Hunger Strikes at Guantanamo Bay

Since the military prison at Guantanamo Bay was first opened in January 2002, hunger strikes have been a frequent device used by the detainees to protest the conditions of the detention center and their general detainment.

In 2005, one of many detainee hunger strikes produced a litigation battle over how to handle the rapidly growing group of hunger striking detainees, exemplifying the on-going back and forth that would continue into the present. In that case, a group of detainees began a hunger strike in June to protest their detentions. The strike continued into 2006 and many other detainees joined the strike. Lawyers representing the detainees petitioned for government intervention and fought with military officials over the actual number of hunger strikers, as well as the use of feeding tubes and other forced feeding methods. The attorneys disagreed with military officials over the physical condition of the detainees and requested judicial oversight of the strike. The lawyers continued to fight with military officials, seeking more frequent contact with their clients and accusing the officials of using feeding tubes as a means of punishment, while some prisoners requested that the courts permit them to starve to death.

The legal battle over treatment of those detainees on hunger strikes continued into 2006, as the number of detainees actively striking fluctuated, often times from week to week according to reports from US officials. The shrinking of the number was in large part due to various approaches to force-feeding used on the striking detainees. In June 2006, new US military medical guidelines explicitly permitted force-feeding of detainees and military officials continued to openly admit utilizing such practices. While some see this as a necessary practice, it was, and continues to be, criticized by medical professionals around the world as 'unethical.'

Hunger strikes continue to occur, and several requests for injunctive and other relief have been filed to challenge force-feeding practices. More than half the detainees initiated a hunger strike in 2013 to protest conditions and indefinite detentions. In February 2014, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied such a request in one situation. In March 2014, a detainee filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the force-feeding procedures. In May, however, a federal judge ordered a temporary suspension to force-feeding for one prisoner.

 

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