Testimony has asserted that guards at the prison have used techniques beyond force-feeding to break the protest.
Despite previous assertions by prison representatives that hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay have ended, a recent report has indicated that hunger strikes have actually doubled since December 2013. The report, compiled by human rights advocate Reprieve, has found that 33 detainees are currently striking, with 16 being force-fed.
At the height of the hunger strikes last summer, 106 detainees out of then-166 were intentionally starving themselves, based on self-admittance and tracking of meals. Of this 106, 44 were being force-fed via a tube. On the last day the federal government officially disclosed hunger-strike numbers, there were 15 strikers who were all forced-fed.
The report also alleged that prison authorities punished hunger-strikers by sending them to “Camp V Echo,” which has been described as an amenity-free facility and the strictest camp at the base.
“[I was] strapped to the bed for 24 hours except to use the toilet,” said Shaker Aamer, who despite being cleared to leave by the Obama administration is still being held in Guantanamo, to Reprieve.
“The [force-feeding] tube was in 24 hours a day. We would be fed for 30-40 minutes each time, with Ensure cans, two cans, three times a day. Some of the prisoners became zombies, as if they were already dead. I dropped weight to 130 pounds. I told the doctors, ‘I want to die peacefully. I want no intervention.’ But they refused this.”
The hunger strikes started after the Obama administration found more than 80 inmates cleared to be released from Guantanamo, based on an assessment by the Guantanamo Review Task Force. Despite their status, the inmates remain incarcerated due to congressional restrictions placed on their release to the U.S. or other countries.
Due to this unique confluence of circumstances, the detainees are, in effect, being held without legal reason — in violation of American legal tradition. The prisoners feel that starving themselves is the only way that they can speak of their plight. In the December announcement publishing the decision to no longer publish hunger-strike updates, the prison asserted its respect to peaceful protest.
“Our policy at JTF-Guantánamo is to no longer publicly issue the number of detainees who choose not to eat as a matter of protest.,” said Navy Cmdr. John Filostrat, public-affairs officer at Joint Task Force Guantánamo — the official designation for the base at Guantanamo Bay. “JTF-Guantánamo allows detainees to peacefully protest but will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public. The release of this information serves no operational purpose and detracts from the more important issues, which are the welfare of detainees and the safety and security of our troops.”
Despite this assertion, published testimony has asserted that the guards at the prison have used techniques beyond force-feeding to break the protest, including the denial of medication and grooming supplies, embarrassing searches, intentional humiliation before or during calls, denial of communal prayers and searches of Korans. In October, a federal district court judge refused to rule on a case that would stop force-feeding in Guantanamo, citing the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which denies the Judiciary the right to hear cases concerning detained aliens.
Force-feeding is a painful procedure in which a plastic feeding tube is channeled down the esophagus through either the nose or mouth. The insertion of the tube can inflamate internal tissues and the introduction of food inside the stomach or esophagus artificially can create a situation in which not enough digestive acids are available, leading to indigestion or heartburn.
“Many brothers have ended their hunger strikes because of these brutal force-feeding practices and the cruel punishment inflicted by the prison guards and military medical staff,” wrote Moath al-Alwi, a hunger-striker, in a commentary to Al Jazeera America. “Others have chosen to suspend their hunger strikes to give President Barack Obama time to make good on his renewed promise to release Guantanamo prisoners.
“But as for my brothers and me, we will remain on hunger strike. We pray that the next thing we taste is freedom. It may be hard to believe, but one of my fellow prisoners now weighs only 75 pounds. Another weighed in at 67 pounds before they isolated him in another area of the prison facility. These men survive only by the grace of God. May God continue to sustain us all until we achieve our goal of justice.”