Hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay are known to have engaged in hunger strikes at the prison in protest of conditions and their prolonged confinement without trial. A recent report from Jason Leopold of Truthout.org details how, as of March, detainees continue to participate in hunger strikes with the hope that the conditions of their detention will improve or so they will no longer have their basic due process rights violated.
Detainees first began to engage in hunger strikes in 2002. The hunger strikes had a definite impact. The strikes from 2002 to 2005 effectively changed the dynamics in the prison. Former detainee Binyam Mohamed said there was no law and a colonel was saying, "'I do what I like' but after the hunger strike -- the big hunger strike of 2005 -- they actually started implementing some kind of law that we knew about." But, come 2006, the prison began to force feed detainees that were striking and would force tubes down detainees' throats in a manner that successfully convinced many of the detainees to end their resistance.
There are a number of detainees that are known to have engaged in hunger striking (thanks to the great investigative journalism of Andy Worthington). Some known to have engaged in strikes are: Binyam Mohamed, Sami al-Hajj, Mohammed al-Amin, Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, Yasser Talal Zahrani, Saber Lahmer, Omar Khadr, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Tarek Baada, Ahmed Zuhair, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, Ali Al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi, and Shaker Aamer. With the release of the Guantanamo Files by WikiLeaks, more details on hunger striking in the military prison can be gleaned.
In order to further understand the details in the "Guantanamo Files," it is important to consider the Standard Operating Procedure for handling hunger strikes was outlined in a document titled, "Voluntary and Voluntary Total Fasting and Re-Feeding."
As of August 11, 2005, this was JTF GTMO's policy on hunger strikes:
Joint Task Force (JTF)-GTMO policy is to avert death from hunger strikes and from failure to drink as well as to monitor the health status of detainees who are fasting voluntarily. Every attempt will be made to allow detainees to remain autonomous up to the point where failure to eat or drink might threaten their life or health. The Detention Hospital (DH) is responsible for providing health care monitoring and medical assistance as clinically indicated for detainees who are voluntarily fasting or on a hunger strike. The Officer in Charge (OIC) of the DH will ensure that the appropriate standards of care for the medical and administrative management of fasting detainees are adhered to. The DH OIC will do everything within his/her mean to monitor and protect the health and welfare of hunger striking detainees including involuntary intravenous hydration and/or enteral tube feeding if necessary. DH medical personnel will make every effort to obtain consent from a voluntary faster for treatment
What's the distinction between a voluntary faster and a hunger striker?
Voluntary fasting (VF) "occurs when a detainee communicates his intent to JTF-GTMO personnel to undergo a period of fasting for a specific purpose, has had no solid food intake for a period of 72 hours (9 consecutive meals), but is taking adequate liquids/fluids by mouth." And, hunger striking involves a "detainee who communicates his intent to JTF-GTMO personnel to undergo a period of voluntary or total voluntary fasting as a form of protest or to demand attention from authorities."
A further distinction appears in the released reports. For example, Tarek Baada, who is one of the few detainees known to have engaged in a long-term hunger strike, is not regarded as hunger striker by JTF GTMO. The euphemism appropriated to Baada is voluntary total faster. Under "Detainee's Conduct" in his assessment report, it reads, "He is currently in voluntary total fast status since 07 January 2007, refusing 1,065 consecutive meals. In 2006, he had a total of nine Reports of Disciplinary Infraction and fourteen in 2007."
Voluntary total fasting (VTF) "occurs when a detainee communicates his intent to JTF-GTMO personnel to undergo a period of fasting for a specific purpose and has not taken any solids or liquids for a period of more than 48 hours.
The JTF GTMO Surgeon, along with the DH medical staff the Commander Joint Detention Group (JDG), and the Commander, Joint Intelligence Group (JIG), in order to make a "hunger striker" designation, must prove intent, purpose and behavior, according to JTF GTMO. Religious fasting, severe depression with suicidal intent manifested by not eating or drinking are two examples where a detainee would not be designated a hunger striker but rather a voluntary faster or voluntary total faster.
The designations, which appear in some of the released Guantanamo Files, all appear designed to lower the number of people who can be considered as people who are resisting authority. It appears to be a divide-and-conquer strategy. By deciding from the top that which detainees were part of a hunger strike, it gives them the ability to lower the detainees' fortitude and courage in keeping a strike going in the prison.
The JTF-GTMO Surgeon is only to remove "a detainee from the Hunger Striker list. Detainees are not to be removed from the list until a "DH medical officer has evaluated him and has determined that he is no longer on a VF, VTF or hunger strike." This clearly demonstrates the prison staff has aimed to assert top-down authority by deciding who is and who is not striking. Detainees who claim to be striking will have to be approved for a list in order to strike. Thus, it appears some detainees could be refused the "right" to engage in a hunger strike.
In July 2007, then-outgoing commanding officer of the Naval Station Guantanamo Hospital and head of the JTF JMG, Navy Captain Ronald L. Sollock, addressed the care of his team of medical professionals, which the prison had typically provided to the striking population. He said, "Involuntary feeding is not used to break the hunger strike"we are using sound medical indicators when necessary to preserve the life and health of detainees. We do not let the detainees get to the point of losing consciousness or becoming comatose to intervene. We will intervene to preserve their health and life before that time."
But, as noted in the cited release, military commanders consider hunger striking to be a tactic that "al Qaeda recruits" are encouraged to use to "attract media attention to their detention." So, should one actually believe commanders who assert force-feeding or involuntary feeding of detainees has not been the military prison's way of stifling resistance from detainees, who seek to assert themselves and gain rights in the prison along with greater access to legal counsel?
It appears in some instances detainees were questioned about hunger strikes during their interrogation. Shakir Abd Al Rahim Muhammad Aamer [ISN:239] allegedly stated "the death of a detainee at JTF-GTMO would "open the eyes of the world and result in the closure of the base.'" With regards to him, Humud Dakhil Humud Sa'id Al-jad'an allegedly stated "the primary reason the JTF-GTMO detainees went on the hunger strike was because detainee's lawyer told them exactly what they needed to do." Abd al-Rahim Abdul Raza Janko allegedly said of Aamer he would pass information to other detainees who came to Camp Echo for Habeas visits."