From Winter to Fall: Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike Continues


By Palina Prasasouk|News|October 21, 2013 22:51 EDT

After nearly nine months of a hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay, on September 6, 2013 Nabil Hadjarab and Motai Sayab were sent back to their home country of Algeria on probation. They were among the first prisoners brought to GTMO in 2002, and their release is the first the prison has seen since September 2012. Hadjarab would like to return to France where his family resides, however on October 2, 2013, France said that it does not plan to accept any more foreign nationals freed from the Guantanamo detention facility. September 2013, also marked the one year anniversary of Adnan Latif’s suicide.

Omar Khadr, the youngest prisoner at age fifteen, was repatriated last year to Canada where he would serve the remainder of his sentence. Khadr plead guilty in 2010 to five war crime offences — spying, conspiracy, providing material support and attempted murder in a deal that allowed him to return to his native Canada. On October 18, 2013, Edmonton Justice John Rooke denied a request to transfer the 27-year-old to a provincial institution. Khadr’s lawyer had argued that he was a minor when he was brought Guantanamo, and should not be serving an adult sentence at a maximum security federal facility.

In October, lawyers for the Justice Department said the government would not object to a judge issuing a release order for Ibrahim Idris. The native of Sudan has been held for more than 11 years as an enemy combatant despite being diagnosed as mentally ill soon after his arrival at Guantanamo.

Last Friday, October 18, 2013 a forth appeal was filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals in the case of Shaker Aamer vs Barack Obama. The lawsuit includes two other hunger strikers Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian. A violation to the freedom of religious practice was made when prisoners were force-fed during Ramadan.

Attorneys for the human rights group Reprieve are optimistic in winning the appeal. Aamer’s attorney Ramzi Kassem has filed a motion calling for an independent medical evaluation of his client. Aamer reports being punished by guards for continuing the hunger strike. Kassem writes “During one of our meetings, I observed that Mr. Aamer’s left knee was swollen and bruised in comparison to the right knee. Mr. Aamer explained that this injury occurred as a result of a beating by the guards and that he lost feeling in this knee. He was not given any medical care for his knee after the incident.”

It was late last month when the Department of Defense announced they would no longer be sending daily updates of the hunger strike, due to declining numbers. At its peak, 106 known detainees were on strike and 46 were being force-fed. Today, there are 14 hunger strikers with all of them being force-fed. A declaration of the hunger strike being over could very well be a play to divert attention away from a protest where the government first denied of last winter.

The Pentagon has named Paul Lewis as a special envoy to oversee transfers of Guantanamo detainees. He begins his position on November 1, 2013. The U.S. government has dropped its opposition to releasing a Guantanamo Bay prisoner with severe mental and physical illnesses, Ibrahim  Idris. conceding the argument that he is far too sick to keep locked up at the U.S. base in Cuba. A day after the announcement of the Pentagon envoy, the Department of Defense announced again that the Periodic Review Board (PRB) process is underway. “The Department remains committed to responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay,” although no deadline has been given.

Reprint: Mary House Catholic Worker November edition

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