]

There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up. […]

The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.

And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.

I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.

What can you say to that except that you promise to turn your eyes toward Guantanamo?

No matter what you think of the men being held at Guantanamo, they are human beings. And this country, the one that is in control of that prison, supposedly believes in things like law, justice, and fair trials, though the on-going situation at Guantanamo is showing that perhaps that is not true.

You can contact the White House here.

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