Hunger strike and force feeding at Guantanamo drowned out by media

Ivan Glinski
Jul 22, 2013 at 11:50 AM

While many have been paying attention to the Zimmerman case, or even worse, the Paula Deen affair, a hunger strike that has been going on for months in the dark abyss that is Guantanamo Bay has come to a head.

Since March, more than 160 of the detainees have participated in this strike, and around a hundred are still at it. Shaker Aamer, a British permanent resident who was captured in 2001 and who has been held in indefinite detention, is on his 149th day without eating. This protest is very similar to the one that occurred in 2005, during which between 150-200 detainees refused to eat any food over several months. It was reported then that 80 of the captives approached serious health conditions, having dropped down to less than 100 pounds in weight. Some lost a third of their weight, others more.

GitmoJournalist Andy Worthington described one of the detainees as appearing “skeletal… [his] legs looked like bones with skin wrapped tight around them.” Some even committed suicide; although their deaths have been contested to be retribution for acting as the leaders of the hunger strike. Although not many statistics have been provided, and even fewer journalists are allowed entrance, information and reports can be pieced together to understand this most recent strike in the context of indefinite detention and human rights abuses.

Both of these strikes are motivated by similar principles: the protest of the prisoners' innocence, their treatment by authorities, and the absence of any trials.

Both of them saw the use of similar tactics: the use of inhumane and painful force-feeding tubes that are inserted into the nostrils of detainees, while strapped down, to force liquid nourishment down their throats.

Every day, the strikers are delivered food to their cells in an attempt to force them off the strike. However, the food is often cold, disgusting, and, as many detainees suspect, may contain drugs. One doesn’t need to list the abuses that prisoners have undergone in Guantanamo — a decade of documented torture and abuse can be readily accessed.

To list just one example, in 2002, 16-year-old Omar Khadr was exposed to extreme temperature manipulation, forced nudity, and sexual humiliation. He was “short-shackled by his hands and feet to a bolt in the floor and left for five to six hours.” In one particularly notorious incident, the guards left him short-shackled until he urinated on himself, and then “poured a pine-scented cleaning fluid over him and used him as a ‘human mop’ to clean up the mess.”

As if further humiliation was required, Khadr added that he was “not provided with clean clothes for several days after this degradation.” There is little reason to believe that conditions have improved, since during the 2005 strike the government refused to abide by the Geneva Conventions as they were called upon by detainees and rights advocates.

All of this becomes much more appalling with the knowledge that 86 individuals (52% of the prison population) have been cleared for release with no charges at all. Many like, Mr. Aamer, have been in the prison for over a decade without a trial.

What kind of picture does this paint of the United States? It certainly doesn't look like a place of law or justice, but like a nation of absolute centralized authority, where anyone can be striped of their rights indefinitely.

Should we be relieved that these actions are only being committed against foreign nationals? No, because since Anwar Al-Awalaki and NDAA, American citizens are fair game.

Should we condone such treatment because they are “enemy combatants”? No, since charges of “aiding the enemy” and espionage have been attempted to be applied to Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden respectively for acting in a journalistic capacity.

There is no justification that can be applied to this treatment, and any attempt to would be in absolute ignorance of the ethical rights of individuals and a thousand-year-old English law code that calls for trial by jury.

It’s time that we notice and enforce the law, or it eventually come for us as well.

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How would you describe the character of the prisoners at GITMO?

Keith3618's picture

They are peacefully protesting their detainment wih a hunger strike; that sounds like good character to me. Half of the prisoners are already cleared for transfer because there wasn't enough evidence for a tribunal to convict them. That says a lot.

However, it shouldn't matter what the character of the prisoners in Gitmo is, the fact remains that they are being held indefinitely, which is against the right of habeas corpus and due process.

ivan.glinski's picture

As Ivan commented, there's a real sense in which their character is irrelevant to the question of how they should be treated. Rights are based on our humanity, not our actions — that's why we have laws which are designed (though not followed) to protect the rights of even those accused of the worst crimes.

As it happens, 86 of the 166 current Gitmo inmates have been cleared for release but not actually released. That means that more than half of those in Guantanamo Bay — including many of the hunger strikers — are definitely not terrorists. As appalling as it is that the other 80 have been detained without trial, it is even more absurd that these 86 remain behind bars.

So, long story short, I would describe the character of 86 of the prisoners at Gitmo as perfectly normal; and I would describe the character of the other 80 as indeterminate, as they have not been taken to court to answer that question.

Bonnie Kristian's picture