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Attorneys for Hunger Striking Guantánamo Detainees Demand Immediate Access to Clients

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Since August 8, 2005, detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp have been engaging in a life-threatening hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention without legal process and the inhumane conditions of their detention. The Department of Defense (DOD) has refused to provide families or counsel any information about which prisoners are participating in the hunger strike, including the identity of the prisoners who are hospitalized and being force-fed.

On September 21, 2005, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and its cooperating counsel filed public papers in United States District Court in Washington, D.C., seeking information about their clients’ participation in the hunger strike and current health status. Based upon prior interviews with their clients and reports from other counsel who have recently visited the military base, CCR and its cooperating counsel assert the grounds for their belief that their clients are participating in the current hunger strike.

In the emergency motion, attorneys are asking Judges Kessler and Urbina of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for:

  1. Telephone contact with clients to determine their physical and mental health status;
  2. Immediate access to visit clients;
  3. All medical, hospitalization and meal records; and
  4. Records that demonstrate what policies the U.S. Government has in place in reference to hunger strikes.
CCR cooperating attorney Rick Murphy of the law firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP which represents 5 Yemeni detainees stated, “We know from press reports and from other habeas counsel that things are going on at Guantánamo that could affect not only our clients' ability to assert their rights, but also, and more importantly, their physical well being. We joined in the motion because we are not able to make judgments about what we should do to help our clients unless we have access to information about our clients' condition; and without intervention by Judge Kessler, that very basic information is not likely to be revealed to us.”

According to papers filed on behalf of 42 prisoners, in late June and most of July 2005, a hunger strike was staged in all five camps at the detention center. At one point in July, the strike became so widespread that medics could not manage the need and elected to stop making their regular medical calls. Some prisoners spent 26 days without food, and several prisoners had to be hospitalized. The strike ended after DOD made promises to the prisoners, but was then resumed in August 2005, when the DOD reneged on those promises. It is believed that approximately 200 men in Guantánamo are participating in the hunger strike to varying degrees.

The DOD initially refused to reveal that a hunger strike was even occurring during the June/July 2005 hunger strike. Imprisoned British resident Shaker Aamer reported that military personnel “showed indifference to the very fact of our deaths. ‘Do you think the world will ever learn of your hunger strike? We will never let them know,’ they said. ‘We care nothing if one of you dies’.”

“It is astounding that men in the custody of the U.S. military are willing to strike until they are afforded a fair hearing or starve to death,” CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez stated. “But the most appalling aspect of the hunger strike is the DOD’s refusal to share any information with the families about what is happening to their sons, husbands and fathers. It is a shocking degree of inhumanity.”

"These human beings who have been held captive -- incommunicado and without charge -- have been denied fundamental human rights for so long that their desperation has driven them to risk death rather than acquiesce to the intolerable and inhumane conditions they have been subjected to for over four years. As a proud American, I never thought I would see the day when the American system of justice came to this,” stated CCR cooperating attorney Julia Tarver of the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, which represents 11 Saudi detainees.

A summary and analysis of attorneys’ interviews with hunger strikers at Guantánamo was published in a report issued by CCR earlier this month, The Guantánamo Prisoner Hunger Strikes & Protests: February 2002 - August 2005.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.