3/29: US-Illegal Gitmo detaineers (for ever) hunger strike intensifies

Guantánamo hunger strike intensifies
By Richard McGregor and Geoff Dyer in Washington
March 29, 2013 4:31 pm
More than a decade after it was established in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks to house alleged terrorists, Guantánamo Bay is in the grips of a hunger strike by detainees whose lawyers say they have given up hope of being released.

Lawyers who visited the island in recent days say scores of the facility’s 166-odd remaining prisoners have joined the hunger strike in the wake of what they claim are intrusive searches ordered by the new military commandant.

A bigger driver of dissent, they say, is the loss of all political momentum to shut the facility, a promise that President Barack Obama campaigned on in 2008 and initially backed soon after taking office with an order to close it within a year.

“This is their way of reminding the world about the ongoing injustice and of sending a message to the Obama administration that 11 years is more than enough,” said Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, who is representing seven of the prisoners.

Congress, especially Republicans, has opposed Mr Obama’s closure policy from the start of his presidency, and after his re-election last year, extended and strengthened limits on transferring detainees out of the facility.

“The administration is not posturing when it says that Congress is making it all but impossible to transfer detainees,” said Tommy Vietor, until recently the spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council.

However, Mr Obama has also fallen short on his own initiatives, failing to establish a new process to review the release of prisoners two years after he announced it.

A spokeswoman for the NSC said “significant work” had been done to set up the review boards and the “processes” handling the information generated by the new system were “still being developed.”

“All of the US government agencies participating in the review are working through this, and other remaining challenges, to move forward with hearings,” she said.

More than half of the detainees – about 89 – have been cleared for release but the administration has so far been unwilling to take any political risk by allowing releases in the face of congressional hostility.

“The administration has got a free pass on this,” said David Cynamon, a lawyer representing two Kuwaiti detainees.

A Pentagon official said that 33 detainees were taking part in the hunger strike, including three who had been hospitalised. But lawyers who visited Guantánamo suggested many more had joined, with some claiming that the bulk of prisoners are now refusing food.

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