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The Hunger Strike at Guantanamo Bay Is Growing


In February 2013, several prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay prison started a hunger strike in protest of what was reported as abusive cell searches and deteriorating conditions.  By April 29, their number grew to about a hundred, making the group of detainees refusing to accept food well over a half of all the 166 people currently held at the prison.


The desperate action of the Guantánamo Bay prisoners is a culmination of years of indefinite detention.  The facility has over the last 11 years become a symbol of gross human rights violations for the international community.  The list cited by NGOs is long.  In addition to indefinite detention, Amnesty International lists degrading treatment, unfair trials, enforced disappearance, extended solitary confinement, water-boarding, and many other kinds of torture.  Due to these circumstances, six detainees committed suicide at the facility since 2002. 


The number of prisoners who resorted to a hunger strike has consistently grown over the last 2 months, from 14 in mid-March to about 100 as of April 29.  Currently, some detainees are being force-fed by the prison personnel due to their deteriorating health condition.  Force feeding can be perceived as a form of torture itself; it defies the will of the prisoners and inflicts enormous pain.  It is reported that some of the prisoners have lost between 30 and 40 pounds, and many have lost consciousness.  Recently, additional medical personnel has been dispatched to Guantánamo to assist regular staff.


Human rights organizations are calling on the American government to put an end to force feeding and the illegal detention of the 166 people held at Guantánamo.  President Obama is under constant pressure to act on this matter, following a promise he made in 2009 to finally close down the facility.  On April 11, twenty-five human rights organizations jointly submitted an open letter to the President, urging him to take action to end the Guantánamo hunger strikes.  


These calls have been partially successful.  On April 30, President Obama renewed his commitment to closing Guantánamo, noting that the situation is unsustainable and that the prison does not serve the American people.  Obama lamented the fact that Congress, which has the actual powers to terminate the facility's operation, has not taken sufficient action on the issue.  However, human rights groups note that there are certain options at the President's immediate disposal that could help alleviate the hunger strike.  For example, Obama could authorize the transfer of 87 of the detainees who have already been cleared for release, using the waiver process.  He could also lift the moratorium on transfers to Yemen, where 56 of the 87 authorized prisoners come from.


Amnesty International offers many resources and tools on its website dedicated to Guantánamo Bay, which include information on how to get involved, donate, and learn more about the situation of the prisoners. 


The Center for Constitutional Rights, whose lawyers and partners have visited the site and talked to some prisoners, is also urging the Federal government to take action, as continued hunger strikes and illegal detention can result in irreversible damage to the detainees, both psychological and physical.  The CCR suggests many ways on how to get involved in stopping this alarming problem on their website.