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Guantanamo Bay Prisoners Starving to Death

Guantanamo Bay prisoners have now been on a hunger strike for more than 42 days. Although acknowledged by the United States military, the protest by prisoners at the Cuban prison has so far been largely unacknowledged by international humanitarian organizations.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, 130 prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest the alleged confiscation of personal items such as photos and mail and the alleged sacrilegious handling of their Quraan’s.

Of the detainees, 166 remain locked up, although more than half have been cleared by the Obama administration for release. – Yet, there they languish – in some cases, now in their second decade – in a hellish legal limbo, uncharged yet imprisoned.

Thomas Wilner, a lawyer, who used to represent some of the Guantanamo detainees in court, said “There are 166 people at Guantanamo. Of those there are probably 20 guys who are bad guys… like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The other people… more than half of them – 86 of them have been cleared at least for three years and some during the Bush administration.

President Barack Obama’s procrastination to close Guantánamo, as he boldly promised to do with an executive order signed on 22 January 2009, and the deterioration of conditions at the prison under his watch will remain a lasting blot on his legacy

A Guantánamo Yemeni prisoner Bashir al-Marwalah wrote to his lawyer saying, “We are in danger. One of the soldiers fired on one of the brothers a month ago (Referring to the first recorded use of rubber bullets being fired at a Guantanamo prisoner by the US military guards at Guantanamo). Before that, they send the emergency forces with M-16 weapons into one of the brothers’ cell blocks … Now they want to return us to the darkest days under Bush. They said this to us. Please do something.”

The Red Cross, which visited the island prison from February 18 to 23, was one of the few international organizations to comment on the situation at the Guantanamo detention camp. It acknowledged that a hunger strike was actually taking place, but so far the organization has only released a statement, stating “The ICRC believes past and current tensions at Guantanamo to be the direct result of the uncertainty faced by detainees.”

Military censorship makes it quite difficult to access any information about Gitmo prisoners. It was the attorneys for the detainees that first expressed urgency and grave concern over the life-threatening mass hunger strike that reportedly started in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on February 6.

Prison spokesman Navy Capt. Robert Durand says eight men are being fed with a liquid nutrient mix to prevent dangerous weight loss. Two men are at the prison hospital being treated for dehydration. The military says none are in immediate danger from the strike.

Lawyers for the prisoners believe otherwise. They have reported some of their clients had weight loss of up to or more than 20 pounds (8kg) and have been hospitalized. Medical experts say that by day 45, hunger strikers can experience potential blindness and partial hearing loss.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and habeas counsel have sent a letter to US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, urging him “to address this growing crisis at Guantánamo before another man dies at the prison, this time under his watch. The hunger strike should be a wake-up call for the Obama Administration, which cannot continue to ignore the human cost of Guantánamo and put off closing the prison any longer.”

Faizel Patel

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