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4 Inhumane Realities about the Guantanamo Hunger Strike

As the hunger strike stretches into its 100th day, here are the four worst things about how the U.S. is handling the ongoing protest.

Graffiti depicts a Guantanamo prisoner.
Photo Credit: Walt Jabsco/Flickr


Friday marks 100 days since the beginning of the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay that has recaptured international attention on the offshore prison President Obama promised to close when seeking office five years ago.

As of Thursday, military officials say that 102 out of 166 detainees are participating in the strike. Lawyers say that number is closer to 130. 

Since the hunger strike began 100 days ago, international groups including the European Parliament, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and several nations with detainees at GITMO have stepped up pressure on the Obama administration to release detainees or close the prison altogether.

As the strike continues past its 100th day, here are four of the most disturbing facts about the situation at Guantanamo. 

1. The torturous force-feeding

Thirty of the 166 prisoners held at Guantanamo are being subjected to force-feeding--a practice that’s considered torture and in violation of international law by the UN human rights office. Earlier this week, the ACLU, as well as a handful of human rights organizations, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging a halt to force-feeding at GITMO. 

While the military says it’d be “inhumane” to let the prisoners starve themselves, several human rights and medical groups disagree. 

“Under those circumstances, to go ahead and force-feed a person is not only an ethical violation but may rise to the level of torture or ill-treatment,” said Peter Maurer, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The military’s force-feeding procedure involves shoving a tube into a prisoner’s nose, through the sinuses, throat, and eventually, stomach. The process inflicts severe pain and discomfort. According to an analysis of military documents by Al Jazeera, prisoners are forced to “to wear masks over their mouths while they sit shackled in a restraint chair for as long as two hours” while a liquid nutritional supplement is pumped into their stomach. “At the end of the feeding, the prisoner is removed from the restraint chair and placed into a ‘dry cell’ with no running water,” Al Jazeera explains. “A guard then observes the detainee for 45-60 minutes ‘for any indications of vomiting or attempts to induce vomiting.’ If the prisoner vomits he is returned to the restraint chair.”

2. Alleged attempts to “break” hunger strikers 

Several reports have emerged that Guantanamo guards are mistreating hunger strikers in an effort to “break” them. Lawyers for Yemini prisoner Musaab al-Madhwani says guards are targeting strikers by denying them drinking water, forcing them to drink non-potable tap water, and keeping their cells at “extremely frigid” temperatures,  reports AFP. In a complaint, lawyers said, “When Musaab and his fellow prisoners requested drinking water, the guards told them to drink from the faucets … The lack of potable water has already caused some prisoners kidney, urinary and stomach problems.”

Another lawyer  tells RT that guards are removing striking detainees from communal living spaces and forcing them to live in single cells to break their spirit.

3. More than half of GITMO’s prisoners have been cleared for release. Ninety percent haven’t even been charged with a crime.

Eighty-six of 166 prisoners at GITMO have already been cleared for release, yet legal and bureaucratic barriers have kept them detained indefinitely. First of all, Congress imposed restrictions on detainee transfers, requiring proof that potential transfers would never pose a threat to U.S. national security in the future. In a press conference last month, President Obama reiterated this fact, saying that he’s “going to need some help from Congress.” Yet, as several commentators have pointed out, Congress also granted Obama the power to use waivers to transfer detainees, a power he has not exercised once.

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