Things aren't going so well down at Guantanamo Bay. A few days after The New York Times published a rather arresting column written by an inmate staging a hunger strike, 25 percent more prisoners have joined the protest. The latest report from United States officials puts the number of inmates on hunger strike at 84 — there are 166 total inmates at Guantanamo — with at least 17 of them, including the author of the Times column, being force fed. The number of prisoners participating is up by 32 since last Wendesday and has continued to increase over the weekend.
The hunger strike dates back to February 6, when a group of prisoners took action against prison guards they say desecrated the Koran. It didn't help that some of the prisoners have been locked up for over a decade without having received a trial or even been formally charged with a crime. On top of that, news emerged about a week after the hunger strike started that the supposedly private rooms where inmates meet with their lawyers had been bugged illegally. Guantanamo officials swear they never used the surveillance equipment, but that didn't do anything to improve prisoner-guard relations. Last month, a stand-off between prisoners and guards even led to gunfire, though nobody was killed.
This all sounds very dramatic, and it is. It's also unclear how much Americans care about what's happening in the off-shore prison, where we send men to forget them. Initially — read: before that Times column — there was debate over whether the hunger strike was happening at all. But that column. Wrote Guantanamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel of the hunger strike:
People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.
And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.
I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.
With the spike in participation, there will soon be more people fainting with exhaustion, more blood-infused vomit, more pain, more suffering. No word from Obama on when he might keep his promise to close the prison, though. In fact, it looks less likely than ever.