Several detainees on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay are critically ill,
according to lawyers who have recently visited the detention camp. Amnesty
International is also concerned at reports that the camp's facilities are
unable to cope with the medical crisis.
"The US military appears to be systematically downplaying the hunger
strike in order to avoid international criticism," said Susan Lee,
Americas Director at Amnesty International. "In July they denied the
existence of a hunger strike two weeks after it had started. Now they seem
to be understating the number of detainees involved and the gravity of the
medical condition of several of the detainees. This policy once again
demonstrates the lack of transparency around all US detention practices
and policies in the ‘war on terror’".
As many as 210 people are said to be taking part in the current hunger
strike in Guantánamo Bay, although the US Department of Defense has put
the figure as low as 36. Detainees' lawyers put this low figure down to
the criteria used to determine who is technically on hunger strike. The US
military defines a hunger strike as the refusal of nine consecutive meals
within a 72 hour period. Reports from lawyers suggest that detainees are
accepting one meal in this timeframe, but then flushing the meal down the
toilet to avoid being force-fed through nasal gastric tubes.
"We are particularly concerned about the health of detainees who may have
escaped this narrow definition of a hunger-striker. They may not be
receiving any medical treatment," said Susan Lee. "We urge that
independent medical experts be given access to detainees."
New details are emerging of the earlier hunger strike in Guantánamo, which
took place over the summer. Lawyers report that a number of detainees
collapsed in their cells and vomited blood.
"Faced with a worsening situation of its own making, the US government
should close Guantánamo Bay and either charge and try the detainees in
line with international law, or release them," said Susan Lee.
One of the key points that detainees say drove them to hunger strike was
the lack of access to a court to challenge their detention. They said
beatings and other ill-treatment were another reason. Amnesty
International has long campaigned for access to courts for Guantanamo
detainees, as well as an end to torture and ill-treatment.
In a worrying development, lawyers working with the Center for
Constitutional Rights who are representing a number of the hunger strikers
say they are being denied access to the detention camp hospital. Their
clients are taken from their sick beds, some so weak they cannot sit up,
and moved to cells for interviews with their lawyers.
"Not only should the US administration release full details of this hunger
strike and keep detainees' families informed on their health, it should
open up Guantánamo and all other 'war on terror' detention facilities to
independent scrutiny," said Susan Lee.
Click Here for Guantanamo Bay information page.