As President Obama again vows to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, where the U.S. has been indefinitely holding — and beating, torturing, and humiliating — detainees in the name of national security, 100 of the 166 detainees continue their hunger strike. Obama's latest vow has come in reaction to the ongoing strike, which some detainees have been engaged in since February.
“I don’t want these individuals to die,” Obama said. But how long can the hunger strikers be expected to survive?
As reported on Slate, according to physiologists 60 days is considered the rule of thumb for how long someone can survive, although this varies according to the individual's body fat and striking strategy. Even fasting for three to five days is dangerous, as the body starts breaking down fat to produce energy. Breaking down fat, rather than glucose, the liver then starts to produce toxic byproducts.
"It's all downhill after week 3, or whenever weight loss exceeds 18% of the starting weight. The body tries to compensate by slowing down its metabolism, entering 'starvation mode.' Still, once fat stores are entirely depleted, the body has no choice but to mine the muscles and vital organs for energy. The striker simply wastes away as his body, quite literally, consumes itself."
Earlier this month, the New York Times published an op-ed by Guantanamo detainee Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel entitled "Gitmo is Killing Me." He recounts the harrowing ordeal of his fast, which has been taking place since February 10 and which had already caused him to lose well over 30 pounds by the time the article was published on April 14. The situation was "desperate," he said, and people "are fainting with exhaustion every day."
According to the Miami Herald's timeline (see below) of the hunger strike, out of a total of 100 strikers, there are currently four who are hospitalized and 23 who are being force-fed.
Both the American Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross have criticized the force-feeding, citing a declaration by the World Medical Association that fasting prisoner "shall not be fed artificially."
Although it is hard to tell exactly how long each detainee has been fasting for, and what condition they are in, one thing is clear: the longer the strike continues, the more the health, and ultimately the lives, of the detainees are at risk. The longest Ghandi ever fasted for was 21 days, while Latino-American labor rights leader Cesar Chavez once fasted for 36 days. Irish nationalist Bobby Sands managed to hold out for 66 days. But then he died.