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For Prisoners 'Abandoned' in Gitmo 'Hell,' Struggle Not Over

At least 18 inmates continue to refuse food; advocates declare injustice, torture, unlawful detention remain

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

While both military officials at Guantanamo Bay and lawyers for prisoners say that the numbers of actively participating hunger strikers at the offshore prison have decreased to the point where the hunger-strike is no longer considered prison-wide, at least 18 inmates continue to refuse food—meaning the hunger strike is not over—and conditions for those facing indefinite detention remain dire.

London Protesters in solidarity with Guantanamo Bay Inmates on Hunger Strike (Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP/File)

The U.S. military announced Monday it will no longer provide daily updates on the ongoing Guantanamo Bay hunger strikes, citing a drop in numbers. "Following July 10, 2013, the number of hunger strikers has dropped significantly, and we believe today's numbers represent those who wish to continue to strike," Lt. Col. Samuel E. House, a military spokesman in Guantanamo, wrote in an email to reporters.

Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Common Dreams that the number of strikers does appear to be decreasing, yet the count the military provides should always be viewed with caution, because the military "doctors them down." Al Jazeera reports that several inmates remain on long-term hunger strike since 2007, and 18 inmates are still on a force-feeding list, suggesting many continue to refuse food in protest.

While the prison-wide hunger strike is growing smaller, the "reasons for it are not," said Kadidal, noting that several individuals have decided to continue their strikes regardless of the dwindling prison-wide strikes. "From a year into the Obama administration, people realized that the president abandoned any commitment to making changes at Guantanamo," he declared, noting there is no indication of any meaningful changes of White House policy to come.

"The hunger strikes re-focused the entire country, media, and even the president on the plight of these guys, a majority of whom are cleared for release yet have faced 11-plus years of detention." –Shayana Kadidal, CCR

Kadidal said many of his clients felt they had accomplished their primary goal of simply being heard. "The hunger strikes re-focused the entire country, media, and even the president on the plight of these guys, a majority of whom are cleared for release yet have faced 11-plus years of detention," he said.

Yet, harsh retaliatory measures, in which prison authorities made the hunger strikers' lives "hell," also played a key role in dwindling the number of strikers, Kadidal explained. "[Prison authorities] moved people to solitary confinement, force-fed people, imposed genital searches for people simply going into a phone booth to call their attorneys. They used the hunger strike to impose these measures and made it difficult for these men to engage in a relationship with their attorneys."

Prison-wide hunger strikes that began in February have been ongoing throughout the year, with over 100 participants refusing to eat for extended periods and many undergoing the painful process of being force-fed. Over 150 people are still incarcerated at the military prison in Cuba that has been widely condemned for inhumane conditions, systematic use of torture, and absence of due process for inmates, including long-term indefinite detentions without trial or formal charges. Half of all inmates have already been cleared for release.

"[H]unger striking is the sole peaceful means that I have to protest my indefinite detention," detainee Ahmed Belbacha previously stated.

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