Guantánamo hunger strike spreads

In a paroxysm of vicious brutality, the U.S. government and military have brutally attacked prisoners at the U.S. concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay in an attempt to end their hunger strike.

The military admits that over half the prison population is on hunger strike. The real figure could be many more.

Army Lt. Col. Samuel House said that 16 of the 84 prisoners on strike are being force-fed and five have been hospitalized.

One week after a violent raid by the guards on prisoners in which “sub-lethal” force was used, the hunger strike was steadily growing. On April 16, the number of strikers was 45. Three days later, 63 more prisoners had joined the struggle. (ABC News, April 21)

Prisoners have been on a hunger strike since early February to protest inhuman conditions and their indefinite confinement. Most have not even been formally charged, yet they have been held for years.

Forced feeding of prisoners on a hunger strike is a violation of international law. According to the Declaration of Tokyo, adopted in October 1975 during the 29th General Assembly of the World Medical Association, forced feeding is considered torture and thus “contrary to the laws of humanity.” According to the declaration, “Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed forcibly.” (American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, October 2007)

The military admits the purpose of the raid, in which a number of prisoners were injured, was to specifically deny them their right to protest.

“That is why we broke up the communal and put them in single-cell operations,” said a “cultural advisor” and spokesperson for the military. “They wanted to die out of hunger and thirst behind covered cameras.” (New York Times, April 19)

Whether or not that was the real reason for the raid, the fact remains that the prisoners at Guantánamo are being abused. Refusing to take food is a long established form of protest. It has been used by such varied groups as women seeking the vote, nationalist movements such as those led by Gandhi in India and the Irish Republican Army, and the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Most recently, Dick Gregory has begun a hunger strike on behalf of imprisoned attorney Lynne Stewart, who has been unjustly imprisoned for defending the civil and legal rights of her Muslim client.

On April 12, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, condemned the use of forced feeding of the prisoners at Guantánamo.

Maurer further criticized the U.S. over its procedures at Guantánamo, including improper reviews of prisoners’ cases and delays in repatriating those who were no longer considered a “security risk.”

“The issue of Guantánamo is politically blocked in this country,” said Maurer, who then urged President Barack Obama to have his administration “put all their energy” into resolving the issue. (Press TV, April 12) But the administration has done nothing.

On April 11, rights activists staged wide-scale protests in more than 26 cities and 19 states across the U.S. to mark the Day of Action to Close Guantánamo and End Indefinite Detention. (Press TV, April 12)

Washington has shown little regard for international law, or even its own laws. The concentration camp at Guantánamo was chosen precisely because it was located on territory that the Bush administration believed was beyond the jurisdiction of the courts. Although a struggle by progressives around the world later forced the government to concede some legal rights to the detainees, the military and CIA have sought to limit them. Before 2008, the camp administration refused to admit even the existence of the infamous maximum-security Camp 7 inside Guantánamo, which was run by the CIA. (China Daily, Feb. 7, 2008) The press is still denied access to this facility, the site of numerous incidents of “waterboarding” and other tortures.

Moreover, this notorious concentration camp is located illegally on Cuban property. Following the terms of a 1903 treaty imposed on Cuba, the U.S. every year proffers a check for “renting” the land where the U.S naval base is located. Every year since the revolution, the Cuban government has refused to accept it.

Opponents of the Cuban revolution claim there is no “freedom” in Cuba. But they say nothing about the one prison inside Cuban territory run by the U.S., where dozens are held illegally, with no charges, where high rates of suicide and death are the norm, torture is practiced and even a peaceful hunger strike is punished with brutal force.