On August 31, 2005, in New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) cooperating counsel confirmed that prisoners have begun a new hunger strike at Guantánamo because the Department of Defense (DOD) failed to negotiate with prisoners as it promised to do after the June/July 2005 hunger strike. According to papers filed on behalf of 42 prisoners represented by Clive Stafford Smith, in late June and most of July 2005, a hunger strike occurred in all five camps at the detention center.
Imprisoned British resident Omar Deghayes explained that, “They began on June 21, 2005, by rejecting one meal each day for a week. On June 28, they began to reject two meals. On July 2, 2005, they began rejecting all food. . . . A majority of Camp V are taking part in the hunger strike.”
The DOD initially refused to disclose the facts concerning the June/July 2005 hunger strike. But because of disclosures by released detainees and habeas counsel, information about the June/July 2005 hunger strike became public. “The DOD is practicing dangerous deception. It hid evidence of the hunger strike and prisoner abuse from visiting Senators and the public. It hid evidence of the innocence of Chinese Uighur prisoners from the court and their attorneys,” CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez stated. “We can no longer tolerate the DOD running its own show at the base without judicial oversight. Prisoners are now prepared to die in an effort to receive a fair hearing and humane treatment. These men deserve their day in court.”
While the military only admitted that 52 prisoners took part in the June/July 2005 hunger strike, it became clear from consistent and reliable reports by habeas counsel that approximately 200 prisoners participated in the strike. At one point in July, the strike became so widespread that medics could not manage the need and elected to stop making their regular medical calls. The prisoners spent 26 days without food.
Based upon U.S. promises to bring the detention center into compliance with the Geneva Conventions, the June/July 2005 hunger strike ended on July 28, 2005. The current hunger strike was initiated after the DOD reneged on these promises. Confirming the fears of attorneys with CCR, as soon as the DOD believed that public scrutiny had passed, the prisoner mistreatment returned. In early August, for example, several prisoners were beaten by military personnel:
• A Kuwaiti prisoner was violently assaulted by the military’s “Extreme Reaction Force” (ERF) and subjected to psychological abuse;
• These beatings came upon the heels of violence occurring during the hunger strike itself. On July 9, 2005, for example, O.K., an individual seized when he was a juvenile, was kicked by MP’s approximately 10 times while he was collapsed on the ground from weakness after being transported back from the hospital. The same MP then placed a finger on a pressure point on O.K.’s neck and applied strong pressure for approximately one minute, causing O.K. severe pain and inability to breath. O.K.'s attorney, CCR cooperating counsel Rick Wilson of American University stated, “We are deeply concerned about the government's violent response to our client's peaceful exercise of his right to protest.”
The beatings and continuing denial of basic human necessities and fair trials sparked renewed protest among the prisoners. According to Shaker Aamer, when the August 2005 Hunger Strike began, the DOD placed the representative members of the “Prisoners’ Council” in isolation.
A statement made by British resident Binyam Mohammed to his habeas counsel on August 11, 2005, expresses the detainees’ desperate demand that United States bring the detentions within the protections of the rule of law. Prisoners have refused to sign the DOD’s “hunger strike waiver form” and additional waivers forced upon them for refusing I.V. treatments. The prisoners intend to strike until they die or receive justice. Mr. Mohammed states clearly that, “We ask only for justice: treat us, as promised, under the rules of the Geneva Conventions for Civilian Prisoners while we are held, and either try us fairly for a valid criminal charge or set us free.”
CCR deplores the government’s conduct that has driven prisoners to this desperate measure and renews its call for immediate federal hearings into the basis for the detentions: “It is unquestionable that any unreliable statements extracted from prisoners under these conditions cannot lawfully justify any individual’s detention. This conduct is abhorrent to the rule of law and this country’s longstanding commitment to the humane treatment of military detainees,” stated Michael Ratner, CCR President. “The time is long overdue for the prisoners in Guantánamo to receive a fair hearing in federal court as mandated by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Rasul v. Bush over a year ago.”
On August 30, 2005, during an emergency hearing, Neil Koslowe of Shearman & Sterling, habeas counsel for the assaulted Kuwaiti prisoner, sought immediate access to his clients at Guantánamo. During the hearing, attorneys for the government initially cited “operational requirements” as grounds for denying Shearman & Sterling access to their clients until October 2005. When pressed by the court, the government then claimed that the base could not accommodate more habeas attorney visits until October. The court was not persuaded by the government's representations. Judge Kollar-Koetelly ordered GTMO officials to confer with habeas counsel regarding a prompt visit. A follow-up hearing is schedule for noon, August 31, 2005.
Said Mr. Koslowe, “The government continues to try to keep secret events at Guantánamo as well as the mistreatment of the detainees and their physical well-being. After learning reports that our clients may be at grave risk due to their participation in a hunger strike, we appealed to the government for a visit to Guantanamo in September. The government, citing one nonsensical excuse after another, refused and we were forced to go to court. Thankfully, the judge pressed the government to explain itself, which it could not do, and conceded that it could accommodate a visit after all.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.