Guards and detainees clashed on Saturday over an ongoing hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay prison. The clash happened as the military tried to move hunger strikers from a communal section of the detention center into solitary cells.
The move was meant to help prison authorities monitor the hunger strikers more closely, but the prisoners fought back.
They used improvised weapons and guards fired four “less-than-lethal rounds” to stop the disturbance. The military added that there were no major injuries in the scuffle.
Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees denounced the move, saying that the prison commander instead should have sought to negotiate an end to the hunger strike. The men began the campaign in February as a protest to their indefinite imprisonment and what they believed were intrusive searches of the Qurans.
Carlos Warner, a federal public defender in Ohio, added, “This is exactly opposite of what they should be doing. Instead, the military is escalating the conflict.”
Guantanamo has been in use since 2002 to hold people captured by the United States during counterterrorism operations. There were 166 detainees in the facility as of November 2012. The UN rights chief has called for the United States to close down the detention center and President Obama has stated in the past that this would be done.
But the prisoners have grown increasingly frustrated with what they call “dire, dire conditions.” They also have come to believe that their current legal process will leave them in the detention center indefinitely. Warner added, “It leaves them with the prospect of the only way we leave Guantanamo is death. Unfortunately, I think the men are ready to embrace this.”
The commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo ordered all inmates in Camp VI to be placed in individual cells on Saturday. The military explained that his reasoning was “to ensure the health and security of those detainees.” But the clashes occurred when the guards tried to follow through with the command. A military spokesman explained:
“Suspending the detainees’ communal living privileges was in response to a coordinated effort by detainees to create an unsafe situation and limit the guard force’s observation … The ability to continuously monitor detainees is the only way we can provide for their health and security. We should have gone in earlier.”
It is unclear when, or if, there will be an end to the Guantanamo prisoners’ hunger strike.
[Image via US Army Sgt. Sara Wood]