There has been a mass hunger strike going on since February at Guantanamo, mostly by detainees in Camp Six, the least restrictive unit. According to a letter from more than 50 defense lawyers to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, available here, almost all of the 134 detainees in Camp Six are engaged in the hunger strike, and they are dropping like flies.
The Defense Department disputes the numbers, and insists only 14 are being force-fed: 9 involved in the current strike and 5 who always go on hunger strikes. The photo above is of a restraint chair used to force-feed detainees at Gitmo.
The Defense Department spokesmen said one of those  hunger strikers, plus five other detainees who have conducted hunger strikes on and off for years, are currently being subjected to enteral feeding, or the forcing of liquid nutrients through a tube down their nose while strapped to a chair.
Defense lawyer David Rames, who represents 14 inmates at Gitmo and saw 6 of them last week, says his clients’ conditions are shocking and none are being force-fed. He says the detainees have to be near death before authorities intervene and force-feed.
The Pentagon claims most of the detainees aren’t really on a hunger strike but snacking at night on food from the “pantries.”
The immediate cause of the strike appears to be a changing of the guard force. The new guards allegedly resumed mass searching of private effects in cells, including Korans.
In early February, detainee attorneys say Guantanamo guards renewed searches of detainee cells and confiscated personal items such as photographs, letters, legal papers, exercise mats, blankets, towels, and tooth brushes. The tipping point, the attorneys say, occurred when the guards began searching detainee Korans, something guards had not done since 2006.
The Pentagon denies guards touch, let alone mishandle, the detainees’ Korans.
Another catalyst: a guard fired his weapon into the recreation yard.
On Jan. 2, a Guantanamo guard fired a rubber crowd-dispersal round from a tower into a group of detainees in the fenced-in recreation area of Camp Six. Defense Department spokesman Breasseale said the single round consisted of 18 blueberry-sized rubber balls and one hit a detainee, but he was not injured.
More on that here.
The underlying reason for the strike is the detainees’ frustration that after 11 years, they are no closer to leaving.
Remes said their imprisonment for 11 years without charges was an underlying cause of the hunger strikes. “It adds insult to injury that they have been approved for transfer. The reality is no one is leaving; everyone is in indefinite detention.”
Specifically, we understand 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, we understand that Arabic interpreters employed by the prison have been searching the men’s Qur’ans in ways that constitute desecration according to their religious beliefs, and that guards have been disrespectful during prayer times. These actions, and the fact that they have affected so many men, indicate a significant departure from the way in which the rules have been formulated and implemented over the past few years.
As a result of these practices, we understand that the men are suffering greatly and that a large number have gone on a hunger strike, which is now in its third week. As their health has deteriorated, we have received reports of men coughing up blood, being hospitalized, losing consciousness, becoming weak and fatigued, and being moved to Camp V for observation. Detainees have also expressed feeling increased stress, fear, and despair. It is clear that their health will only worsen unless and until the hunger strike ends, which requires taking immediate steps to address the reasons for their protest.
There are currently 166 detainees at Guantanamo. 86 have been cleared for release. 34 are awaiting trial. Another 46 have been recommended for indefinite detention without charges by the Guantánamo Review Task Force.
Carol Rosenberg has more at the Miami Herald.
One of Obama’s senior Guantanamo advisors last week, speaking at a meeting of Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said the Administration has no plans to effectuate the transfers of those cleared for release to Yemen.
He also said the administration has no plans in the “foreseeable future” to lift a moratorium on transfers to their home country of Yemenis cleared for release.
A law professor quoted in the article says:
“The grim reality of Guantánamo today . . . is that death or a conviction for a supposed war crime by the military commission are surer ways out of Guantánamo than the U.S. government’s own processes of clearing people for release,” said Ramzi Kassem, an associate professor at City University of New York School of Law and an attorney for some detainees. He noted that 50 of the 95 Yemenis held at Guantánamo have been cleared for release but have no place to go because of the moratorium on sending Yemenis home.
The Obama official refused to answer a question about a timeline for closing Gitmo.