All I want is what President Obama promised – my liberty, and fair treatment for others. I have been cleared for five years, and I have been force-fed for seven years. This is not a life worth living, it is a life of constant pain and suffering. While I do not want to die, it is surely my right to protest peacefully without being degraded and abused every day
Emad Abdullah Hassan, a 34-year-old Guantanamo Bay prisoner who has been force-fed more than 5,000 times since 2007 as part of the military’s efforts to break his hunger strike.
He is the plaintiff in a landmark lawsuit challenging the practice of force-feeding at the US military prison camp. The case represents the first time a US court will hear allegations of detainee abuse at Gitmo.
Depressed and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it gained momentum, and as Nabil and his fellow prisoners got sicker, the Obama administration was backed into a corner. The president has taken justified heat as his bold and eloquent campaign promises to close Gitmo have been forgotten. Suddenly, he was faced with the gruesome prospect of prisoners dropping like flies as they starved themselves to death while the world watched. Instead of releasing Nabil and the other prisoners who have been classified as no threat to the United States, the administration decided to prevent suicides by force-feeding the strikers.
Nabil has not been the only “mistake” in our war on terror. Hundreds of other Arabs have been sent to Gitmo, chewed up by the system there, never charged and eventually transferred back to their home countries. (These transfers are carried out as secretly and as quietly as possible.) There have been no apologies, no official statements of regret, no compensation, nothing of the sort. The United States was dead wrong, but no one can admit it.
By California prison standards, a person isn’t legally considered on a “hunger strike” until he or she has refused nine consecutive meals. We should know soon how many of those 30,000 prisoners who refused meals on Monday—about five times the number of prisoners who participated in a 2011 strike—are still refusing meals as of today.
But last night the New York Times reported that almost everyone who started striking on Monday was still at it yesterday:
LOS ANGELES — Nearly 29,000 inmates in California state prisons refused meals for the third day Wednesday during a protest of prison conditions and rules. The protest extended to two-thirds of the 33 prisons across the state and all 4 private out-of-state facilities where California sends inmates, corrections officials said.
Thousands of prisoners also refused to attend their work assignments for a third day, and state officials were bracing for a long-term strike.
Prisoners have also reported that, unlike during the 2011 strike, they are "willing to die" because prison conditions are so wretched.
California corrections secretary Jeffrey Beard says the strike is counterproductive and that prison officials are already taking steps to meet prisoners’ demands, which were first negotiated and agreed to after the 2011 strike. Prison-rights activists say the CDCR has failed to follow through on its end of the bargain.
But the CDCR isn’t just slow to meet prisoners’ requests—it hasn’t been fast enough for the courts, who’ve demanded that the system reduce overcrowding. A 2011 US Supreme Court finding said the state of California’s prison system led to one “needless” death every eight days. As Justice Sotomayor asked in 2010:"When are you going to avoid the needless deaths that were reported in this record? When are you going to avoid or get around people sitting in their feces for days in a dazed state? When are you going to get to a point where you are going to deliver care that is going to be adequate?"
Not fast enough, apparently—besides the strike it’s also facing a court order to reduce overcrowding by the end of the year and release at least 10,000 prisoners.
To review the prisoners’ five demands as explained by prison-rights activist Ed Mead last weekend:
One, eliminate group punishments. That’s a no-brainer. If I do something wrong, don’t punish everyone on the tier.
Two, abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. The courts have held there has to be some evidence validating a prisoner’s gang status. Black prisoners have been validated on the basis of having a copy of my newspaper in their cells that mentions George Jackson. That’s been considered evidence. Once you’re validated, the only way out is to parole, debrief, snitch, or die. Debriefing is telling the administration who all the other gang members are. And if you’re not a gang member you have to make up names—it’s a bounty system. Now the prisons have an STG (security threat group) status. If they decide you’re a security threat, they lock you up indefinitely, and that requires no proof whatsoever, and also includes people who were never gang members, people who could be politically active.
Three, comply with recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons circa 2006.
Four, provide adequate food. [This includes having prisoners who serve meals to those in solitary eat from separate pans to prevent food theft.]
Five, provide constructive programs and privileges for SHU [solitary confinement] prisoners including educational activities and recreation. SHU prisoners are supposed to get an hour a day of exercise in a wire dog kennel, but guards make excuses, like they’re too busy to let them out.
Sounds reasonable to me—they’re not even asking for minimum wage for their labor. Stay tuned.