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Guantanamo Hunger Strike Escalates
Receiving global attention, the growing hunger strike executed by numerous detainees inside Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp has many countries renewing their efforts to win the release of their nationals from such conditions. While prior efforts have been denied, the White House said it is “closely monitoring” the hunger strike, which began on Feb. 6, and its imposing health concerns on detainees.
When a “routine” check in one of the three camps at the infamous detention camp in Cuba led to perceived “religious desecration,” several detainees went on a hunger strike. The staged protest came after detainees said that guards mishandled their Qurans and confiscated personal belongings. While U.S. military officials responded, “only Muslim translators at the camp handle copies of Islam’s holy book,” the hunger strike has grown to include more than 39 detainees, according to officials.
The White House stated that a delegation from The International Committee of the Red Cross was sent to “check conditions” at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp last week as the hunger strike continues to escalate, according to the Associated Press, while officials “reiterated President Obama’s vow to close the prison facility.”
Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, also referred to as Guantánamo, G-Bay or Gitmo, is a detainment and interrogation facility operated by the U.S. military on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The detention camp was established in 2002 by the Bush Administration to hold detainees in possible connection with the Global War on Terror.
While the detention camp came under scrutiny after reports of abuse and torture were divulged by former detainees, President Obama signed an order in 2009 to “suspend the proceedings of the Guantanamo Military Commission for 120 days” and promised to completely shut down the detention camp that same year, a vow made during his first term of presidency, according to the White House’s official website, whitehouse.gov. But a military judge denied the White House’s order during a detainee’s case and, from there, the Senate voted against allocating funds to help transfer and release detainees from Guantánamo.
The president then issued a “presidential memorandum” at the end of 2009 ordering Thomas Correctional Center in Thomas, Illinois to take transferred detainees from Guantánamo. According to the Final Report of the Guantanamo Review Task Force released in 2010, out of the 240 reviewed detainees:
“36 were the subject of active cases or investigations; 30 detainees from Yemen were designated for conditional detention due to the poor security environment in Yemen; 126 detainees were approved for transfer, and 48 detainees were determined too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution.”
But with much opposition from Congress and international lawmakers, they revoked the decision to transfer detainees to other facilities within the U.S. and other countries, according to the report. And President Obama’s efforts to close Guantánamo were instead interceded.
In 2011, he signed the Defense Authorization Bill, which placed restrictions on the transfers of detainees from Guantánamo and, once again, impeded his efforts to close the detention camp.
While many countries have pleaded for “fresh reviews” of their nationals’ detainment at Guantánamo, the U.S. Supreme Court has denied any releases. Yemen, the country with the most detainees held at Guantánamo and who are among the participants in the hunger strike, protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa on Monday for the release of Yemenis, according to Aljazeera. The Yemen government confirmed to the U.S. that any released detainees that “disavow militancy” will go through rehabilitation—an active process for people “repatriated to their country.” In contrast, the U.S. said Yemen, which has an active al-Qaeda presence, is too “unstable” to control people from participating in militia.
As their efforts continue to be denied, protests against Guantánamo are also escalating among activists in the U.S. The current hunger strike has activists coming down on President Obama’s continued vow to close Guantánamo. Amnesty International USA—a global movement dedicated to promoting human rights and fighting injustices—expressed “deep concern at the situation faced by detainees” at the detention camp, according to their website.
In a letter addressed to Charles Hagel, Secretary of Defense, Amnesty International USA’s director of research and crisis response, Anne FitzGerald, detailed the cruelty and violations against human rights, which are taking place inside Guantánamo and demands an urgent resolution to such matters.
“Whatever the cause of the current detainee protests at Guantánamo, the backdrops remains one where the United States of America continues to flout international human rights law in its failure to charge for fair trial or release the detainees held at the base. Their ‘fundamental rights,’ it seems, are rights the United States of America insists upon ignoring, not respecting.”
While the White House continues to keep a watchful eye over the current hunger strike at Guantánamo, a group of lawyers for the detainees filed an “emergency motion” in a federal court in Washington, D.C. claiming the detention camp guards “refused to provide drinking water to hunger strikers and kept the camp extremely frigid to break the strike.” They went on to say that not receiving ample water is causing many severe medical conditions for their clients. Reports also claimed that detainees participating in the hunger strike lost “dangerous amounts of weight.”
Among the detainees’ lawyers who frequent the detention center to check on their clients, the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation, including a medical doctor, has increased their visits to Guantánamo as a way to monitor detainees’ health and “raise concerns” about anything it might question, according to officials. While the number of detainees participating in the hunger strike has doubled since its start, many of the men said they would continue the protest in defiance of their “indefinite detention” and the false promise of the detention center’s closure the Obama administration has yet to deliver upon.