Mar 13, 2006
At its peak in September, 131 detainees, that is, one out of four, were participating in a hunger strike at Guantanamo Camp. It began in June with a few dozen detainees protesting harsh conditions. Over the summer the strike escalated as more men joined, with the indefinite nature of their confinement becoming the main issue. Many of the 517 detainees at Guantanamo have been confined for several years, some for as long as four years, without ever being charged with any crime.
This is not the first hunger strike at Guantanamo. There have been several. But the current one was perhaps more organized, lasted longer, and attracted a larger number of men.
Prison authorities and Defense Department officials worried things were getting out of hand: that the strike could grow larger, that someone might die, that news of the protest would leak out to the world. By December the decision was made to break the strike.
After refusing to eat at mealtime, detainees would return to their cells to find basic necessities taken away: clothes, shoes, towels, blankets, books. Some detainees were put in cold isolation cells, with air-conditioning turned up all the way. Some detainees were forced-fed, but not on a regular basis.
In December and January, prison authorities upped the ante. Forced feedings have taken a horribly gruesome turn, amounting to nothing short of torture. Riot control police hold prisoners down for forced feedings several times a day. Restraint chairs were shipped in, with men, not wild animals but human beings, tied up and held immobile for hours at a time, while guards insert long tubes from nostrils to stomach, causing excruciating pain. Laxatives were added to the liquid formula, making things even more horrific and degrading.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), World Medical Association and human rights groups have all denounced such methods as torture.
As weeks went by, a growing number of detainees could no longer stand such treatment. Detainees have described to their lawyers how persistent and militant detainees advised their brother-strikers to give up the hunger strike. By the end of February, apparently only a trickle – authorities say four men – were continuing their hunger strike.
The level of cynicism of prison authorities knows no bounds. They have justified these atrocious methods as “humanitarian” and claim they’re saving detainees’ lives. The reality is they’re determined not only to break this hunger strike, but to “break” the will of detainees.
Is it any wonder that the U.S. is so hated and reviled in so many other countries? The U.S. paints its own picture for the whole world to see at Guantanamo.