Worsening conditions for prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison have caused many of the detainees to hold a mass hunger strike for the last three weeks. According to the detainees’ lawyers, the hunger strike is in reaction to searches of personal belongings, including mail and religious items. They said that the handling of their Qur’ans “amounted to desecration” and that the guards were often disrespectful during prayer times. Although the lawyers claim that almost all of the 166 prisoners are refusing food, a Guantanamo spokesperson denied that there are protests or any mishandling of religious items.
The prison did later admit that six prisoners have missed enough meals to reach the army’s classification of hunger strike, and are now being force fed liquid protein to keep them alive. However, just how many meals and in what condition it takes to be classified as on a hunger strike is unclear. One lawyer reported that his client had not eaten in 23 days, but was still considered healthy enough to not require force feeding. The health of others like him on the hunger strike, “appears to be rapidly deteriorating and reaching a potentially critical level.” Prisoners have reportedly begun coughing up blood and fainting. Further, this is only one of the slew of human rights related charges against the facility in recent weeks. Other recent news includes a guard shooting a “non-lethal” round of gunfire at prisoners on January 2, 2013 in what is being called a standard “crowd dispersal procedures.” Also, Egyptians are pressing for the release of Tariq al-Sawah, who is not charged with any crimes but remains imprisoned. Al-Sawah appears to be in extremely bad health but is refused medical treatment by prison authorities.
To end the protest, the prisoners are only demanding that their Qur’ans be treated with respect. They have also asked that they be provided with their religious text on an electronic reader, so that there could be no suspicion of passing notes and their physical texts can be respected. All of the recent scandals have highlighted the worsening conditions at the facility, and support for its closure have grown. At the very least, Guantanamo must be pressured to improve health and medical conditions for detainees, and also restore due process to all of its prisoners. Guantanamo Bay has been open for eleven years now, and a recent bill may make it harder to close the facility or transfer prisoners. The hunger strike leads many critics to the morbid comment that death may be the only escape for many of the Guantanamo detainees.