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Hunger strike challenges Guantanamo prison


May 23, 2013

Amidst protests and hunger strikes demanding its immediate closure, the Pentagon is asking the US Congress for more than $450 million for maintaining and upgrading the Guantanamo Bay prison.
 
The prison, opened in 2002 by the Bush administration, remains a symbol of the US' imperialist and islamophobic "war on terror" that has left millions dead, untold others wounded and displaced, and hundreds unjustly detained. Amnesty International has called Guantanamo the "gulag of our times."
 
On May 17, activists wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods - similar to those prisoners are forced to wear at Guantanamo Bay - gathered outside the White House to call for the immediate closure of the controversial prison, and to present a petition to US President Barack Obama that contained over 370,000 signatures. The protest coincided with the 100th day of the most recent hunger strike by prisoners.
 
Since the start of 2013, more than 100 of the 166 prisoners currently being held at the detention centre have gone on hunger strike. While none have died, 30 have been restrained and force-fed, with feeding tubes pushed through their nose and into their stomach. The United Nations has compared the practice to torture.
 
Obama has promised since 2007 that he would close Guantanamo Bay. A key plank of his 2008 election platform, his anti-Guantanamo stance signaled his attempt to distinguish himself from the policies of the previous Bush administration. However, the prison remains open, and Obama has deflected blame by pointing to obstruction by the US Congress. Obama called for its closure again in April, citing its negative effect on the US image internally.
 
The most recent hunger strike began in February, but it isn't the first time the prisoners have had to resort to such a tactic. The first hunger strike of 50 prisoners began in 2005, and ended on July 28, 2005 once prison authorities agreed to bring the camp into compliance with the Geneva Conventions. Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who has been in captivity since the age of 15, was among the hunger strikers.
 
The Harper government has been complicit by refusing to push for his repatriation and continuing his unjust punishment upon his return,  for its own "Guantanamo north" of secret trials and "security certificates" and by supporting the wars that have generated Guantanamo prisoners.
 
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