GUANTÁNAMO´S HUNGER STRIKE, BY THE NUMBERS
From “The New Yorker”, ”Close Read”
Posted by AMY DAVIDSON
Posted by AMY DAVIDSON
March 30, 2013
There are a hundred and sixty-six prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Military officials told reporters earlier this week that thirty-one—almost one in five—were engaged in a hunger strike. By Friday, the number was thirty-seven, or closer to one in four. Eighty-six—more than one in two—have been cleared for release, meaning that the government doesn’t think that it has a case against them or even that they pose a threat, but it is keeping them locked up anyway, and has no imminent plans to let them go. Only six of the prisomers—just about one in twenty-eight—are facing trial. That means that there are six times as many prisoners on hunger strikes as there are those who have actual charges lodged against them.
Except maybe it’s more: as Carol Rosenberg, of the Miami Herald, has reported, lawyers for the prisoners say that many more have stopped eating than the military acknowledges. As Charlie Savage, of the Times, reported, prison officials say that they weren#8217;t not counting the ones whose guards think they saw them with stashes of food or eating something another prisoner slipped them, even if they're refusing meals. There is no dispute though, that the situation is serious and getting worse: the International Committee of the Red Cross moved up a visit that was supposed to take place.
Why a hunger strike? Those fractions—one in four, one in two, one in twenty-eight—are, by all accounts, related. The strikers have some specific complaints—like about searches of Korans—but there is no doubt that people are refusing to eat because of frustration about this story having no end at all. Many of the hunger-strikers had been the most compliant prisoners, the ones who got to go to art classes and live in group settings, not the most recalcitrant. Rosenberg, on a recent trip, saw the guards throwing out lunch after lunch that the prisoners in communal cellblocks had refused.
Six and eighty-six, as bad as those numbers are, do not account for the full roster of prisoners. There are dozens more whom the Administration has decided to just hold, even though it does not have enough evidence to charge them, supposedly on the grounds that they seem scary. Because of their pasts, or because of the embarrassment that the story of their time at Guantánamo might cause? Without a trial, who can say?
The numbers strike one as all wrong—not incorrect, that is, but proof that something has gone very wrong at Guantánamo. The right numbers—the ones one would expect from a prison run by a country of laws—are a hundred and sixty-six facing trials, and zero held for no good reason. Maybe there would still be times when the number of hunger-strikers would be something other than zero—a handful of these prisoners, among them Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are actual senior Al Qaeda operatives—but that should be an aberration. Taking a dozen prisoners a day to a room where they are force-fed with tubes stuck into their noses should not be part of the normal routine at Guantánamo, or at any American prison.
Photograph, of a restraint chair at the hospital at Guantánamo Bay, by Carol Rosenberg/Miami Herald/Getty.