A hunger strike by detainees at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has entered its third month. The Department of Defense said 43 detainees were striking, and 11 were being fed forcibly through a tube inserted through the nose to the stomach.
Lawyers for the detainees say the number of hunger strikers is much higher.
The Department of Defense classifies hunger strikers as those, who have missed nine consecutive meals, and says the forced-feedings are not part of a policy specific to Guantanamo detainees, but are part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons guidelines.
Cori Crider, the lawyer who represents, Samir Moqbel, a Yemeni detainee, who has joined the hunger strike, says she recently talked to her client.
Crider described how Moqbel was forcibly fed.
“They chained his arms to the bed, chained his legs to the bed. He was left like that, he said, for 26 hours. He was not allowed to use the restroom; they just put a catheter in. They didn’t allow him to pray and while he was chained to the bed they forcibly fed him.”
While the strike began as a protest against the way the guards searched copies of the Quran inside the detainees’ cells, it has transformed into a bigger protest, the lawyer adds.
“Now it’s about eleven years of indefinite detention, two administrations, one of which claimed it was going to close this prison within a year. I think these people are just trying to remind the world, ‘hey we’re still here, half of us are cleared. Please, please demand that the United States do something about this.’”
Crider says her client discussed an attempted suicide by another one of the detainees, howqever, U.S. authorities denied the incident.
U.S. Army Captain Jason Wright, who represents Obaydallah, an Afghan detainee, who is also a hunger striker, visited his client recently and says Obaydallah has lost over 40 pounds.
“Obaydallah described the detention camp as a village decimated by an attack. The detainees are weak, the don’t move, they have no energy and everyone has the face of death and despair.”
Wright says over 50 detainees have been moved from camp six, a communal living facility, to camp five, where there are solitary cells usually reserved for detainees that are deemed to be troublemakers.
Detention conditions deteriorating
The detention conditions are getting worse for the detainees, Wright says. “They are denied comfort items like family photos, some books and legal paper. The temperature has been reduced, so it’s very cold. They have taken away drinkable water and are making the detainees drink water that smells fetid from the tap.”
There are 166 detainees currently in Guantanamo; about 86 have been cleared for transfer but are still in the facility due to a law Congress passed that restricts the ability of President Barack Obama Administration to release the detainees.
The law was passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, and signed by Obama this year, despite his threats to veto it. The law requires the Secretary of Defense to issue a certification personally ensuring that the individual that is transferred will not “reengage in any terrorist activity.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch says these “restrictions are not based on the detainees’ conduct but on terrorist acts allegedly committed by former detainees in the transfer countries.”
Peter Maurer, the head of the International Committee for the Red Cross, said at a press conference on Thursday in Washington that he met with Obama and members of Congress, and urged them to reach a compromise that would permit the transfer of detainees, who are not considered threatening. “The hunger strike today it is a symptom and indicator about the lack of perspective they have and the impression of an American government that does not follow up on promises that have been made for transfers.”
Hunger strike to persist
Compromises on the way the detention authorities search Qurans might mitigate the situation, however, Crider mulls that the hunger strike would persist regardless.
“I don’t think the hunger strike is going away. I do think it’s about indefinite detention and that it may take the Obama administration assigning someone at the White House to think of it as their job to close this prison, to keep the promise he made on the campaign trail.”
In another setback for the administration, an appeals court ruled that the charge of conspiracy was not a war crime before Congress made it so in 2006, therefore detainees can’t be accused of the charge at a military commissions court in Guantanamo. This ruling, which is being reviewed, invalidated one of the few prosecutions that went forward at the base, that of Salem Hamdan, Osama Bin-Laden’s driver.
Observers of the court say that is one of the reasons why Bin Laden’s son-in-law, Suliemen Abu Ghaith, an Al-Qaeda propagandist, was being tried in a Federal Court in New York, not in a war court in Guantanamo.
In other Military Commissions news, pretrial motions scheduled for next week in the case of the Yemeni detainee Abdulraheem Al-Nashiri were postponed due to a technical problem with the defense’s electronic documents. The defense says some of their files were compromised and many were lost. Al-Nashiri is accused of plotting the USS Cole bombing in Yemen that lead to the deaths of 17 American sailors.