Tuesday, April 23, 2019
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Message from Guantanamo prison cells

Guantanamo prison cellsby Camille Elhassani

Nearly 100 of the 166 Guantanamo detainees are on hunger strike.

Defence lawyers say the number is much higher. And 11 weeks since the strike began, the crisis shows no sign of abating.

Hunger strike has been used by the detainees for years to protest against their detention. This time, detainee lawyers say when the US army took over operation of the facility earlier this year, they were heavy-handed, which led to the protest.

It's a charge Guantanamo officials deny. But both officials and detainee lawyers agree that the lack of progress in closing the facility has exacerbated the situation.

Officials at Guantanamo define hunger strike as missing nine consecutive meals.

Since February 6, the number of detainees joining the strike has risen steadily. And since the detainees were forcibly removed from their living area on April 13 and moved to single cells, the number of hunger strikers has more than doubled.

Guantanamo officials said the detainees had blocked security cameras as part of their protest which led to the raid.

Phone communication

Some detainee lawyers I've spoken to say their clients have been afraid to talk to them on the phone since the raid. But Anne Richardson, who represents Afghan detainee Obaidullah, was able to speak to her client on Thursday.

She told me: "They want to be treated like human beings again."

Her client has been on hunger strike since February. She says he isn't doing well and is being punished even though he didn't do anything wrong.

Guantanamo officials say 19 of the striking detainees are being tube-fed. Five of them are being observed in the detainee hospital with non-life-threatening conditions.

On Thursday the American Medical Association sent a letter to Chuck Hagel, US defence secretary, condemning force feeding.

The letter said: "Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions."

However, Guantanamo officials maintain tube-feeding preserves life through legal means.

Solidarity hunger strike

Guantanamo officials say none of the 16 detainees considered high value are on hunger strike. These are detainees the US says were part of the inner circle of al-Qaeda and include the alleged 9/11 plotters.

They are kept in a separate camp. But defence lawyers I've spoken to say some high-value detainees are on hunger strike in solidarity with the others.

During the 11 weeks of the hunger strike, the political impasse over what to do about Guantanamo or how to resolve the hunger strike has continued.

Obama administration officials and members of Congress don't seem to be willing to move beyond blame. And the military must wait for the White House or Congress to decide what to do with the detainees.

But this week Diane Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to the White House urging the administration to renew its efforts to make progress on transferring the 86 detainees approved for release.

In the letter, she stated that monitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross recently told her staff that the level of desperation among the detainees is "unprecedented".

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