Since Feb. 6, there has been an ongoing hunger strike among inmates at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The strike has picked up steam in the past week with more than half of the prison’s detainees participating.
The hunger strike has brought the almost-forgotten detention camp back into the limelight. The military base has worn out its welcome with repeated violations of human rights. Guantanamo Bay is a hallmark of inhumanity, an embarrassment to the United States Constitution and outright insulting to any notion of due process. Guantanamo’s doors should be closed permanently, effective immediately.
The prisoners involved are protesting their indefinite incarceration, as well as the terrible conditions at the camp. A number of those participating in the strike have long been cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay, but have still not been transferred out. Some reports indicate that there are as many as 100 inmates in this situation.
One of these prisoners, Shaker Aamer, has been there for 11 years. He was cleared for release in 2007 – and he is still at Guantanamo.
Talking to The Observer, Aamer said, “I barely notice all of my medical ailments any more – the back pain from the beatings I have taken, the rheumatism from the frigid air conditioning, the asthma exacerbated by the toxic sprays they use to abuse us.”
Aamer is not alone. An Al-Jazeera journalist named Sami al-Haj, a former Guantanamo prisoner, said, “They used dogs on us, they beat me, sometimes they hung me from the ceiling and didn’t allow me to sleep for six days.”
Even a former Guantanamo guard named Brandon Neely reports that he often saw prisoners being beaten and that they were “treated horribly.”
Last weekend, the strike escalated when guards at the base attempted to break the dedication of protestors by separating them and moving them to solitary cells. Things quickly became violent when prisoners expressed their unwillingness to cooperate and guards used “nonlethal” rounds to subdue the strikers.
Of the incident, Aamer told The Observer, “The military responds with violence, as if that will break us; it draws us together.”
For those participating in the hunger strike, life must seem almost Kafka-esque. The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have essentially been found guilty of a crime that they were never tried for. They are not “innocent until proven guilty,” but rather the opposite. If they should have the audacity to protest the conditions they are faced with, things go from bad to worse.
It is quite shocking that in the 21st century, we still allow, and even sanction, this kind of treatment of any human being. Most of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have not even been charged with a crime, yet they live in conditions unfit for even the worst of criminals. As a nation that claims to place high value on human rights, we simply cannot stand by and allow these abuses to continue.
Frankly, it has already gone on far too long. Even if Guantanamo were closed today, it would still be about 10 years overdue.
Guantanamo Bay is a reminder of the fear and loathing omnipresent in post-9/11 America. Closing its doors permanently would be an important step in the right direction for both human rights and the United States as a whole.