By: BROCK WILSONIn a speech Thursday, President Barack Obama addressed the ongoing hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, calling on Congress to lift restrictions on detainee transfers from the detention camp.
Guantanamo Bay, otherwise known as Gitmo, was established by the Bush administration in 2002 to hold detainees believed to be connected with opponents in the Global War on Terror. Numerous complaints of torture and abuse have been made by past and present prisoner, and have all been denied by the Bush administration.
The hunger strike, which began on February 6, started as a revolt against newly implemented prison conditions and indefinite confinement of detainees, reigniting controversy around Guantanamo.
At least 133 of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo Bay are now participating in the hunger strike, according to Carlos Warner, an attorney currently defending multiple detainees.
“The soldiers who guard the men changed in September of last year,” Warner said. “They created new policies that took away things that the men had for many years. This was just the straw that broke the camels back.”
The annual changeover of guards brought new policies to Guantanamo including the searching of the men’s Qur’ans, something that had not happened for years. There has also allegedly been mistreatment of these Qur’ans, according to Warner.
“Even though Guantanamo has been open 12 years, it’s more like it has been open for one year, 12 times,” Warner said. “The people working there now don’t understand how things worked in the past … they don’t know how to communicate with the men.”
While these new policies contributed to the detainees’ choice to begin their hunger strike, the clear reason the strike began is “the President’s policy not to close Guantanamo,” Warner said.
“He turned back on his promise and it has brought these men to a hopeless place where the answer for many of them is to die in a peaceful protest,” he said.
The guards at Guantanamo Bay however, are thwarting this attempt at a peaceful protest by resorting to violently force-feeding detainees.
“The best way to describe it is that these innocent men who are engaged in a peaceful hunger strike… who should be released, are not released,” Warner said. “Instead they are being force-fed to stay alive.”
“It’s not only torturous … it’s barbaric,” he added.
Obama has now renewed his original promise to close Guantanamo, something he proposed during his initial campaign for presidency in 2007.
While Obama’s renewed pledge to close Guantanamo is a step forward, Amy Bartholomew, a law professor at Carleton University, believes that there are specific things that need to be addressed immediately.
“First, we must demand an immediate end to force-feeding, which has been widely condemned by human rights organizations and the UN,” Bartholomew said in a recent article.
“Second, there must be a fairly negotiated end to the hunger strike at Guantanamo,” she said. “The primary condition for halting the ongoing brutality at Guantanamo and avoiding more is a real, feasible, expeditious plan to release those who have not been charged with a crime.”
Hillary Clinton also addressed the issues at Guantanamo in a recent memo to Obama, which, along with his speech, suggests that the president may finally come through on his promise.
Obama said in his speech Thursday that he has asked the Department of Defense to create a site in the U.S. for military commissions, and that he has appointed a senior envoy to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo.
“We’re still gathering information … his speech was incomplete. “There wasn’t enough information on what he is actually going to do in detail,” Warner said.
“In the end it is not about politics, it is about courage and whether Obama has the courage to do what is right.”