By ELIYA AHMAD, age 12

Counting the days that Guantánamo detainees have been on hunger strike. PHOTO: Steve Rhodes
Counting the days that Guantánamo detainees have been on hunger strike. PHOTO: Steve Rhodes

In the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, detainees are going on hunger strikes to protest their treatment in the facility and the fact that they are being detained without trial. The United States government has responded by force-feeding the strikers to keep them alive. Built in 2002 to hold people the U.S. government suspects of terrorism, Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp currently holds 166 detainees; 86 have been cleared for release by the government, yet are still being held with no set release date.

Since 2005, the detainees have organized numerous hunger strikes to protest detention center conditions and the failure of the U.S. government to free cleared prisoners. A hunger strike is when someone stops consuming food and is a form of peaceful resistance because it does not use violence. Unlike previous hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay that were smaller in scale, at the peak of the current hunger strike, 108 of 166 detainees were participating, protesting long detentions without trial. As of August 2013, a total of 60 prisoners were still on hunger strike. Detainees have used hunger strikes to bring attention to conditions within the facility and, for some, over a decade of detention without legal proceedings.

Some argue that force-feeding—sticking feeding tubes up strikers’ noses and into their stomachs, giving them a nutritional supplement—is illegal. In an interview with IndyKids, attorney Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, stated that many lawyers believe force-feeding to be illegal. “Forgoing food is a personal choice that is protected by international law as well as the U.S. Constitution.” Ratner continued on, explaining that the way the force-feeding is being carried out is inhumane and prohibited by treaties signed by the United States.

“I don’t want these individuals to die,” President Obama told reporters regarding the strike. However, Ratner argues that “the detainees are being force-fed not because the government cares about their lives, but because a death might force the government to close Guantánamo. A death would certainly give the United States even a worse reputation than it already has on the Guantánamo issue.”

Hunger Strikes Throughout History
By INDYKIDS STAFF

Imprisoned suffragettes in both the United States and Britain were often force-fed during their hunger strikes. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
Imprisoned suffragettes in both the United States and Britain were often force-fed during their hunger strikes. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

1909: Marion Wallace Dunlop, an imprisoned suffragette in Great Britain, carried out a hunger strike when she was not recognized as a political prisoner during the struggle to win the right to vote for women. Many of the women who later followed her example were force-fed during their resistance.

1943: Mahatma Gandhi went on a hunger strike in India during his imprisonment by the British colonial government for his anticolonial activism. His numerous hunger strikes and other forms of nonviolent resistance served to inspire countless future civil rights activists.

Mural in honor of Cesar Chavez. PHOTO: Salina Canizales
Mural in honor of Cesar Chavez. PHOTO: Salina Canizales

1972: Mexican American farmer, labor organizer and Latino civil rights activist, Cesar Chavez carried out a hunger strike to protest the passage of a law banning farm workers from boycotting and striking for their rights during the harvest season.

1981: In Northern Ireland, a group of prisoners arrested during the Troubles went on hunger strike to demand recognition as political prisoners over the conflict between Irish Republicans and Ulster Unionists. 10 of the hunger strikers died, of whom the first was Irish Republican Army volunteer and strike leader, Bobby Sands.

2013: Inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California have been on hunger strike since July 8, 2013 to protest prison conditions and to call for an end to indefinite solitary confinement.