Clive Stafford Smith, a top human rights lawyer and activist has declared himself on hunger strike in solidarity with Shaker Aamer, the last British man held in Guantanamo
Reprieve, Stafford Smith’s charity, have begun a campaign to help those wishing to undertake their own hunger strikes in sympathy with Guantanamo detainees, with activists promising a year’s worth of “hunger-striking” days.
The campaign ‘Stand Fast For Justice’, launched to coincide with Ramadan, allows people to pledge a number of hour or days they wish to fast, and offers help and guidelines for those attempting a hunger strike. It stresses that activists should not do so for long periods because of serious health implications.
This week, the rapper and actor Mos Def filmed a short for the charity, where he underwent the force-feeding routine imposed on prisoners at Guantanamo.
The campaign was launched as a US Federal judge ruled that she lacks the authority to halt the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay but has urged the President to address the hunger strikein Guantanamo, pointing out that he has the power and the authority to do so directly.
Ruling in a case brought on behalf of a Guantanamo detainee by Reprieve lawyer Cori Crider and Jon B Eisenberg, Judge Gladys Kessler of the Federal District court in Washington, DC, said that “it is perfectly clear…that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process.”
But Judge Kessler said previous rulings already established that the court lacks jurisdiction to stop the force-feeding of prisoners during the ongoing protest, rejecting a motion.
Four detainees – Aamer, Ahmed Belbacha, Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Nabil Hadjarab – sought an injunction barring force-feeding, especially during the fast of Ramadan, which begins this week.
According to the US military, well over 100 detainees are on hunger strike in protest at their indefinite detention without charge or trial – and Guantanamo authorities are force-feeding up to 45 prisoners twice a day.
Ruling in the case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, the judge pointed out that the President had “the authority – and power – to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”
Crider said: “The judge’s ruling leaves Obama with nowhere to hide. He has the power to address the hunger-strike – he could end it tomorrow by starting to free prisoners his own Government has cleared for release. Will Obama act this time, or not?”
This week marks the beginning of Ramadan, which many detainees are worried they will not be able to observe. Prison authorities said that night-time force-feeding is only “an accommodation, not a right.”
Obama’s Department of Justice said that it “cannot agree to an injunction or consent decree on the… timing of meals during Ramadan.”
“If the Obama Administration is so sure they can feed these prisoners overnight, why won’t they agree to give it legal weight?,” Crider said. “The worrying conclusion is that prisoners’ rights during Ramadan will depend on the government’s largesse. There is an easier way: Obama could stop this strike if he started freeing those prisoners who have been cleared for release by his own Government.”
Aamer is not currently being force-fed, though he has been in the past, but has begun taking small amount of nutrition in order to ward off force-feeding.
“On February 15th, when I started the hunger strike, I was 208lbs. Now I am maybe 150lbs,” Aamer said in his statement.
“A lot of people are really in trouble now, the strike has gone on so long. Some people are just skin and bones. It’s not like the hunger strikes in 2005 any more; now, we’ve been through so much that the damage to our minds and bodies will be worse. I get very dizzy in the shower now. I am not what I used to be. I feel old inside.”
The Guantanamo detainee, who is a Saudi citizen, was accused of leading a fighting unit for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001.
Aamer, who is also suspected of communication with shoe bomber Richard Reid, has a British wife and four children who all live in South London. He has been detained for 11 years.
His defence claims all evidence against Aamer came from unreliable witnesses or was gained under torture.