Over half of Guantanamo Bay prisoners on hunger strike as number increases to 84

Mass protest prompted by site authorites’ Koran search – seen by inmates as ‘religious desecration’

Kim Sengupta
Monday 22 April 2013 14:51 BST
Former Guantanamo Bay detainees wear black hoods during a protest
Former Guantanamo Bay detainees wear black hoods during a protest (Reuters)

Over half of all detainees at the US-run Guantanamo Bay military prison are now taking part in a hunger strike, with many being force-fed, a US military spokesman confirmed today.

The number of prisoners on hunger strike has risen to 84, an increase of 32 since last Wednesday, with 16 now receiving “enteral feedings,” a process involving being force-fed via tubes.

Inmates at the facility, which houses 166 detainees, have been refusing food since 6 February, when they claim prison officials searched their Korans for contraband, an act they considered to be religious desecration. Officials denied mishandling the Islamic holy book. Some prisoners, including Shaker Aamer, the last British inmate being held there, have since said they are continuing the strike in protest against their incarceration at Guantanamo for 11 years without charge or trial.

The US authorities allege Aamer led foreign jihadists alongside the Taliban and that he participated in the Battle of Tora Bora where Osama Bin Laden is believed to have been briefly trapped before escaping to Pakistan.

His legal team point out that much of the evidence against him came from a prisoner whose testimony, it is claimed, was obtained under torture. Aamer has never been charged and was cleared for release in 2007 by the Bush administration, and then again in 2009 after Barack Obama came into office.

Aamer has alleged that MI6 officers were present when he was assaulted during interrogation, and that British intelligence officers witnessed mistreatment of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, the Libyan national who, under torture, supplied the false information that Saddam Hussein’s regime was providing training for al-Qa’ida in Iraq. This is one of the reasons cited by George Bush and Tony Blair to justify invading the country. MI6 has strenuously denied Aamer’s claims.

It has been four years since President Obama pledged that the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, repeatedly criticised by human rights organisations, as well as prominent American public figures, would be closed down. Instead, his administration is now considering a $200 million renovation project, which will include the construction of a new prison building for so-called “high-value” prisoners.

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