Indefinite detention at Guantánamo continues - 100 detainees on hunger strike

May 3, 2013

Indefinite detention at Guantánamo continues - 100 detainees on hunger strike

"However Adnan died, it was Guantánamo that killed him. His death is a reminder of the human cost of the government's Guantánamo detention policy and underscores the urgency of releasing detainees the government does not intend to prosecute."

The US authorities have long been warned of the psychological distress caused by the indefinite detention regime at Guantánamo. In January 2004, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), describing itself as "uniquely placed to witness the impact this uncertainty has had on the internees", revealed that it had "observed a worrying deterioration in the psychological health of a large number of them". That was over nine years ago.

If the USA didn't listen then, it should listen - and act - now. On 11 April, ICRC President Peter Maurer called on "the United States, including its Congress, [to] urgently find a way to resolve all pending humanitarian, legal and policy issues relating to the detention of persons held at Guantánamo Bay". Five days later, the United Kingdom government released its annual human rights report. In it, the UK said that "the indefinite detention without trial of persons in Guantánamo Bay is unacceptable and that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay should be closed."

On 5 April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, had also called for urgent resolution of the Guantánamo detentions, saying:

"Some of them have been festering in this detention centre for more than a decade. This raises serious concerns under international law… [T]his systemic abuse of individuals' human rights continues year after year. We must be clear about this: the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold."

"Given the uncertainty and anxieties surrounding their prolonged and apparently indefinite detention in Guantánamo," the High Commissioner for Human Rights continued, referring to the hunger strike, "it is scarcely surprising that people's frustrations boil over and they resort to such desperate measures."

In a matter of weeks, the number of detainees the Guantánamo authorities say meet the military's definition of being on hunger strike has gone up seven fold, from 14 detainees on 15 March 2013 to 100 on 29 April. By 2 May, 23 of the detainees were being "tube fed", according to the authorities, with four of these detainees in hospital. A number of those being force fed are reported to be detainees who have long been "approved for transfer" by the US authorities.

Over the weekend of 27/28 April, about 40 more medical personnel arrived at Guantánamo, despatched there by the US Navy in response to the hunger strike. At the same time, among those raising questions about the reported use of force-feeding was the American Medical Association. In a letter to US Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel, dated 25 April, AMA President Dr Jeremy Lazarus called for the US authorities to "address any situation in which a physician may be asked to violate the ethical standards of his or her profession". The force feeding of a mentally competent hunger striker by medical staff contravenes medical ethics. In his letter, Dr Lazarus reminded the US authorities that "every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions".