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Friday, September 09, 2005 

Guantanamo Bay: 210 prisoners on "voluntary fast".

More than 200 detainees in Guantanamo Bay are in their fifth week of a hunger strike, the Guardian has been told.

Statements from prisoners in the camp which were declassified by the US government on Wednesday reveal that the men are starving themselves in protest at the conditions in the camp and at their alleged maltreatment - including desecration of the Qur'an - by American guards.

The statements, written on August 11, have just been given to the British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. They show that prisoners are determined to starve them selves to death. In one, Binyam Mohammed, a former London schoolboy, said: "I do not plan to stop until I either die or we are respected.

"People will definitely die. Bobby Sands petitioned the British government to stop the illegitimate internment of Irishmen without trial. He had the courage of his convictions and he starved himself to death. Nobody should believe for one moment that my brothers here have less courage."

Yesterday, Mr Stafford Smith, who represents 40 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, eight of whom are British residents, said many men had been starving themselves for more than four weeks and the situation was becoming desperate.

He said: "I am worried about the lives of my guys because they are a pretty obstinate lot and they are going to go through with this and I think they are going to end up killing themselves. The American military doesn't want anyone to know about this."

He pointed to an American army claim that only 76 prisoners at the base were refusing food, saying that they were attempting to play down what could be a political scandal if a prisoner were to die.

The hunger strike is the second since late June. The first ended after the authorities made a number of promises, including better access to books, and bottled drinking water.

The men claim that they were tricked into eating again.

Last night a Pentagon spokesman denied that there were more than 200 hunger strikers: "There are 76 detainees doing a voluntary fast at present. There are nine detainees in hospital as a result of their hunger strike.

"They are listed as being in a stable condition and they are recieving nutrition."

Asked if they were being force fed, he said: "They are being held in the same standards as US prison standards... they don't allow people to kill themselves via starvation."

Voluntary fast is a great example of the way that official spokespeople distort what is actually happening. Voluntary fasting makes people think of Lent and Ramadan, not of people willingly not eating with the intention of dying if their small demands are not met. Even worse, the BBC has fallen for this as well, here saved for posterity:

Some of the men held at Guanantanmo have now been there for approaching 4 years. No charges have been brought, despite attempts by the Bush administration to setup military tribunals. There have been numerous allegations by detainees, both still there and from those freed that they have been abused and tortured, mentally, physically and sexually. The US of course denies this. Republicans, including Dick Cheney have even had the audacity to describe the camp as a "resort" and that they have "everything they could want". Other claims by Amnesty International have gone to the other end of the scale, calling Guanantanmo the "gulag of our times". While the comparison does hold for some of the gulag's functions during Stalin's reign, those imprisoned are not being worked to death, and women and children are not being kept at the camp, although teenagers have been. While some of the gulag's prisoners were intellectuals or activists, many were innocents caught in the purges. Those who are at Guantanamo are thought to be at the least sympathetic to Islamism, although it's quite possible that those rounded up at the time of the war in Afghanistan are innocent of any such thing. However, being an Islamist is not a crime.

Guantanamo should be closed immediately, it goes without saying. Any plausible point that it may have served, on the basis of intelligence gathering has long since passed. Instead it now shows up every single thing that is now wrong not with America, but with the Bush administration. It shows its arrogance, its willingness to break any international law that doesn't suit it, and most of all it shows that it is no better than those dictatorships it supports in the Middle East who themselves engage in torture. That it has taken this long for so many to decide to die rather than live in a hell on earth is the real surprise.

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