The Dirty Dozen: Twelve Year Anniversary of Guantanamo Detention Center Sparks Hunger Strikes and Protests

Artist: Latuff
By Felicia Gustin
Apr 1, 2013

Indefinite detention without charges or trial. It goes against all our notions of legal rights and due process. Yet, our government is into its 12th year of operations at the Guantanamo Bay prison where 166 men are still being held, 86 of whom have been cleared for release but remain in detention, including 56 from Yemen. According to Al Jazeera, this spurred protests today outside the U.S. embassy in Sanaa to demand the prisoners' release.

At the start of his administration, President Obama signed an executive order mandating the closure of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. Now into the President's second term, it is clear that the Obama administration has no plans to close Guantánamo anytime soon.

it’s time to pressure the President to keep his promise. This doesn’t mean, as the Center for Constitutional Rights argues, “using illegitimate military commissions to try some suspects and blocking accountability for torture.” The Center for Constitutional Rights(CCR) has fought for the right to due process, filing countless cases on behalf of these men and others swept up in the so-called War on Terror.

Beyond it’s efforts within the legal system, CCR has also issued a "Close Guantanamo with Justice Now" statement and is gathering thousands of signatures. This statement is gaining support from prominent human rights organizations and individuals, including scholars, lawyers, torture survivors and activists all over the world -- including the United States, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, Australia and Africa. In it, CCR notes the disgraceful roots of the imprisonments:

"The story of Guantánamo remains the shameful case of the U.S. government rounding up nearly 800 men and boys, indiscriminately labeling them “the worst of the worst,” and throwing them into an island prison designed to exist beyond the reaches of the law, where they would have no right to challenge their detention or abuse.

The vast majority of the prisoners at Guantánamo should never have been detained in the first place. Many were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and were fleeing the chaos of war when U.S. forces entered Afghanistan. Only one in twenty was captured by the U.S. military. Most were captured by local civilians and authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan and sold to the United States in exchange for substantial bounty.

According to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a senior State Department official who served in the Bush administration between 2002-2005, the Bush administration knew early on that the majority of the men at Guantánamo were innocent but did not release them due to political concerns that doing so could harm support for the government’s push for war in Iraq and the broader “Global War on Terror.”

To learn more, CLICK HERE to read the statement, sign it and distribute widely.

At least 24 detainees at Guantanamo are currently on a hunger strike and the numbers seem to be growing. Al Jazeera reported that a prisoner from Yemen, Yasein Esmail, told his attorney that he lost about 15 kg after striking for 29 days and was struggling to keep his balance, according to notes taken by the lawyer, Washington-based David Remes, during a March 5 visit.

"Many of the detainees are desperate," Esmail told Remes. "They feel like they're living in graves."

The hunger strike, the largest and most sustained protest at Guantanamo in several years, is certainly an attempt to bring attention back to the situation at Guantanamo but until there is widespread pressure to demand its closing, the detention center may remain in operations for years to come.

To learn more and read extensive background on Guantanamo, visit the website of British investigative journalist, author, and filmmaker, Andy Worthington. CLICK HERE

To learn more about the Center for Constitutional Rights campaign, CLICK HERE

To read Amnesty International's piece on Guantanamo - “The United States’ detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have become emblematic of the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Government in the name of fighting terrorism.” - CLICK HERE

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Felicia Gustin has been with War Times since the beginning. She currently works at SpeakOut, a national organization working primarily with colleges, universities, and high schools and dedicated to the advancement of education, racial and social justice, leadership development and activism. She is a long-time activist in international solidarity, peace, racial justice and labor movements. She was a journalist for 10 years in Cuba and is currently working on several projects - an historical memoir and a poetry collection, among others.

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