[Ppnews] Guantanamo Hunger Strike Grows In Response To Government's Failure To Close Prison

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 21 18:15:25 EDT 2013

  Guantanamo Hunger Strike Grows In Response To Government's Failure To
  Close Prison, Says General

*Reuters*  | Posted: 03/20/2013 6:02 pm EDT

By Jane Sutton and David Alexander

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - About 24 Guantanamo prisoners 
involved in a hunger strike that began six weeks ago are upset by the 
U.S. government's failure to close the detention camp and hope to gain 
publicity for their plight, a Marine Corps general said on Wednesday.

General John Kelly, the head of U.S. military forces in the Latin 
America region, flatly rejected allegations from some prisoners that 
copies of the Koran had been mishandled, calling the claims "nonsense."

"No way has the Koran in any way, shape or form been in any way abused 
or mistreated," said Kelly, who told reporters he had been presented 
with copies of the "sacred Koran" by senior Muslim clerics during his 
three tours of duty in Iraq.

He told a Pentagon briefing that while it was acceptable for a 
nonbeliever to touch the Koran, in fact the only members of the 
Guantanamo staff who would ordinarily handle Korans would be 
translators, all of whom are Muslims.

Periodic hunger strikes have occurred at Guantanamo since shortly after 
the prison opened in January 2002 to house suspects captured in overseas 
counterterrorism operations after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The prison has 166 inmates. Nearly all have been held for 11 years 
without charge, and about half have been cleared for transfer or 
release. Many are Yemenis who the United States will not repatriate at 
this time because of instability in that country.

More than 50 lawyers representing the prisoners sent a letter to Defense 
Secretary Chuck Hagel last week urging him to help end the hunger 
strike, which they said began on Feb. 6 to protest the confiscation of 
letters, photographs and legal mail, and the rough handling of Korans 
during searches of their cells.

They said the participants' health had deteriorated alarmingly, and that 
some had lost more than 20 or 30 pounds (9 to 14 kilograms). Kelly said 
the prisoners who spoke to Guantanamo staff cited other reasons for the 

"They had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed. They were 
devastated apparently ... when the president backed off, at least 
(that's) their perception, of closing the facility," Kelly told the 
House of Representatives Armed Services Committee in Washington.

Captain Robert Durand, a spokesman at the detention camp, said 24 
Guantanamo captives were on a hunger strike and eight had lost enough 
weight that doctors were force-feeding them liquid nutrients thorough 
tubes inserted in their noses and into their stomachs. Two were 
hospitalized with dehydration, he said.

The number of hunger strikers had grown from 14 on Friday, Durand said.

Kelly, who took over as head of U.S. Southern Command in November, said 
most of the prisoners took their food communally, making it difficult to 
determine whether they had skipped nine consecutive meals, the 
definition for a hunger strike at Guantanamo. He said some had snacks in 
their cells.

"Generally speaking, we think about 24 of them are on, say, hunger 
strike light, where they're eating a bit but not a lot, but they've 
declared that they're not eating," Kelly told reporters at the Pentagon.

He said the detainees who are being force-fed "present themselves daily, 
calmly, in a totally cooperative way, to be fed through a tube," adding 
"we also know they're eating when they're in their cells."

Upon taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama ordered the detention 
camp closed within a year, but Congress has blocked administration 
efforts to shut it down and made it increasingly difficult to resettle 
Guantanamo prisoners.

Obama did not mention Guantanamo in his January inaugural speech or his 
February State of the Union address, which some of the prisoners watched 
on television. In January, the State Department office charged with 
resettling Guantanamo prisoners was closed.

"That has caused them to become frustrated and they want to ... turn the 
heat up, get it back in the media," Kelly told lawmakers. "And we know 
that because they talk to us. We have actually a fairly positive 
relationship down there with most of the detainees."

The United States spends $114 million a year to run the Guantanamo 
prison, or about $687,747 per prisoner, according to the Government 
Accountability Office. That is about 20 times what the U.S. Bureau of 
Prisons spends per inmate to run its high-security prisons.

"President Obama is at a fork in the road. He can invest in Guantanamo 
or invest in justice," said Zeke Johnson, head of Amnesty 
International's Security with Human Rights Campaign.

"Why throw more money down the drain on a mission that has already 
failed? Instead of justice for the 9/11 attacks, Guantanamo has brought 
us torture, indefinite detention, unfair trials and hunger strikes." 
(Editing by Doina Chiacu and Stacey Joyce)
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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