Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike Reminds Us That the Detention Center Still Exists, Is Still Illegal


In 2008, as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama repeatedly pledged to close Guantanamo Bay and signed an executive order to close the prison a few months into his campaign.  Yet the detention center where hundreds of men are held in "legal limbo" still remains, but now those imprisoned there are fighting back: over 100 men incarcerated in Guantanamo’s Block 6 are in the midst of a hunger strike in response to the defacement of their Korans by guards. 

Conditions in Guantanamo Bay have been under scrutiny for violating human rights since the prison was opened in 2002. Approximately 70% of those in Guantanamo Bay are held in solitary confinement, which many human rights organizations in the United States consider to be inhumane treatment. Many of those incarcerated at Guantanamo have been cleared for release, and it remains unclear when they will be released in spite of their innocence. The physical, emotional, and psychological abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo is well-documented: it makes sense that detainees would have reason for a hunger strike. The greater question is why now?   

The strike began in early February, but information was not released to the public about the strike until March, when lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights spoke to some of their clients who are striking.  The men’s lawyers say that their clients are "rapidly deteriorating" as a result of their hunger strike: Fayez Al-Kandari lost 26 pounds in three and a half weeks. The strike was spurred by the confiscation of the men’s personal belongings, including their Korans, which were taken in a "defacing manner," and because time for prayer is not being respected. Many of the men incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay are Muslim. 

This is the not the first hunger strike that has been held in Guantanamo, but it is the first since ones from 2002 to 2005. One detainee worried in a letter to his lawyer that "they want to return us to the darkest days under Bush." That strike culminated in the forced feeding of many prisoners, and did little to create reform within the detention center. 

Though the outcome of this round of hunger strikes may not be known for many years, these strikes are a reflection of the fact that Guantanamo Bay has been open for 11 years, in spite of executive orders that supposedly closed it. The men incarcerated there are forgotten by the public and have been left to grow old in the detention center.  Guantanamo is still open, and men who have no business being detained continue to reside within it. Until President Obama takes significant action to actually close the center as he promised in 2008, the hunger strikes and conditions within Guantanamo that created them, not to mention the continued existence of the prison in the first place, will be part of his legacy.