May 30 2013

Guardian: Guantánamo Bay hunger strike worsens

Newswire | Published 30 May 2013, 11:14 am | Comments Off on Guardian: Guantánamo Bay hunger strike worsens -

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A long-running hunger strike by detainees at Guantánamo has worsened since Barack Obama promised action to close the controversial prison camp in a landmark speech last Thursday.

On the eve of Obama’s address, there were 103 prisoners on hunger strike, with 31 being force-fed by military authorities and one in hospital. Since then, not a single prisoner has stopped their strike, and now 36 of the detainees are being force-fed to keep them alive, with five of them being hospitalised.

In telephones calls and letters to their legal representatives, detainees have also described a regime of intimidating body searches and other restrictions they say are designed to prevent them from talking to their lawyers and also to break their resolve.

However, it seems that the hunger strike is showing no signs of ending, despite several promises made by Obama to shutter the camp and release many of those who have been held there without charge for more than a decade. “The numbers of strikers are not moving downwards. Nothing has changed,” said Carlos Warner, a lawyer for several detainees.

Others who work with the detainees said they feared the media spotlight would move on from the issue, despite the fact that nothing concrete has yet emerged from Obama’s speech. “The hunger strike is the only reason we are talking about Guantánamo. It would be a terrible mistake by the administration to think that they have dealt with this with one speech,” said Omar Farah, a lawyer at the Centre for Constitutional Rights which works with numerous prisoners who are striking.

Obama has now promised a series of measures at Guantánamo, including the lifting of a moratorium on releasing detainees to Yemen, a plan to appoint a senior official to the task of overseeing transfers, the trying those to be charged in the future within the civilian justice system, and the moving of military tribunals to US soil.

In his speech, the president also referenced the strike and portrayed Guantánamo as a moral wrong that needed to be corrected, in accord with American values and to stop harming the country’s image abroad.

There are 166 prisoners currently at the base and 86 of them have been cleared for release, though US security concerns have meant there has been little recent movement to send any prisoners to their home countries or other states willing to take them. Of those 86, 56 are from Yemen, who will now theoretically benefit from the lifting of restrictions on transfers to that country.

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