Guantánamo Hunger Strike: It's Still Happening, But Are Journalists Watching?

The United States Military on Monday announced the end of a hunger strike initiated by inmates at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and released a statement saying it will discontinue issuing daily updates on the number of detainees participating in the demonstration, a move aimed at silencing debate over human-rights violations within the prison facility.

“Following July 10, 2013, the number of hunger strikers has dropped significantly, and we believe today’s numbers represent those who wish to continue to strike,” Lt. Col. Samuel House, a Guantánamo Bay prison spokesman, said in the statement. 

“As always, our medical professionals will continue to monitor and evaluate the detainees while providing them with the appropriate level of care. From this point forward we will respond to queries on hunger strikes individually.” 

The approximately six-month-long protest, which assembled 106 participants out of the total 166-inmate population at its apex last March, demonstrated against indefinite detention without trail, inhumane living conditions, and the practice of intrusively rummaging through Korans in search of contraband.

The hunger strike was predominantly organized by low-value detainees (those in military custody for minor offenses or accusations) and captured the attention of activists around the world who were concerned with the mistreatment of the inmates. Some of the charges of human-rights violations included force-feeding, physical abuse by guards, and arbitrary detention of those suspected of organizing the protest. 

Now, military officials are claiming that participation has significantly dropped since Sept. 11 and that there is no need to continue providing daily emails with information about the number of inmates still involved in the protest. And while House mentions that journalists can individually request that information, the nonexistence of daily updates on the demonstration could facilitate the overlooking of human rights violations at Guantánamo Bay.

Very quickly, many political journalists who covered the height of the hunger protest last March could move onto other stories because the military has silenced the debate and readers may follow other matters since the strike will not be trending in the news media. No new information released by the military could lead, in turn, to a lack of journalistic oversight.

This bottom line is this: Journalists should continue to monitor the Guantánamo Bay hunger strike even after military officials attempt to divert attention away from it by claiming that it is over. The absence of whistleblowing and investigative reporting (not just stories that base the legitimacy of the end of the strike on statements released by military sources) could perpetrate human-rights violations against inmates who might not even be guilty of their alleged crimes, since many of them have not been charged or have had fair trails.