Gitmo Detainees Not Eating; Should We Care?

There have been a total of 779 detainees incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp since suspected terrorists were first sent there after the 9/11 al Qaeda attacks on the United States. Some of them have been released (38 were released after Federal courts held they were being held unlawfully) and some of them have been transferred to other facilities. Currently, there are 166 detainees being held at Guantánamo, and of those, there are 46 who have been designated by the United States for indefinite detention without charge or trial. The Obama administration has deemed them too dangerous to release but impossible to prosecute.

Beginning last year through mid-February of this year, between five and six detainees started and stopped hunger strikes. The number grew after lawyers for some of those held drew attention to conditions at the facility. On Monday the number stood at 84, up from just over 30 less than a month ago.  As of today, 97 men are on strike, 19 of them are receiving liquid nutrients through a nasal tube to prevent dangerous weight loss. Another five are under observation at the hospital on the U.S. military base in Cuba where the detention camp is situated.

There is broad consensus about the underlying cause of the turmoil: a growing sense among many prisoners, some of whom have been held without trial for more than 11 years, that they will likely never be released or have a trial. President Obama made closing the prison a top priority when he entered the White House and his plan was to move the detainees to a Supermax facility, either a new one or existing prisons of this type, inside the United States, however, political pressure from Congress have resulted in him not following up on his promise.

More than half of the inmates being held at Guantánamo were designated three years ago for possible transfer to other countries if security conditions could be met. However, in January 2011, President Obama signed legislation to restrict the transfers of prisoners. In a move indicative of the new stance on this issue, the Obama administration reassigned, without naming a replacement, the diplomat who had negotiated the transfers. Now all of the inmates who were going to be transferred have no idea what will happen to them. Guantánamo has become a place where no new prisoners arrive, but it also appears that none will be leaving.

Guantánamo serves for many as a constant reminder of human rights abuses such as waterboarding, beatings and stress positions. It is a recognized symbol of our national shame epitomized by the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq. The yearly cost to US taxpayers of a federal prison is somewhere between $25,000.00 and $35,000.00. The yearly cost to U.S. taxpayers to hold each captive at Guantánamo is approximately  $800,000.00 per inmate with the annual cost to operate Guantánamo being approximately $150 million.

Does the continued holding of “enemy” combatants at Guantánamo make sense?

Are the detainees justified in their protest?