In a disturbing report in the Miami Herald, the ever-vigilant Carol Rosenberg reports that an unknown number of hunger strikers at Guantánamo are being force-fed between dusk and dawn — a mixture of cruelty (force-feeding) and respect (for Ramadan) that is sadly typical of the surreal, otherworldly reality of Guantánamo, over eight and a half years after the prison first opened.
In a statement, Navy Cmdr. Bradley Fagan, a spokesman for the authorities at Guantánamo, explained, “Detainees who are fasting get their meals before dawn.” As Rosenberg described it, he “disclos[ed] only the hours of that day’s feeding “in observance of the Ramadan schedule” — before 5:26 a.m. and after 7:28 p.m, adding, “Please note that not all hunger strikers are enteral feeders.”
Sadly, as Rosenberg also reported, Cmdr. Fagan has introduced “a new level of secrecy” regarding the hunger strikers at Guantánamo, stating that it is now the policy of the US “to no longer reveal the exact number of detainees being shackled by guards into restraint chairs for twice daily feedings.”
In contrast to February 2009, when the authorities acknowledged that 41 of the 245 prisoners held at the time were hunger strikers, and that 35 were being force-fed, Cmdr. Fagan stated only that “less than 10” of the remaining 176 prisoners “were last week counted as hunger strikers.”
Carol Rosenberg also noted that a fact sheet dated June 28, and available on the Guantánamo Joint Task Force’s official website, claimed that “Each detainee receives 5,500-6,000 calories per day and has six menus to choose from,” and that “Feast meals are served two times per week.” This, unfortunately, sounds like the kind of unrealistic spin that the authorities have used for many years in a cynical attempt to pretend that Guantánamo is something of a holiday camp, and not an experimental prison where the prisoners are held in a uniquely oppressive form of open-ended detention that, as long ago as October 2003, prompted Christophe Girod, of the normally reticent International Committee of the Red Cross, to tell the New York Times, “The open-endedness of the situation and its impact on the mental health of the population has become a major problem.”
More realistic was what the Pentagon described as the cost of catering for the prisoners’ “cultural and dietary needs,” which it estimated at approximately $3 million a year.
Such an insane amount of money would be better spent on releasing prisoners and closing the prison, as President Obama promised, rather than attempting to maintain a veneer of respectability that fails to disguise the mental anguish that clings to Guantánamo like a malevolent fog, and that will not be lifted until the prison finally closes.
Please spare a thought for the hunger strikers at Guantánamo — and the rest of their fellow prisoners — at this particularly difficult time.