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Six months on, hunger strike roils Guantanamo

Thursday, August 8, 2013


US: Guantanamo detainees are marking six months of an unprecedented hunger strike that has trained attention on the more than 150 men held at the US military prison without charge or trial.

The strike began on February 6 as a spontaneous reaction to a cell sweep in which guards allegedly mishandled copies of the Koran, but soon grew into a mass protest against the legal limbo within the walls of the War on Terror prison.


The strike helped push US President Barack Obama in May to renew his four-year-old vow to shut down the controversial facility in Cuba.

But many of the legal and political obstacles to closing the facility remain, meaning that dozens of detainees who have been force-fed through nasal tubes are no nearer to returning home.

As the majority of the 166 prisoners endured the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan beneath a scorching Caribbean sun, just 57 remained on hunger strike, down from an all-time high of 108 in June.

"The hunger strike is unprecedented in its length and its magnitude," said Captain Robert Durand, a prison spokesman.

"What they want is not to be detained... That is different from previous hunger strikes. In 2005 and 2006, they were talking about the conditions of detention." The prison counts as being on hunger strike those who have skipped nine consecutive meals.

Durand argues that the number of strikers has dwindled as detainees have come to believe their aims are being met.

"They've heard the president speak, they've heard their attorneys talk, they've seen the naming of the new ambassador to start the diplomatic process," he said.

"We think they feel they have achieved their aims." David Remes, a defense lawyer who represents 15 detainees, points to a number of factors behind the decline in strike participants.

"I assume that many men just could not continue to endure the physical or mental hardship," he said.

"But I also suspect many men feel they made their point. The strike refocused national attention on Guantanamo and spurred President Obama into action," he added.


AFP
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