Nearly half inmates at Gitmo officially on hunger strike

Even official numbers, which have long been conservative, list 77 hunger strikers

By Natasha Lennard

Published April 22, 2013 8:35PM (EDT)

According to even the conservative figures from Guantanamo Bay military prison officials, nearly half of all inmates have now joined the hunger strike which began in February -- protesting long-term incarceration without trial. A U.S. military spokesman put the strike number at 77 on Monday (an increase of 25 in recent days.) Via Al Jazeera:

Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House said in a statement that of the detainees refusing food, 17 are receiving "enteral feedings," a process involving being force-fed via tubes.

Five of the inmates have been admitted to hospital, although none faces "life-threatening conditions," House said.

Lawyers representing detainees have for some weeks put the hunger strike numbers significantly higher than official figures -- well above 100 inmates --  and have challenged claims that the striking detainees are not at risk of death in some cases.

A number of prisoners have recounted details about their hunger strike to media outlets via their lawyers. In a striking Op-Ed published in the U.K.'s Observer, British Gitmo prisoner Shaker Amer (who has been held at the camp for 11 years with no charges) wrote of his nearly 70 days denying food -- the inmate, Kevin Gosztola noted, is beyond the point where experts say “irreversible cognitive impairment and psychological damage." Shaker noted:

More than a decade of my life has been stolen from me, for no good reason. I resent that; of course I do. I have missed the birth of my youngest son, and some of the most wonderful years with all my four children. I love being a father, and I always worked to do it as best I can.

So obviously I want to go home to London. Of course I do. But I am never going to beg. If I have to die here, I want my children to know that I died for a principle, without bowing to my abusers. I have been on hunger strike for more than 60 days now. I have lost nearly a quarter of my body weight. 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. There is an endless list. And now, 24/7 (as the Americans say), I have the ache of hunger.

Have you ever tried going without food for 24 hours? Today, I am on my 68th day. But a man in my block has been on strike since 2005. Can you imagine it? He's only alive today because the Americans force-feed him, preventing him from making that ultimate statement of principle, the same one they have on their New Hampshire licence plates: "Give me freedom, or give me death."


Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Gitmo Guantanamo Bay Guantanamo Hunger Strike Human Rights Hunger Strike Terrorism