Katie Rucke The exact number of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison on hunger strike may be up for debate, but the fact that there is a hunger strike protesting inhumane conditions at the prison is not. Mint Press News reported last week that lawyers representing detainees reported that more than 100 prisoners at the Guantanamo […]
The exact number of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison on hunger strike may be up for debate, but the fact that there is a hunger strike protesting inhumane conditions at the prison is not.
Mint Press News reported last week that lawyers representing detainees reported that more than 100 prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison were on a mass hunger strike after prison guards began confiscating personal items including prisoners’ religious text, the Quran.
Nearly all of the some 166 prisoners being held in the prison have been detained for about 11 years without any charge, a major violation of their civil liberties. This has also fueled some of the anger that has led to the most recent hunger strike.
About 51 detainee attorneys wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week expressing their concern, due to the fact that “at least two dozen men have lost consciousness due to low blood glucose levels.”
“Since approximately February 6, 2013, camp authorities have been confiscating detainees’ personal items, including blankets, sheets, towels, mats, razors, toothbrushes, books, family photos, religious CDs, and letters, including legal mail; and restricting their exercise, seemingly without provocation or cause,” the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) wrote in a letter to the U.S. Military earlier this month.
In response to the allegations, two Defense Department spokesmen, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale at the Pentagon and Capt. Robert Durand, Director of Public Affairs for the Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), have acknowledged there is a hunger strike, but deny the event is occurring on as large of a scale as originally exposed by the attorneys.
“That there is any concrete, mass hunger strike — that is an utter fabrication,” Breasseale said. “Some who claim to be hunger striking are in fact eating handfuls of trail mix, nuts and other food. They are taking in plenty of calories.”
In a letter to the international news organization Russia Today (RT), Durand wrote that the JTF-GTMO “takes its duty to treat detainees humanely very seriously and seeks to ensure we conduct ourselves in accordance with the highest standards, and we remain under continual scrutiny, oversight and inspection.”
Durand also called the allegations about the mass hunger strike and the confiscation of personal items, including the Quran, “outright falsehoods and gross exaggerations.”
According to the Pentagon, a detainee is on a hunger strike when they refuse nine consecutive meals, are not seen snacking and have lost a certain amount of body weight.
Based on this definition, Durand says 24 detainees were on a hunger strike as of March 19, and eight of those strikers had lost enough weight that doctors were force-feeding them liquid nutrients through tubes inserted into their noses and down into their stomachs.
Lack of a universal definition of what constitutes a hunger strike, added to the lack of information about what occurs at Guantanamo Bay prison, has left human rights organizations dissatisfied.
“If the definition of a hunger striker is entirely in their control and is a matter of their discretion, then I think that explains how they are able to say that there are no more than a handful of men on hunger strike,” said Pardiss Kebriaei of the CCR.
Still, Durand insists that the hunger strike is not as large-scale as once thought. “If it was 166 [detainees], I would tell you it was 166. I don’t have a reason to low ball or pad the numbers.”