How far would you go to be heard? To be understood? To be helped? What limits would you push for justice? For truth? For a voice?
On February 6, the inmates held in Camp Six of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba made their voices heard. The hunger strike began as an objection against officials' disrespectful treatment of prisoners' Korans in a routine cell-search for contraband. But that reason was soon buried under the true underlying purpose of the hunger strike: detainees were protesting their indefinite sentence. They were finally communicating with the outside world, screaming for justice.
By mid-April, over forty inmates had joined the strike. In an effort to break the growing numbers, military guards fired four non-lethal rounds while forcing the prisoners into single cells. They hoped that the solitude would break the camaraderie that was giving the hunger strike such fast-growing strength. But now, nearly three months after the strike began, one hundred of the 166 inmates are refusing to eat the hot, fresh food being served. Nineteen of them are being force-fed through a tube snaked down their noses into their stomachs. Five are hospitalized. And Gitmo officials are said to be understating the grossness of the strike.
An account from a detainee describes the horrors of the force-feeding. He describes the impossible life of a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. As for the hunger strike, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel says, "I will not eat until they restore my dignity." And he blames his imprisonment on the president of the United States.
When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he vowed to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. When Congress vehemently shot down this plan, Obama suggested building a facility to house the detainees in Illinois. Once again, Congress refused, and banned the use of any American money for the transfer of Gitmo prisoners. One purpose of this ban was to prevent any of the detainees from obtaining a civil trial. They claimed that the suspects should be handled by the military only. Soon, Gitmo was considered "President Obama's shame." And as the hunger strike gains momentum, with the military officials treating it as a suicide attempt from the prisoners and therefore continuing to force-feed, President Obama may be forced to rethink the whole situation. Some UN officials are urging him to renew his support for the closing of Guantanamo Bay.
The issue of Guantanamo Bay is an impossible one. How can we sleep at night, knowing that people held without trial or conviction, are being tortured with permission from the American government? But on the flip side, how can we sleep at night if there are potential terrorists, people who want nothing but American demise, roaming free due to a legal loop-hole? Can a balance exist between the two extremes?
Clearly, the hunger strike was, in a way, successful. Its purpose was to call attention, and it did just that. Its purpose was to beg for reconsideration, to plead for justice. And though the consequence of the strike is still undetermined, its very existence is a game changer. The full impact … only time will tell what it will be.