Hunger Strikes and Indefinite Detention: A Rundown on What's Going on at Gitmo
By Cora Currier, ProPublica, April 18, 2013
It's been 11 years since the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay. But the future of the prison, and the fate of the men inside it, is far from certain. With 59 detainees at Gitmo currently on hunger strike, by the military's count, here's a primer on what's going at the island prison.
What started the hunger strike?
It began after guards allegedly mishandled detainees' Korans in a cell search in early February — but it's certainly become about more than the holy books.
The military says detainees have previously hidden "improvised weapons, unauthorized food and medicine" in the spines of the Korans, and that the February searches were standard, conducted by Muslim translators. (Koran searches had set off hunger strikes before, in 2005.)
Attorneys for hunger strikers say the detainees have offered to relinquish their Korans rather than have them searched. The military initially would not accept that option, but now says, "if they choose not to have one, they choose not to have one."
In any case, just about everyone – from the International Committee of the Red Cross to the general in charge of U.S. Southern Command – agrees the strike comes out of growing frustration and hopelessness among detainees. As we detail below, there are few indications that Gitmo will be shuttered or detainees transferred in the near future. The last detainee to leave Gitmo, last fall, was dead.
General Kelly, of U.S. Southern Command, said last month that detainees had watched Obama's State of the Union address, and heard no mention of Guantanamo. "That has caused them to become frustrated and they want to ... turn the heat up, get it back in the media," Kelly said.
In an account published in the New York Times last weekend, a Yemeni hunger striker named Samir Moqbel said he hoped "that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late." (Moqbel had recounted his story by phone to his lawyers.)
Another detainee, a Saudi Arabian named Shaker Aamer, also recently wrote an op-ed. Calling himself "a bit of a professional hunger striker," Aamer said "this one is a whole lot different." Lawyers say the strike is far more widespread than the military's count.
According to the military, two detainees have attempted suicide since the strike began.