Guantanamo hunger strike reflects growing despair
A growing number of Guantanamo inmates are going on hunger strike, protesting against their indefinite detention and the diminishing prospects that the infamous prison will be closed.
"It is unprecedented in its scope, in its duration, in its determination," David Remes, an attorney representing 15 Guantanamo detainees, told AFP as the growing strike at the US prison facility enters its seventh week.
As of Friday 26 detainees were on hunger strike -- nearly double the number from a week earlier -- with feeding tubes administered to eight, according to military authorities at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Captain Robert Durand, a prison spokesman, said two detainees were at the hospital "for re-hydration and observation, on enteral feed."
The strike was launched at Camp 6 on February 6, when a "routine" inmate search took place, according to Durand. Detainees said guards had inspected their Korans, which they perceived as "religious desecration," he said.
Camp 6, built on the hills around Guantanamo, houses inmates who pose no particular threat and have no special value in the eyes of US authorities.
"Two-thirds of the population are detainees cleared for transfer," Remes said. "They were caught by accident, their life has been ruined, everything has been taken from them."
These inmates include 56 Yemenis who cannot return home because of a moratorium imposed by President Barack Obama in the wake of attacks plotted in recent years by Al-Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate, which has counted former Guantanamo inmates among its ranks.
Remes said the Yemenis live at Guantanamo in "absolute frustration in their 12th year without being charged and with the increasing prospect of never getting out.
"The camps are a tomb," the lawyer added.
Obama -- who has long seen the prison set up in the early months of the so-called War on Terror as a lightning rod for anti-Americanism and a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda -- moved to close the facility in 2009, but his plans to try suspects in US civilian courts were stymied by Congress.
Omar Farah, from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), said the US government has no plan to close Guantanamo and no idea how to solve the problem. "Their solution is just to do nothing," he said.
As proof, he cites a request submitted to the US Congress asking for funds to renovate the military base.
General John Kelly, head of the Southern Command, which runs Guantanamo, has requested $170 million to improve facilities for the troops stationed there and spoken of the need to replace the camp for so-called "special" inmates.
This undoubtedly refers to Camp 7, which houses 15 "high value" detainees, including five accused of masterminding the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
"There are no excuses for it," said Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA.
"We do believe one way to realize the closure of Guantanamo is by first ... reducing the population there," starting with those who have been cleared for release.
He said Amnesty International was worried indefinite detention was becoming a new norm. "It flies in the face of international law," he added.
Farah said the hunger strike can be explained by the fact that prisoners see no light at the end of the tunnel.
"They are desperate. They're looking at getting old and dying in an harsh prison without having ever been charged with a crime or having had a trial," he said.