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A Fast for Guantanamo: From Winter to Winter

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January 11, 2014 Smithsonian Museum of American HIstory
January 11, 2014 Smithsonian Museum of American HIstory
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Here we are in Washington, DC, again on the 12th anniversary of Guantanamo with my friends from Witness Against Torture (WAT).  

January 2013--From the Last Fast 

When we left DC in January 2013, we were in the mind-frame that Guantanamo would not be closing anytime soon with 0 releases from the prison in the previous year, excluding the death of Adnan Latif and the transfer of Omar Khadr to another prison in Canada.

February 2013--A New Hunger Strike

Then, the game changed when military guards raided prison cells in February 2013, throwing the belongings of prisoners--Qurans, legal papers, and letters from their families. A new hunger strike grew, which has now become the largest and longest running protest inside the prison. Government officials denied any such knowledge of a hunger strike. It was only known after Shaker Aamer reported to his attorneys that nearly all the men in GTMO were on a hunger strike.

The strike peaked in June at 106 men on hunger strike and 45 being force-fed. What has been forgotten on the minds of Americans, where most had assumed Guantanamo had been closed by Obama, was now in the media headlines. Even mainstream comedy such as the Colbert Report and the Daily Show were talking about the protest.

Spring 2013--On Our Minds Again

Witness Against Torture orchestrated a rolling fast, which called for people to fast for a day, write a letter to a detainee, and make phone calls to Southcom, the Department of Defense, and The White House. Over 250 people have signed up for the rolling fast. Human rights organizations such as Codepink, Reprieve, and Veterans for Peace also organized a rolling fast. Over a thousand folks have signed on to the Codepink fast, including such names as Julian Assange and Deepak Chopra.

Cities from the west, east, and in between began organizing weekly vigils and demonstrations. The London Guantanamo Campaign holds a monthly demo in front of the American Embassy. Latin America and Australia also staged protests. A coalition of over 20 groups who have been working to close Guantanamo came together to form 

On April 14, 2013, The New York times published an op-ed by hunger-striking detainee Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, "Gitmo Is Killing Me." Witness Against Torture co-founder Matthew Daliosio, who has read almost every article that has come out about Guantanamo since 2005, described it as the most he art-breaking piece he has read.

"I've been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity. During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one. I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen's president do something, that is what I risk every day."

Numerous letters from Guantanamo have been published. A collection of them can be found at Shaker Aamer's wife, Umm Johina, has also published letters through her facebook account.

Obama's Second Promise

On May 23, 2013, Obama made a second promise to close the prison during a National Defense Speech, using much of the same language as he did during his first promise in 2009.

2009, Protecting Our System and Our Values speech by Obama:

"So going forward, my administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime" to handle such detainees "so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution."

2013, White House news conference when asked about the hunger strike:

"I've asked my team to review everything that's currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively, and I'm going to re-engage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that's in the best interests of the American people." 

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Palina Prasasouk is a New York City based Fellow at Witness Against Torture and independent filmmaker and writer on issues of civil liberties, national security and Guantanamo. You can follow her on Twitter at visiitor

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