America’s infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba has reportedly become the scene of a widespread hunger strike – now in its third week – yet on Monday a prison spokesman denied that any such activity was taking place.
The lawyers for the prisoners said in a letter to the prison commander, that “all but a few men” are on hunger strike and that their condition “appears to be rapidly deteriorating and reaching a potentially critical level.”
The protest can best be summed up with a statement that the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has sent to military officials. They wrote that “since approximately February 6, 2013, camp authorities have been confiscating detainees’ personal items, including blankets, sheets, towels, mats, razors, toothbrushes, books, family photos, religious CDs, and letters, including legal mail; and restricting their exercise, seemingly without provocation or cause.” Moreover, “Arabic interpreters employed by the prison have been searching the men’s Qur’ans in ways that constitute desecration according to their religious beliefs, and that guards have been disrespectful during prayer times.”
As days turned into weeks, there have been reports of men coughing up blood, losing consciousness and having to be moved to other wings of the facility for observation. However, the actual facts and figures remain shrouded in mystery, while more controversy surfaced after Guantanamo officials gave their response to the accusations.
A prison spokesman has said that the Department of Justice will address the lawyers’ letter of complaint, he also claimed that there had only been six people on strike for a year now. Other detainees simply didn’t skip enough meals to be considered on strike at all, according to military rules. The spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, said that “some detainees have attempted to coordinate a hunger strike and have refused meal deliveries. Most detainees are not participating.” He tried to describe the reasons the inmates had for going on strike as blown out of proportion, claiming that they “have chosen one routine search in early February as the rallying point for their grievances.”
Meanwhile, the prisoners have outlined a few simple conditions for the authorities to consider if they want the strike to end instantly: firstly, the right to willingly surrender the Qurans, so as not to incur the book’s forceful desecration at the hands of a prison guard. And secondly – to provide the Quran on an electronic reader; that way, no notes can be passed in a book and no further religious violations need to take place.
Guantanamo Bay holds around 170 inmates. There had been a few strikes since 2002, but while some served to change the prison dynamic and gave the prisoners the sense that they could stand their ground on certain matters, the strike of 2005 effectively ended this. It involved a large portion of that population, but didn’t achieve success, as the military began tying people down and force-feeding them liquid nutrients through tubes to prevent starvation.